DIY Home Theater Design Choosing The Right Projector

What I Was Looking For In A Video Projector

One of the main choices when designing a movie theater (and potentially the most expensive) is the video projector.

I was expecting to spend a good amount of money, to get a good projector. And hoping to get a 4K projector with internet apps (like Netflix), 3D would be nice, multiple HDMI inputs and an image that wasn’t washed out. Because my movie theater has a couple of windows, I wanted something that would still be watchable with the sun coming into the room.

Since I had never looked into projectors before, I was really shocked to see how high prices for projectors go. A lot of the higher-priced stuff is in the $25,000 – $30,000 range.

I was not looking to spend anywhere near that amount, but I did want a really nice projector. After seeing those initial prices, I kind of felt like maybe I wasn’t going to be able to spring for a nice projector after all. Realistically I was expecting to spend around $2,000 maybe up to $3,000.

Luckily there are a few projectors out there that give you great value without breaking the bank.

I wrote this article hoping to help others not feel as overwhelmed as I did when doing projector research for their movie theater.

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What I Learned About Video Projectors

So in doing my research, I learned a bunch. It’s hard to remember every aha moment, but I’m gonna give it a whirl, here are some of my aha moments.

The Projector Doesn’t Need Multiple HDMI Inputs

Originally I thought the video projector I was looking for needed multiple HDMI ports. I was looking for about 4. One for the cable box, DVD player, gaming console and PC.

Turns out if you’re designing a home theater, chances are you will be installing a surround sound system.

When using a home theater system, it has plenty of HDMI inputs and you use the home theater system to control the inputs.

In my scenario, it made things much easier. I only needed to run one 20 foot HDMI cable from the surround sound system to the projector, all the other HDMI devices were in the same closet as the surround sound system so I could use regular length HDMI cables.

Designing a Home Theater - The Video Projector - The HDMI Cable Layout

Video Projectors Are Not “Smart”

One of my initial requirements was that the project had internet apps. What I found out was that projectors are not really like smart TVs, they’re more like computer monitors… that project the image on the wall.

All the projectors I looked at did not have any “smart” capabilities. So to get NetFlix, Hulu, Amazon etc you need to plug something into the projector that has “Smart” features.

How To Get 4K Content On Your Projector

In my setup, I purchased an Ultra-HD Blu-ray player that had internet apps. The Blu-ray Player is a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player that does 4K and has built-in WiFi.

Update: In trying to figure out a problem I was having with 3D content, I purchased a Pioneer UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player. The Blu-ray Player didn’t fix my 3D problem (my problem was a defective projector – which Epson quickly fixed). But the difference in sound between the two players was big enough that I decided to keep the Pioneer UB900.

The Ultra-HD is vital if you want 4K content from Netflix. If you upgrade your subscription and you are watching Netflix on a 4K capable device, Netflix will have an addition 4K category.

How To Get HDR Content On Your Video Projector

Here’s something I was not aware of.  I figured if it were a Blu-ray DVD, it would play in HDR. That was not correct at all.

To have HDR content play on your projector, first, all the equipment that is playing the DVD will need to be HDR compatible (projector, DVD player, Amplifier).

And second, you’ll need a DVD that is Ultra-HD, not just Blu-ray.

It’s easy to figure out if the DVD is Ultra-HD. On the top of the face of the DVD case it’ll say 4K UltraHD – usually in silver on a black background.

Here’s a link from Netflix with the details on how to get 4K content:

This article contains information about watching Netflix in Ultra HD on compatible devices.

Designing a Home Theater - The Video Projector - Epson Home Cinema 5040UB

Projector Picture Quality

Aside from the option of 1080p and 4K, there are two other things that contribute to the picture quality. The image brightness (measured in lumens) and the contrast ratio (the difference between the whitest white on the screen and the blackest blacks on the screen).

It’s All About The Lumens

The lumens was something that was a factor for me since I was going to have some ambient light in the room. I was also expecting that there would be times where I’d like to watch content with the lights in the room on.

Just about all the projectors I looked at were 1000 lumens or brighter which from what I had read was a pretty decent brightness.

The Contrast Ratio Is Where It’s At

My impression of projectors has always been that the picture was always washed out. I wanted to have something that would do a good a job as possible in minimizing the washed-out image.

What I found out was that the biggest factor in preventing the washed-out image is the contrast ratio.

As far as contrast ratio goes, it seemed like those were all over the map.

My Updated Video Projector Criteria

After doing a bunch of research on the different factors that make a good projector and finding out some of my original criteria were no longer criteria at all. I now knew what I had to focus on.

My Updated Criteria

  • at least one HDMI input
  • no longer needed to be “smart”
  • it needed to at least be 1080p (native 4K looked way out of my price range)
  • Finally, the primary focus was a projector with as high a contrast ratio as possible (to prevent that washed out image)

Choosing The Best Projector For The Money

I looked at a lot of projectors. Ranging from around $700 all the way up to $27,000 (some are even 4 times that price but 27k was a crazy enough price for me).

For $700 you get a projector that is small and portable with a very small foot-print.

For $27,000 you could get a top of the line Sony 4k projector.

