4K UHD TV vs. 4K Projector: Your definite guide to which is the better option
Stephan Jukic – November 16, 2016
If you’ve been on the market for some serious 4K home theater technology and have a heftier sort of budget to work with, you might have put some thought into foregoing a TV completely and simply going for a projector with the ability to display this resolution. Yes, 4K TVs are available with some truly enormous screen sizes but pretty much no normal TV, even among the largest and most expensive models can quite match the sheer possible size of a projection display space, which in most models sold today for the home can reach up to 300 inches.
Then there are all the other factors you’ll have to consider in a weigh-in between these two 4K display device types. This includes things like high dynamic range, contrast, color, usability, smart features and even resolution itself since this can get tricky when it comes to projectors.
With all these things to consider if you’re actually deciding between these two display technologies, let’s simplify things a bit for you by tossing forth our own learned opinion of what practical results you can expect from both 4K TVs and 4K projectors under several key categories.
We note that many (but not all) of the below sections apply specifically to a comparison between 4K HDR projectors and HDR 4K TVs since this is where the standard for both technologies is absolutely headed.
4K TV vs. 4K Projector: Resolution
Resolution seems like a moot point in discussing 4K projectors and TVs but in the case of projectors it definitely bears clarifying. The reason why is quite simple. With a 4K HDR TV, the display resolution you’ll get your hands on will absolutely be 4K ultra HD, with 3840 x 2160 pixels to work with. Anything less and a 4K TV is no longer a 4K TV and in any case all 4K TVs really do feature 4K resolution, so you can be sure of getting this if you buy one of any size. Furthermore, all content with HDR mastered into it will absolutely be designed to scale correctly for 4K.
With projectors on the other hand, things get a bit fuzzy. For starters, many of the so-called 4K projectors sold on today’s consumer market don’t actually even offer real 4K resolution. Instead, they deliver an upscaled pseudo-4K through various types of pixel interpolation tricks. Worst of all, even with these technologies being used, many projector models offer what really amounts to only upscaled 2K resolution from a native 1080p image sensor and only the ability to read and display 4K content sources. Currently, some of the only true native 4K consumer projectors being sold on the market belong to Sony’s VPL line of models. These however are exceptionally expensive, while the pseudo-4K models like Epson’s or JVC’s projectors come priced at levels comparable to those of TVs.
Winner: 4K TV
4K TV vs. 4K Projector: Display size
When it comes to the raw matric of display size, it’s pretty much impossible to bet a projector not only in just how big and cinematic you can make your “screen” llook for watching the latest X-Men movie but also in the simple fact that these devices are so flexible, with the ability to present a viewing space that can typically be any size between 50 inches and 300 inches. And as a bonus, you get 4K resolution (or pseudo 4K) and HDR in most newer projector models. Even movie theater displays can’t often compete with these latter two specs.
4K HDR TVs screens have gotten steadily more affordable to the point where even a giant 65, 75 or even 85 inch TV can now be bought for less than the cost of almost any 4K projector but the size you get is the size you’re stuck at and it still doesn’t compare to the 300 possible inches of any 4K home theater projector display.
Winner: 4K home theater projector
4K HDR TV vs. 4K HDR Projector: HDR, Brightness and contrast
It’s very tricky to compare brightness between projectors and 4K TVs. The simple reason why is that while display brightness in a 4K HDR TV (or any sort of 4K TV) is measured by cd/m2 or nits (same thing) generated by the display itself, in projectors, brightness is generally measured by lumens reflected off a display surface. Furthermore, while the peak brightness of a TV display is pretty much fixed regardless of ambient conditions, in a 4K projection it can vary depending on the colors being shown, the nature of the projection surface or how dark a room is. That said, most projectors don’t quite generate the same levels of projection brightness as a 4K TV, even in fairly dark rooms. The difference is small but it is there and this is one of the tradeoffs that comes with getting your hands on a device that can so flexibly create a cinematic display anywhere you like.
On the other hand, with contrast –which is the difference between light and dark in projected or displayed content– can indeed be quite comparable to that of even a good LCD 4K HDR TV. The simple reason why is that the darker areas of the projection surface will have almost no light shine upon them at all and this contrast quite deeply with the lit areas of a projection space. In other words, high quality 4K HDR projectors tend to create higher contrast ratios than most LCD 4K HDR TVs, at least by a slight margin though under some settings they can deliver real contrast ratios of well over 20,000:1 and no 4K LCD HDR TV can match this.
One exception to this rule is OLED technology. While OLED TV displays are dimmer than those of many high-end 4K HDR LCD TV displays, their contrast is far superior to that of either a 4K projector display or an LCD screen simply because OLED blacks are total and perfect.
