1. Acer H5360 - £414
720p DLP Projector
When it comes to stereoscopic 3D, we have to admit that we've got a bit of a soft spot for the Acer H5360. It was our first taste of a 3D product that actually had us tempted to take the plunge and hand over cash.
That's significant given a context where we'd previously found pretty much all 3D video content to be a bit meh. Likewise 3D monitors and HDTVs were all rather bleh. But our first experience of a PC game that was properly coded for stereoscopic 3D running on a projector? Well, that was something a little bit special.
We reckon the greater viewing distance compared to a monitor makes it easier for your eyes to cope with the contortions demanded by the fake depth of view. Not only does that make for more comfortable viewing, it also means that the overall three-dimensional illusion is much more convincing.
2. Benq W1060 - £678
1080p DLP Projector
Some say that looks can kill. Well if they could, then BenQ's W1060 beamer would butcher the competition. It's a slick and stylish machine, no doubt, with a chassis that whets the appetite for some spectacular cinema-honed visuals.
Then there's the actual specification. We're talking full-HD 1080p in terms of pixels, each and every one driven by a microscopic mirror. Yup, it's DLP technology. Short of industrial-grade 2k projection technology, in other words, this really is as good as it gets.
Take a closer look at the rest of the spec sheet and it's nearly all good news. BenQ claims native contrast of 5,000 to one, for instance. The 2,000 lumens lamp doesn't sound too shabby, either.
Okay, you don't get fancy optics with lens shift or even focus that holds steady when you adjust the image size. But the only real blot on the W1060's copy paper is the 3x speed, six-segment colour wheel.
3. Epson EH-TW3200 - £829
1080p LCD Projector
LCD projection is for data, DLP is for movies. We all know it and it's just that simple. At least it used to be. But like most competing technologies, LCD and DLP tech have now converged as the major protagonists in the projector game have honed their games. And that means more choice and stiffer competition. Which makes for a big, fat yay when it comes to prices.
The result is that this entry-level 1080p model from Epson has multimedia chops that are unrecognisable from the LCD projectors of just a few years ago. The most immediate and obvious upgrade involves colour rendering. Boot the Epson EH-TW3200 into the Windows desktop and you'll be treated to rich, vivid and decidedly unwonky colours.
That's significant, because it wasn't that long ago that you could pick out an LCD projector in picoseconds based purely on the appearance of its slightly sludgy colours. Spool up your favourite movie and the TW3200 keeps delivering the goods, too.
4. Epson EH-TW5900 - £920
1080p LCD Projector
Lies. Damned lies. And projector specifications. For proof, look no further than the fact that the Epson EH-TW5900's claimed contrast ratio is poorer than its cheaper TW3200 sibling. Frankly, we're not sure why they bother with these things.
In this particular example, part of the explanation is that we're talking dynamic contrast achieved thanks to ruses like dynamic irises, lamp modulation and image processing. What you'll actually find much more useful when making your choices are the given measures of native or static contrast, which can give you an idea of what sorts of blacks and whites a projector is inherently capable of rendering.
Sadly, Epson doesn't see fit to furnish us with that data, so pointless dynamic numbers it is. But never mind, because we've actually got one in, looked at the thing running and can tell you what it's really like.
Fortunately, it's pretty damn good.
5. NEC V300W - £490
720p DLP Projector
With full 1080p projectors now available for £600 or less, you might think the case for cheaping out on the 720p model like the NEC V300W is pretty marginal. To an extent, you'd be right. We certainly think an extra £100 or so is worth it for the future proofing and peace of mind that 1080p buys you. But that's an argument that mainly applies to conventional home cinema and gaming larks.
Chuck stereoscopic 3D into the equation, and the sums begin to work out a little differently. For starters, adding 3D to a 1080p projector pumps up that premium.
There's also an important performance issue to ponder. Most decent graphics cards can handle the 1,920 x 1,080 pixel grid of a 1080p projector at 60Hz. But up the ante to 120Hz for stereoscopic 3D as per Nvidia 3D Vision, which the V300W supports, and you've just doubled the workload.
In that context, settling for 720p visuals and a better shot at smooth frame rates for the foreseeable future might just make sense.
6. Optoma HD23 - £749
1080p DLP Projector
Polar opposites has become the running theme for this month's projector pow-wow. First, there's the DLP versus LCD conundrum. Have the two dominant projector techs converged enough to make old distinctions irrelevant? And what about the permanent or portable problem? How much image quality do you give up in return for a more flexible and travel-friendly projector?
While we're at it, let's make it a three-way theme by chucking the Optoma HD23 into the contest. The question here is whether a specialist projector outfit like Optoma has the edge or whether the current clout of bigger, more generalist brands makes for a better beamer. Game on.
The HD23 is one of Optoma's cheaper full-high def 1080p models, though it's worth noting the HD230X is even more affordable. Optoma is a home cinema specialist, so it's no surprise to find DLP kit underpinning the HD23's visuals.
7. Viewsonic Pro6200 - £440
720p DLP Projector
Are projectors good value for money? That's a tough question to answer. The argument in favour points out that a half decent projector will generate an image significantly larger and infinitely more cinematic than any HDTV. That counts for a lot when you consider the thousands of pounds charged for really big, high-end HDTVs.
