What to expect from the cheapest 4K projector you can get?
First you should know that the cheapest 4K projectors don’t technically use 4K technology – where the pixels are small enough to create their own separate image – instead these models (usually any under $4,000) use lower-resolution imaging chips and sometimes additional methods to create 4K on screen. Typically, the method is to use three LCD chips (1,920 x 1,080p), one for each primary color (red, green, blue) and then offset the projected pixels slightly so they appear as different unique ‘4K’ pixels per individual frame that makes up your entire image. This technology is often referred to as “4K enchantment”.
All your cheap 4K projectors will use ‘4K enhancement’.
Therefore, what you can expect from these are separate pixels which make a clearer, more vibrant image – just like 4K – but a shorter lamp life due to the technology to mimic actual 4K. The quality will be better than in theaters (or at least equal to that level), but most of these projectors will only last you under 5,000 hours at high-energy modes. For the price and quality of each model, you’ll usually get projectors which are fully HDMI compatible, have great in-built speakers (for a projector), and which exhibit intense yet organic colors that are true-to-life.
Features to consider before buying a 4K projector
From its particular technology utilized by the manufacturer to the information of its installation, and whether mounting is easy or hard, you’ll want to consider every facet of the product before making a purchase this expensive. Other features are listed and discussed below, and examples are even given for projectors which best match what to look for in these features.
These are the types, and number, of chips used to refract, reflect, and project light and create that 4K resolution and intense color imaging. The first type of technology is 4K DLP, because it’s listed so frequently above – this technology uses three single-chip DMDs at either 0.66 or 0.47 inches to create two pixels at the same time per frame. On these chips, the physical discreet pixels are actually tiny mirrors (smaller than the human eye can even tell), and together two reflecting DLP chips can create 8.3-million pixels onscreen (also known as 4K resolution). One of the best models for DLP technology is the Optoma UHD51A because the faster the DLP chips can shift the colors on screen, the quicker frames will change (within microseconds). This display technology is especially great for gamers and for watching action movies.
4K LCD, on the other hand, utilizes LCD chips and often a color wheel to produce its offset pixels and 4K enhanced projections. The light passes through either the chips or the chips and wheel is offset by the machine, and depending the lumens (brightness) of the lamp, your 4K resolution will be clearer.
In the case of 4K technology, most projectors had 2–3 LCD chips which light passes through at the same time to create two pixels at once. These tend to have a longer lag time between frames, and its possible for your projector to sometimes experience a rainbow effect where you see multiple colors rather than the singular color a picture (perhaps of an apple) should be.
Acer V7850 is one of the best 4K LCD projectors, mostly because it can be bought with or without a color wheel (although color wheels are ideal for still images, such as a picture slideshow or business presentation).
Other similar systems are LCOS and SXRD, though no projectors on our list use these display technologies.
Brightness, contrast, and resolution
The two important things to consider about brightness are: brightness of room you’re projecting in and the brightness of your projector. If light output from the projector is too low, or your room lighting is too high, the overall image on screen might appear foggy and soft. For the most optimal brightness in regards to a 4K resolution projector, check each models ANSI lumens rating (how much light a projector can put out) and only consider models which output 1,500+ ANSI lumens.
In addition to the brightness, your contrast ratio should compliment your lumens by improving the white and black.
The best contrast ratios are anything higher than 10,000:1, making your whites whiter and your blacks deeper.
Any contrast ratio too low will wash out your picture and defeat the purpose of 4K resolution. The resolution, being the combination between brightness and contrast, is the final picture. For true 4K resolution, it will take a combination of elements, plus your own specifications when you install a projector.
Two great examples which mix brightness and contrast to improve 4K resolution are the Optoma UHD60 and the Optoma UHD51A. You’ll notice when checking these models that they have extraordinarily high contrast ratios. They’re designed this way to compensate for the brightness of color and to compensate for the intense light needed to project a 4K image.
A projector’s throw distance is the distance between the projector and the image on the screen (i.e. the distance that the image is “thrown”). 4K projectors are no different, except you’ll often see the ‘throw distance’ listed as a ‘throw ratio’. A throw ratio can be understood as multiplication, where if the throw ratio were 2:1 and the screen were 14 feet away, then the display width should be 7 feet (7 x 2 =14, which is the number of feet the projector is from the screen). For an ideal 4K home-theater experience you’ll want a device which offers a ‘short-throw’, meaning it projects from 10 to 30 feet away. Not only will a short-throw provide a larger image, but it will also reduce shadows and eye glare from your projector and screen.
Even for 4K projectors where the screen size can go up 300 inches in length, you’ll want to keep a screen at around 120–150 inches for the ideal ratio of pixels per inch of your screen. The clarity and color of your image will look best this way, and the ideal throw distance will be around 20–30 feet away from your screen. Any projectors which will balance between 50 to 200-inch screens are going to be best for your household.
Because cheaper 4K projectors need to create the impression of two pixels per frame in an image and then offset them, often the necessary technologies utilize a lot of lumens to project the enhancement. Due to the intense amount of energy and lumens used in the process, lamp life for cheaper 4k projectors tends to be lower than 10,000 hours. However, there are a few systems on our list which utilize innovative technologies to prolong their models’ lamp life and provide you with more movie watching hours before needing to change an expensive bulb.
Consider the LG HU80KA as having one of the best lamps (with its unique laser lamp design). Others (with settings to make the lamp life last much longer) are the ViewSonic PX727-4K and Optoma UHD60.
For speakers, you’ll get the best level with systems that have built-in dual speakers 5W or less. Additionally, if you’re wondering about the noise of fans and how it will affect the listening experience of your movie, some systems are louder than others. You’ll especially hear projectors if they’re close beside you, your mounted ceiling unit is low, or as the unit ages.
If you don’t properly mount your projector and make sure its sides and middle are level, the fan components might tend to rattle – otherwise with good speakers, you’ll never notice a difference.
For your ideal warranty (on the off-chance of a dud burning out early, or other damaged components during shipping) it’s best not to purchase any product with a warranty shorter than a year. It would be even better to aim for 2 to 3-year warranties. Especially since these units tend to run so high and you’ll want money protection for any purchase this large.
How to set up a projector
Once you’ve ceiling mounted your projector, or even if you’re not mounting it and decide to put it on a tall shelf, adjust the keystone alignment (most items on our list have an auto-alignment option) as well as the resolution (focus dial) for a clearer picture with a brighter image and crisper colors.
Line up the center of your lens to the center of your screen before adjusting, and then keep in mind that larger pictures will be dimmer.
All ceiling mounts come with instructions, and universal mounts are easy to purchase at your local department store or from the manufacturer. Keep in mind that you’ll need room near the back or sides of a projector to plug in cords for speakers and HDMI devices etc.