Can a Laser Projector REPLACE your TV? Top 4 Modern TV Replacement 4K Laser and LED ProjectorsJune 30, 2022
Today on the hookup I’m going to exhaustively test these 4 high end laser and LED smart projectors from BENQ, Anker, XGiMi and Dangbei to figure out which one is best and if any of them are worth buying.
Right up front let me just say that if you bought any of these 4 projectors I feel confident that you’d be happy with your choice, because all of them are really good, like super impressive. But on my channel I can’t just stop there, and if I’M going to drop a big chunk of change on a new piece of tech I need to know which one is the BEST and why, and if you’re here watching this video, that’s probably the kind of person you are too.
So lets start out looking at the projectors themselves. These are all a newer style of projector designed to be a little more stylish, and not necessarily confined to a home theater space. That said, when they’re all sitting next to each other you can see there’s actually a huge difference in size that I wouldn’t have picked up on from looking at their pictures online. The largest by far is this 14 pound giant from BENQ, the $2000 x3000i which is a low latency gaming focused projector with a 4 LED light source with an estimated lifetime of 20,000 hours on high brightness. For connectivity it’s got 2 HDMI ports with an audio return channel, optical and analog audio out, and a USB port. In addition to the 2 external HDMI ports there’s also an internal HDMI and USB connection attached to the included BENQ streaming stick to give this projector smart functionality.
There’s also a 12v trigger port and an RS232 port like you might find on a more traditional projector. On the bottom are two front leveling feet and a traditional set of projector mounting points or if you plan on putting the x3000i on a shelf near the ceiling it can also be inverted and rear leveling feet can be added to tilt the projector downward.
The x3000i supports 4k 60hz and 1080p at up to 240hz where it claims an insanely fast 4ms response time. BENQ also claims the x3000i has 3000 ANSI lumens which is a huge amount of brightness for an LED projector so we will definitely be testing those claims today.
The second largest projector weighs in at just under 11 pounds, the brand new $2199 Anker Nebula 4K Laser, which as the name suggests is a laser light source 4k projector. The Nebula 4K Laser claims 25,000 hours of light source lifespan with 2400 ISO Lumens and is clearly focused on portability since in addition to its non-removable handle, 30 watts of built in speakers and android TV 10 it also has auto focus, auto keystone, and automatic screen fit which are all handy features when you’re going to be moving your projector around a lot. Also useful is the fact that there’s no external power brick, so it’s more or less a pick up and go solution.
The nebula 4k laser also has a built in compartment to plug in the nebula streaming stick, but only has 1 external HDMI port, one USB and a plug labeled aux that appears to be an analog audio out port. Unfortunately the nebula lacks any kind of leveling feet and only has a single quarter twenty style tripod mount on the bottom which combined with its 11 pound weight makes ceiling mounting a little bit sketchy, but I’d argue that ceiling mounting that isn’t really what this projector is for.
Slightly smaller than the nebula, weighting in at 10 pounds by itself or just over 11 pounds with its large external power brick, is the least expensive projector in this video. $1800 get you the Dangbei Mars Pro which is a 4K laser projector that recently popped up on Amazon from a company that I’ve personally never heard of. However, the Dangbei claims some really impressive specs like 25,000 light source hours at 3200 ANSI lumens, HDR10+, HLG and MEMC, but as you might now it’s pretty common for projectors from random brands on Amazon to have inflated stats on their product pages, so we will of course be verifying as many of those claims as we can with actual testing.
Unlike the BENQ and Nebula the Dangbei has form of android 9 built in instead of on a streaming stick, and for external ports there are 2 HDMI ports, that support HDMI 2.1 and eARC, and there’s also 2 USB ports, analog and optical audio out, and even an ethernet port to hardwire your internet connection. On the bottom of the Dangbei’s glossy black exterior are 4 adjustable leveling feet with about a centimeter of travel each, a quarter twenty tripod mount, and if you remove 3 of the feet you can use the threaded holes for a traditional projector ceiling mount.
And last, but not definitely not least is the $1899 :XGIMI Horizon Pro which is probably the best selling model in this new more stylish projector category. The Horizon Pro is the smallest by far and weighs in at 6 and a half pounds or just over 8 pounds including its power brick. The Horizon pro uses a more standard 3 LED light source and claims 25,000 light source hours at 2200 ANSI lumens.
Aside from slightly lower brightness than the other projectors the horizon pro seems to have it all with features like auto focus and keystone, HDR10, MEMC, AndroidTV 10, fast response gaming mode and powerful onboard speakers, and it does all that in this surprisingly compact form factor. Similar to the dangbei the horizon pro has 2 HDMI ports, 2 usb, optical and analog audio out and an ethernet jack. Also like the Dangbei the horizon pro has 4 leveling feet a quarter twenty tripod mount, and the ability to remove the feet to use a standard projector ceiling mount.
