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Buying Guide to Projectors

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As with so many consumer products these days, selecting a projector can be a walk in the park when you are armed with the correct information—there are just so many options. Choosing the right projector is a simple process if you are familiar with these prerequisites.

  • The screen size (width, most importantly)
  • Distance between the projector and the screen (throw distance)
  • An estimate of the amount of ambient light present in the room in which the projector will be used

At this point you may be thinking, “Great. But I can't answer any of those questions.” Or, “I plan to take my projector on the road and could be using it anywhere.” Often, with a little forethought, the “I don't know” can be whittled down to an educated guess. If not, you are not completely out of luck. In addressing each topic, we will suggest your best bet when confronted with unknowns.

What is a projector?

A projector may be best thought of as an inverted camera, spitting light out of a lens rather than receiving it. For the sake of this buying guide, we will be considering digital projectors—that is, projectors with video inputs that serve a similar function to a TV or computer monitor while offering several benefits, which may include:

  • Larger image sizes
  • Increased portability
  • Flexible installation possibilities

The principles I will outline below apply to all types of projectors. However, it will help to start by dividing digital projectors into four categories:

  • Pocket, also called "pico"
  • Home theater
  • Multimedia
  • Large venue and fixed installation (a subset of multimedia)

Obviously, there will be overlap, and not all models will fit easily into a particular category. For example, home theater and multimedia projectors are very similar. In most cases, it will be clear from your application which type you need. Boardroom presentations: this will be multimedia. In a living room: home theater. For a lecture hall, seating 500 people: large venue. Ultra-portable, where a small screen size is acceptable: pocket or pico projector.

Pocket Projectors

Pocket projectors are ultra-portable, some not much larger than a smartphone, some resembling miniaturized multimedia projectors. They are best seen as a substitute for a computer monitor or small TV you can take with you. Since they typically use LED lamps to avoid high power consumption and bulky cooling systems, what they give you in portability they sacrifice in image size. Brightness will be discussed in detail below, but for the sake of comparison, pico projectors typically range from 25 to 1500 ANSI lumens, whereas decent multimedia projectors start at 2500 lumens. They also tend to lack optical zoom, meaning you will need to be flexible with your projector placement to achieve the desired image size.

AAXA Technologies WVGA Pico Projector

Multimedia Projectors

Multimedia projectors represent the largest category, and are the most widely sold at B&H. Multimedia projectors are general purpose, and are used for everything from giving PowerPoint presentations to screening video clips and slideshows at weddings. They are typically considered portable, weighing from 3 pounds for the ultra-slim models and increasing from there. Their brightness tends to range from 2500 to 4500 lumens or so. They virtually always have zoom lenses; however, the zoom range is usually shorter than that of their home theater counterparts: 1.2x to 1.5x (compared to 2x in the home theater realm). This means special care needs to be taken when choosing, to make sure the screen size is compatible with the projector's throw ratio. Multimedia projectors offer a range of inputs. VGA is still the staple, but digital inputs such as HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, and even SDI are available. Many also support interactive and wireless presentational functionally, as well as the ability to give presentations without a computer.

Epson SVGA 3LCD Business Projector

Multimedia projectors tend to follow computer (VESA) resolutions rather than SD or HD video resolutions. These resolutions included SVGA (800 x 600), XGA (1024 x 768), WXGA (1280 x 800), and WUXGA (1920 x 1200). The most popular resolution is WXGA, and is well suited for PowerPoint presentations, as well as high-definition video.

Short Throw Projectors

An important subcategory of multimedia projectors is short throw and ultra-short throw. Generally, a throw ratio of less than 1:1 is considered short throw. The most common throw ratios are 0.5:1 and 0.3:1, with the latter fulfilling the distinction of being "ultra-short throw." Short throw projectors almost never have zoom lenses and, in the cases of ultra-short throw projectors, use a mirror onto which the image is projected first, before being reflected at the screen. They lend themselves to wall rather than ceiling mounting, and are designed to be installed very close to the screen: 18 inches to 2 feet. Short throw projectors are most often used in classrooms, and are ideal for pairing with digital whiteboards. One might be tempted to place a short throw projector farther back than the recommended couple of feet to achieve a very large image in a small space (assuming sufficiently low ambient light levels, of course). This probably won't work, since short throw projectors keystone severely when used outside their recommended throw distance range, and will require some very creative mounting to produce an undistorted image. Because they are meant for smaller screen sizes (8 feet wide or less), short throw projectors normally top out at 3000 lumens. If you require a brighter projector and have limited space, you will need to look at a fixed installation projector with interchangeable lenses instead. See the Epson PowerLite 675W for an example of an ultra-short-throw projector, shown with its separately sold wall mount.

Epson PowerLite WXGA Ultra-Short Throw 3LCD Projector

Home Theater Projectors

True home theater projectors—as opposed to multimedia/home theater crossovers, which from a feature perspective can be treated as multimedia projectors—place the emphasis on image quality above all else. They run lower brightness—say 1800 lumens average—and have the most zoom of any projector type that features built-in lenses.

Home theater projectors often feature low-voltage control (LVC), so that turning the projector on or off can trigger the screen to rise or descend, or open and close if it is a fixed frame covered by drapes. To achieve the quietest possible operation, they have more efficient—or more elaborate—cooling systems, making them relatively bulky and, in some cases, unable to support inverted (upside down) installation. They are also the dearest type of projector, relative to specifications. Most are Full HD and a handful are 4K (true DCI 4096 x 2160 4K, in fact). Be careful, though. Companies often lump what are essentially restyled multimedia projectors into the home theater category. Telltale signs of faking are high lumen ratings (more than 3000 lumens), VESA rather than HD video native resolutions (such as WXGA and WUXGA), and zoom that's shorter than 2x.

If you want a great picture, can block out all ambient light, and are working with a screen size of up to 100 inches or so, home theater projectors are a great choice. Otherwise, you may be better served with a brighter multimedia projector, even if you plan to use it in a home theater setting.

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema SVGA 3LCD Home Theater Projector

Where is my 4K?

Admittedly, 4K hasn’t gained ground as quickly in projectors as TV and computer monitors. With most LCD and DLP chips being produced for the A/V rather than consumer market, likely the pressure for pushing the bounds of resolution just isn’t there. You still have options to view 4K content without much compromise. The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5040UB, for example, features a “pixel-shifting” technique that boosts its apparent resolution beyond the 1920 x 1080 pixels of each of its three LCD chips.

Is 3D still “a thing?”

Consumer electronics manufacturers openly admit they've given up on 3D. You might still want 3D. If so, you'll probably need to look for a home theater projector. Many multimedia projectors purport to be “3D-ready”—in most cases, this means the feature “DLP Link,” a 3D technology that only works with select computer graphics cards and software. Home theater projectors are more likely to offer what you really need, HDMI 3D support so you can use them with Blu-ray players. When spec’ing for 3D, keep in mind that you are effectively cutting the brightness in half. As an alternative to buying a 3D-ready projector, you can also use a combination of two-projector “stacking” and polarizing filters. In this case, a special processor is required to demux the left- and right-eye streams from the HDMI signal.

Fixed-Installation and Large-Venue Projectors

Fixed-installation and large-venue projectors are often included together with multimedia projectors. They are the brightest type available in the consumer market, starting at around 4500 lumens and going up to 20,000 or more. Installation projectors are generally not considered portable, and take time to set up. In most cases, they feature interchangeable-lens systems, making them the most adaptable in terms of throw distance. They are normally used in lecture halls, movie theaters, houses of worship, stadiums, and other similar settings that require screening for large groups. In addition to large screen sizes, they are used in settings where ambient light can’t be controlled. Many also support “stacking,” meaning the output from two or more projectors can be aggregated to increase the brightness beyond what a single projector can achieve. Alternatively, “edge blending”—the projection equivalent of a video wall—can be used to increase the total resolution or create custom aspect ratios.

Because of their weight and the nature of the lens systems they use, in most cases, installation projectors should be spec’ed out by an integrator, and require installation by a professional.

Now we come to implementing the three pieces of information mentioned earlier.

Why do screen size and throw distance matter? Or: What is throw ratio?

Projectors have a very important specification called "throw ratio." Throw ratio is a specification that is determined by the first two pieces of information in the equation:

  • How far is the projector is from the screen (throw distance)?
  • How wide is the screen?

