Why go to the movies when you can create your own theater?
Or maybe your office meeting room could use
an update in presentation equipment.
Whatever your purpose, a projector can help you create an effective modern display.
Gone are the days of fuzzy and out of focus blobs on the projector screen.
Thanks to the latest technology you can get a crisp and clear content display.
We are here to help you make your way through the $5.5 billion dollar US market.
Our projector buying guide will walk you through the process of shopping for a projector. We will explain the different methods of display and features available.
- Best Projectors Buying Guide
- Get Your Projection On
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Best Projectors Buying Guide
When shopping for projectors you need to decide the intended use. Then you can start comparing features. The features you need to compare are brightness, portability, and resolution.
1. Home or Business
Before you start looking at projectors you need to think about what media you intend to show with it. Business projectors are better suited for showing PowerPoint presentations and still images.
Home projectors will work better for showing videos. They work well projecting further distances to create a home theater.
A business projector will not keep up with gaming or movies. They tend to work better in smaller rooms where the projector to screen distance is short.
The most portable projectors are pocket-sized and small enough to fit in a briefcase or purse. They weigh less than 3 pounds and work well for projecting short distances.
2. Indoor vs. Outdoor
If you plan to use the projector outside, you will want better quality features. You will need a high level of brightness to combat the varied light you experience outside.
The resolution and contrast abilities are key to creating a decent picture. You will also need a smooth screen surface to project onto.
Finally, you will need a sound system that can accommodate the space. The only specific concern you should have for inside projectors is their run sound volume.
Before you commit to a particular model of projector you should read the reviews. A common rating discussed is the lamp life rating.
The higher the rating, the longer the bulb will last before needing replacement. You should check the cost of the replacement parts.
Check to see if there is a warranty for parts or service. Most quality projectors have a warranty of 2 to 3 years.
If your plan is to permanently mount the projector then you don’t have to worry about this. If your plan is to move it around for business presentations then you will want to keep the model you choose small.
You can expect to pay about $300 for a basic projector. It will cost a bit more if you want decent quality and a few features.
For a quality, home-entertainment projector expect to pay in the range of $800 to $3,000. If you want a top of the line 4K projector it will cost you $10,000.
Don’t forget to factor in screen and audio setup into your budget. The best projector in the world won’t give a great experience if you don’t have the right screen and sound.
6. Zoom and Lens Shift
If you plan to use your projector in many locations, then you need one with a wide range of motion for zoom and shift. These two features let you change the distance, size, and position of the image projected.
The zoom feature lets you adjust the size of the projected image without having to move the projector. Otherwise, you need to move it closer or further from the screen. The bigger the zoom ratio is the bigger you will be able to make the image.
This is a feature you will mainly find on high-end projector models. It lets you manually shift the angle of the lens.
It can get moved up, down, right, or left. You will maintain the full resolution of the image as you shift the image.
If the wall you want to project onto isn’t perfectly straight up and down, keystone adjusting lets you compensate. One side of the image will get narrow while the other gets wider.
This could be the top and bottom or left and right adjusting. The final effect will show a display that visually looks square.
7. Aspect Ratio
The aspect ratio is the shape of the image that gets projected. This is mostly dependent on the shape of the source material. For example, a standard tv has an aspect ratio of 4:3.
HDTVs, widescreen, and blue-ray are all 16:9 aspect ratios. Most modern projects will have an aspect ratio of 16:9.
If you are wanting to create a home theater you can look for a projector that is cinemascope. This aspect ratio is like a movie theater in that it is a very wide screen at 2:35:1 or 2:4:1.
This is a feature where your needs will change based on your use for business or home. Business projectors can be low in a resolution of 800 x 600.
If you want to show movies or play games, you will want a higher projector resolution of 1920 x 1080. Don’t assume that a higher resolution projector will handle the lower resolution content with no problem.
What is Resolution
The resolution is the number of pixels that get used to display the image. The higher the resolution, the more “dots” of color fill the space to create the image.
The more dots that get used, the sharper and crisper the image will be. A resolution of 1920 x 1080 means that there are 2,304,000 dots or pixels creating the image.
You need to check that a high-resolution projector can also handle low-resolution content. If you want a 4k projector, prepare to pay top dollar as this is not a common feature.