So lets get started testing out those claims, starting with the big stuff. In my opinion when it comes to projectors you can basically never have enough brightness. If you have a purpose built home theater with no windows, black walls, ceilings, carpet and furniture then too much brightness might be possible, but for normal people with normal living rooms, brighter is better. The standard measurement for projector brightness the ANSI lumen and it’s calculated by projecting an all white image, measuring the brightness in 9 different segments, then averaging those measurements and multiplying by the screen size in square meters. I also decided to go a little more in depth with my testing for these projectors and measured not only the white brightness, but also black levels, and red, green, blue and pink color brightness.
Overall the brightest projector that I measured was the BENQ x3000i with 2269 ANSI lumens on its bright picture setting. However, on that preset the color brightness was terrible, with just 108 lumens for red and 304 for blue. Using standard picture mode reduced the white brightness to 1853 ansi lumens while tripling the red brightness and increasing blue to 519 lumens. With white brightness and color brightness added together the brightest overall projector was the Dangbei Mars Pro with 2082 ANSI lumens of white brightness and a total of 4785 lumens when combing each individual color score.
The nebula laser 4k put out 1455 ANSI lumens on white and had a combined color score of 3708. And the dimmest projector was the XGIMI Horizon Pro which measured just 1223 ANSI lumens on white and had lowest combined color score of 3044.
Contrast is also important and the standard for measuring it is called full on full off, or FOFO. I started out by measuring full white brightness and full black brightness, then turned off the projector entirely to measure the ambient light in the room and then subtracted that from my black measurement.
Using this method the BENQ x3000i had the best contrast of around 900:1, followed by the Dangbei mars pro at 710:1 then the nebula laser 4k at 655:1 and last was the xgimi horizon pro at 488:1.
You might notice how far off these numbers are from the claimed values on their product pages, and I’m not claiming that my test results are more accurate than theirs, but I do know that all my tests were done under the same real world conditions so they’re definitely still useful for comparing the projectors to each other.
Enough with the numbers though, lets take a look at how all these things translate into picture quality. I spent the last two weeks watching movies, sports, and playing xbox games on these 4 projectors in all kinds of different lighting conditions and this is what I found.
Under ideal lighting conditions, meaning at night with the lights off all the projectors expectedly looked amazing. I use a 120” 0.8 gain ambient light rejecting screen from Vividstorm , in my living room, and I had no complaints about any of the projectors. I thought the BENQ x3000i was the most accurate as far as showing colors and contrast as the filmmaker intended, while the Dangbei Mars Pro produced an image with more of a wow factor. Sometimes people call it the Best Buy Demo effect because the image is unnaturally saturated, but there’s a reason they use it on the showroom floor: It looks incredible, and it sells displays.
The same was mostly true during the day with the blinds open and some lights on but we start to get an idea for how powerful all these projectors are and also start to see some of the differences in brightness. Again, projecting onto my 120” 0.8 gain ALR screen the Dangbei mars pro looked exceptionally bright and had great detail and contrast, while the nebula 4k laser had the best black levels but was harder to see detail in the darker areas of the screen. The XGiMi horizon pro image was the most saturated while the BENQ x3000i had more muted colors, but still maintained detail and contrast.
Pushing these projectors to their absolute limits I brought them out onto my patio for some daytime projection competing with ambient light from the midday florida sun. And in this test the dangbei mars pro definitely produced the most watchable image with vibrant colors and pretty good contrast and after that I preferred the image from the nebula 4k laser, then the BENQ and last the xgimi horizon pro seemed to struggle a little in this test due to its lower brightness.
That means that overall I personally preferred the Dangbei Mars Pro image in every lighting condition, but overall there wasn’t THAT much difference between these 4 projectors and as I said at the beginningof the video, they’re all really good.
So lets move on to some of the big differences in these projectors, starting with their built in smart OS. I mentioned earlier that the BENQ x3000i and Nebula 4K Laser have compartments to plug in a streaming dongle with android 10. And as a result there’s a pretty distinct separation between the projector controls and smart OS controls, which is nice because if the smart OS dongle ever fails then the rest of the projector would still work, and it also opens up the possibility to just upgrade just that portion of the projector later on without replacing the entire thing.
In contrast the xgimi horizon pro and dangbei mars pro have their smart OS built in, and everything feels much more tied together. Though as a quick note all the remotes do have a dedicated projector settings button which is a very important features for being able to tweak settings without needing to navigate back through the home screen.
The XGiMi, BENQ and Nebula are all running android TV10, but that doesn’t mean they have the same capabilities. For whatever reason Netflix requires each specific device to be Netflix certified and doesn’t give out that designation easily. So out of these 4 projector the only one that can run Netflix natively is the nebula 4k laser, though I have heard rumors that BENQ is working on a replacement for their streaming dongle that will be Netflix certified.