For example:

  • Screen Width: 10 feet
  • Projector-to-Screen Distance: 15 feet
  • Required Throw Ratio: 1.5:1

The first step in choosing a projector, therefore, is pinning down how wide the screen is and how far the projector can be placed from the screen—once you've done this, your choices will narrow considerably. Of course, you may have flexibility. Maybe your space allows you to mount the projector anywhere you want on the ceiling. In this case, while you might technically be able to choose any projector you want, you should consider mounting the projector as close to the screen as you comfortably can. Light is subject to the Inverse Square Law, meaning brightness drops logarithmically with increased distance, so the closer you can mount it, the fewer lumens you will need. At the other extreme is a case where you have an existing mount installed on the ceiling that you want to reuse. In this case, you will need to find a projector that features the exact throw ratio dictated by the position of the mount relative to the width of the screen.

Screen Size

Projector screens merit a whole buying guide of their own. However, at this point, many of you will be understandably wondering, “If I'm starting from scratch, how should I know what screen size to get?” A quick, and very rough, rule of thumb is to multiply the distance of the “least-favored viewer”—i.e., the person farthest from the screen—by 1/5. So, if your LFV will be sitting 50 feet away, you'll need a screen that is 10 feet high.

But what if you don't know? Or what if the projector is being used on the go? Every effort should be made to find out, since there is no “standard” throw ratio, nor is there a standard screen size. On paper, multimedia projectors with built-in lenses don't appear to vary much. They mostly range from somewhere between 1.3:1 to 3:1, whereas a fixed installation projector with interchangeable lenses might have lens options ranging from 0.8:1 up to 15:1. You might have decided, since they're all about the same, to risk it. This might work, but remember that even exceeding by only a foot on a 10-foot screen can lead to a critical part of the presentation being cut off.

If you really can't find out, you have two options: spring for a model with more zoom—which will cost more—or err on the side of shorter throw. Not true short throw, mind you—those don’t have zoom and they keystone excessively if not carefully positioned. But something closer to the 1.3:1 end of the spectrum. Why? Because often, getting the projector closer to the screen will be less of a problem than getting it farther away.

Finally, keep in mind, throw is based on native aspect ratio. If, for some reason, you are setting the projector to a narrower aspect ratio than native, the projector will effectively have a longer throw.

Where does a projector's light originate?

Projectors mainly use two lamp technologies: LED and metal halide. LED is still uncommon outside the realm of pocket projectors. Almost all the rest use metal halide, a form of tungsten lamp typically enjoying a lifespan of 2,000 to 5,000 hours if used with the default brightness setting. A handful of systems use hybrid technologies that augment LED with a laser light source.

How much brightness do I need?

While throw ratio is very important, brightness is the most important specification to get right. And this is where the third piece of information I mentioned—amount of ambient light—fits in. If the image isn’t bright enough to be seen clearly, all other considerations fly out the window. Getting enough light out of a projector is often the biggest challenge, but remember, it is nearly impossible to get a projector that is too bright. If a projector is ever “too bright,” you can always just turn the brightness down. But making a projector that is too dim brighter... good luck!

Ambient light competes with the projector’s output, causing the image to become washed out.

In the ideal world in which we don’t live, projectors would always be used in total darkness. The more ambient light you add, the more you lower contrast and wash out the image. Even getting a brighter projector only solves the problem partially, since ambient light is mixing with the darker parts of the image, making them cloudy. If you must use a projector in ambient light, you will never get a perfect image, but it is possible to at least get a viewable image.

Projector brightness is measured in ANSI lumens (lumens for short). Calculating how many lumens you need requires knowing the throw distance, image width, how much ambient light is present in the room, and the content that will be shown. The simplest way to figure this out is to use a projection calculator, a software tool that crunches the number for you. Many projector manufacturers provide calculators on their websites. If not, Projector Central is a great resource, and offers projection calculators for nearly every projector model made.

Here are some examples of numbers of lumens you should anticipate needing.

  • A living room where the lights can be turned off completely: 1500 to 2000 lumens
  • A school classroom or boardroom where the lights can be dimmed, if not fully extinguished: at least 3000 lumens
  • A lecture hall, church, or other larger venue, or an environment with high ambient light: at least 4500 lumens
  • A movie theater or stadium: 20,000 lumens or more
How it will look if your projector isn't bright enough

After looking at the calculator, you may have noticed brightness is measured in foot-candles. Without a light meter, how is one supposed to know how many foot-candles of light a room has? Here, a bit of judgment and common sense come into play. Would you consider it "well lit" (50 foot-candles), moderately lit (20 foot-candles), or dimly lit (less than 5 foot-candles)? Or is there bright sunlight blazing in? If the installation is for critical viewing, then I would recommend getting a light meter, and carefully measuring. But for most practical everyday uses, a rough guesstimate erring on the side of too bright should suffice.

The content should also be factored in. Are you projecting white song lyrics text over a solid, dark background? Or are you showing photographs in an art gallery? In the former case, the contrast of the image is so high you can get away with a much weaker projector. In the latter case, you probably want to preserve every tonal nuance you can and, so, will need more lumens.

If you legitimately don't know where the projector will be used, then get the brightest you can afford that you can transport comfortably. However, chances are, with a bit of thought you can come up with a reasonable estimate of the setting. For example, if you are a traveling product rep conducting trainings with groups of up to 20 people at various companies, 3000 lumens may be enough if you don't encounter windows without blinds. If you do have a room without blinds, or are trying to project outdoors in daylight, be aware: no projector may be bright enough. You're asking the projector to do something it simply wasn’t made to do.

Finally, if the projector is being used for any kind of critical viewing, then it is imperative that ambient light be eliminated from the setting. If this isn't possible, then TVs or monitors (perhaps arranged as a “video wall”) should be used as an alternative. Ambient light not only degrades the image but also alters it, potentially undoing any careful calibration of the projector or color-correction work on the image itself. Projectors probably aren't ideal for critical viewing to begin with, but especially not when there is light in the room.

Color Brightness?

Unless otherwise noted, brightness specs are probably derived from measuring a monochrome rather than color image. This can be misleading because colors may not be emitted with the same intensity as equivalent grayscale tones. To counter this, some projectors will offer an additional “color brightness” spec. Since you will probably be displaying color images, the color brightness spec is the more reliable of the two to follow.

Now that you know the throw ratio and brightness, you can consider secondary factors, such as resolution and contrast ratio.

What resolution do I need?

Resolution matters, but perhaps less than you might think. Most projectors these days are least XGA (1024 x 768) resolution, a 4:3 aspect ratio format that has been the longtime staple for giving PowerPoint presentations. A few entry-level models are still SVGA (800 x 600), and pocket projectors sometimes have funky, low native resolutions that the manufacturers are coy about admitting. Because of high-definition video, increasingly widescreen formats starting at WXGA (1280 x 800) and 720p are supplanting the legacy 4:3 standards.

Personally, I would not recommend going lower than XGA. At SVGA and lower resolutions, pixilation in the image will be very apparent. Also, many computer programs require at least XGA resolution even to run. You can cheat and set the computer's projector output to XGA, and let the projector scale the image down to its native resolution; however, the image will look blurry and smaller text will be unreadable.

In home theater setups, the screen-size-to-viewer distance ratio is a lot smaller than for other applications—here a higher-res image pays off. Otherwise, XGA is probably fine as a baseline, though going higher never hurts. Ideally, I would recommend starting at WXGA and going up from there. Even if you are PowerPoint user, bumping up to 16:10 won’t hurt, plus, you'll be ready if you want to screen HD video down the road. For special applications, such as exhibiting photos, you will want higher resolution: at least 1600 x 1200 (UXGA) for 4:3 or 1920 x 1200 for 16:10 (WUXGA), if not better. In the case of home theater, it’s really a question of whether to invest in 4K or not, since nearly all home theater projectors are at least Full HD (1920 x 1080) anyway. Certainly, 4K in a projector makes more sense than 4K in a TV, since you can achieve a larger image size.

If you really want to be scientific about resolution, a quick Internet search will turn up many resolution calculators into which you can plug a screen size and viewing distance and the calculator will spit back a resolution. These are great but, as with brightness, the content really needs to be factored in, and a calculator can't do that. A highly compressed YouTube video may look like hot garbage no matter what you try to show it on. On the other hand, if you are putting together a screening room for a production company, 4K may barely cut it.

Should I care about contrast ratio?

Contrast ratio is probably the most meaningless spec you’ll find. Like HDTVs, projectors rely on so-called “dynamic contrast” to boost their on-paper performance. Dynamic contrast means comparing the deepest black with the brightness turned all the way down for image A to the brightest white with the brightness turned all the way up for image B. Unlike TVs, the screen surface plays an import role in contrast. Some screens boast high-contrast finishes at the expense of reduced viewing angles. Furthermore, any ambient light will reduce the effective contrast ratio down into the double digits. Under optimal view conditions, high contrast (10,000 or more) is a boon. But with more than a trivial amount of ambient light, a 500:1 contrast ratio and a 100,000:1 contrast ratio won’t yield a visible difference.

