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Choosing the Right Projector
To get the best picture possible — whether you’re watching an HD movie at home or giving a PowerPoint presentation at work — you’ll need the right type of projector for how you plan to use it. Although most projectors can handle any type of media, they generally do one thing best — whether that’s entertainment-based content such as movies and TV shows, or data-based content such as spreadsheets and slideshows.
Home theater projectors
With images up to 36 times larger than a 50″ class HDTV, a home theater projector lets you scrutinize every play on the football field and jump right into the action in your favorite video games. Home theater projectors emphasize image quality and high contrast, with deep blacks and rich color saturation. Because home theater projectors simulate a dark movie theater environment, they work best in a dedicated room where you can control the amount of light that enters from outside or from other areas in the house. However, you can compensate for ambient light by choosing a home theater projector with high brightness and investing in a high-quality reflective screen to improve how the image is displayed even in partially or fully lit rooms.
Reasons to choose a home theater projector:
Best image quality for large-screen viewing
Quiet fan for less background noise
HDMI ports for easy hookup to your home theater
If you plan to use your projector for meetings, presentations or classroom instruction, you’ll need a business projector, also known as a multimedia or data projector. Since these projectors are brighter than home theater projectors, they work well in meeting rooms or classrooms with overhead lighting and windows. Business projectors are designed primarily to display static images, such as graphs and PowerPoint slides, but they also work for multimedia and entertainment use. Most business projectors include an HDMI port for connecting to your laptop, Blu-ray player or other device.
Education and training
Reasons to choose a business projector:
Bright display even in rooms with ambient lighting
Portable size for travel and meetings
Easy to set up and adjust
Multiple inputs make it easy to connect to your laptop or other device
Wireless projection available
Need a projector small enough to fit in your briefcase or purse? Pico projectors are pocket-sized projectors that are compact enough to hold in your hand but powerful enough for sharing images with a small group of people. Since they weigh less than 3 pounds, pico projectors are easy to take with you almost anywhere, which comes in handy for frequent travel and off-site meetings. You can also bring your projector to a friend’s house for movie night or sports games, or set it up in the backyard to watch an outdoor movie with family and friends.
Small group presentations
Personal use at home or on the road
Reasons to choose a business projector:
Ultracompact and lightweight
Easy to set up and use anywhere you go
Smallest size available in a projector
Ultralong lamp life
TYPES OF PROJECTORS
Most projectors display images based on either DLP (digital light processing) or LCD (liquid crystal display) technology. While both types of projectors feature sharp image quality and accurate color representation, each has its own advantages.
Allows for a lightweight and compact projector (especially for pico models)
Portrays a film-like picture from DVD, Blu-ray and HDTV sources
Smooth motion for videos and fast-action scenes
Deeper, truer blacks than LCD projectors
High color contrast
3-chip DLP on premium models provides even higher image quality
Brighter output for use in well-lit rooms
Impressive color brightness
Sharper images for detailed graphs and data presentations
Vibrant 3D images with no image ghosting
More energy efficient than DLP projectors
Slightly quieter than DLP projectors
Most LCD projectors include 3-chip LCD technology (3LCD) for even higher image quality
Projectors are powered by one of three light sources: standard lamp, laser or LED (light-emitting diode).
Bulb can last 3,000 to 4,000 hours (up to 5,000 hours in eco mode)
Bright light output
Most affordable option
No bulb replacement needed
Considerably brighter than other light sources
Better contrast than standard lamps
Wider color range than standard lamps
Bulb can last up to 20,000 hours
Better color control than standard lamps
Quiet operation and smaller footprint than projectors with standard lamps, since energy-efficient LEDs generally don’t require a fan for cooling
Widely used in pico projectors
Projector brightness is measured by lumens; the higher the lumens, the brighter the projector will be at a given distance. Two separate brightness measurements can help you choose a projector that will display bright, colorful images in any lighting:
White brightness (white light output) indicates the total amount of white light emitted by the projector, without measuring color.
Color brightness (color light output) measures how bright the projected colors of red, blue and yellow will be; the higher the number, the more detail and vibrancy you will see.
Be sure to compare both brightness measurements before you decide which projector you want. If the color brightness of a projector is lower than its white brightness, the images and details it displays may be dark or dull.
If you’re buying a business projector, you’ll want a brighter output, so look for a higher lumen rating in both white and color brightness. Since you’ll likely be using it in a well-lit room or with the lights dimmed, the light from the projector needs to be able to compete with light from other sources and still display an image that looks good. The larger the room is, or the more light entering the room, the more lumens you’ll need for an adequately bright image.