I wanted to get the biggest projector screen that I could fit on my wall. Since it was going to be a good-sized screen, I wanted to make sure the projector was at least HD (1080p).

4K would have been fantastic, but $27,000 was way, way, way out of my budget.

Once I narrowed down what I was looking for the best choice for me started to float to the top.

Now I was confirming that there was no other projector that was better than what I found for the money…. and there wasn’t!

Designing a Home Theater - The Video Projector - Epson Home Cinema 5040UB 3LCD Home Theater Projector with 4K Enhancement

My Video Projector – Epson Home Cinema 5040UB

Epson Home Cinema 5040UBe WirelessHD 3LCD Home Theater Projector with 4K Enhancement, HDR10, 100% Balanced Color and White Brightness, Ultra Wide DCI-P3 Color Gamut and UltraBlack Contrast

The Projector That I Chose – Hands Down The Best For The Price

After a lot of searching, there was one projector that stood out of the crowd. The Epson Home Cinema 5040UB is the projector that I went with.

It had fantastic reviews, does 1080p, 3D, HDR with a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and it even does 4K emulation – all for $2,499! The 4K emulation means it supports 4K input and will do some fancy stuff to project it in 4K-ish quality.

When I first started my search, I thought I’d have to stick to 1080p, since 4K was way out of my budget. Although the projector doesn’t do true 4K, 4K emulation made it way better than any other projector – even at twice the price.

The 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and 4K emulation were the two determining factors for me. The other of course was the oodles and oodles of positive reviews for it.

It’s been about a month that I have owned one and I can tell you that the picture is absolutely astounding.

I would love to see what a native 4K projector picture quality looks like. It’s hard for me to imagine that there can be a better picture than what the Epson 5040ub produces.

I find myself often forgetting that it’s a projected image, it really just feels like a 135″ TV screen!

The Epson 5040UB or Epson 5040UBe

There are two models of this projector, the one I purchased is the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB.

The other model is the Epson Home Cinema 5040UBe, which has a wireless ethernet adapter for wireless HD, allowing you to have content streamed wirelessly to the projector.

I didn’t go for the wireless option since it was $300 more, and since I was going into the attic to run speaker wires anyways running an extra HDMI cable wasn’t a big deal.

3D On The Epson Projector – The Problem

3D wasn’t a terribly important criteria for me in my projector choices, but since the Epson projector supported 3D, it was a nice perk. 🙂

The projector doesn’t come with 3D glasses so when you’re ready for 3D, you’ll need to buy the glasses separately.

I’ll write up a separate article on my 3D glasses research later, this part though is crucial if you bought your projector around the same time I did – April 2017.

I’ll just cut to the chase and spare you the details but 3D wasn’t working correctly. After trying different glasses, DVD players and cables – the problem ended up being the projector.

I had to look through tons of forum posts to find a new thread where others had a similar problem. They suggested to contact Epson, and they would take care of it. I did just that, and they sent me a brand new projector the very next day.

If you have an Epson projector and the 3D images don’t knock your socks off, contact Epson. Chances are you have a defective projector, and their customer service is fantastic and responsive.

If you are in the US, then you can send an email to [email protected], that’s where I sent my email, and they responded by the end of the day and I had a brand new projector the day after that.

More Picture Quality Samples

Designing a Home Theater - The Video Projector - Epson Home Cinema 5040UB Picture Quality No Lights  The picture quality without lights on in the room and some ambient light still coming in. The image is from a Netflix 4K nature show.
Designing a Home Theater - The Video Projector - Epson Home Cinema 5040UB Picture Quality No Lights  The picture quality without lights on in the room and some ambient light still coming in. The image is from a Netflix 4K nature show.

The Video Projector Mount

I’m not sure if there are differences in projector mounts. I just made sure the one I bought was compatible with the Epson 5040UB.

The projector mount I chose was the Universal Projector Mount Bracket.

I have a feeling that most mounts would work with most projectors, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to have a problem with it.

This mount definitely works, although if I had to do it again, I probably would have gotten on that was a bit more sturdy.

Don’t get me wrong; If your projector is going to be out of reach of most people, then this mount will work out perfectly.

In my case, since I have the raised platforms, the projector does stand a chance of getting bumped by someone who is tall and not paying attention to where they’re going. 🙂

The projector won’t fall or anything, but if it’s a substantial bump, it may shift a little requiring a readjustment of the projector image on the screen.

Designing a Home Theater - The Video Projector - The Video Projector Mount

The Video Projector Mount

Projection Screen LED KIT 2018 Version (135-inch Diagonal Screen, 16:9 Aspect Ratio)

Was That Helpful?

I hope this article will help you choose the right projector for you. This was my first projector purchase so there is nothing else I can compare it to, but I can tell you that I am incredibly happy with choosing the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB.

Are you thinking of getting an Epson? What other projector are you thinking of getting? Let me know in the comments below!

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DIY Home Theater Design - Choosing The Right Projector

About Steve

Hi, I'm Steve. My wife Sandy and I have been doing DIY projects for years now and we finally created a blog to help share our projects and ideas.

We hope you find these posts useful. 🙂

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