Published On: July 22, 2022

Best 4K UST Projectors


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Published On: July 22, 2022

Best 4K UST Projectors

4K UST projectors bring cinematic viewing experiences into the living room

I am a huge fan of ultra-short-throw projectors, more commonly known as UST projectors. These are projectors that can sit mere inches away from the screen, and yet create a sharp and vibrant image at screen sizes that are either rare or simply not obtainable with the TV.

Unlike the relatively slow-moving world of dedicated home theater projectors, the UST category has seen explosive growth in terms of selection, with new models being released at an accelerated pace that speaks to the enthusiasm around this growing category.

The purpose of this list is to highlight what are currently some of the best options, given how many there are to choose between. They are not all the same, some models are clearly better for gaming, others have a focus on home theater.

Regardless of which projector you are considering, the one constant is that you do need a dedicated ultra short throw ambient light rejecting screen to get the most out of it. But, that does not preclude using one of these UST projectors in a darkened room, as you would a traditional projector.

Why UST Projection?

UST projectors provide an interesting middle ground between flat-panel televisions and the front projection systems of dedicated home theaters.

So first, the most important thing to know: Despite what you may see in UST marketing photos, these are projectors, so they perform best in a darkened room. But because of the physics behind their design, where the light source is located beneath the screen and projecting at a very sharp angle, UST projectors can leverage the qualities of a lenticular screen. This allows the projector and screen combination to deliver significant contrast even in a bright room. this is because the specialized screen offers an extraordinarily effective rejection of light coming from above. This is a key capability in living rooms, which typically have white ceilings that reflect back the light coming off the screen.

Concurrent to rejecting light from above, the lenticular UST screen is adept at reflecting as much of the projectors’ light output as possible. By comparison, ambient light rejecting screens that work with long throw projectors have issues with viewing angles, hot-spotting, and they're not as specifically effective at rejecting light coming from the ceiling. Plus, they just don't work with UST projectors, at all. In fact they do the opposite; they treat the light coming from a UST as rejectable light.

Another cool thing about UST projectors is they have dramatically dropped the price of 4K, high light output, laser-light-source projection. You will even find UST models that have triple-laser RGB light sources; these are projectors able to achieve extraordinarily wide color gamut reproduction—sometimes in excess of rec 2020.

An RGB triple-laser UST practically stands alone in terms of color gamut coverage. But finding something similar in a dedicated home theater, a long throw projector will cost an arm and a leg by comparison. This is why some users are exploring using USB projectors in home theater-like environments with totally controlled lighting.

Best Triple-Laser UST

Hisense PX1-PRO 4K UST Trichromatic Laser Projector

This projector is extremely similar to the Hisense L9G, except that it does not ship with the screen, and there's a little bit more of a home theater focus to the unit, as compared to the L9G. One major differentiating feature is the ability to focus the lens.

Although Hisense rates this projector as having a lower light output versus the L9G, in practice, they are extremely similar when the picture settings are the same.

The picture quality from either of these Hisense projectors ranks very high. Their only weakness is contrast, there are some US's coming out that do a little bit better when it comes to black levels. But when it comes to the overall usability, and the color accuracy right out-of-the-box, as well as being up to date in terms of features and functionality, this is one of the best UST projectors you can get.

Best for Gamers

Epson EpiqVision Ultra LS 500

Another option sold with a screen, this UST from Epson is the exception to the rule in that it is not a DLP UST. This unit requires a little more accommodation due to a slightly longer throw ratio versus in this list—the front of the projector is a bit further from the wall. But, this is a 4000-lumen projector which is considerably brighter than the others listed here.

Fundamentally, the Epson is designed for—and thrives in—brighter environments than the competitors. Instead, the Epson LS 500 relies on a three-chip LCD design that is impervious to the "rainbow effect" that can be an issue with DLP projectors. If you are sensitive to the rainbow effect, this is the only option of this list that is guaranteed to 100% avoid it.

Another advantage held by the Epson is low input lag. When you combine high brightness with fast response, the result is a projector that's great for gaming. Where this projector falls a little bit short compared to some of the competition is in terms of contrast and color saturation. This is less important if the typical use of the projector is in a brighter space, but some of the DLP competition will look better when the lights are out. On the other hand, color with the Epson is extremely accurate right out of the box.

More about 4K UST Projectors

USTs are not Native 4K, but that's OK

Beyond the wide color gamut, laser light sources make for fast startup and offer a long lifespan.

A quick note on pros and cons: In this list, you'll find single-laser/phosphor/color wheel DLP, triple-laser RGB DLP, and laser/phosphor light source, triple-LCD projection technology.

All of the projectors listed here utilize-pixel shift to achieve 4K. In other words, they are not native 4K projectors but instead, they rapidly shift the pixels on a lower resolution imager such that they overlap; the result is a significant increase in detail versus the native resolution, and in many cases, the detail perceived by the viewer roughly equivalent to an entry-level native 4K projector.

Pros and Cons of RGB Triple-Laser USTs

The triple laser models have the advantage of a wide color gamut, but compared to the other projectors, they do have a couple of issues. The first is called laser speckle, a slightly textured pattern that can be seen in highlights. It's usually not noticeable from a normal viewing distance and with most content, but it is an artifact that is specific to the RGB laser models.

The triple laser UST's also have or could be described as chromatic aberration (CA), although the best I can tell it is not due to the lens because the single laser UST's have a clean, aberration-free image while all the triple laser models show a bit of visible aberration. Wondering what CA looks like? Picture black text on a white background, if you see a slight outline of blue on one side and red on the other side of the black letter, that's what chromatic aberration looks like

Even on projectors where it is present, this CA effect is usually not noticeable at all when viewing normal TV or cinematic content. But you can spot it on (for example) movie credits with white text over a black background, where you'll see a little bit of red and blue aberration in horizontal lines.

I'm certainly not bringing this up to scare anyone away; it's just a characteristic that I've noticed in all triple-laser USTs, and is something that any pixel peeper will eventually pick up on.

Contrast is Key

One of the most interesting things that are occurring in the UST space is how these projectors are pushing the boundaries of what is achievable in terms of native contrast and DLP projection. In the past, DLP projectors were considered to Max out at around 1000:1 contrast. But with some of the latest UST projectors, we are seeing and confirming measurable native contrast of 2000:1, 3000:1 and even 4000:1. This makes a dramatic difference in terms of image fidelity in a darker space.

The point is that there's more to USD projectors than meets the eye. If you understand their limitations but also play to their strengths, you can enjoy a remarkable viewing experience at home. The UST category is rapidly changing, and I have made it my mission to keep up with the latest releases. so you can expect this list to grow and also evolve, but for now, here are five of the most impressive UST projectors.


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