Home Theater Projector Buyer's Guide

What is Aspect Ratio?

When we talk about 4:3 and 16:9 formats, we're talking about the rectangular shape of the video image, or what is called its aspect ratio. A standard TV has an aspect ratio of 4:3. That means the picture is four units wide for every three units of height. The HDTV standard is 16:9, which is 16 units of width for every 9 units of height. So HDTV's 16:9 is horizontally wider than regular TV, which by comparison looks almost square.

Here's the problem: any given projector or TV comes in its own native format--typically 16:9 these days. On the other hand, movies and video come in many different aspect ratio formats. TV programs and videos intended for regular TV are done in 4:3 format, often denoted "1.33:1" since 4 divided by 3 = 1.33. On the other hand, programs made for HDTV are in 16:9 format, which is 1.78:1 (16 divided by 9 = 1.78).

However, these are not the only two formats that video material comes in. Movies, music videos, and other content on DVD comes in a variety of formats including 1.33, 1.78, 1.85, 2.00, 2.35, 2.4, 2.5, and so on. Blu-Ray disc content, which is natively high-definition, is typically 1.78:1 or wider, with 2.35:1 or 2.4:1 being popular aspect ratios. So there is no universal standard for the rectangular shape of a video picture. One thing, however, is clear: no matter which format projector you get, it will NOT fit all the video material you will want to watch in its native frame. Since there is no perfect solution, what is the right way to set up your system?

The most popular choice for a home theater system is to go with a 16:9 projector and a 16:9 screen. But some people still like the more classic format of a 4:3 projector with a 4:3 screen, since all classic films prior to 1953 were made in this format. There is also a lot of interest in dedicated super-widescreen 2.35:1 systems as well. Each of these three configurations offer some unique benefits as well as some disadvantages that should be considered before taking the plunge.

Aspect Ratios: Benefits and Downsides

4:3 Theater

  • Advantages: If you want to view material such as classic films, or DVD-based television series like Friends or Northern Exposure, or an IMAX special like Everest in very large dramatic format, the 4:3 set-up lets you do this in a way a 16:9 system does not. Using vertical electronic masking, you can also block off the top and bottom of the screen when you want to display 16:9 or 2.35:1 material, and open the screen to its full vertical height for the viewing of very large format 4:3 material.

  • Disadvantages: Most, if not all, high quality home theater projectors being manufactured these days are native 16:9. As such, it can be hard to find a 4:3 projector that delivers video rivaling the quality of the 16:9 home theater models. And since most 4:3 projectors are in resolutions such as 800x600, 1024x768, and 1400x1050, it means that all video content will need to be scaled to fit the projector's native resolution.

16:9 Theater

  • Advantages: For HDTV, widescreen DVD, and Blu-Ray, 16:9 is the logical choice. All HDTV broadcast material is in 16:9, and it will be displayed in its full glory, without black bars, on a native 16:9 projector. And there is a lot of 16:9 programming available. There are many 16:9 projectors to choose from, and many of them are designed specifically for high quality home theater.

  • Disadvantages: While 16:9 programming looks larger than life, 4:3 material displayed on a 16:9 projector can appear downright tiny. Generally it is centered on a 16:9 screen with black columns on each side. Of course, if you don't watch any 4:3 content, this is not an issue. Alternatively, if you watch a lot of movies that are wider than 16:9, you will have black bars above and below the image. A masking system can be used to close the screen's active surface area to fit the format of the movie you are viewing. This makes the picture look better, but it adds cost to your system. If you don't want to go through the trouble of purchasing and installing a masking system, you'll need to live with black bars for content that is not 16:9. Fortunately, home theater projectors these days have vastly improved black levels compared to those of past years, making these black bars less noticeable and reducing the need for electronic masking.

2.40:1 Theater

  • Advantages: Many movies are wider than 16:9. Many of today's most popular films on DVD and Blu-Ray are 2.35 or 2.40:1, not 1.78:1. If many of your favorite movies are in 2.35:1, then a 2.35:1 constant image height (or CIH) setup is a good choice. The traditional method of 2.35:1 projection involves purchasing a 16:9 projector and using a separate, external 1.33x anamorphic lens to stretch the image out to 2.35:1 (1.78 multiplied by 1.33 is 2.35). To view 16:9 and 4:3 material, you must move the anamorphic lens out of the light path. Alternately, the budget-conscious can purchase a projector with a 1.3:1 or better zoom lens and pair it with a 2.35:1 screen, then use the projector's zoom to change between 16:9 and 2.35:1 projection. At least one projector automates this process using a powered zoom lens and a memory system. Whichever method you choose, a setup like this can deliver the ultimate in widescreen drama.

