Buying a projector is an investment, so you want to make sure that you enter the process as an informed consumer. Some factors may depend on whether the projector is for business or home use. But, if you’re going to buy, shop for quality.
Two important elements for most consumers are price and portability. But what about the technology and picture quality? If you don’t know a pixel from a pencil or how many lumens you need, you’ve come to the right place.
Our buying guide is designed to help novices understand the terminology and requirements for choosing the best projector for their needs and budget. A lot of the basics here cover everything from high end projectors priced at over $2000 to ones that are below the 200 dollar price range.
Here are the three main considerations.
Types of Projectors
There are two basic types of projection systems that are popular on the market, digital light processing (DLP) and liquid crystal display (LCD); LCD projectors have a few variations, but the underlying tech is basically the same.
DLP projectors: This setup uses a combination of chips that contain microscopic mirrors that tilt to catch light and a color wheel. As light from viewing media passes through the wheel, it bounces off the mirrors and is reflected onto the screen as a moving image.
LCD projectors: When you’re watching media with an LCD projector, you’re watching pictures created from light passing through three LCD chips in red, blue, and green. Think of something like an inkjet printer that displays moving images as light waves instead of static images.
As you can see, whichever type of projection system you use, the light source is one of the most important components.
Lighting, Lumens, and Lamps
Obviously, you want to make sure your projector uses the best light source to reflect off of your projector. There are three types of light used in modern projection systems, and several are very energy-efficient. However, even the best projection systems have less energy-efficiency than an LCD TV.
Metal halide (HID) lamps
- Metal halide (HID) lamps are kind of old school, but they’re still widely used in projection systems. The average projector bulb will start to dim after 3,000 to 4,000 hours of use, but some can last for up to 5,000 before they need to be changed.
- LED lights are an energy-efficient upgrade from traditional HID lamps. They can run anywhere from 20,000 to 35,000 hours or more, depending on the brand. The higher end 4k projectors often use this kind of setup.
Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation
- Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, better known as LASERs, amplify light and focus it into narrow beams that fall into different color waves along the spectrum. They project very detailed images that are high in contrast, and they can last for up to 30,000 hours.
A Few Words About Lumens
Lumens may be one of the most confusing parts of choosing a projector. Not many people know what they are or why they’re important. Very simply put, a lumen is the amount of light visible to the human eye from a single source like a light bulb. The higher the number, the brighter the light. For example, a classic 100W light bulb emits 1,600 lumens, where a 75W bulb shines at a rate of 1,200.
In projectors, the amount of lumens you need depends on the size of the room, the amount of ambient light, and the size of the screen. Large, bright rooms need a higher lumen measurement than a room that’s very small or has no ambient light. Outdoor projectors would require fewer lumens than an indoor event. The number of lumens also determines how far away from the screen you need to be for optimal projection and picture quality.
For example, an outdoor event projected onto a 9′ x 16’ screen would have an ideal picture at 4500 lumens. Small and/or very dark rooms would be okay with 1,000 – 2,000 lumens, and a class or conference room would need at least 2,500 lumens for a quality broadcast.
Ratios and Resolutions
The contrast is the ratio of white to black in the lightest and darkest portions of the picture. For an optimal picture, make sure your projector has a high contrast ratio. Next in the category of picture quality is the resolution. This directly relates to the pixel density.
Each resolution number or type has a fixed number of pixels within a defined area. In order for an image to be considered high resolution, it should have a resolution of about 1920 x 1080 pixels. The average DVD video resolution is about 1024 x 768, and Blu-ray displays about 1920 x 1080 pixels.
Last, but not least, we come to color reproduction. This is sometimes measured on a number out of 100 on the color rendering index (CRI), with the highest possible CRI being a 100 percent accurate color reproduction. If the projector doesn’t list the CRI, you can try to determine it by eye. When viewing a projected image, look for realistic skin tones. bright whites, and solid blacks as well as fairly accurate color tints within the spectrum of greens, blues, yellows, and reds.
When you put all three elements and their variations together, the result is what you see up on the screen.
Speaking of which …
Don’t Forget Accessories!
A lot more goes into an enjoyable viewing session than purchasing a quality projector. The quality of the screen can make a huge difference. They’re available in various sizes and materials, and the right pairing can elevate transform your experience from blah to beautiful.
Sound is essential, especially if you’re watching films or musical broadcasts. Some brands have on-board speakers built into the projector, but the sound can be uneven or tinny. Consider a home theater setup for the ultimate entertainment experience, or at least purchase a pair of quality stereo speakers that are compatible with your projector.
Then, the only accessory you’ll need is the snacks and your favorite beverage.
Remember, it’s the technology and customer support that counts, not the name on the box. When considering the projector TV route over buying a regular LCD TV, it’s vital to compare various models by price/quality. Brand name manufacturers charge 2 – 3 times over what you can get from low cost competitors.
It’s the educated consumers who save time and money without sacrificing performance.