As far as other app compatibility I didn’t have any issues and apps like YouTube TV or Disney plus on any of the android 10 devices. The dangbei though, oof. The Dangbei is running a strange version of
android 9, and when you log in with your google account it gets detected as a Samsung galaxy A3, which is a cell phone from 2017. You can INSTALL apps like Netflix, YouTube TV and Disney Plus, but none of them work. As a work around there’s an internet browser to load the web versions of those streaming services, but that also doesn’t work. In fact, other than plex and the local media player nothing on the Dangbei smart OS works and you should basically consider it a non-smart projector, which isn’t a complete dealbreaker since a chromecast or firestick gets you all the same functionality as android 10 for around $50, but if the selling point of these projectors is their sleek looks and portability, then needing another device is a bit annoying.
Another thing that I typically wouldn’t worry about on a projector is sound quality, since projectors are usually paired with a surround sound system or at least a soundbar, but again, I think the target market for these projectors is a bit different and having a good set of internal speaker does actually matter.
In my testing I found that the all the speakers were a bit quieter when processing 5.1 surround sound than stereo, so I test both on 50% and 100% volume. I’m going to play the clips first, then I’ll give my opinions.
In all situations I thought XGiMi Horizon Pro had the clearest, fullest and loudest sound by a pretty significant margin. After that was the Nebula Laser 4K which had nice full sound but was sometimes difficult to make out the vocals when there was a lot of background noise. The Dangbei mars pro had decent base but lacked high end which made it sound a bit muffled but I much prefer that over the BENQ x3000i which was plenty loud but lacked low end and the internal speakers were way to tinny for me to be able to watch a whole movie with them.
You might have also noticed the fan noise in those clips, here’s what each projector sounds like by itself.
The Dangbei had a barely noticeable fan that was not only quiet, but also has a nice low frequency. Next quietest was the XGiMi Horizon Pro, then technically the Nebula Laser 4K was in 3 rd and the BENQ x3000i was the loudest. However, my Nebula Laser 4K has a really annoying high pitched power supply whine any time the projector is plugged in, not just when it’s on. My ears are particularly sensitive to high pitched noises, so it was really annoying for me, but I don’t know if this sound is specific to my unit only, and I know a lot of people can’t even hear super high pitched frequencies.
As I said though the BENQ does have a pretty substantial amount of fan noise, and that’s because it needs a lot of cooling to deliver the power to make an LED projector so bright. During my brightness testing I measured the power draw of each projector on full brightness white. The lowest power consumption was the Dangbei at 142 watts, then xGiMi at 144 watts, next the Nebula Laser 4K drew 149 watts, and the BENQ had more than double THAT at 331 watts. People don’t normally consider power consumption when it comes to TVs and Projectors but based on a 20,000 hour light source lifespan that means that the BENQ will use around 6000 kilowatt hours compared to around 2500 for the Dangbei, which at twenty cents per kilowatt hour represents about $700 in energy savings over the lifetime of the projector, however even at 331 watts projectors are still by far the most cost effective way to get a large screen since even an 85” TV can draw as much as 500 watts.
So the BENQ is bigger and more power hungry than the other projectors, but it’s definitely less focused on being portable and more on delivering the best gaming experience possible. If you’ve never played Forza on a 120” screen, you’re really missing out, but a downside of projectors is often input lag which is the time between when the video game console sends out the video signal and when it shows up on the screen.
I tested the input lag against my LG C9 TV and found that in gaming mode at 4k60hz the BENQ had an input lag of about 18ms, the xgimi horizon pro was around 38ms the Dangbei was about 46ms and the nebula at came in at 71ms. The difference between 18ms and 71ms is about 4 frames of a 4k60hz signal. In this footage using an HDMI splitter to run my xbox you can see the BENQ shows the goal animation first, then the xgimi, then Dangbei and 4 frames later the nebula laser finally shows the animation.
I unfortunately can’t measure the ultra fast modes available on the BENQ since I don’t have an HDMI splitter capable of 1080p 120hz, but according to BENQ 1080p 120 should be 8ms and 1080p 240 should be 4ms, and I tend to believe it since my testing more or less confirmed their claimed input lag at 4k60.
For most people input lag under 50ms is indistinguishable, but for more hardcore gamers and twitch based games every millisecond counts as long as you’ve got the skills to back it up. The nebula does have a picture mode called extreme gaming that supposedly further reduces input lag when using a 1080p signal, but in my testing it didn’t appear to be any different.