Emerging Technology: HDR

In the context of home theater displays, HDR (High Dynamic Range) is like dynamic contrast in that it boosts trans-image contrast by varying brightness. Unlike dynamic contrast, it is backed up by standards like HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and benefits from content made for HDR. The standards also dictate greater color depth (10-bit for HRD10) than the 8-bit we have been used to with most consumer video devices until now. To fully appreciate the HDR, one will need a complete HDR chain. The Blu-ray player, set-top box, or streaming device, the projector itself, and the content being played will all need to support the same HDR standard. Currently, the non-proprietary HRD10 is more prolific, though if format wars of the past are any indication, things are still up in the air. An Example projector that supports HDR10 is the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5040UB.

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema Full HD 3LCD Projector

What are keystone corrections and lens shift?

Most projectors will have at least vertical, if not horizontal, keystone correction; some even offer lens shift. Of course, we are all familiar with the trapezoidal “keystone effect”—the image appears wider at the top when the projector is too low, or wider on one side when the projector is horizontally off center. Keystone correction remedies this, up to a certain specified percentage. The limitation of keystone correction is that it is achieved digitally, like digital zoom on a camcorder. The more you apply, the more the image will be degraded. If you mount or place the projector so that the lens is not below the bottom of the screen or above the top of the screen (assuming a right angle relative to the screen) you should be okay. If you start getting outside of a normal mounting situation (or are stacking or edge blending) you will seriously want to consider picking a projector with lens shift. Lens shift serves the same purpose and then some, letting you “reposition” the image optically with no loss in image quality. To get lens shift, you are probably looking at a high-end home theater or fixed installation projector.

Original Image
Vertical Keystone
Horizontal Keystone

DLP versus LCD: Which is better?

DLP is for better image quality, LCD lasts longer. Next topic.

Just kidding!

There are three imaging systems used in most projectors today: DLP, LCD, and one you might not have heard of: LCoS. Between the DLP and LCD, it is really a toss-up these days. LCD has a little less rainbow effect on average; DLP a little less screen-door effect. Apart from that, LCD has a slight reliability edge in that there are no moving parts in the imaging system, whereas single-chip DLP uses a spinning color wheel and micro mirrors. LCD panels can still fail, but more often it is a case of dead pixels rather than a catastrophic failure as when a DLP color wheel stops working. If you are using the projector in a remote setting where it can’t readily be replaced or served, then go LCD. Otherwise, LCD versus DLP doesn't need to be a deciding factor.

Sample of screen-door effect

In some ways, the underdog, LCoS, offers the best of both worlds. Some of you may vaguely recall HD projection TVs that had LCoS. LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicone) is a reflective technology like DLP, but in this case, the light is reflected from a silicone-backed LCD panel rather than micro mirrors. This system currently claims to produce the least screen-door effect and, because it is LCD, is free from the rainbow effect and other color-wheel-related motion artifacts. It is used almost exclusively in high-end multimedia projectors targeting critical viewing applications. On Sony home theater projectors, LCoS is called SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display).

What connectivity do I need?

HDMI or HDMI-adaptable connection is the de facto standard these days. Many existing A/V installations are wired for VGA, so there is still a use case for this legacy analog technology. Besides VGA, multimedia projectors continue to offer SD analog connections like S-video and composite video in case you need them. Home theater projectors, targeting the latest consumer gadgets, may only feature HDMI (plus other “smart” connectivity). In large venue projectors, SDI—the standard video transport used in broadcast television—is common because it offers simpler cabling, is easier to route and switch, and supports longer cable runs than HDMI.

One tip for installations: do not run HDMI more than 25 feet. There are HDMI cables that are longer, but the longer you go, the more the cable acts as an antenna, picking up RF signals. For whatever reason, 25 feet seems to be where reliability dives off the cliff. If you need to send HDMI farther, you can use baluns, special converter boxes that modify the signal so it can travel over a balanced (i.e., interference-resistant) type of cable, most often Ethernet.

MHL

Many consumer market projectors, like the Epson PowerLite 1284, now feature MHL support. MHL isn’t a connector as such, but a standard for intelligently connecting a variety of devices—especially mobile devices—to displays. The display-side connector is usually HDMI, while the device-side terminal will vary. Micro-USB or USB Type-C the norm for compatible smartphones and tablets. The full MHL spec admits features like 8K video at 120 frames per second, multi-channel audio, device control via a single remote, arbitrary USB data I/O, and more. Of course, devices that boast MHL will not necessarily implement these features. However, the most practically relevant today—HDMI output for mobile devices and the ability to control your device’s media player with a TV/universal remote—are standard.

Epson PowerLite WUXGA 3LCD Multimedia Projector

USB, Networking, and IoT

As technologies converge, projectors get smarter and become more connected. Besides MHL, projectors can be networked or otherwise linked to computers in a variety of ways. The classic mechanism is RS-232, and old serial standard that enables central control, most often using a system like Crestron. More recently Ethernet was added, again mostly to enable remote operation, but over a local network (LAN) rather than dedicated RS-232 wiring. These days, projectors feature USB, Wi-Fi, integrated media players, and more. This means not only can they be controlled remotely (even off site), but support presentation directly from other computers/devices on the network or within range. For small boardroom setups, you may even be able to “ad hoc” link a computer or mobile device directly to the projector without a supporting network. You may even be able to plug a USB storage drive directly in and present images, PowerPoints, and other content without a computer. The Epson PowerLite 1776W offers many of these features in a slim form factor, ideal for users on the go.

Epson PowerLite WXGA Multimedia Projector

Wireless Video

Wireless video is one of the most asked-for inputs. Some projectors have it, usually in the form of an optional USB dongle. But, because the video generally must be compressed and, due to the presence of so many competing wireless devices—especially wireless routers—the wireless interface on many projectors is recommended only for PowerPoint, photos, or showing relatively static computer graphics, not for full-frame-rate video. In addition, the range of projector wireless dongles is usually limited to about a 30-foot line of sight. If you really need to send video wirelessly, there are third-party options that can do it, and some are even uncompressed. The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5040Ube comes paired with a wireless HDMI transmitter/receiver set, making it great choice where your home theater setup precludes HDMI wiring.

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema Full HD 3LCD Projector with Wireless Adapter

Can I rely on a projector's built-in speakers?

Projectors, much like TVs, aren’t built to deliver great sound; often limited to 1-watt or 3-watt speakers, which won’t cut it in most situations. In general, investment in a separate sound system—even portable computer speakers—is recommended. If you do need the convenience of an all-in-one solution, opt for a project that has at least a 10-watt speaker, such as the Epson Home Cinema 3700.

Epson Home Cinema Full HD 3LCD Home Theater Projector

Conclusion: Where does image quality come from?

Chances are, you want the best picture quality for your money and it probably seems like we've been avoiding the question, speaking instead about boring, if important, practicalities like throw ratio and lumens. To this complaint, there are two arguments.

  1. If the projector you choose isn't bright enough, the image quality will suffer, regardless. If it throws an image the wrong size, the viewing experience will suffer.
  2. Image quality is difficult to measure to the extent it can be measured objectively at all. And a lot of “image quality” is just plain subjective.

Regarding argument 1, I'm sure you'll agree I've said enough already. Addressing number 2, if you know what brightness and throw ratio you need, I would suggest to you that two projectors with comparable specs at a similar price will perform almost the same. Flipping a coin may not sound like the sanest way to make a purchasing decision, but once you've determined what features are mandatory, and settled on a price, you've already done everything you can to make a smart choice. Whether the preceding steps have narrowed your options down to one model or ten, rest assured, whatever you pick from those that remain will be the best choice for you.

The Takeaway

  • Is a projector the right choice? If you need to achieve a larger screen size and/or if portability is key, then yes.
     
  • When not to use a projector: Projectors are for screening. They should not be used for color correction work or critical evaluation. Additionally, they work best in low light. If you have bright, uncontrollable ambient light, especially sunlight, then consider an alternative.
     
  • Once you know the screen size, determine the throw ratio based on the screen width and the distance between the projector and the screen.
     
  • If the screen size isn't known in advance, opt for a projector with more zoom or one that has a shorter throw. In most cases, getting closer is easier than getting farther back.
     
  • Considering the screen size, throw distance, and the amount of ambient light in the room, use a projection calculator to determine the necessary minimum brightness in lumens.
     
  • If you cannot calculate the brightness you need, consider the brightest projector you can get, within reason.
     
