Projectors Are Better Than TVs Now: CES 2019 Proved It

The light-beaming box is better. 

Projectors are the TVs of the future, and CES 2019 proved it. At the annual gadget show in Las Vegas this week, the latest advancements show the age of the gogglebox is coming to an end. In years to come, we may look back at the idea of hanging up a giant slab of black glass and wonder how we stomached them for so long.

It’s because projectors simply have more to offer. It probably goes without saying that projectors win on size. Take, for example, the Optoma HD143X, an Inverse favorite. For $499, the projector can throw up a 1080p image up to 300 inches diagonal. A TV of that size in a home is almost unheard-of, and while Samsung’s 75-inch NU8000 series packs more pixels at 4K resolution, its $1,999 price tag means paying four times the price for a smaller image.

The Optoma HD143X.
The Optoma HD143X.

It also offers a surprisingly bright image. It’s rated for 3,000 lumens, a measure of a light source’s brightness, and in practice this means users don’t have to draw the curtains to flush out any ambient light to achieve a watchable picture.

There are other advantages, too. Even if you find a big TV, it’s incredibly impractical to hide the screen when not in use. Samsung has tried to mitigate this issue with The Frame — which displays artwork when the TV is switched off — and which uses motion detectors to sense when a viewer is in the room. It’s also extended similar functionality to its QLED panels that aim to blend into the wall and display information like the time.

Samsung's The Frame.
Samsung's The Frame.

It still means keeping the TV on though, which means you are still consuming power, albeit about 30 percent of the power of its full TV-watching mode. But even with these modes, the TV commands a presence in the living room that’s almost impossible to escape. Oh, and you can forget about any semblance of portability.

It's hard to avoid the TV in a room.
It's hard to avoid the TV in a room.

TVs Vs. Projectors: Advancing Where It Matters Most

Detractors will point to a number of areas where projectors still come up short. They take a while to switch on, they have low resolution, the picture disappears if someone stands in the way, and they’re noisy.

At CES 2019, projector makers sought to mitigate all of these problems. Vava unveiled an ultra-short throw projector that uses Advanced Laser Phosphor Display to offer a 4K resolution. It’s a box that sits next to the intended wall instead of the other side of the room, beaming upwards at a sharp angle to offer images up to 150 inches from 7.2 inches away. The Vava uses Android 7.1 and includes a 30-watt Harmon Kardon DTS-HD sound system, all for $3,499.

Vava's projector in action.
Vava's projector in action.

Ultra-short throw is nothing new, but it’s been largely confined to 1080p images until now. As well as working more like a TV where people can walk around the room as they please without cutting out the image, it also places the source of noise away from the viewers to create a better viewing experience.

Laser projectors also offer a number of benefits over lamp-based projectors. While many lamps will degrade after a few thousand hours, laser-based designs like the Xiaomi Mijia can last up to 25,000 hours. That’s enough to watch a two-hour film every day for the next 34 years. They also offer much faster startup times, unlike lamp-based models that can take up to 30 seconds to warm up.

The LG HU85LA at work.
The LG HU85LA at work.

The ultra-short throw 4K laser market is heating up, as LG and Optoma also launched their designs at CES this year. LG’s HU85LA can create a 100-inch image from 3.9 inches away with 2,500 lumens, using two lasers to boost the image. Optoma’s P1 can create a 120-inch image with 3,000 lumens from “inches” away, bundling a soundbar and support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant into a kit costing $2,999.

Optoma P1.
Optoma P1.

TVs Vs. Projectors: Why TVs Could Still Win

So why does anyone buy TVs anymore? A key issue is image quality: While the HU85LA and P1 both claim support for HDR10, it’s unclear whether this will meet the standards of a regular TV set that can depend on a black screen to create more convincing variations in brightness and color. And while some projectors may offer a watchable image in sunlight, it’s hard to beat the dependable quality that comes from a regular TV.

In terms of power consumption, projectors are still quite a power hog. Samsung’s The Frame is rated for 160 watts in the 55-inch model, while the Optoma HD143X uses between 205 and 295 watts. This can vary depending on the TV size, though: Samsung’s 85-inch JU7000 4K TV uses a gargantuan 443 watts at its maximum.

Finally, there’s resolution. On the TV side 4K is now dirt cheap, with Amazon selling a 43-inch Toshiba 43LF621U19 for just $279.99. Many “4K” projectors use pixel shifting that rapidly moves the individual pixels to fill in the gaps and reach a higher resolution, a result described in the community as “faux-K.” True 4K projectors can cost thousands, like the Sony VPLVW385ES that costs $7,999. Real-world tests show pixel shifting produces convincing results, but it’s still using a trick to achieve something a cheap TV pulls off without issue.

The TV was a 20th-century icon, synonymous with grand moments like Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation or the moon landing. But when historians look back on the 21st century, the projector may have usurped its position as the way of watching images in a home setting thanks to its superior design. Perhaps when the first humans land on Mars, we’ll be watching their exploits with a small light-beaming box.

Related video: Apple Announces a New Version of Apple TV in 2012