  • Disadvantages: The separate lens option is expensive. Anamorphic lenses can add thousands to the cost of your theater. You must be able to move the anamorphic lens into or out of the projector's light path as you switch between 2.35 films and 16:9 or 4:3 material. Motorized mounts make this easy but add cost to the system. Cheap anamorphic lenses can impair image quality. You may also want to include an electric masking system to close the screen from the sides when 16:9 or 4:3 material is being viewed. This makes it look better, but again adds more cost to the system. The zoom lens option does not add any expense, but it does require careful mounting of your projector and reduces the amount of light that hits the screen by at least 25%. On some projectors, this can make the image appear dull or washed out.

Once you've chosen the aspect ratio of your theater, the next step is to choose the Resolution of your projector.

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Overview
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Resolution
Contents: Overview Aspect Ratio Resolution Brightness
  Contrast Installation Cost

Reader Comments(58 comments)

Posted Feb 15, 2014 7:40:37 AM

By KEN FRANKCOM

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I need a good definition projecor to show show nature photographs to an audiance of say 60 people.Any suggestions would be appreciated

Posted Feb 7, 2014 12:35:37 AM

By steven prentice

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Fantastic breakdown for projectors thank you

Posted Feb 4, 2014 3:02:17 AM

By Anil Samuel

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Amazing article. I appreciate the effort. And thanking you all behind this site. I am from Germany And I want to buy one good projector for a charity association

Posted Jan 15, 2014 9:09:56 PM

By home theater

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Great guide for everyone who is in planning to buy the home theater system. last year i am too confused in buying the best home theater system. After reading the products review and comparing home theater system in terms of technical specification, i find the best home theater system. [edited to remove link]

Posted Jan 9, 2014 10:34:20 AM

By KSL

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Hi I've just purchased a optoma ml550 and I use it for watching movies and I'm loving it.in a 13ftx13ft room I get a screen size of 104" you can connect it to anything that has hdmi or VGA,I use with the latest ipad and iphone It's worth checking out

Posted Jan 5, 2014 9:39:02 AM

By Alex Blumenthal

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Well first you need to evaluate your room om the dimensions, seating, and light. Then just find the best projector and screen. U need a projector, screen, and possibly a mount. U also should consider getting a surround sound audio system.

Posted Jan 5, 2014 9:35:44 AM

By Alex Blumenthal

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Contrast has to do with how good the projector can differentiate between white and black, and all the colors in between. To fix grainy, try increasing the sharpness or the tint.

Posted Dec 6, 2013 4:14:50 PM

By ID4

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Will a high contrast projector(20000) dramatically improve the video quality of a blu-ray 80's movie that has a lot of grain. Thank you.

Posted Dec 2, 2013 6:35:17 AM

By Rick

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would like recommendations for best projector for daily TV viewing. Will be located in basement with no windows. Ceiling mounting, 110 inch screen (Goo paint), throw distance is 13 to 13.5 feet. Most important for me is picture quality (very few games if any will be played on it). 3D not a must. Thanks to everyone in advance for taking time out and reading this.

Posted Dec 1, 2013 2:29:17 PM

By Kate

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Hi my husband has been talking about Getting a projector instead of a television... Was thinking Xmas present, what exactly would I need to buy? Thanks

Posted Nov 7, 2013 1:51:43 PM

By Dano

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Can anyone help? I am looking at 4 possible projectors for my home. My room is in the basement area with close viewing to screen. approx. 8 ft. for the closer viewers. I would like the sharpest image possible. The 4 projectors include Epson 8350, Epson 2030,Benq w1080st or Benq w1070 Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

Posted Oct 27, 2013 3:45:52 PM

By Martin Stewart

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Hi

Really appreciate the forum. Just makes life so much easier. I am researching projectors for the first time. Forgive me if this a stupid question. Can a short throw projector be adjusted to throw a smaller image if need be. I read a reviewer say that a particular projector filled his 60" screen from 6 feet away. What if I had a different room configuration. I am on the road and the rooms and screens will all differ from board rooms to mid sized conference rooms with 50-100 people. BTW I am considering a NEC NP- M311W. Thank you for any advice.