  • Factoring in the content you will be showing and the distance away of your average audience member, determine the minimum resolution you need. WXGA is usually safe for multimedia, though going up to 1080p and beyond certainly isn't going to hurt (except maybe your pocket book). For home theater, you will always want 1080p; and may even want to consider 4K.
     
  • Consider any secondary features you may need, such as the ability to show a presentation from a USB flash drive or mobile device.

Don't sweat it if, after the above process of elimination, your search turns up too many choices—chances are any will work fine for you.

Glossary

Brightness (lumens)

Projector brightness is measured in ANSI lumens (lumens, for short). Since the lumens rating is often measured by taking a reflected reading from a screen rather than directly from the light emanating from the lens, there is a fair amount of room for number fudging. This is because different screen surfaces have different reflectivity characteristics, and you can probably guess which surfaces projector makers prefer when rating their own products. On top of that, the image center is brighter than the edges by some factor, so manufacturers will measure from the center (in some cases they are honest enough to admit they are taking a center reading, but this is typically on professional models that the companies know will get more carefully scrutinized by the end user).

Multimedia projectors start around 2500 lumens, going up to around 4500 lumens or so, though the line gets blurry between multimedia and fixed installation. So, you may see what is advertised as a multimedia projector having up to 6500 lumens. Home theater projectors used to hover around the 2000-lumen mark, but in recent years more and more high-brightness models haves started to emerge. As of this writing, pico (pocket) projectors, because they rely on LED lamps, are rated at 1000 lumens or less; some as low as 10 lumens, or about the brightness of a Maglite. At the other end of the spectrum, if you want to build a typical movie theater, you're looking at 20,000 lumens or more.

DLP

DLP stands for Digital Light Processing. There are two types: single chip and three chip. Single-chip DLP is the most common, and uses a combination of a color wheel and micro-mirrors to generate an image. Its historic advantage over LCD is that it can produce better color and contrast since the wheel can—in theory—be dyed to reproduce any color value or tonal value it wants. In addition, there is less space between pixels, thanks to advances in micro-mirror design, so you are less likely to perceive the so-called "screen-door effect." The drawback to DLP compared to LCD is an artifact known as "rainbow effect." However, recent DLP projectors spin the color wheel so fast, the rainbow effect is all but impossible to perceive.

Three-chip DLP is rare, and forgoes the color-wheel in favor of three arrays of micro-mirrors, one for each primary color. In some ways, three-chip DLP is the best of both worlds: eliminating the rainbow effect while keeping the pixel spacing reasonable. However, the technology is generally regarded as cost prohibitive and not often used.

Edge Blending

Edge blending allows the images from two or more projectors to be seamlessly merged to produce a single, larger image. Edge blending is the projection equivalent of a video wall, and can be useful for creative applications, allowing the creating of non-standard aspect ratios. Edge blending may be a built-in feature, or a third-party video processor may be used. In either case, the projectors must be of the same model and they must be carefully calibrated to ensure the images match.

Hybrid (LED/Laser) Projector Lamp

To produce higher brightness than is currently possible using an LED lamp exclusively, while retaining an acceptable CRI (Color Rendering Index), some projectors use "hybrid" lamps that combine an LED with an array of green lasers, combined using a reversed beam splitter. The benefit of this technology is a light source that does not burn out and offers lower energy consumption compared to traditional metal-halide lamps of the same brightness. The drawback is that the CRI obtained remains lower than what metal halide lamps can produce. Therefore, this technology is deployed in "presentation"-oriented projectors—that is, for giving PowerPoint presentations and similar applications. A projector optimized for video playback, showing photos, or anything else where good color reproduction is required will use one or more metal-halide lamps.

Keystone Correction

Keystone correction is a digital process that counteracts the keystone effect to a specified percentage. Most projectors have vertical keystone correction only, some have horizontal and vertical. The "keystone effect" (or "keystoning") causes the projected image to appear wider at the top when the projector is too low, or wider on one side when the projector is horizontally off-center. Vertical keystone correction fixes keystoning when the projector is too low or too high, but requires horizontal centering. Horizontal correction compensates if the projector is horizontally off-center. Some projectors require manual adjustment, and some calculate the required correction automatically.

The drawback to keystone correction is that because it is a digital effect, the more correction applied, the more resolution will be reduced, a bit like digital zoom on a video camera. To avoid quality loss, lens shift should be used.

LED Projector Lamp

LED (Light Emitting Diode) is the most energy-efficient means of projector illumination. Additionally, LED lamps do not burn out in the ordinary sense. As with any circuit, they can fail, but they have a life expectancy on the order of 20,000 hours, compared to less than 5,000 for a typical metal-halide lamp. Currently, LEDs face two primary limitations to wider adoption in projectors: lower brightness and a lower CRI (Color Rendering Index) compared to the metal-halide counterparts. As of this writing, many LED-only projectors emit less than 1000 lumens and belong almost exclusively to the pico (pocket projector) category.

There is a very small minority of multimedia projectors that use a hybrid technology that combines LED with a green laser.

LCD

Three-LCD (often styled "3LCD") is the most common imaging system used in multimedia projectors. In its most common implementation, three-LCD uses a beam splitter (prism) to break light into its RGB primaries, sending each color through a dedicated monochrome liquid crystal panel. Compared to DLP, LCDs do not tend to produce perceptible motion artifacts since they render the image line-by-line like a TV or computer monitor, and there are no moving parts in the imaging system. The drawbacks are lower contrast ratio than DLP, and more space between pixels, making the "screen-door effect" more apparent at a given resolution.

LCoS

LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicone) is also called SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) on Sony products. It is a reflective technology like three-chip DLP, but in this case, the light is reflected from three silicone-backed LCD panels rather than micro-mirror arrays. This system currently claims to produce the least screen-door effect and, because it is LCD, is free from the "rainbow effect" and other color-wheel-related artifacts associated with single-chip DLP. It is used in multimedia projectors targeting critical viewing applications and some high-end home theater projectors.

Low Voltage Control (LVC)

LVC (Low Voltage Control) is an output found on many projectors that allows the projector to trigger another component of the A/V or home theater installation. For example, connecting a projector to a motorized screen that has LVC support allows the projector to automatically trigger the screen to lower when the projector is turned on and raise when it is turned off. The LVC output may be connected directly to the screen, or it may be connected to an automation system which, in turn, controls the screen and possibly performs other actions, such as dimming the house lights.

Lens Shift

Projectors with lens shift have a movable lens-projector interface that allows the angle of the lens to be adjusted slightly ("shifted") with respect to the image plane. Like keystone correction, lens shift can be used to correct for keystoning, but unlike the former does not result in resolution loss. In addition, it can be used to reposition the image slightly to aid in the installation of the projector or to help align two or more images when using stacking or edge blending. Lens shift has to be adjusted manually on some projectors, and is motorized—operable by remote—on some models. Large-venue projectors with interchangeable lenses typically have motorized shift.

Metal-Halide Projector Lamp

Despite advances in LED technology, metal-halide lamps remain the most common because they are bright and have high CRI (Color Rendering Index). The drawbacks: they burn out after several thousand hours (2,000 to 5,000 hours), force projectors to use noisy cooling systems, and are notoriously expensive. On typical multimedia and home theater projectors, only a single lamp is used, and it will be encased in a housing. Typically, the entire housing assembly will be replaced, not just the lamp itself. The old lamp should be allowed to cool fully before attempting to remove it, and care should be taken not to touch the lens. Oils on your fingers can degrade the lens coating and potentially cause the lamp to explode when it is turned on. There is minimal risk of physical harm since the lamp will be sealed inside the projector; however, it will mean buying a new lamp.

Dual Lamp

Some projectors use two (or more) lamps as a cost-effective way of increasing the total brightness. Dual-lamp design also provides a degree of redundancy—assuming only a single lamp fails, you could continue to use the projector, albeit at half the original output. On some models, it also means you could switch off one lamp to conserve lamp life and energy in situations where the full output is superfluous. This may not be ideal from the perspective of maintenance, however, since it means the lamps must be replaced at different times, and the sort of projectors that use dual (or multi-lamp) tend to be installed in places where they are not readily accessible.

Native Resolution

Native resolution is the resolution, measure in pixel dimensions, of a projector's imaging system, and should not be conflated with its maximum supported resolution, which is often higher. Resolutions can either be SD or HD "video" formats, such as: 480i (NTSC), 576i (PAL), 720p, 1080i, UltraHD 4K (3840 x 2160), or DCI 4K (4096 x 2160), or computer VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) formats, such as: VGA (640 x 480), SVGA (800 x 600), XGA (1024 x 768), WXGA (1280 x 800), UXGA (1600 x 1200), or WUXGA (1920 x 1200).