Winner: Tie between both 4K HDR TVs and projectors. TVs manage slightly better brightness but projectors win on contrast, at least slightly.
4K HDR TV vs. 4K HDR Projector: Color management
Both 4K HDR TVs and 4K HDR projectors are absolute killers at delivering some awesomely crisp, bright and vibrant colors. Furthermore, since both device types now typically offer high dynamic range wide color gamut and 10-bit color, they can easily display more than 90% of the DCI-P3 HDR color space beautifully and offer more than 1.07 billion color shades for maximally smooth color gradation.
However, in our experience, projectors tend to display a wider area of the Rec.2020 color space and thus the DCI-P3 color space as well, with over 100% of DCI-P3 color capability and sometimes nearly 80% Rec.2020 color gamut coverage. Very few if any 4K TVs can match this. On the other hand, Colors on a 4K TV can look better simply because of a TVs innately superior brightness.
Winner: The decision is a tough one to make but HDR projectors win very slightly in terms of raw color space coverage, but the effect is only stunning with the right viewing conditions for high projection brightness.
4K HDR TV vs. 4K HDR Projector: Smart features
4K HDR projectors generally don’t come with smart interfaces crammed with streaming media and other apps right out of the box. Instead, you generally have to connect them to some other device which does have its own smart platform. This can be a set-top streaming media box like the Roku Ultra, a 4K UHD Blu-ray player or maybe even a 4K gaming console like PS4 Pro or the Xbox One S (which also offers 4K Blu-ray playback). This may be a bit of hassle but if you’re spending money on a projector, these types of devices are pretty much necessary for a top-shelf content viewing experience, particularly for 4K Blu-ray movie watching.
On the other hand, 4K TVs all now come with smart TV OS platforms that are crammed full of streaming media options right of the box. Furthermore, the smart platforms of today’s best 4K TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony or Vizio are downright superb to boot. This means that you can start streaming movies, TV shows and other programming as soon as your 4K TV is plugged in, web-connected and turned on.
Winner: 4K TVs due to out-of-the-box smart platform usability without extra expense.
4K HDR TV vs. 4K HDR Projector: Installation and Pricing
Without a doubt, 4K HDR TVs are the winner when it comes to affordability and ease of installation. Now that both 4K resolution and high dynamic range are established standard features in most new TVs, prices for these models in a highly competitive market with many brands have dropped like a stone and you can get your hands on even a huge 4K HDR television for below $4000 and many models with a display size of 65 inches or less are easily available for less than $2000. Furthermore, when it comes to installing a 4K TV, your work consists mostly of setting it up on the nearest convenient elevated flat surface, plugging it into your electrical sockets and moden via Ethernet, and turning it on. It’s mostly that simple with 4K TVs.
The same is not the case in the 4K HDR projector market. No 4K home theater projector with native 4K resolution and HDR costs less than $10,000 (!!!!) and all of them are currently made by Sony or, in the case of one model only (the $35,000 RS4500), JVC. There are on the other hand a number of pseudo-4K upscaling projectors being sold today, such as Epson’s 6040UB and 5040UB models, which can play back 4K HDR content and offer high dynamic range but none of these offer true 4K resolution. Instead they upscale native 1080p display resolution to 2K and call themselves 4K projectors because they can play back 4K content. Even these models will set you back by at least $3000 and usually cost between $3000 and $5,000. At that price you can buy some of the best and largest native 4K TVs on the market today and even go for a large OLED 4K TV. With HDR.
And as for installing 4K projectors, for one thing you’ll probably need to mount them to your ceiling or some sort of elevated position and this requires a certain amounnt of effort and the use of power tools. Furthermore, while a white living room wall can be used to display projected content decently enough, it’s absolutely better to actually buy a proper white projection screen. This will cost extra money too.
Winner: 4K TVs by a long shot
Our Final Opinion
In our final opinion, we’d simply argue that 4K HDR projectors may be stunning and superb but their price simply doesn’t justify the one major advantage they offer over 4K TVs, which is their flexible and potentially gigantic display size. In all other important regards, the two devices are either tied or TVs win by a certain margin. At the same time even pseudo-4K HDR projectors are very expensive and true 4K HDR models cost a fortune. Too much to justify buying them for a small display edge that they offer.
Unless you hve a very large budget that can accommodate both a 4K UHD HDR TV and a projector as dual home theater options in your house, we’d suggest simply going for a TV. It offers more overall right out of the box and in most cases will cost much less while doing so.
Story by 4k.com