Posted Oct 21, 2013 10:39:17 AM

By Harminder

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hi, can anyone tell me which projector can give me a projection image size of 10.5ftlenght * 7.7ftheight in 4:3 aspect ratio from a distance of 12.6ft or i'll require long throw lens?

Posted Sep 5, 2013 1:03:31 PM

By Chris

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I would also like the answer to this question as I am planning the same thing.

Posted Jul 31, 2013 6:03:54 PM

By Heath

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What is a decent portable projector to be used primarily to play movies for the kids outside? I have used an infocus before and it worked okay. I know nothing about these things. Thanks for the help.

Posted Jun 22, 2013 1:16:46 AM

By robin

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can u compute power consumption

Posted Jun 18, 2013 1:53:54 PM

By Adrian

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I have a Paramount Smart-905 projector without the owners manual and cant figure out how to focus it. Can anyone help? It doesn't have the standard dials.

Posted Jun 10, 2013 5:51:40 PM

By Arun Sharma

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Hi,I came across a Chinese website for online shopping...It had some really cheap projectors ranging from 66usd to 500usd...I want to buy one as they are very affordable....Anybody ever bought any projector from that site before..?? ..

Posted Jun 2, 2013 7:16:25 AM

By Manish

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@Braaainz - Buddy we have LED android projector with native 1280x800 resolution with many feature, if you are interested write back to me on manishmmishra at gmail dot come.

Posted Apr 21, 2013 9:17:02 AM

By Ben

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I s this an idea for a selfmade medium sized screen and for its masking for the aspect ratios of your dvd /blu ray movies ?

From a white mat hardboard i took a 122 x 180 cm section framed it on three sides with standard curtain rails in order to get steady and real flat upright standing surface and upon that a garanteed projection scharpness Put it in a sort of stand The masking .I took a strip of 40 by 180 cm also white hardboard painted the backside black with school blackboard paint,made it adjustable in height did tghat also for the upper long side and with both black horizontal masks I met the most used aspect ratios : 3:4 16:9 1:178 12.35/40 and and cinerama format for the curve sized movie How the west was won It cost me only 15 box because the curtain rails were available by choosing for another type (lamel) of sunwearing and there was some old paint rested from the past going way back B&W movie Blackboard jungle ;) Sorry for n ot including a making off pic , just make it even better ,Succes !

Ben The Netherlands

Posted Apr 12, 2013 7:47:30 PM

By Braaainz

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Don't sweat looking for an android OS projector. Read up on "android stick". These are small devices (pocket-sized) that you can plug into the HDMI ports of flatscreens or projectors and run android OS. All are wifi capable and some have Bluetooth and Ethernet capabilities.

Basically, they turn any modern TV into a computer.

This lets you save money on your projector (sticks run from $35-80 usually) whereas the android projectors will cost more for the same features. It will be easier to replace hardware if something goes wrong (unplug the dongle, toss the stick, plug in new one), cheaper to upgrade the android hardware, and finally, you can use the stick on other TV 's, letting you travel with your data.

Posted Feb 2, 2013 12:04:02 AM

By Leon

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Where to buy Android Projector?

Posted Nov 12, 2012 8:14:12 AM

By Ash

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Thanks for a great article. The beginners like me can acutally now go out and search for the one we need. I am looking for one below $1200 with screen and ceiling mount. This article really is helping me narrow down on the selections and also helped understanding the importance of going for better screen. One suggestion...Please include a couple more sections, one for 3D compatibility and another for performance with gaming consoles.

Posted Oct 16, 2012 2:35:33 PM

By Donna

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I have a Sanyo PLV-60HT projector (used, still in top condition) and a 12 ft. screen that I would like to sell. Can you give me any suggestions of where or who I should try to sell it to and for how much?