Ideally, the connected device should be set to match the projector's native resolution. Otherwise the projector will scale the image, resulting in image degradation.

Rainbow Effect

Rainbow effect is an artifact observed on many single-chip DLP-based projectors and is principally caused by the color wheel putting out different colors at different times. The effect is perceived as a rainbow trail in the corner of your peripheral vision as you move your eyes across image. As DLP technology has matured, faster-spinning wheels have significantly reduced this effect to the point people hardly notice it today.

Screen-Door Effect

The screen-door effect is an artifact produced to varying degrees by all imaging systems digital projector's use: DLP, 3LCD, and LCoS. It can be described as a grid pattern, and is caused by the physical space between the individual pixels. At a given resolution, LCD projectors tend to exhibit the most screen door effect and LCoS projectors the least. Apart from choice of imaging system, higher-resolution projectors typically produce less screen-door effect than lower-resolution models at a given image size.

Stacking

Stacking doesn't mean physically stacking projectors on top of each other (though stackable projectors usually support this arrangement). Rather, it means identical images from two or several projectors are projected over the same area of the screen, hence, the images are what is "stacked." Stacking becomes a way of increasing brightness beyond what a single projector in the system is capable of, and may be more cost effective that buying a single projector of the same brightness. Projectors must be the same model, and calibration is required to ensure the stacked images match. Stacking is built in on many fixed-installation projectors that have lens shift. Additionally, third-party processors are available that allow images from projectors that do not have built-in stacking to be merged.

Throw Ratio

Throw ratio describes the relationship between the width of the screen and the distance between the projector and screen, with the first number representing the throw distance and the second the screen width. It is styled "throw distance:screen width", e.g.: "1.3:1". So, for example, a lens with a 1:1 throw ratio will produce a 4-foot-wide image at 4 feet from the screen. A “short throw” (or wide angle) lens with a 0.5:1 throw ratio will produce a 4-foot-wide image at 2 feet from the screen. And, finally, a long throw (or telephoto) lens with a 3:1 throw ratio will produce a 4-foot-wide image at 12 feet from the screen. Projectors with zoom lenses will specify throw ratio as a range, e.g., "1.3:1 to 1.7:1". Unless otherwise noted, throw ratio is based on the native aspect ratio of the projector.

Multimedia and home theater projectors generally have throw ratios of 0.3:1 or more at their widest setting and of 3:1 or less at their most telephoto. Special short-throw projectors will have a ratio of 0.5:1 or less. Interchangeable-lens projectors will offer an assortment of lenses, covering ratios from 0.8:1 to 10:1 or more. In some cases, add-on lenses can be purchased to increase or decrease the throw ratio of the stock lens. As with converter lenses for video cameras, distortion and other forms of image-quality reduction may result.

Contrast Ratio

Contrast ratio compares the darkest value the projector can produce to the brightest, can range anywhere from 500:1 to 100,000:1, and tends to be higher on DLP-based projectors. It is important to note, in many cases, the manufacturer-specified contrast ratio is dynamic contrast. Dynamic contrast varies the lamp brightness between images (or scenes), basing the ratio on the brightest possible white the projector can make when the brightness is maxed out, versus the darkest possible black when the lamp is at its darkest setting (or completely off for some technologies). This means the advertised contrast ratio will only be perceived if a dark image immediately follows a bright image or vice-versa.

Apart from dynamic contrast, determining projector contrast ratio is problematic because the type of screen fabric (other projection surface) and the presence of ambient light significantly affect contrast ratio. In the case of ambient light, the more ambient light there is the worse the effective contrast ratio will be. And any amount of ambient light beyond trivial will bring the ratio down significantly, making comparisons based on contrast ratio meaningless anytime ambient light will be encountered.

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Hi

I am looking for a multimedia projector for my business.  We have clients with a variety of different computers and they need a projector.  They do powerpoint, video and pics etc.  Am not looking for wireless.  We have different size rooms so the distance to the screen varies as does the light in the rooms. Any suggestions?

Hello, I am trying to get a projector that I can use during the daytime outdoor for a small yard. Please advise.

Inexpensive projector

Hi Shay - 

Daytime outdoor projection is not advised.  Do not attempt it unless you can set-up your screen and projector in a heavily shaded location away from direct or reflected daylight..  Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions: askbh@bandh.com    

Thanks Mark for the helpful article.

I am trying to find the best projector for our needs. We are looking into a portable projector, not too bulky or heavy (something that we could travel with) to project PowerPoint presentations and stream videos from YouTube in meetings rooms of various sizes, various lighting conditions, various screen size and distances. Something versatile then, and weight is a big issue, as this will be mainly used when we travel on location to make presentations.

In a previous comment from 2 months ago, you recommended “Epson PowerLite 1284 3200-Lumen WUXGA 3LCD Multimedia Projector” to a person with about the same needs as ours, but the model have been discontinued since.

Any new recommendation? Thanks

This was very helpful, thanks.  

Now I know that I am looking for a long throw projector, but I need more help. I want to use the projector to transfer photo images from my computer onto canvas for painting.  My ideal setup would be projecting onto say a 12x18", or at max 2x2 foot space from a distance of around 8 feet, though it could be somewhat shorter. A zoom function would be very helpful. I can make the space pretty dark, so no problem there. I am not concerned about true colors or resolution, I just want to transfer an image before I start painting.

I was hoping a pico projector would work, both for conveniance and cost. I'd appreciate your suggestions. Thanks again

Hi Tom - 

You may need to rethink your geometry; screen size and projector throw distance.  We cannot provide any practical projector solutions for you with the stated measurements.  Please e-mail us at:  askbh@bandh.com    

hello,

what is the best projector to use to project an image onto a 12 story building? It will be used to trace out a mural. I need a projector that can project enormous from a relatively short distance. thanks!

Hi Tarssa - 

Please e-mail us more details regarding the throw distance of the projector and the actual dimensions of the desired image.  An approximate budget range would be valuable too.

askbh@bandh.com    

This was very helpful, thank you!

Hi B& H

I want to project onto a side of a building. The throw distance ranges from 20 to 30 feet. The screen width should be a minimum of 15 feet. Greater screen width is fine.

There will be some ambient light. 

What would you recommend?

Hi Susan - 

The Panasonic PT-VZ570U WUXGA LCD Projector provides 4500 lumens of brightness and a 5000:1 contrast ratio for clear, bright presentations - even in rooms with lots of ambient light. It features WUXGA 1920 x 1200 native resolution, a three-chip transparent RGB LCD projection system and an Eco mode that supports a long lamp life of up to 7000 hours. This ensures a lower overall total cost of ownership. The PT-VZ570U features Panasonic's Daylight View Basic technology as well.

Projection is maddening.  With my Canon M3 and new M6 I have photos worth projecting.  I have tried numerous projectors at various prices, not hing gives me the satifaction of a Kodachrome slide and manufacturers do not have an interest in photo projection, I have called tech supp of major manufacturers and tech supp is generally at a loss.  Secondly, why cannot TIFF photos be projected.  Also a film school grad (NYU).  Many thanks, for the quality of information, it is hard to find.  Thanks also to B&H for hosting this.

Hi Michael - 

TIFF files are HUGE!  Just not practical for projection and will slow a slideshow down to a crawl.  Save images in the sRGB color space. Most projectors have an sRGB preset which should be a close match for this space. Remember to use “Convert to profile” not “Assign profile” if using Photoshop - the latter will give incorrect color.  In my experience, LCoS technology produces the best photo projection results:

The REALiS WUX500 Pro AV LCoS Projector from Canon delivers high performance, thanks to its WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution, 5000 lumens of brightness, and a contrast ratio of up to 2000:1. AISYS-enhanced LCoS technology combines with an advanced projection lens to produce crisp, bright images with accurate color reproduction. The optical system on the WUX500 Pro AV allows the projector to maintain a constant level of brightness throughout its 1.8x zoom range; this is a feature that provides both flexible projector placement and value by eliminating the need to over-specify a higher lumen projector for longer throw applications.

Hi Mark,

Great article! 

We have an outdoor space around a firepit and would like to have an outdoor movie theater. The screen would be on one side of the firepit and we have a 120" outdoor screen from EliteScreens. Now we just need to pair it with a decent projector. Our budget is $1000-1500. Any suggestions? Currently, I'm not sure whether to try and place the projector in front of the firepit on a portable stand (screen on same side of firepit) or behind the firepit (mount to a post well above the height of the firepit projecting image over the firepit to the screen). The firepit area dimensions are 20' x 20'. Hope I explained that well enough...

Thanks!

