Best 4K “Living Room” Projectors to replace your TV – 2023May 4, 2023
When you take into account the huge advances in projector technology and significant price drop in 4K imagers and laser light sources, projectors become an extremely viable option for anyone looking for a screen bigger than 85”. Today I’ve got six of the newest modern lifestyle projectors designed to be put in a normal bedroom or living room instead of being confined to a home theater, but the big question is, are any of them good enough to replace a TV?
In this video I’m going to test their brightness, contrast, color accuracy, picture quality, audio quality, input lag, smart OS, and advanced features like auto keystone and focus to determine which one of these lifestyle projectors is the best and if any of them are worth buying. As a reminder, there are no sponsored reviews, and all the specs I report will be based on my own testing rather than just repeating manufacturers’ claims.
Starting with the least expensive, the XGIMI Horizon Pro has an MSRP of $1699 and a common street price somewhere around $1300. The XGIMI is the smallest and lightest of all the projectors we’re going to see today and runs AndroidTV 10 as well as having great external connectivity. The XGIMI includes four leveling feet, a tripod mount, and removing the leveling feet reveals threaded inserts for a traditional projector ceiling mount. Like all the projectors in this video, the Horizon Pro uses DLP technology with pixel shifting to achieve 4K resolution but uses a triple LED light source which XGIMI claims can generate 2200 ANSI lumens. The XGIMI was the runner up in my last lifestyle projector review, and this unit has been installed in my bedroom for about a year.
Next with an MSRP of $1799 and a common street price around $1400 is the projector that was my top overall pick in last year’s showdown and the projector that I’ve used the most since then, the Dangbei Mars Pro. The Mars Pro has sleek glass and metal construction but has a much less functional AndroidTV 9 built in. Fortunately, it has the same great external connectivity as the XGIMI, so adding an external streaming stick isn’t an issue. The Dangbei has the same mounting options as the XGIMI with a standard quarter twenty tripod mount and four leveling feet that can be removed to use a projector ceiling mount. Unlike the 3 LED light source on the XGIMI, the Dangbei uses a single laser light source to produce a claimed 3200 ANSI lumens.
After that we’ve got a brand-new projector from BENQ, the GP500 which also has an MSRP of $1799, and so far, the street price matches that number. The BENQ is the largest of all the projectors in this video due to having its power supply mounted inside the projector instead of using an external power brick, and because it includes an optical zoom lens which allows more flexibility in placement, both of which are helpful if you plan on ceiling mounting your projector. If you want to put the GP500 on a shelf or table it has three adjustable leveling feet, but also includes four mounting points for a traditional ceiling mount. The BENQ GP500 uses an AndroidTV 10 streaming stick and also has great external connectivity. The BENQ uses a 4 LED light source which BENQ says produces 1500 ANSI lumens.
Next is one of the most anticipated projectors of the year, with an MSRP of $2299, but a recent Kickstarter launch that let people buy early for as low as $1100, the JMGO N1 Ultra. A unique feature of the N1 Ultra is it’s built in stand which rotates and tilts for easy aiming onto any wall or ceiling. However, if you want to use a tripod or traditional ceiling mount, you’ll need to buy the purpose-built adapters from JMGO since the stand doesn’t include mounting points. In addition to running Android 11 and having excellent connectivity the JMGO uses a brand-new triple laser light source designed by JMGO which they claim can produce 4000 ANSI lumens, while achieving wider color gamut coverage than projectors that cost ten times as much, and color accuracy that we would expect from studio reference monitors. The JMGO is, on paper, one of the most impressive projectors that’s ever been produced if JMGO’s claims turn out to be true. Thankfully I recently bought around $5000 of professional display calibrating equipment so we can test out every single one of the JMGO N1 Ultra’s listed specs.
After that are two projectors that I saw at CES 2023 that are both supposed to be released internationally sometime this year, but they weren’t out yet when I started making this video, so I bought the Chinese versions directly from AliExpress instead.
First with an MSRP of $2300 listed on AliExpress, but a street price around $1100 the Formovie V10 is a completely different form factor that looks more like an Amazon Echo than a projector. The Formovie V10 runs FengOS, but unfortunately, since this is the Chinese version, almost all the content is unavailable due to region blocking, but the V10 does have plenty of external connectivity to use whatever streaming stick you want. The V10 uses the same DLP and pixel shifting technology as the rest of the projectors to produce 4K resolution and has a 3 LED light source which Formovie claims can generate 2500 ANSI lumens.
