Projectors: Buying higher-end used or reconditioned models, considerations?

I will have a spot in the basement of my new home for a small home theater. My budget is limited for what I can spend on a projector and screen, however. Rather than buy an entry-level 1080p projector, I am considering buying a higher end model from the used or reconditioned market. Is the risk worth the reward? For example, I can buy a Sony VPLHW30ES for about $2K or a JVC DLAX3 for around $1,500. I have a Pioneer plasma, so I know that black levels are important. What do you think?

– S Knapp

Either the Sony or the JVC would be a great choice, with one caveat I’ll explain in a moment. They both have excellent black levels, a smooth-toned image thanks to their LCoS design, and 3D. They are about equal in light output and installation flexibility. The only real difference between them is color accuracy which is superior in the Sony.

JVC’s lower-priced models do away with the color management system. Unfortunately, it is sorely needed. The native color gamut of their imaging chips is extremely over-saturated, especially for green, and to a lesser extent, red. With the CMS in their more expensive projectors this can be corrected easily; but with the X3, you’re stuck with incorrect color.

Sony, on the other hand, has a pretty accurate gamut right out of the box. Even though the VPLHW30ES has a color management system, it’s not really needed. I would still suggest a full calibration with instruments to get the most out of the projector.

There are a few things you should consider when purchasing any used projector. First, find out what environment it was installed in. Has the dust filter been cleaned regularly? Most importantly, has anyone smoked while the projector was in operation? This is crucial because the particulates in cigarette smoke will get all over everything inside the chassis. Smoke can ruin a bulb inside 1000 hours because deposits get baked onto its surface and can’t be removed. Basically, if a smoker is trying to sell you a projector, you should look elsewhere.

You should also check the bulb hours. If it has over 1000, you should replace it. Manufacturer’s ratings don’t factor in the color shift and light falloff that occurs with any UHP lamp. After 1000 hours, both the Sony and JVC models will be quite dim. They don’t put out a ton of light even when new. And if 3D is important to you, bulb hours are even more critical. You want as much output as possible for 3D. A new bulb can cost as much as $400.

So in summary, I recommend the Sony for its color accuracy. The JVC is good but its color is oversaturated. And you may need to factor a new bulb and professional calibration into the total. There are some great deals out there. Shop carefully, and good luck!