Hi James - 

Just take every precaution to prevent the projector and screen from being exposed to the heat and smoke of the fire-pit.   I will assume a 15' throw distance from the projector to the screen.    A longer distance will not work with your budget range:

The HT4050 Full HD 3D DLP Home Theater Projector from BenQ offers cinematic images with audio and video enhancements, thanks to Rec. 709 color reproduction. Rec. 709 is a color standard that showcases the projector's ability to produce life-like color saturation. This 2000 lumen projector is equipped with a DLP light engine and a 260W lamp that provides up to 2000 hours of life in normal mode and 4000 hours in SmartEco mode. The HT4050 sports a Full HD 1920 x 1080 native resolution for displaying detailed 1080p images. Furthermore, the HT4050 features a 1.15 to 1.86:1 throw ratio and can project images up to 196".

With VGA, composite video, component video, and dual HDMI inputs, this projector can accept a wide range of video sources. One if its HDMI connections supports MHL, which allows you to mirror and charge compatible devices such as smartphones. There's also a USB interface on-board for USB-powered devices such as portable streaming players. The HT4050 also incorporates a powerful 10W speaker for audio playback, 10,000:1 contrast ratio, and a 1.6x optical zoom.

Product Highlights:

  • Brightness of 2000 ANSI Lumens
  • Full HD (1920 x 1080) Native Resolution
  • 1.15 to 1.86:1 Throw Ratio
  • Project up to 196" Images
  • Dual HDMI Inputs & MHL Connectivity
  • Up to 4000 Hour Lamp Life
  • Independent 3D Color Control
  • Rec. 709 Cinematic Color Reproduction
  • ISFccc Certification
  • CinemaMaster Audio & Video Technology

Mark, 

Great article!  I am looking for a 3D projector that I can use in our condo. Something with little to no screen door effect and clean clear 3D at the highest possible resolutions while maintaining a desired price tag of no more than $2,000. Our living room has a great wall we can use for the screen projection area and from wall to wall is about 15ft, while the wall area is about 10ft X 9ft the ideal viewing are would be closer to 8-10ft wide by 6ft tall or so. Any suggestions would be very appreciated.

Since image quality is important to you, please bear in mind that even the cleanest, whitest, house-painted wall does not offer an ideal projection surface.  Even the best projectors will offer diminished images when not used in conjunction with a dedicated projection screen.

The HT4050 Full HD 3D DLP Home Theater Projector from BenQ offers cinematic images with audio and video enhancements, thanks to Rec. 709 color reproduction. Rec. 709 is a color standard that showcases the projector's ability to produce life-like color saturation. This 2000 lumen projector is equipped with a DLP light engine and a 260W lamp that provides up to 2000 hours of life in normal mode and 4000 hours in SmartEco mode. The HT4050 sports a Full HD 1920 x 1080 native resolution for displaying detailed 1080p images. Furthermore, the HT4050 features a 1.15 to 1.86:1 throw ratio and can project images up to 196".

With VGA, composite video, component video, and dual HDMI inputs, this projector can accept a wide range of video sources. One if its HDMI connections supports MHL, which allows you to mirror and charge compatible devices such as smartphones. There's also a USB interface on-board for USB-powered devices such as portable streaming players. The HT4050 also incorporates a powerful 10W speaker for audio playback, 10,000:1 contrast ratio, and a 1.6x optical zoom.

Rec. 709 Standard for Authentic Cinematic Color

Rec.709 is the international high-definition standard that certifies that display devices can reproduce a cinematic color palette. Using a notable 6x speed RGBRGB color wheel with custom segment angles and coatings, the HT4050 achieves Rec. 709 cinematic color reproduction, delivering precise Hollywood Studio color right out-of-the box.

Software Optimization

To maximize color accuracy, this projector's software optimization involved adjusting the blacks, whites, and grays towards the D65 standard defined by Rec. 709. Furthermore, the three primary and secondary colors were adjusted one by one, until they were as close as possible to the references on the Rec. 709 color gamut.

Six-Segment Color Wheel

The six-segment color wheel in this projector has been re-engineered with 6x speed to maximize color and depth.

Motion Enhancer

Using motion enhancing technology, the BenQ HT4050 can deliver sharp and crisp fast-motion detail, by inserting up to 36 interpolated frames in between sequences to produce fluid, smooth, 60 frame-per-second video.

Color Enhancer

Color Enhancer modulates complex color algorithms to adeptly render saturated colors, fine gradients, intermediate hues, and subtle color shades.

Pixel Enhancer

Pixel Enhancer is a motion-adaptive edge enhancement feature that detects changes in color between an object and its background to produce sharp edges and precise surface textures.

Flesh Tone

The Flesh Tone feature is designed to deliver natural, life-like skin tones to the screen, enabling the HT4050 to effectively recreate the movie theater experience in the comfort of your home.

CineMaster Audio

Featuring CinemaMaster audio, powered by MaxxAudio technology, the HT4050 delivers 10W of cinema quality sound. An acoustically balanced driver encased in a resonant chamber inside the projector is designed to deliver vibrant, rich, and full-range sound using Wave Audio algorithms.

Independent 3D Color Control for All 6 Primary Colors

BenQ's color management tool allows users to independently fine-tune the gain, saturation, and hue of six primary colors (R/G/B/C/M/Y). This enables users to customize colors for life-like color reproduction.

ISFccc Certification

The HT4050 features ISFccc preset modes, enabled by professional calibrators from the Imaging Science Foundation, to provide optimized Day/Night viewing.

High Fill Factor

Featuring a high fill factor, the HT4050 shines more light into each pixel, improving definition for small text and fine details, and eliminating "screen door effect".

BenQ SmartEco

SmartEco automatically adjusts lamp brightness based on content to project rich blacks and increase contrast for tiny text and subtle details.

All-Glass Optics

BenQ's all-glass optics and low-dispersion lens coatings are designed to minimize chromatic aberration, delivering sharp, crisp video to the screen.

Vertical and Horizontal Lens Shift Flexibility

Lens shift provides the flexibility to optically move the image vertically or horizontally on the screen to overcome minor installation miscalculations. This 2D lens shift feature is designed to provide peace-of-mind knowing the projected image will land precisely over the area needed.

Side Projection with 2D Keystone

Horizontal and vertical keystone correction eliminates the trapezoid effect when the projector is placed at an indirect angle from the screen, allowing you to set the projector up in a corner or on a side table to facilitate projection in more places.

Colorific Technology

BenQ uses Colorific technology to optimize images for specific color balance effects for diverse applications such as presentations, movies, spreadsheets, and photographs. This BenQ Colorific projector generates more than one billion colors by combining up to seven different colors to create vibrant, true-to-life images.

Wall Color Correction

The Wall Color Correction feature can be used to normalize the image when projecting onto color surfaces, providing the flexibility to enjoy content in any room in the house.

Additional Features

  • BenQ quality tested and adjusted to achieve Rec. 709 color
  • View 3D images when paired with 3D content and sold separately 3D glasses
  • DLP BrilliantColor technology
  • Project up to 100" images from just 8.4' away
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Step-by-step setup guide
  • Supports BenQ's optional Wireless FHD Kit

Mark, Thank you for this informative article and advice. We have a windowless office with overhead florescent lighting. We are considering employing a projector for creating a virtual window or "open door" by placing a camera on an outside wall which relays a live outdoor image to the projector which projects an image on the inside wall thereby creating a virtual window allowing you to see outside. A projector with portrait mode capability could allow us to project a verticle image on a closed door, making it appear as if the door is open to the outside. We are simply trying to bring the outside into our windowless office. Screen size is door shaped 36"x72" or rotated 180 degrees for window shaped. Throw distance is 5 to 15 ft. small venue. Can you recommend a short list of projectors that we may consider to use for this application? Desired budget is under $2000.

Recommend a projector around $1,000 that is capable of keystoning vertically & horizontally, good in various lighting conditions (from no light to naturally lit atrium), various distances (15-60'), various screen sizes, at least 1080p resolution. We are looking to purchase a fleet (approximately 10) to replace aging low res/low lumen projectors for use in our museum. These will be used in exhibitions as well as during events. The price isn't overly important if all our specs can be met.

Great article. Thank you.

Hi Luke - 

I am reasonably sure we do not offer the one -size-fits-all device you are seeking. Your criteria would seem to demand several different projectors and possibly accessory lenses.  Please e-mail this request with more detail regarding the installations and we will be happy to discuss this further. You may want to uinclude the brands/models of the projectors that are currently in place for our reference.  

AskBH@BandH.com

Mark,

The distance I have is 3 meters and was thinking about mini projector + bluetooth speakers to watch Netflix on my living room. We care about quality image like HD and a great sound. Love wireless/wifi devices. Any suggestion?