And the most expensive projector in this video, at least based on MSRP, is the Formovie X5, which has an MSRP of $2400 but a street price around $1400. The X5 has similar styling to the XGIMI, but massively boosted specs. Unfortunately, like the V10, the Formovie X5 is a Chinese region version and uses the same built in FengOS, but it has more than enough external connectivity to make up for that. The Formovie X5 also uses DLP and pixel shifting technology to produce its 4K resolution, and similar to the Dangbei, the X5 uses a single laser and color wheel, but Formovie claims it can produce an insane 4500 ANSI lumens which would make it the brightest projector in this video, and again we’re definitely going to test that.
The current standard for measuring projector brightness is the ANSI lumen, which seems like a straightforward measurement: You project an all-white screen, measure the brightness at nine standard points, average those measurements, then multiply by the screen size in square meters. The big problem is that projector companies have come up with all kinds of ways to game the system, doing things like using different shades of white, cherry picking only the highest performing prototypes from the production line, and even using special menus and modes that aren’t available to the end user to temporarily boost power to the laser or LEDs to increase brightness. These methods may or may not protect them in court since they are loopholes in the ANSI lumen standard, but in my opinion, and I’m guessing most of you feel the same way. I feel like the projector that you buy should be able to produce the brightness that was advertised.
Starting with the lowest claimed brightness, the BENQ GP500 claimed 1500 ANSI lumens, and in my testing produced 1337 ANSI lumens, or around 90% of its claimed brightness. Using those same settings, the BENQ had a 716:1 contrast ratio which is the difference in brightness between a full white screen and a full black screen, 84% brightness uniformity which is the difference in brightness between the brightest quadrant and the dimmest quadrant, and during that testing the BENQ’s 4 LED light source drew 141 watts of power.
Next with a claimed brightness of 2200 ANSI lumens, the XGIMI Horizon Pro was slightly brighter than the BENQ with 1395 ANSI lumens, which is about 150 more than the last time I tested it due to some recent firmware updates, but still just 63% of its claimed brightness. The XGIMI’s contrast ratio was much less than the BENQ at just 513:1, brightness uniformity was about the same at 84% and the XGIMI drew 150 watts of power at full brightness.
The Formovie V10 claimed 2500 ANSI lumens, but I was only able to get to 1392 ANSI lumens which is just 56% of its claimed brightness. On the brightest setting, the contrast ratio was worse than the XGIMI at 480:1, brightness uniformity was 80%, and power draw was the highest of any of the projectors at 167 watts.
The Dangbei Mars Pro claims its laser light source can produce 3200 ANSI lumens, but I measured a maximum of 2063 ANSI lumens, which is the highest yet by a significant margin, but still only 64% of its claimed brightness. On that brightest setting, the Dangbei had a contrast ratio similar to the BENQ at 719:1, a brightness uniformity of 89%, and a power draw of 143 watts.
Next is the JMGO N1 Ultra with its MALC triple laser light source and 4000 ANSI lumen claim. I measured the JMGO at 2657 ANSI lumens, which is REALLY bright, but still only 66% of advertised lumens, which to be fair is the second closest to advertised brightness only behind the BENQ’s 90%. The JMGO also had an extremely impressive contrast ratio of 1593:1 which is more than double the next best projector, the highest brightness uniformity with only a 10% difference between the brightest and dimmest areas, and inexplicably, the lowest power draw at only 134 watts. Wow.
That’s a tough act to follow, but Formovie claims their single laser X5 can produce 4500 ANSI lumens. Unfortunately, in my testing I was only able to measure 2275 ANSI Lumens, which is the 2nd highest behind the JMGO and respectably bright, but only 51% of what it advertised. The X5’s contrast ratio was also the second highest at 892:1, brightness uniformity was 86%, and the X5 drew 142 watts at full power.
That means that the JMGO was the brightest overall by a significant margin, followed by the Formovie X5 and then the Dangbei Mars Pro. And if we’re giving bonus points for honesty, the BENQ achieved 90% of advertised brightness, while the next closest was the JMGO at 66%, and the Formovie X5 was the least honest at 51% of advertised brightness.