Posted Oct 8, 2012 2:02:36 PM

By LINDA GROSSENBACHER

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I NEED GLASSES FOR PARAMONT CINEMA HD-2112 HOME PROJECTOR WERE DO I BUY THEM

Posted Oct 8, 2012 2:01:52 PM

By LINDA GROSSENBACHER

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I NEED GLASSES FOR PARAMONT CINEMA HD-2112 HOME PROJECTOR WERE DO I BUY THEM

Posted Aug 24, 2012 11:22:13 AM

By kerry

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i am also looking for a projector to watch cable and movies . i bought a pico pocket projector and it is not for watching movies and it requires a very dark room to show at a good quality. i am willing to spend about $600 and will like the best buy ot there.

Posted Aug 2, 2012 9:34:18 AM

By brice

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can someone give advice on a projector for outdoor use on wall that has built in speakers and perhaps built-in dvd player/ipod? nothing fancy, but dependable and around $500. thx

Posted Apr 20, 2012 3:23:13 PM

By Hari Saini

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My Pj885 projector screen looks yellow instead bright like day light. Is there any way to fix this. Thanks

Posted Apr 18, 2012 2:46:38 AM

By narco

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thanks for an informative and well written article.

Posted Apr 15, 2012 10:28:14 PM

By dave

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what is the maximum size screen you can use without compromising picture quality. using epson 6010. shortest throw.

Posted Apr 9, 2012 6:23:14 PM

By bill

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thank you very much for making and sharing this guide (and the rest of the site's content, too). i've found it easy to follow and very informative. many thanks.

Posted Feb 24, 2012 2:29:49 AM

By sophie

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Awesome list, thank you! I have been thinking lately that perhaps I should add Comment Luv to my sites. Just have not been sure yet what all the benefits are – does it make a difference in rank at all, or mostly in interaction on websites? I am bookmarking this page for convenience Thanks again for providing valuable content to your readers! [Link deleted by Projectorcentral]

Posted Feb 2, 2012 1:22:31 PM

By GJA

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What is my best option for projecting the best image on a 150" 16 x 9 Elite screen with 1.1 gain? I have no ambient light. Must be HD native resolution and be bright enough image. Trying to decide between the Panasonic PT-AE7000, Epson Powerlite Pro Cinema 6010, Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 5010, Vivitek D963HD & Vivitek H1086-3D. I would prefer 3D but it is not a deal killer.

Posted Jan 29, 2012 5:58:50 AM

By EZOH

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I have a Paramont Cinema HD 2112 projector and blue ray 3D player (LG) but i can't get it to project in 3D. Any advice? What am I missing?

Posted Jan 12, 2012 6:21:39 PM

By Jose

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I have a paramont cinema Hd 2112 but I dont know wath kind of 3d glasses I cant used any info..Thanks

Posted Jan 3, 2012 8:27:27 AM

By Armin5

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I am looking in getting a projection home theater set up. I am a college student so I really need to budget as much as possible, but that being said i still like top of the line good quality stuff. I know that doing both is not very reasonable, but does anyone have any suggestions in a good quality projector that is capiable of playing ps3 games, watch blue ray movies and last a long time without bulb replacement? I also need to know how much the total cost usually comes down to? ( decent projector 720or1080, Cheap 80ish inch screen, cords, ect)

Posted Dec 30, 2011 1:38:12 PM

By Liz

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I have a Paramont Cinema HD2112 projector that the entire family loves. My kids play the Nintendo Wii my husband uses the computer on it for YouTube videos and I watch 3D movies from our blue ray. What more could we want. Great HD quality!

Posted Dec 25, 2011 2:30:49 PM

By Chetan

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I am getting a good deal for Paramount Cinema HD-2112 Projector....Could not find more info on Web...Please let me Pors and cons if possible....I need some helpful assurance before I buy it!!Thanks.

Posted Nov 24, 2011 7:27:40 AM

By Nelley

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I just bought the Paramont HD 2112 and right now I'm not happy with it. I'm sure I have to work on the Color and everything still & I might have the picture too large, but beside that I wasn't really Wow'ed by it. I watched a movie on it that was ok but some of the faces didn't come in clearly. I'm going to play with it some more today and try tweek it for a better picture.

Posted Nov 16, 2011 6:00:13 PM

By Brian

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I actual have a Paramont Cinema hd 2112. I was iffy at first but my family loves it. It even came with a coupon inside the box for an extra bulb. We sent that in the day we got it and recieved the bulb within a week. I have not tested the 3d part but I do not think my family will ever use that anyway. We use it to watch cable tv or the netflix.