On the other hand, you don't get any more pixels than a £120 PC monitor. In fact, with a beamer like the Viewsonic Pro6200 and its 1,280 x 720 pixel grid, you get significantly fewer. What's more, projectors are pretty pants in the daytime.
Whatever you pay for one, using it is going to be a relatively niche activity. And yet, we reckon projectors are pretty awesome things. If you can afford one, you'll get a huge amount of enjoyment out of it.
So the real question for the Pro6200 is twofold. Do all 720p beamers fall into the false-economy category compared to more expensive 1080p models? And if not, how does it compare with other offerings in the 720p class?
8. Viewsonic Pro8200 - £765
1080p DLP Projector
Has LCD vs DLP become the classic projector conundrum? Even if it is, there's at least one further beamer-based dichotomy to ponder. Are you going for a full-on permanent installation or something a bit more flexible, a bit more portable?
For most of us without the luxury of a spare room to dedicate to home cinema, let's be honest, it's probably the latter. And if that's the case, then ViewSonic's Pro8200 is certainly worth a look.
Make no mistake, this is no pocket-sized pico projector powered by LED technology. It's a conventional DLP unit with an old school lamp. But it's also fairly compact, comes with a padded carry case and weighs in around 5kg.
Like any conventional projector with a filament-based lamp, the Pro8200 isn't the sort of thing you'd want to lug around daily. It's too fragile for that, not to mention too heavy, even if it is a couple of kilos lighter than the bulkier units here. But it's also easily small enough to pop in the car or take on the train for a special occasion.
How we tested
We've a comprehensive testing remit. So we put each and every projector that's taking part in out supertest through a gruelling gauntlet of games, movies and more.
We kick off by calibrating the projector using test images to determine the projector's objective accuracy and dynamic range. Once that's assessed, we then test the subjective image quality, first using high bit rate 1080p video.
Crucially, we use both dark and bright as well as action scenes and lingering statics to get a proper feel for the projector's full range. All the while, we're cycling through the various image quality presets and comparing those to our calibrated theoretical ideal. Sometimes, projectors don't look best when calibrated to render test images correctly.
We also test any image quality enhancement technologies that are onboard, such as dynamic contrast. We have a damn good look at the projectors' ingame chops, too, sniffing around for things like input lag, blurring and, where relevant, the rainbow effect.
We're also interested in getting an independent feel for just how big an image you can expect from each product. We therefore set up each projector with the lens precisely 2.25m from the projection surface, which is the sort of distance you'd typically end up with in a smallish living room, and then measured the maximum available image size. Simples.
And the winner is Optoma HD23
With one exception, these beamers are all bloody lovely. That's the really good news. More to the point, the one and only dud is more disappointing by comparison than an outright failure. There's not a single projector here that doesn't deliver decent black level, good geometry and even focus across the entire image.
In those regards, there's been massive progress in the last five years. There's also been significant convergence between DLP and LCD technology. We still prefer the former for its marginally deeper blacks and more natural colours.
But LCD has become a genuine alternative, rather than a technology best reserved for data duties. All of which means we honestly think you'll get a better big-screen experience out of any of these beamers than you will at your local cinema. We also reckon projectors make the best case of all for stereoscopic 3D tech. We still wouldn't want to watch movies in 3D. But games in 3D? They're actually a lot of fun.
The best bit of all is that the price of projectors has become much more reasonable of late. Okay, £400 isn't exactly throwaway money. But if you make it part of your broader home entertainment budget and realise that a projector makes spending masses of money on a massive HDTV look very silly, it suddenly all makes sense.
With that in mind, it's time for the final reckoning.
Bringing up the rear is BenQ's W1060. It's far from awful, but it's nothing special by any image quality metric and the slightly odd interpolated look of the pixels is a deal breaker.
From here on, the competition is much, much tougher. If you're a DLP rainbow effect sufferer, we'd go with the Epson EH-TW5900. It's a bit pricier than the TW3200, but it's worth it for the superior blacks and nifty lens shift optics.
For everyone else, we still think DLP is the way to go. DLP's visuals are still a little richer, more cinematic. What's more, DLP image quality is more stable over time. LCD projectors tend to turn a little sludgy as they age.
The 720p DLP trio are awfully tightly packed. But we'd go with the Acer H5360. It's fully 3D compliant. It's pretty much of a muchness regards overall image quality. And it's cheaper than the others.
That said, the NEC V300W gets honourable mention for delivering perhaps the best blacks of any projector here.
However, hand on heart, it's the full 1080p treatment we desire and that means the final contest is between ViewSonic's Pro8200 and the Optoma HD23. The ViewSonic looks super strong on paper thanks to its 4x speed, seven-segment wheel. It's probably the best choice here if you're worried about the rainbow effect.
Despite that, it's the Optoma that gets the final nod. It's not perfect. But it's still a damn fine big-screen machine and produces truly breathtaking images, the likes of which were barely possible just a few years ago and even then only with projectors costing thousands of pounds. Believe us when we say this thing will blow you away. Buy one. You won't regret it.