I think conceptually everyone has a good idea of what brightness means and how it affects projector performance, but what about color? Specifically, color space coverage and color accuracy are increasingly advertised as major selling points of new projectors, but what does it even mean?
This diagram represents all the colors that your eyes can see, but video content is produced in a much smaller subsection of available colors, which we call a color gamut. Standard Dynamic Range content is mastered in the Rec 709 color space, which is this triangle, while High Dynamic Range content is mastered in the DCI P3 color space, which is this significantly larger triangle. And the newest HDR content can utilize an even larger color space called Rec 2020, though for the time being, movie studios are still mastering content using the DCI-P3 color space, so Rec 2020 is more about future proofing.
The point is, in general, that the more colors a projector can produce the more lifelike the projected image will look. If you locate a projector’s three primary colors (red, green, and blue) on the color spectrum you can draw a triangle between them, and that triangle will show all the colors that that specific projector can produce. If the triangle includes an entire smaller color space, we would say that it covers 100% or more of that specific color gamut.
To that end, JMGO specifically makes some pretty wild claims about the N1 Ultra’s ability to produce color, claiming that it can generate colors covering 110% of the Rec 2020 color space which is that largest triangle, and JMGO says that also corresponds to 210% of the standard Rec 709 color triangle.
To measure those claims, you need a bunch of expensive equipment and software, which I happen to have just bought and spent a month learning to use. So, with a Portrait VideoForge 8K signal generator, C6 HDR2000 colorimeter, and Calman Ultimate software I measured each projector’s color gamut using a 100 inch, 1.0 gain screen in a completely ambient light-controlled room.
Starting with the JMGO N1 Ultra since it made the wildest claims, my Calman results showed 100% coverage of the standard Rec 709 color space, 99.6% coverage of DCI-P3, and an extremely impressive 99.03% of the Rec 2020 color space, which isn’t 110%, but it’s still better than basically every TV on the market today. And just for fun I decided to validate their big Rec 709 claim by using a Rec 2020 color signal with the Rec 709 test and came up with 213% coverage which is actually even more than the 210% that JMGO claimed.
As for the other projectors, they all covered at least 93% of the SDR Rec 709 colors, and around 80% of the DCI-P3 color space with the Dangbei Mars Pro and Formovie X5 performing the worst in both categories.
However, being able to produce a wide range of colors is different than color accuracy, which is the ability for the projector to reproduce the same color that the director intended when the video content was mastered. The measurement for this is called Delta E and Calman can measure it by telling the signal generator to output specific RGB triplets, which the colorimeter then measures for accuracy. We would expect a professionally calibrated display to have a Delta E below 2, and Delta E below 3 is the point where our eyes can’t tell the difference between similar colors, but most TVs are much less accurate than that with average Delta E values around 10-15 from the factory.
However, JMGO claims their Delta E is below 1, which would basically mean that the projector comes from the factory with colors that are as accurate as a Hollywood studio monitor which is another pretty wild claim.
Unfortunately, in this test JMGO came up short, and its most accurate color mode – standard, had an average Delta E in the Rec 709 color space of 5.56, which isn’t terrible, but definitely not under 1. The BENQ GP500 on the other hand had an extremely impressive Delta E of 1.96, which basically means it comes pre-calibrated from the factory, and the worst performers with the least accurate colors were the Formovie V10 and the Dangbei Mars Pro.
Up until now I’ve basically just been independently testing and verifying marketing claims, but the next big question is does having better brightness, contrast, and color accuracy actually lead to a better viewing experience?
I watched HDR and SDR content on every projector in both a completely ambient-light-controlled room, and with the lights on, and my preferences were pretty surprising based on my earlier testing.
First, without question, my two favorite projectors based on viewing experience alone were the Formovie X5 and the Dangbei Mars Pro which are both single laser projectors with around 2000 actual ANSI lumens which despite having the lowest color space coverage and relatively high Delta E values, were absolutely crystal clear, dynamic, vibrant and had a definite wow factor. Between the two, the X5 definitely had more color pop, but produced some artifacting and posterization on darker and more blurred sections of the screen while the Dangbei image was consistently great in both light and dark scenes. I particularly like the way that the Dangbei handles darker scenes in AI picture mode during the day, which sacrifices black levels to improve shadow detail compared to the other projectors which are significantly less watchable in a room with ambient light.