As we mentioned earlier, if you want to use your projector outside you will need a higher brightness capability. The reason for this is the display has to compete with the ambient light. The darker the environment, the lower the brightness can be.
As a general guide, the brighter the projector is, the better the projector is. You need to look for a lumens rating.
Lumen is the measurement used to express the amount of visible light given off. A standard 75w bulb gives off about 1,000 lumens.
A lumen rating of 1,000 is adequate for a business setting. These spaces tend to be smaller and darker.
A lumen rating of 5,000 will work better in a place where there is ambient light. This could be your living room with the windows open or outside.
Lamps are the source of light for projectors with a “light and chip” setup. This is a huge improvement over the first generation of projectors that used CRT technology.
The problem is lamps still get hot and use a lot of energy. They use a fan to circulate air and keep them cool. This creates excess noise if you use it in a smaller room.
The lamplight produces the full spectrum of light, even though you only need the primary colors. They also start to fade from the first time you use them.
Lamps will only last about 3,000 to 5,000 hours. This means you will have to buy replacements every other year. At a lifespan of 3,000 hours, your lamp will last 1 year if used for 8 hours a day.
Light-emitting diodes are smaller and give off a single color. Their small size results in a smaller projector.
They are also more efficient than lamps, so they use less energy and run cooler. You won’t get the same amount of brightness from LEDs though.
The light also tends to scatter as it leaves the projector. They are more exact than the lamp, but still not perfect.
Laser stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. They are everywhere in life including medical treatments, surveying, and DVD players.
In projectors, they provide a solution for the light scattering problem. The light beam that leaves the projector stays the same width over distances.
The laser only produces one color of light, so it consumes less energy than lamps. Less energy used means it also stays cooler in temperature.
You also have a greater range of color options. This creates a more accurate image with full saturation.
There is no warm-up time with lasers, so you have a more instant on/off experience. The life cycle for lasers is significantly longer at 20,000 hours. At 8 hours a day, it would take you almost 7 years to use the entire life of the laser.
10. Contrast Ratio
The contrast is the difference between the darkest points and the lightest points. As a general guide, the higher the contrast, the better the picture will look.
You can’t rely on this statistic as a stand-alone ratio. You need to factor in things light ambient light and screen quality.
You may see the contrast ratio expressed as 1,000:1. This means that that the brightest white is 1,000 times brighter than the darkest black.
Most projectors available on the market today are either LCD or DLP. LCD projectors are the more reliable option, but they also tend to be heavier.
DLP projectors use a spinning color wheel so you might see a rainbow effect. There is also a greater chance of breakage with a lot more moving parts.
The light shines through the color wheel and reflects off the mirrors. Then the image projects onto the screen.
For LCD projection, the light shines through three LCD chips. Each chip is one of the three primary colors, red, green, and blue.
If you have the budget, look for a projector that is LCoS or Liquid Crystal on Silicon. This will give you the highest quality image.
This technology uses the same primary chips as LCD except the light reflects off them. The only downside is they are heavy and expensive.
A VGA port is the standard port for connection on most projectors today. If you want to play games or movies you need to look for HDMI ports.
Business projectors should have a USB port. This makes it easier to plug a flash drive into them.
Internet connectivity is important if you plan to stream video. Most modern projectors have Wi-Fi ability.
If you don’t plan on moving the projector, try to wire the projector in with an Ethernet port. This will give you the strongest and most stable connection.
You need a quality screen and sound system to complete the experience. This isn’t as important for business, but vital for home use.
There are four main types of screens you can buy. Motorized, pulldown, and fixed screens get permanently installed in a location.
If you plan to use the projector as a portable device, you should consider a roll-up screen and stand. If your projector setup is a permanent setup you could paint the wall you intend to project onto.
Projectors do not come with high-quality built-in speakers. If the projector is for business use, this won’t matter. If it is for home use you will want to invest in a separate speaker system.
Get Your Projection On
By using this best projector buying guide you can find the best projector for your needs. Start by deciding if your needs are more for business or home use.
Then decide how portable your device needs to be or if you plan to use it outside. Once you know these, you can compare the brightness, resolution, aspect ratio, and connectivity.
Once you choose your projector, you can complete your setup with peripherals. You need a quality screen surface to achieve the best picture quality.
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