Posted Nov 16, 2011 7:19:35 AM

By Erika

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I am looking to find out more about the Paramont on the web too, but I am not finding much out there for this projector. How did you hear about it? Is it a good device? I am not familiar with projectors. I am searching for this particular because someone is selling one second hand, and I am trying to do a little research before I decide to purchase. I am concerned because I don't see where you can buy one retail.

Posted Nov 15, 2011 5:08:21 PM

By Mike

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Can you use a mini projector using your laptop? Ebay dosen't say anything about that just Ipod ect

Posted Nov 7, 2011 8:40:59 PM

By Paul

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Anyone ever heard of a Paramont HD-2112 projector? Came out this year but I cant find it anywhere on the web.

Posted Oct 19, 2011 4:42:42 PM

By Hal Masonberg

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I'm looking for a 1080p Home Theater projector in the $2,000 range. I don't care about 3D. I was looking at the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700 UB as it seemed to have everything I need. Before that, it was the Panasonic AE4000, but the Epson had a 2 year warranty and an extra bulb. I'm looking for the absolute best picture in this price range. Film-like. I'm in a dark room. about a 12-14 ft throw. Probably ceiling mounted. 16X9 screen. Is the Epson still my best bet, or has something else come along that surpasses it in this price range for my needs? Again, picture quality, contrast ratio are all incredibly important to me.

Posted Oct 15, 2011 4:31:53 AM

By amit singh

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By Amit

Thank you for getting idea from my friend about ur projector lamp bcz what lamp life u mention in cattlog that is not true. eg.epson basic projector lamp life is 5000 hrs in normal mode but that is not true i found that only give 1000 hrs lamp life.

Posted Sep 6, 2011 10:59:55 PM

By hussain

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THANKS FOR SHAIRING THE MOST BENEFICIL INFO ABOUT TODAYS CONFUSING PROJECTOR MARKET.YOU HAD MADE ME VERY COMFORTABE TO BUY A GOOD PROJECTOR WITH OUT FALLING IN THE TRAP OF ALL THIS CONFUSING REVIEWS AND MISLEAD MANUFACTURE ADVERTISING.TANKS A LOT.

Posted Aug 27, 2011 12:51:00 AM

By chawla a v solutions

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you can mount 8350 14.5 ft from the screen for best results

Posted Aug 23, 2011 9:22:05 PM

By clifford coelho

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i have a 8350 ,my room is 10 by 25 ,screen is 120" ,so at what distance the projector can be ceiling mounted ?

Posted Aug 8, 2011 3:20:43 PM

By John Grubb

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Please tell me the projectors with the ability to change from a 2.4 aspect ratio with one button and electronically change to 1.78 or 1.33. I think that the panny 4000u will do this,but I am not sure if the zoom lens must be engaged to do it How bout the epson 8350.

Posted Jul 26, 2011 11:19:01 PM

By rman

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wonderful guide.. Thanks!

Posted Jul 25, 2011 12:43:47 AM

By b.r.nath

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a nice handy guide for all the buyers

Posted Jul 19, 2011 6:59:31 AM

By Vichu

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Thank you. The article is very informative

Posted May 31, 2011 7:39:16 PM

By Rich

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after reading all about the "Aspect ratio" how does all this info fit into a 6 foot screen or 7 foot screen or lets say 8 foot screen. How do you pick out the right screen size??

Posted May 24, 2011 4:41:42 AM

By BLJ

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Hi, I am currently thinking of buying a small pico projector, can any one give me any feed back on a Pico Pro, made by China vision

thanks BLJ

Posted May 21, 2011 2:27:38 PM

By Sean

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Just got a used Eiki Diamond Projector LC-SD10. It displays a blue haze around the picture. What does this mean? How can i fix this?

Posted Mar 11, 2011 2:50:18 PM

By Harold Jones

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How does one get to view 3D movies on this projector? Is a computer connection the only method for viewing movies in 3D on this projector? Can one view 3D movies by connecting to a 3D ready Blu-Ray Player?

Posted Feb 28, 2011 4:17:58 PM

By bahha

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thank you, your guide is helpful . I'm going to buy a projector now, I want to use at school for teaching.

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