And then we need to talk about the JMGO N1 Ultra, and why I’m going to have a hard time recommending it despite its extremely impressive performance specs. The one downfall of the JMGO N1 Ultra is its triple laser light source, which despite being advertised to have dynamic laser speckle reducer technology, produces the worst laser speckle I’ve ever seen. Laser speckle is caused because each of the three laser lights comes from a slightly different point in the array and because unlike diffused LED light, laser light is highly columnated, which makes large diffuse areas on the screen look like their shimmering. If you’ve never experience laser speckle, I originally described it to my wife as looking like the vampire skin from twilight, but my 10-year-old daughter described it more accurately saying it looks like when she gets pizza grease on her iPad screen and then moves her head around.
My daily use projector is the AWOL LTV 3500, which also uses a triple laser light source, and if I TRY to notice it I CAN see laser speckle in SOME scenes, but with the JMGO I can’t NOT notice it and in some scenes it’s so bad that it looks almost like static or interference on the image, and I would say the speckle on the JMGO is at least 100 times worse than the speckle on the AWOL.
I’ve watched every early review of the N1 Ultra on YouTube and I didn’t hear a single person mention laser speckle, and I just don’t know how it wasn’t a topic of conversation because it is extremely noticeable and a huge issue. I guess it’s possible that this is a problem with my unit only, but I did specifically wait to review this projector until a finalized production unit was available instead of testing a prototype like those other videos.
I did quite a bit of extra testing for the JMGO N1 Ultra because I really wanted it to be great based on the rest of its specs; but picture adjustments like brightness, contrast, sharpness, and laser light level didn’t seem to have any effect on speckle. I also tested it on almost every screen in my house which included a 1.5 gain Fresnel ALR screen, a 1.0 gain Silver Ticket Grey Screen, a 0.6 gain Vividstorm ALR screen, a 0.8 gain gray outdoor screen, a 1.0 gain textured white golf simulator impact screen, a 0.8 gain CLR2 screen, and I even tested it with a 0.8 gain lenticular CLR screen designed to only be used with ultra short throw projectors and the rougher textured screens like the impact screen and CLR2 performed the best because they made the speckle less noticeable. In fact, the best result by far came from projecting onto my matte white textured ceiling, so it might be better to use the N1 Ultra in higher ambient light situations where you won’t be using a screen.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed watching the BENQ GP500, despite its low brightness. In a dark room once my eyes had adjusted to the light the amount of detail and realism in the video was unmatched, and it’s really a shame that the brightness isn’t just a little bit higher to make the highlights pop because every other aspect of the video quality was spot on. You can see how much closer to the source image the BENQ is than the rest of the projectors, which is the result of that 1.96 delta E value, so if you’re into experiencing movies exactly how the director intended it then the GP500 is a great pick.
As for the Formovie V10 and XGIMI Horizon Pro, the picture quality was just okay, the V10 ended up being a little bit too green in most scenes and the Horizon Pro was just oversaturated in general, but if you weren’t comparing them side-by-side to any of these other projectors or to the source video I’m sure you’d say they look great. In fact, I’ve been using the Horizon Pro in my bedroom for the last year and every time I fired it up, I was amazed how good it looked, so in no way am I saying that the V10 or Horizon Pro look bad, they just don’t look as good as the Formovie X5 or Dangbei Mars Pro.
However, one of the reasons I picked the Horizon Pro for my bedroom projector a year ago was that I didn’t plan on installing a sound system and the Horizon Pro had by far the loudest and best sounding speakers of all the projectors in last year’s review.
However, in this lineup the Formovie projectors were in a league of their own with the V10’s audio ever so slightly better than the X5’s. Not only did they have virtual surround sound, and better bass response while keeping clear vocals, but they were also significantly louder than the rest of the lineup. Here’s a short clip from each of the projectors at 50% volume.
I put the audio performance of the XGIMI significantly lower than the two projectors from Formovie, then the JMGO very closely behind that. The BENQ was much quieter than the other projectors and didn’t have as much low-end presence but was still very usable. The Dangbei, to me, had the worst overall sound focused too much on low end to the point where vocals sounded really muddy.
