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JVC and Epson remain the projector brands to beat at the What Hi-Fi? Awards

JVC DLA-N5
(Image credit: Future)

These are pioneering times in the world of home cinema projectors, with a clutch of burgeoning technologies looking to grow into the gap made by new use cases and the growing feeling from consumers that bigger is definitely better when it comes to watching films and TV.

There's a huge amount of interest for projectors with laser light sources (which offer longer life spans and no warm-up times) and for those more flexible models offering ultra-short-throw (which aim to bring the big screen into more everyday life).

While 2021 has seen an impressive second wave of such machines – not to mention an improvement in the portable projector space too – it remains, for the time being, the more traditional lamp-based, long-throw designs that offer the best picture at the right price.

For the second year in a row, the utterly superb JVC DLA-N5 (DLA-NX5 if you're in the US) is a simply delightful option for those with some money to spend. This native 4K projector is beautifully black and cinematic, and a terrific choice for anyone getting serious with a dedicated home cinema room.

JVC has recently announced an update to its native 4K D-ILA range, which we look forward to reviewing ahead of next year's Awards, but the N5/NX5 remains the entry-level machine to accompany the new JVC DLA-NZ7, NZ8 and NZ9.

Below this level, it's all about Epson and its 3LCD projector range. While DLP machines might offer more black depth and more punch, there's something reassuringly natural about the way that both the Epson EH-TW9400 (Epson Pro Cinema 6050UB) and Epson EH-TW7100 (Epson Home Cinema 3800) create their pictures. 

With great subtleties to their shading and their careful nuance to colour production, they offer two more affordable budgets with which to test the waters of home cinema. That makes two years on the trot for the TW7100 and three for the TW9400. For an even more reasonable entry into the market, the five-star Epson EH-TW7000 (Epson Home Cinema 3200) is well worth a shout.

Equally, a slightly cheaper first native 4K projector would be the superb Sony VPL-VW290ES (Sony VPL-VW325), which replaces that the previous Award-winning Sony VPL-VW270ES (Sony VPL-VW295). Were the 290ES not so close in price to the JVC, it might have been a different story for Sony this year.

Let's see what happens in 2022. But right now, the two excellent Epsons and the joyous JVC DLA-N5 are the beamers to beat.

Dan Sung

Dan is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi? and his job is with product reviews as well as news, feature and advice articles too. He works across both the hi-fi and AV parts of the site and magazine and has a particular interest in home cinema. Dan joined What Hi-Fi? in 2019 and has worked in tech journalism for over a decade, writing for Tech Digest, Pocket-lint, MSN Tech and Wareable as well as freelancing for T3, Metro and the Independent. Dan has a keen interest in playing and watching football. He has also written about it for the Observer and FourFourTwo and ghost authored John Toshack's autobiography, Toshack's Way.

  • abacus
    For me personally I consider any consumer projector over £5000 that does not have a laser light source to be a complete and utter rip off in 2021, so I don’t consider the lower 4K JVCs should have any form of buy or recommended badge at all.
    As to the Epson’s mentioned then they should always be on the list when comparing projectors, as while they have some disadvantages compared to DLP projectors, they also have many advantage.

    Bill
    Reply
  • Arron
    abacus said:
    For me personally I consider any consumer projector over £5000 that does not have a laser light source to be a complete and utter rip off in 2021, so I don’t consider the lower 4K JVCs should have any form of buy or recommended badge at all.
    As to the Epson’s mentioned then they should always be on the list when comparing projectors, as while they have some disadvantages compared to DLP projectors, they also have many advantage.

    Bill
    That is very much a personal opinion. I get through 2000-3000 hours of lamp life each year. Lamps are an essential to me.
    Reply
  • abacus
    If you use your projector that much then you will typically need to purchase 10 lamps over 10yr (Which depending on projector can be very expensive), whereas the laser based units will easily cover the 10yr without needing replacement, thus will probably be cheaper in the long run. (Laser light sources last at least around 10 times longer than a lamp)
    Laser light is also usually brighter and more consistent over time so less calibration is required over time, whereas lamp projectors need calibrating at least at every lamp change but usually more. (Obviously how accurate you want the picture to be during a projectors lifespan will determine this)
    The above is as I mentioned in my first post why I personally consider any projector over £5000 without a laser light source is a total rip off in 2021.

    Bill
    Reply
  • gel
    abacus said:
    For me personally I consider any consumer projector over £5000 that does not have a laser light source to be a complete and utter rip off in 2021, so I don’t consider the lower 4K JVCs should have any form of buy or recommended badge at all.
    As to the Epson’s mentioned then they should always be on the list when comparing projectors, as while they have some disadvantages compared to DLP projectors, they also have many advantage.

    Bill
    Agree. (y)
    Reply
  • Arron
    Lasers are still lamps. Those lamps degrade over time. They don't fire lasers at the screen (which would be dangerous) they fire them at a phosphor.

    Let's go with an average use of 2500 hours a year for me. That means a laser projector would last ~8 years. In year 8 with a lamp based projector, I can put a new lamp in and it's as good as the day I bought it. Alternatively, I can have a pile of useless junk that cost £5000+ and is now worth £0.
    Reply
  • abacus
    Arron said:
    Lasers are still lamps. Those lamps degrade over time. They don't fire lasers at the screen (which would be dangerous) they fire them at a phosphor.

    Let's go with an average use of 2500 hours a year for me. That means a laser projector would last ~8 years. In year 8 with a lamp based projector, I can put a new lamp in and it's as good as the day I bought it. Alternatively, I can have a pile of useless junk that cost £5000+ and is now worth £0.

    It would last about 10yr with your use (Which is higher than most users) and by that time projectors will have moved on significantly, so any projector will be pretty much worthless, and while you could put your 10th lamp in (You could also change the laser light source) you could buy a budget projector that would blow your old higher end projector away, so would there be any point in putting a new lamp in. (Look back at high end projectors from 10yr ago and they fall short of today’s modern budget projectors in virtually every measure)
    As I mentioned in my previous post lamps do not have the consistency of a laser light source over time. (The dimming curve of a laser light source is more predictable which means it is easier for the software in a projector to adapt to it over time thus requiring less calibration)

    Bill
    Reply
  • Arron
    abacus said:
    It would last about 10yr with your use (Which is higher than most users) and by that time projectors will have moved on significantly, so any projector will be pretty much worthless, and while you could put your 10th lamp in (You could also change the laser light source) you could buy a budget projector that would blow your old higher end projector away, so would there be any point in putting a new lamp in.

    No. My Panasonic 3000 cost £2200 in 2009 and was still the equal of projectors at about half that when it was retired last year.

    abacus said:
    (You could also change the laser light source)

    Not aware of any laser projector that has a replaceable lamp. They'll get there eventually but the laser lamps are currently about 50% of the cost of the projector.

    abacus said:
    As I mentioned in my previous post lamps do not have the consistency of a laser light source over time. (The dimming curve of a laser light source is more predictable which means it is easier for the software in a projector to adapt to it over time thus requiring less calibration)

    Laser lamps are colour-consistent but dim over time. The life of a laser projector is normally measured as its time to the lamp reaching its half-way point. In other words, if I bought a 20,000 hour laser projector that started at 3000 lumens, in year 8 it would be down to 1500 lumens.

    Like I said, your original comment was a personal one. Lasers are fine for light-occasional use but for a moderate-to-heavy user like me they're a waste of money.
    Reply