Buyer's Guide to Business Projectors: Brightness

Key Features

Projectors come in a wide range of light outputs, which are measured in ANSI lumens or just "lumens" for short. The brighter the projector, the higher the ANSI lumen rating, and (all else being equal) the more it costs. Contrary to popular belief, brighter is not always better, and there is no hard-and-fast rule regarding optimum lumen output. However, there are certain factors to consider to make sure your projector is neither too bright nor too dim for your intended use.

Things to Consider When Choosing Brightness

Answering the following questions will help you determine the optimal brightness of your future projector.

  1. How many people will typically be in the room? This determines the size of the projected image that is required for easy viewing by everyone present. As the number of people in the room increases, the image size must increase. This diminishes the perceived brightness of a given projector as the light is spread over a larger area.
  2. How much light is in the room? A dark room will provide the best image regardless of projector brightness. However, most meetings require some lighting for note-taking and eye contact. A room where the lights cannot be turned off or dimmed or where windows cannot be blocked will require a bright projector. The same projector placed in a perfectly dark room will likely be so bright that it will give your audience a headache, so this is a critical factor.
  3. What kind of screen is available? This can have a profound effect on the image brightness and quality. Most projection screens today provide significant light reflection, making even a relatively low-brightness projector look good in the proper setting. If the room lacks a projection screen, you will be better served by a high brightness projector since walls are usually poor reflectors of light.
  4. What is your application? Applications such as training and workgroups will demand more brightness, because these applications also require more room light for note-taking and communication. Applications that use presentation graphics, photographs, or video are more likely to be shown in a darkened room, and therefore do not require as much light output. If the projector will serve multiple locations (either within a building or because of traveling), consider your most demanding setting.

In today's market, projectors can be grouped by ANSI lumen output as follows:

  • Less than 2000 lumens. Typically small and highly portable, these are the lowest light output projectors available today, and they are typically the least expensive. For display of training videos or still photography in a darkened room, projectors in this category may be perfect for your needs. Keep in mind that the low light output means that you will want to make your presentations in a dark or dimly lit room so that the image on the screen is not washed out by ambient room light.
  • 2000 to 3000 lumens. This lumen range is a step up in performance and price. These machines are suitable for normal business conference room and classroom use. Presentations should be done with the room lighting reduced somewhat for best screen viewing. A completely dark room is usually not necessary.
  • 3000 to 4500 lumens. This represents the high-performance range of the portable and semi-portable projectors. Products in this class are suitable for large conference rooms and classrooms. They offer more flexibility in terms of ambient room light, since the image is bright enough that a reasonable amount of room light can be tolerated without washing out the image. They also offer more flexibility in terms of audience size, since they produce enough lumens to properly light a larger screen.
  • 4500 lumens and up. These ultra-bright projectors are in several performance classes unto themselves, ranging from 4500 lumens up to 12000 lumens or more. Prices of these products also cover a wide range depending on other performance characteristics. They are used in a variety of large venue applications, including board rooms, conference rooms, training rooms, auditoriums, churches, concerts, nightclubs, and so forth.