Also, on the topic of sound, I measured the fan noise of each of the projectors and found that the Formovie V10 was the quietest around 34 decibels, then the JMGO at 36 decibels, the Formovie X5 at 37 decibels, the XGIMI also at 37 decibels, but a slightly higher pitch, the Dangbei came in at 39 decibels, and the loudest projector was the BENQ GP500 at 40 decibels.
Next let’s talk gaming, which is one of the best things to do on a big screen. Resolution, refresh rate, dynamic range, and pixel response time will all have an effect on your experience, but for gaming there’s one measurement that matters more than anything else, and that’s input lag. As the picture enhancement processing on these projectors gets more advanced, the time between when the signal goes into the projector and gets out onto your screen can increase dramatically, and if it’s too high then pressing a button on your controller can feel disconnected from what you see on the screen.
In general input lag times under 20ms will satisfy even the most competitive gamers, and anything under 50ms will be indistinguishable for most people. Between 50-100ms things might start to feel weird, and input lag over 100ms is unacceptable for gaming. I measured input lag using the industry standard Leo Bodner lag tester that flashes a white box on the screen and measures the time between when it sent the signal and when it arrives at the photo diode on the tester unit.
At 4K60hz all the projectors had acceptable input lag times under 50ms, but the BENQ was especially impressive at just 17ms, and at 1080p120hz the BENQ remained extremely fast while the rest of the projectors flirted with that 50ms number, making the BENQ GP500 the undisputed king for gaming performance.
Looking at their built in smart operating systems the JMGO N1 Ultra is significantly better than the rest with a pretty full featured version of Android 11 supporting great new picture adjustments like 11-point white balance, adaptive luma control, and individual color management. That means that even though the projector didn’t come from the factory with a Delta E less than 1 like JMGO claimed, the available controls definitely make it possible to get to that point with proper calibration.
Both the BENQ and XGIMI have Android 10, which lacks the advanced picture controls you find on the JMGO, but the BENQ handles picture settings separate of the smart OS and has a complete set of color and brightness settings to dial in your picture even further if you wanted.
The Dangbei, Formovie X5 and Formovie V10 essentially have zero smart functionality since the Dangbei has an outdated version of Android 9 and the Formovie projectors are using a Chinese region only OS. However, aside from picture quality controls, I don’t think a smart OS is all that important since Netflix makes it basically impossible for these projectors to get “Netflix certified,” so even if you’re able to get the app installed via some other launcher or custom APK, you’ll still be stuck with 1080p only content, which defeats the purpose of these awesome projectors.
For that reason, I’d highly recommend a streaming stick like the FireTV Max 4K which can plug right into the back of the projector and get its power from the built in USB ports. All the remotes support HDMI CEC meaning you won’t need to have a separate FireTV remote, and you can still use the same projector remote for any built-in functions that you want to use, though I do need to mention that HDMI CEC felt noticeably less responsive with the BENQ remote than it did with the rest of the projectors.
Last, let’s look at the thing that makes these lifestyle projectors unique from traditional home theater projectors which are features like automatic focus, keystone, and screen fit. The vision for these projectors is that you won’t be permanently mounting them, but instead you’ll travel with them, move them from room to room, or bring them outside whenever you want to have a really high-quality movie night. To help with that they make it as easy as possible to get your screen set up. All you have to do is point the projector at a wall and it will dial in the focus and adjust the corners of the image perfectly to give you a rectangular screen.
In my previous videos, the XGIMI lineup of projectors have always been the king of automatic keystone, but JMGO has really raised the bar and had near instantaneous, and nearly perfect keystoning in both wall projection and ceiling projection, and the built in rotating and pivoting stand is a game changer when it comes to easily positioning your screen exactly where you want it.
The XGIMI Horizon Pro’s auto keystone and focus continued to function extremely well, albeit slower than the JMGO, and the Dangbei received firmware updates since the last video that significantly increased the accuracy and overall functionality of its auto keystone, though it’s still not nearly as good as the XGIMI Horizon Pro.
The Formovie V10 also performed decently, about the same as the Dangbei, but the Formovie X5 did a pretty poor job in most cases and complained that projector was at too much of an angle to use auto keystone.
