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Home Theater Projector Buyer's Guide
What will it Cost?
Cost is always a key factor in shopping for projectors. Here are some general price guidelines for home theater projectors in today's market:
$1000 or less: Even under $1000, there are some truly amazing home theater projectors available. The least expensive ones are the 1280x720 models (also known as 720p). They display DVD and Blu-Ray extremely well, and some cost as little as $700. However, there are many 1920x1080 (or 1080p) models that have dropped below $1,000 as well. This creates an interesting situation, since there are 720p and 1080p projectors at the same price point. Generally speaking, the 720p projectors will have more features and (likely) higher contrast, while the 1080p projectors will have the benefit of higher resolution, but are likely lacking in extra features and placement flexibility. Another factor to consider is that the 720p projectors may be used or refurbished, since home theater projector manufacturing has largely shifted to 1080p. Which one you choose is a question of what's more important to you, features or raw resolution.
$1000-$4000: If you have anywhere from $1000 to $4000 to spend, you are in the price bracket dominated by 1080p projectors. Many of the most popular projectors on Projector Central fall into this price bracket, including highly flexible 1080p LCD projectors and single-chip DLP projectors with superb contrast. These days, the most fierce competition occurs in the $1500-$2500 price bracket, so if you can afford something in this range, your options are almost limitless.
$4000 and up: There are, of course, many high-performance 1080p projectors available at or beyond this price. 1080p projectors, when coupled with high-definition signal sources, offer the ultimate in HD home theater at the present time. However, this range is devoted to products for the video connoisseur, who values small improvements in picture quality and is willing to pay extra to attain them. If you're just looking for the "best bang for the buck," step back down to the $1000-$4000 category.
A projector is not like the television in your living room. While the family TV can be left on almost indefinitely, projector lamps have a finite life before they must be replaced. Lamps usually cost $300 to $400. Most projectors have maximum lamp life stated in the specifications, but some don't. In any event, a specification of, say, 3,000 hours does not guarantee that that lamp will in fact last that long-what it does guarantee is that you cannot run it longer than 3,000 hours. But it may fail early, requiring a replacement. In addition, as a high pressure lamp ages, its light output diminishes. Many users choose to replace their lamps more frequently than the maximum life in order to maintain a brighter picture.
Lamp expenses should be planned for, and you may want to purchase a spare lamp when you purchase your projector. This will minimize downtime of your projector when your lamp needs replacement. If you plan for the expense of lamps ahead of time, you won't feel blindsided by an additional $400 out of pocket later on down the line.
If you are just starting out with your first home theater projector and you don't have much cash on hand, you can simply use a white wall as your first "screen." The picture won't be quite as vibrant as it would be on a good projection screen, but you can always add the screen later when the funds are available.
A screen will make the picture look better than a white wall, not only because of better contrast and color saturation, but also because of the black frame-video and movies always looks a great deal better when presented in a black frame. There are an infinite number of screen solutions, from very inexpensive products and do-it-yourself options to high performance professional grade screens that can run $1500 and up depending on the size you want.
High performance screens also come with options such as motorized lifts and motor-driven masking systems that open and close to fit the aspect ratio of the material you are viewing. Some vendors offer perforated screens which render them acoustically transparent. This lets you place front/center speakers directly behind them. These options all add to the ultimate cost of your theater. If you have the budget for it, you can put it all in now, but most people take their time and upgrade their theater components as funds allow.
When selecting a screen, remember that a high-quality screen is a lifetime investment. Projectors continue to get better and cheaper with time, and home theater enthusiasts often find they are upgrading to better models every few years. But screens are a different matter. If you buy a quality screen, you can keep using it with any projector you buy down the line.
Avoid Buyer's Remorse
Above all, avoid buyer's remorse. Once you buy a projector, sit back and enjoy it. There are always newer projectors coming along, and it is easy to fall into the trap of being discontent with a model that is no longer on the cutting edge. But the video quality on all home theater projectors today is vastly superior to what anyone had just a few years ago. So forget about contrast ratios and black levels, and immerse yourself in the drama, comedy and excitement of the movies being shown on the largest screen you've ever had in your home. After all, entertainment is what home theater is all about.
Now that you have considered all the factors, you can go to Find Projectors and pick out the projector that's right for you. Happy hunting!
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