If you’re buying a home theater projector, brighter is not necessarily better. Instead, you want enough brightness for rich color contrast but not so much that it washes out dark-scene details or creates eye fatigue. Most home theater projectors are designed for rooms with complete control over the lighting; however, if there’s ambient lighting in the room, you will need a projector with more brightness.
Contrast is the amount of difference between the darkest and brightest areas of a picture. A projector with a high contrast ratio allows you to see clearly defined shadow detail and deep black levels, adding a sense of depth and dimension to the picture.
Since a greater amount of light in the room can wash out the difference in contrast between projectors, it’s more important to pay attention to contrast ratio for home theater projectors than it is for business projectors. In darkened rooms, such as an ideal home theater environment, contrast will be much more noticeable. Business projectors, on the other hand, are often used in well-lit rooms, where contrast is muted because of the additional light.
The total number of pixels that a projector is capable of displaying defines the projector’s native resolution. The more pixels you can fit in the display, the crisper and more detailed your images will appear. Higher resolutions are especially important for home theater projectors, since the viewer will be sitting closer to the screen. The higher the resolution, the closer you can sit to the screen without viewing a pixelated image.
Resolutions range from 480p on the low end to 720p and 1080p for HD viewing, and up to 4K Ultra HD for impressively sharp movies and shows.
You’ll get the best image quality by matching the projector resolution to the resolution of the video source you plan to use most often. For example, if you want to watch movies on your Blu-ray player, you’ll need a 1080p projector to view the movies at full resolution. If you want to share your laptop screen, choose a projector with the same image format as your laptop, such as XGA for a 1024 x 768 display.
Home theater formats:
Standard (4:3 aspect ratio)
Recommended for classic films or DVD-based television series
Widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio)
Recommended for HDTV, widescreen DVD and Blu-ray formats
Cinemascope (2.35:1 or 2.4:1 aspect ratio)
Recommended for an immersive, theater-like experience at home
Requires an anamorphic lens (a lens that stretches the image while maintaining proportions), 2.35:1 or 2.4:1 screen, and a projector with the proper scaling modes
Standard (4:3 aspect ratio)
Formats such as SVGA (800 x 600 pixels) and XGA (1024 x 768 pixels) are suitable for PowerPoint presentations, with more detail available in XGA format
Higher resolutions, such as SXGA+ (1400 x 1050 pixels), are suitable for detailed photography and data graphics
Widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio)
WXGA (1280 x 800) is recommended for laptops and devices with widescreen output
4:3 projectors16:9 projectors
The throw ratio tells you how wide the image will be when you place the projector at a certain distance from the screen. For example, a 1.8:1 ratio will produce a 5-foot wide image when you place the projector 9 feet from the screen (5 feet x 1.8).
Calculating the throw ratio is especially important if you plan to permanently mount the projector. If you can’t install the projector far enough away from the screen due to space limitations, you may need a short throw projector. A short throw projector will allow you to mount the projector much closer to the screen, while still displaying a wide enough image to fill the entire screen.
Not sure what size projector or screen you need? Use the Projector Calculator to find the maximum and minimum screen sizes and projection distances for various projectors.
If you’ll be setting up your portable projector in different places where you won’t always have control over the screen size or placement of the projector, you can use the lens zoom to adjust the image size. By adjusting the lens zoom, you won’t have to move the projector closer or farther away from the screen in order to adjust the image size.
The greater the zoom ratio, the larger you can make the image. For example, a 1.2x zoom creates an image up to 20% larger than the minimum size. A 2.0x zoom creates an image twice the minimum size. Not all projectors feature a lens zoom; pico projectors, for example, often exclude the lens zoom in order to make the projector as compact as possible.
Keystone correction and lens shift
If for some reason you can’t place the projector exactly perpendicular to the screen, keystone correction allows you to correct distortion by digitally adjusting the image so it is perfectly square on the screen or wall.
Lens shift, on the other hand, allows you to mechanically adjust the angle of the lens by shifting it up, down or sideways. Since lens shift retains 100% of the resolution in the projected image, it’s a better way to correct distortion than keystone correction.
Keystone correction is available on almost every projector, offering a quick way to adjust the image on data projectors and pico projectors, which get moved around most often. Lens shift is available mainly on high-end home theater projectors, where the projector will be installed semi-permanently on the wall or ceiling.