Hi Rossane - 

Here is one of the brighter  HD pico projectors:

Internet connectivity, detailed images, and portability are combined in the LG PF1500W 1400-Lumen Full HD Portable Smart LED Projector. This LED projector supports screens up to 120" and features a Full HD 1920 x 1080 native resolution. It also boasts a 1400-lumen maximum light output and a 150,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. The LED light source built into the PF1500W has an estimated lifespan of up to 30,000 hours.

The PF1500W can access Internet streaming content such as YouTube, Netflix, and social media services. This model also supports wireless content sharing with integrated WiDi, Miracast, and DLNA connectivity. Wired content sharing and device mirroring is also available via its two HDMI ports. This projector is also equipped with two USB inputs for connecting compatible devices. It is controllable via the included remote control, or through your compatible smartphone via the TV Plus app.

Mark-

Thank you for writing this. I was tasked with buying a projector and I have NO idea what I am doing. This has helped a lot, but I am still so confused. We will be using the projector mainly for powerpoint slides (at various location, some brighter than others), so I know I will need a high lumen count, just incase we are in a school gym with little dimming power. The main screen we will be using is 6ft by 6ft, though we may use a bigger or smaller screen in any situation. Budget is hopefully under $800. Any words of advise is welcomed.

-Disheartened shopper

Hi Katie- 

The Epson PowerLite 1284 3200-Lumen WUXGA 3LCD Multimedia Projector is suitable for use in environments such as schools, conference rooms, and more. It delivers 3200 lumens of brightness with a 15,000:1 contrast ratio. The PowerLite 1284 has a WUXGA 1920 x 1200 native resolution for displaying detailed Full HD images. This projector is powered by a 3-chip, 3LCD system with a wide color gamut, and the lamp features a long life of up to 10,000 hours in Eco mode. You can use the 1284 to project up to a 300" image, and it features a 1.38 to 1.68:1 throw ratio.

Mark,

Thank you for a well written and informative article, but the more I read, the more I realize that I am in over my head.

I have been very happy with a Sharp DT300 projector in my home theatre for many years but was hoping to upgrade to hi def, perhaps doing away with replacing expensive metal halide bulbs. It’s also got no HDMI inputs.

The DT300 has a 1-1.2 X zoom & a 210W/168W bulb. I couldn’t figure out how many lumens that is but it does the job just fine. Looks like 720P/1080I if I read the manual right. The screen is 80” wide (91” diagonal), the unmovable fixed position for the throw distance is 110”, the lens is 15” higher than the top of the screen and the room is mostly but not totally dark.

Can you be kind enough to suggest a projector or 2?

Hi Marc - 

It sounds like you have a dedicated space for a home theater projector.  If the ambient light in the room can be controlled then this may be the ideal projctor for you:

Enjoy 1080p images in vibrant color with the black Sony VPL-HW45ES Full HD Home Theater Projector. Its three SXRD chips are designed to enhance color accuracy, while its 1800 lumens of brightness will ensure that your images are clear even with some ambient light. This projector has 1.6x zoom, so you can place it near the back of the room without losing focus.

The VPL-HW45ES has two HDMI inputs for connecting your digital HD devices such as your HD cable/satellite box or Blu-ray player. It is 3D compatible and will connect to many RF-based 3D glasses. It includes an IR remote control.

Enhanced Full HD Pictures with Reality Creation

Cinema-quality SXRD panel technology is teamed with Sony's Reality Creation processing that refines subtle details, colors, and textures. You'll see the difference with crisp, sharp, Full HD pictures that take you closer to the original 1080p source.

1800 Lumens of Brightness for Vibrant Images

With 1800 lumens of brightness, Full HD images stand out with clear, bright highlights, even in moderately lit rooms.

Select from Nine Picture Calibration Modes

Quickly calibrate the picture to what you're watching or playing. Select from nine picture calibration modes, including two cinema film modes, cinema digital, reference, TV, photo, game, bright cinema, and bright TV. An advanced HSV manual color tuning tool gives you even more control.

Smooth, Fluid On-Screen Action with Motionflow

Coupled with the panel's fast response rate, Motionflow technology means you'll see every detail with minimal blur, no matter how fast the action.

Long-Lasting Lamp

The 6000-hour rated lamp operating life means simpler maintenance with fewer lamp swaps and reduced running costs.

Flexible Home Installation with Wide Zoom and Lens Shift

The manual zoom lens with a 1.6x zoom ratio and wide lens shift range gives greater installation flexibility in any room size, even with high ceilings.

Front-Facing Fan

With the fan exhaust positioned at the front of the projector, you don't need to worry about wall clearance and room for air intake/exhaust when installing. This helps maximize throw distance for the biggest possible projected images.

Home Automation with IP Control

The VPL-HW45ES is compatible with a wide range of home automation systems via RS-232C and IR-in interfaces.

Industry-Standard RF 3D Compatible

The projector's built-in RF transmitter synchronizes with any RF 3D glasses for enhanced coverage and stability, so there's no need for an external transmitter.

USB Updates

You can keep up-to-date with the latest features and firmware updates via the projector's USB port.

I'm looking for a projector for an out side theater. Need to project the image 50' away. What would be the best projector for that?

Hi Pat - 

You do not mention the size of your screen. which is an extremely critical piece of information.  But to give you an idea of what you maybe dealing with.  Let's say you are using a screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio that offers a screen diagonal of 119". Hhere is an excellent projector and lens that offers you the correct geometry:

The HD6K-M 1080 HD 3DLP Projector from Christie features embedded warping, blending, and color matching, along with built-in portrait capabilities. This 3-chip DLP projector is 2D and 3D capable and can be upgraded from its existing 2D display technology to include 3D capabilities.

True HD native resolution (1920 x 1080)

6,600 Center lumens

Variable contrast ratio of 2500-10,000:1 using dynamic iris (Full on, Full off) and 650:1 ANSI

Dual mercury lamps

Two high definition input channels that allow 4:4:4 HD signals

Comprehensive Color Adjustment (CCA)

Embedded Christie Twist image warping and edge-blending

Dust-sealed engine, filter-free design

Motorized yellow notch filter

Motorized horizontal and veritcal lens offset

Scheimpflug (tilt) adjustment

Built-in light shutter

Tool-free lens insertion system

Intelligent Lens System (ILS) for zoom, focus, horizontal, and vertical offset

Multi-windowing and screen processing (up to a 3x3 array)

3D upgradable

Built-in portrait display capabilities

LiteLOC

99 Channel memories

Menus in five languages

The HD Projection ILS Zoom Lens from Christie is a lens incorporating the Intelligent Lens System (ILS). The ILS automatically recognizes and calibrates a lens when it is installed. Stepper-motor-based encoding ensures that motor drift does not occur, thus providing accurate and repeatable recall of all lens offset, zoom, and focus positions. When used with Christie M Series HD/WU products, this ILS zoom lens has a 4.1-6.9:1 throw ratio. If used with any Christie M Series SXGA+ products, the ILS zoom lens will provide a 4.5-7.3:1 throw ratio.

Do not have a set screen size yet. What I have is a gazebo on one end of my pool and a wall on the other side that is 50' away. I can go bigger than 119". Is there a projector that can project that far that is cheaper? That is extremely more than what I'm looking to spend.Thanks!

Hi Pat - 

50' is a long distance and is generally only used in large venue profesional set-ups like auditoriums, lecture centers and theaters. If you can go for a larger screen with a 232" (or so) diagonal measurement (197" W x 123" H), then the cost will come down dramatically:

The black F-22 WUXGA Multimedia Projector with Long Throw Zoom Lens and High Brightness Color Wheel from Barco is a professional installation projector adaptable to a range of use cases, such as flight simulators and theme park rides, museums, visitor attractions, and more. The projector features a brightness of up to 3000 lumens (depending on settings), has a native WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution and native 16:10 aspect ratio format. In addition to its native aspect ratio and resolution, through internal scaling, the F22 can accommodate a wide range of formats, from 480p SD all the way up to WUXGA (1920 x 1200).

The F22 features connectivity to accommodate a variety of sources. There are HDMI and DVI inputs for HDTV and digital computer sources. There is a VGA port for analog computer sources or for integration with existing A/V installations. Plus, there are composite, component, and S-video inputs to cover most analog video sources, whether SD or HD.

Do not have a set screen size yet. What I have is a gazebo on one end of my pool and a wall on the other side that is 50' away. I can go bigger than 119". Is there a projector that can project that far that is cheaper? That is extremely more than what I'm looking to spend.Thanks!