It’s also important to note that I tested all these input lags with no keystone adjustment and any extra image processing will cause more input lag. Because the BENQ is focused on a gaming performance it doesn’t have the advanced keystoning that you get with the other 3 projectors, so it will need to be mounted more or less in line with the screen. It does however have optical zoom instead of digital which gives you a little more freedom with how far away from the screen the projector is mounted. The Nebula Laser 4k, Dangbei Mars Pro and XGiMi Horizon Pro have throw ratios around 1.25, meaning to get a 100” diagonal screen they need to be around 109” away from the screen, while the zoom lens on the BENQ adjusts the throw ratio from 1.15 to 1.5, so you could place the projector anywhere between 100-130” away from the screen for that same 100” diagonal screen, and since it’s an optical zoom you don’t lose any resolution or introduce input lag.
Speaking of that advanced keystoning, all three of the other projectors have sensors on the front to do auto focus, auto keystone and auto screen fit, but they definitely don’t all work the same. The Dangbei automated focus almost never works until you hot the okay button to let it fine tune itself, and in the two weeks I’ve been using it I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Dangbei get its auto keystone right. That said, the manual 4 point keystone works great and is easy to use. The Nebula Laser 4k does a little bit better than the eeDangbei, but still fails most of the time,and manual adjustments are a little more annoying to get to because you nd to disable the automatic keystone to the manual options.
XGiMi on the other hand has been doing automatic focus and keystone for a while and they are the undisputed champion. Not only does it create the largest screen possible from any given angle, but screen fit works amazingly well and the whole process is surprisingly fast. The other great thing is despite how accurate it is it always immediately give you the option to fine tune the screen without having to go back through any other menus.
So even though all these projectors are really good, I think my conclusions are actually pretty straightforward.
If you want a projector to travel with, bring to a campsite, a tailgate, or a cookout the is an easy pick. It’s sturdy, bright, loud, has its power circuit built in, and its got that added bonus of supporting Netflix out the box. I wouldn’t recommend the Nebula 4K Laser for a gaming focused setup since the input lag is pretty high, and permanently ceiling mounting it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.
If you’re primarily using your projector for gaming and are planning on a more permanent setup with a ceiling mount, a screen, and a separate audio system then the BENQ x3000i is an obvious choice with absolutely insane gaming performance, great colors, great brightness and the Android 10 dongle is a nice added bonus.
If what you’re looking for is an easy to use projector that you can carry around the house and setup in seconds with nearly perfect auto keystone and focus then the xgimi horizon pro is perfect for you It hasthe best sound, great picture, good app compatibility except for Netflix and a very competitive price, all in a surprisingly light and compact package, and the thing just works. If my parents or sisters asked me for a smart projector recommendation the Horizon Pro would definitely be my answer. And then there’s the Dangbei. I’m not going to lie, I love it and I hate it, but I mostly love it. It looks amazing in every lighting condition, the sound isn’t as good as the xgimi, but it’s definitely good enough to use on its own, the input lag is totally acceptable for casual gaming, I like the sleek look and mounting options, the auto keystone sucks but the manual one fine and don’t forget it’s also the cheapest projector in this video.
In fact, I like this projector so much that the inclusion of this garbage version of Android actually makes me angry, literally nothing works on it and they would have been much better off just leaving it out entirely and selling the mars pro as a dumb projector. Thankfully through the power of HDMI CEC you can just plug in a fireTV stick or roku and control it with the dangbei remote, but unfortunately having that smart OS adds one thing that could break, and I decided to just leave mine fully disconnected from the internet.
Also, I just need to get this off my chest, why did they call it the Mars Pro? There’s already a portable projector on the market called the mars 2 pro, it’s made by Anker and looks like this. Speaking of which look at how similar the remotes are for the anker mars 2 pro, and the dangbei mars pro. There’s no way they could have missed that fact in a market analysis and it doesn’t make me super confident in Dangbei as a company.
And that’s the other huge problem preventing me from giving an overwhelmingly recommendation for the Dangbei. Before this projector came out I’d never heard of them as a company, so if your projector breaks and you need to contact them for help or a replacement I’m not sure how that process would go.
In contrast Nebula is owned by Anker, XGIMI is a well established projector brand on their own and BENQ has been making high quality projectors since the 1980s. So yes, in my opinion the Dangbei is most well rounded projector with a price tag that makes it extremely tempting, but if I were you I wouldn’t buy it unless you are okay with the possibility that it will break well before that 20,000 hour lifespan, and you’ll have no support or recourse.
Though if you do buy it through Amazon you at least have their free 30 day return policy. Speaking of which I’ve got links in the description for all of these projectors and if this video was helpful for you to decide on which projector to buy I’d appreciate if you could use those links since as an Amazon Affiliate I get a small commission at no cost to you.
Thank you so much to my awesome patrons over at patreon for your continued support of my channel, and if you’re interested in supporting my channel please check out the links in the description. If you enjoyed this video please hit that thumbs up button and consider subscribing and as always, thanks for watching the hookup.