The worst performer here though was the BENQ that just didn’t work at all for me. I would press the button for auto keystone, and it would act like it was work but then it just did nothing. I reached out to BENQ, and they did send a replacement unit which fixed the issue, but it’s my policy to report anything that happens during my reviews, and my original unit was defective.
So overall this has to be the strangest and most unfortunate conclusion I’ve ever come to in a review: The JMGO N1 Ultra is, by far, the best performing projector in this video. It has great brightness and contrast, huge color space coverage, highly adjustable picture and sound controls, speakers with good bass, acceptable input lag, and a really unique and useful built in stand with great auto keystone functionality.
I REALLY want to be able to recommend this projector to you, and I think JMGO did a mostly amazing job designing this machine, but the laser speckle is out of control. If the JMGO ticks all the boxes for you and you are planning on moving your projector around a lot and projecting onto an imperfect textured surface like a wall or ceiling in a room with ambient light, then the JMGO might be the right choice for you. However, I would not recommend it for use with a screen because, for me at least, the speckle from the JMGO’s triple laser light source is a constant distraction.
Both of the single laser projectors on the other hand were fantastic, but the Formovie X5 is easily my top overall pick out of these six projectors. Compared to the Dangbei Mars Pro, the Formovie X5 had louder, higher quality speakers, higher brightness, lower input lag, and lower fan noise. So as a standalone living room or bedroom projector, the X5 is the clear choice. The X5 just recently went for sale on Amazon and on ProjectorScreen.com so it’s no longer necessary to import it directly from China, but it does still ship with the Chinese version of FengOS, so you’ll also need to pick up a good streaming stick like a FireTV Max.
The Dangbei, which was my overall top pick in last year’s video still holds up and can occasionally be found for around $1250 on sale, which makes it a very viable option over the X5, especially if you’re planning on using a separate sound system, and the concerns I had last year about the longevity and build quality from this relatively unknown company have been squashed since I put almost 800 hours on this projector over the last year and it has performed perfectly.
As for the BENQ GP500, it is completely consistent with the quality and color accuracy that I’ve come to expect from BENQ, and if it were 500 lumens brighter, I think it might have been my top pick. As it stands the BENQ is a great option for gamers with its super low input lag, and cinephiles who want to experience movies as they were intended by the director with its Delta E of 1.96, but the GP500 is only suitable for light controlled environments due to its significantly lower brightness than the Dangbei Mars Pro, Formovie X5, and JMGO N1 Ultra.
The Formovie V10 and XGIMI Horizon Pro just kind of got lost in the mix. There are rumors that when the V10 is released internationally that it will sell for under $1000 which would make it an interesting option, but Formovie hasn’t even officially stated a release date, let alone an MSRP. Similarly, XGIMI has been reducing the price of the Horizon Pro to compete with newer models, but it remains similarly priced to the Dangbei Mars Pro, which from a picture quality and brightness standpoint is significantly better.
Links to all these projectors are below, and if you appreciate the time, effort, and money that it takes me to make a video like this I’d appreciate it if you could use those links since I do earn a small commission on the sale at no cost to you.
I’d also like to thank all of my Patrons over at Patreon for their continued support of my channel, and if you’re interested in supporting my channel, please check out the links below. If you enjoyed this video consider subscribing to my channel, and as always thanks for watching The Hook Up.
Top Pick Overall – Formovie X5
ProjectorScreen.com (US Buyers): https://www.projectorscreen.com/formovie-x5-4k-laser-projector-alpd-portable-home-theater-projector.html?af=hookup-af
NothingProjector (International Buyers): https://nothingprojector.com/products/fengmi-formovie-x5-master-series-4k-alpd-laser-projector-2450-cvia-lumens?sca_ref=3620108.hsnq5IqCkS
Best Budget Pick – Dangbei Mars Pro
NothingProjector (International Buyers): https://nothingprojector.com/products/dangbei-mars-pro-4k-projector-home-theater-with-3200-ansi-lumens?sca_ref=3620108.hsnq5IqCkS
Best Performance Specs – JMGO N1 Ultra
JMGO Direct: https://n1-ultra.jmgo.com/
Best for Gamers and Cinephiles – BENQ GP500
Other projectors tested:
XGIMI Horizon Pro (AmazonUS): https://amzn.to/3LBfA25
Formovie V10 (AliExpress): https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_DBPSsXR
**As an Amazon Affiliate I earn a commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you**