Hi Pat - 

50' is a long distance and is generally only used in large venue profesional set-ups like auditoriums, lecture centers and theaters. If you can go for a larger screen with a 232" (or so) diagonal measurement (197" W x 123" H), then the cost will come down dramatically:

The black F-22 WUXGA Multimedia Projector with Long Throw Zoom Lens and High Brightness Color Wheel from Barco is a professional installation projector adaptable to a range of use cases, such as flight simulators and theme park rides, museums, visitor attractions, and more. The projector features a brightness of up to 3000 lumens (depending on settings), has a native WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution and native 16:10 aspect ratio format. In addition to its native aspect ratio and resolution, through internal scaling, the F22 can accommodate a wide range of formats, from 480p SD all the way up to WUXGA (1920 x 1200).

The F22 features connectivity to accommodate a variety of sources. There are HDMI and DVI inputs for HDTV and digital computer sources. There is a VGA port for analog computer sources or for integration with existing A/V installations. Plus, there are composite, component, and S-video inputs to cover most analog video sources, whether SD or HD.

Many thanks for your great advice

This was all interesting but really didn't help much. I want a projector for outdoor movie night to be used on a screen between 100" and 120" diagonal. I would say the projector can be set fairly close but the audience will be 10' to 20' away. I also need either good internal speaker probably minimum of 10 watts or speaker outputs for external speaker(s). Also probably need some keystone correction and would prefer some zoom capability as opposed to having to physically move the projector, although moving the projector a little is not unacceptable.I would like to stay under $200. Oh, almost forgot, would like to have hdmi input for hooking up a Roku which will be getting wi-fi signal or at least composite input.

So based on the criteria I have given what can you recommend?

Hi George - 

I'm sorry that you did not find this article helpful.  It is intended to be a brief iintroduction to complex product choice. 

This HD projector will deliver a bright, crisp image with a 120" diagonal from a throw distance of 10 to 13 feet:

Enjoy bright images in nearly any environment with the Viewsonic LightStream PJD7831HDL 3200-Lumen Full HD DLP Projector. Its 3200 lumens of brightness can overcome ambient light in many situations, while its 22,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio will help dark areas of the images remain dark. The Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution is suitable for displaying any HD source and many file and document types. The projector features a 1.15 to 1.5:1 throw ratio which will allow you to place it near the back of the room in most situations.

The PJD7831HDL has two HDMI inputs for connecting digital high definition sources, such as Blu-ray players and HD cable/satellite boxes. One of the two is MHL-compatible to support wireless dongles. Its VGA output will allow you to daisy chain multiple projectors or displays in order to display the same source. And the two analog audio inputs, one analog audio output, and onboard 10-Watt speaker will ensure that audio accompanies your video. The projector is controllable via RS-232 or the included IR remote.

I am looking to project 8' on a 50" screen. What should I look for? Thanks

Hi James -

You have not specified your particular application, resolution, or budget range.  You might consider this powerful HD projector:

Enjoy bright, clear images with the Optoma EH416 4200-Lumen Full HD DLP Projector. Its 4200 lumens of brightness will overcome ambient light in many cases while its 20,000:1 contrast ratio and Full HD (1920 x 1080) native resolution will help ensure that detail is clear. It has a 1.4 to 2.24:1 throw ratio, which will allow you to place the projector far from the screen without losing focus.

The EH416 has VGA, composite, and two HDMI inputs to support a variety of devices. Its VGA output will let you daisy chain the image to another projector or display, while the analog audio input and output will do the same for your audio. The projector will connect wirelessly with an optional WHD200 system. The EH416 has a built-in 10-Watt speaker to eliminate the need for a separate speaker system. It is controllable via Ethernet and RS-232 using AMX or Crestron RoomView software. The projector includes an IR remote control which features a built-in laser pointer.

Hello, Mark!

Thank you so much for the article! I wish i'd find and read it sooner too. I am shopping for a projector do take to my photography client's homes. To do an in-person design and sales conlultation for them. I am going to be dealing with a variety of rooms, distances and lighting scenarios. Projecting the photographs from their photo sessions onto their walls as possible wall art collages and standalone pieces. Having a built-in speakers of decent quality to project slideshows will be helpful (one less piece of equipment i have to bring).

So far I have narrowed it down to:

Epson 955WH 3200 Lumen WXGA and Epson PowerLite 99WH 3000 Lumen ones.

Would you think they would be the best ones to perform in variety of spaces in that price range? 

I would also love a reccomendation on a mounting base like a tripod for projector to install them ono. 

Thank you so much!!

Polina

Hi Polina - 

These two projectors are both excellent choices and very similar to each other i would recommend going with the Epson 955WH as it is a bit brighter and offes the wider throw ratio making it easier to position for optimal image sizing depending upon your venue.  

The Gitzo G065 Monitor Platform is a 13" x 15.7" (33 x 40 cm) platform which can be fitted to any Gitzo (or other brand) tripod via a 3/8"-16 thread on the bottom. It safely supports supplementary equipment, such as monitors, mixers, tape recorders and projectors.

Thank you!!!!

Hi Mark, this was a great article to understand the need of specific projectors.

We are looking forward to but a projector. I work for an organization where we have an auditorium which has 200 seat capacity with 15 meters in length. and 4 meters backdrop. This auditorium is not fully dark where the windows on top are covered with plain glass and hence the room had natural brighness. We use this auditorium for programs and other purposes as well. Also, we use the projector in different places like training center and auditorium and meeting room. So we can not wallmount the projector in one place. We need to use the projector for powerpoint presentations, programs, showing movies to the inmates, etc. 

We had one projector Viewsonic PJD 5126. However, theere was some issue with the lens and the service company is asking for a price which is near the projector cost itself. So, we are planning to get a new projector.

So, with the above mentioned situation, can you please guide us which projector would work well for our use?

Thanks and regards,

David

Hi David - 

Not sure what your budget range might be, but for rprobably about the same price as you paid for the VIewsonic PJD5126 (or less), you can now jump up in resolution, brightness, overall color performance, and lamp-life:

Bring your classroom presentations to life with the BenQ MX525A 3300-Lumen XGA Projector. It supports 3D playback with optional 3D glasses for a more immersive experience. Its 3300 lumens of brightness will effectively combat most ambient light, and its 13,000:1 contrast ratio combined with its 1024 x 768 native resolution will deliver clear images at most seating distances. Plus, its 1.96 to 2.15:1 throw ratio will enable you to place the projector near the back of the room, preventing passersby from easily walking into it.

Mark, thanks for the great article,

Recently my JVC DLA X70R projector failed and I'm looking for a replacement. It's connected to a Denon X2300W amp via (internal ceiling) HDMI cable so no internal speakers are necessary. There is some ambient day time light so was considering something with higher lumens than the 1800 from the X70R. I have a ceiling mount with a throw ratio of 1.2-1. It has 3D capability but I never use it so don't need that. What is your suggestion for something equivalent of preferably better. The X70R wasn't cheap but would go there again if something better and less costly wasn't available.

Thanks again.

Hello,

I have reviewed your QA section but wanted to ask specific question.  I am looking for a short throw projector for a live stage performance.  I need a short throw due to limitations on stage size.  I need the projector to be portable and be able to display about 100" from no more than 3-5 feet away.  My budget range is around $500.  I was looking at BenQ MW632ST on your website but wanted to get a recommendation.

Thank you

Hi Vlad - 

The BenQ MW632ST will give you a 100" diagonal image (16:10 aspect ratio) a from a 5' to 6' throw distance. This is probably the best match near your budget range.

Hi,

I need a tip to buy a projector to to put on store, with very daylight, i want to project it on a with wall on store, what is the best option ?

Thanks in advance,

V Miranda

Hi - 

Select a wall that does not receive direct daylight or too much glare from overhead lighting fixtures.  Select a high lumens output that offers good sharpness and detail:

Optimized for boardrooms, classrooms, and other presentation applications, the MW727 WXGA DLP Multimedia Projector from BenQ features a brightness of 4200 lumens and a native resolution of 1280 x 800 (WXGA). To help provide flexibility in terms of placement relative to the screen, it features a 1.3x optical zoom with a 1.2 to 1.57:1 throw ratio. In addition to its native resolution, it can be connected to a range of devices from 480i up to WUXGA (1920 x 1200) thanks to internal scaling.

Hi,

I use video projectors with rear projection film on shop windows exposed to the sun for advertising. High lumens projectors (higher than 5000 lumens) are costly. Would a 3000 lumens short throw projector installed at 1/2m from the film provide the same video quality as with a 5000 lumens projector installed at 5m from the film.

Thanks for your contributions

Hi HOB - 

Possibly. One would have to actually try it in your environment to be sure.

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