To learn more about planning a church projector installation and see recent church projector reviews, visit our House of Worship Buying Guide.

The communal experience associated with worship calls for some form of large-format display technology for everything from the sharing of scripture to the live support of performances or even youth-league movie nights. Compared with pricey video walls, projection remains the best and most cost-effective approach for achieving the required image size. That's especially true today given the dropping prices and cost efficiencies of lamp-free laser projectors.

But as a display environment, churches and other houses of worship bring their own special considerations. Depending on the facility, throw distances and screen sizes can range from relatively short and small to very long and very large, and worship environments are often flooded with natural ambient light during their most active hours. Worship projectors typically need to display everything from alphanumeric characters to still photographic images to moving video, and all attendees of a service must have both good line-of-sight to the screen and the ability to resolve appropriate detail. All of this requires research before selecting and installing a projector and screen and, often, the assistance of a qualified integrator—ideally one who specializes in the worship environment.

Fortunately, ProjectorCentral contributor Tim Adams, of Timato Systems who serves a worldwide audience of worship clients out of his headquarters in the Portland, OR metro area, has been sharing his expertise with our readers on most of these subjects. If you're purchasing a projector for a house of worship for the first time, or upgrading an existing set-up, here are some important things to consider, and some links to Tim's library of articles where you can learn more.—Rob Sabin, editor-in-chief

Projector and Screen Placement, Size & Material

As with any public installation, the most basic considerations when purchasing a projection system for a house of worship are determining where you'll place the projector (or projectors) and screen (or screens), how large an image you need to satifisfy the visibility requirements, and what screen materials might be most appropriate for the environment.

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None of this is as straightforward as it sounds. Sure, the best mounting options for a projector and screen may look obvious, and from that you can calculate the screen size based on a simple formula that accounts for the maximum seating distance from the screen. But screen materials each have their own characteristic viewing cone, and some that might help boost brightness for those looking straight on at the screen may cause parishioners sitting at the far left and right to lose noticeable image quality. Still, the options for screen materials are broad. They will vary by how much light they reflect at what viewing angle, and in the case of the latest generation of ALR (ambient-light-rejecting) screens, how well they combat existing room light. A good place to start learning about these basic requirements is in this this article, "How to Determine Projection Needs for Houses of Worship".

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A comparison of white and ALR screen materials shows the obvious contrast advantage in ambient light.

Another factor to think about in determining your projector location is whether your environment is best suited for traditional front projection or a rear projection setup. Rear projection involves hiding the projector behind a translucent screen that's viewed from the front; most projectors will accommodate this by flipping the image appropriately. A key advantage of rear projection is that the projector can often be placed in a closet, constructed shed, or unused room behind the screen, where it can be kept out of ambient light to achieve higher brightness. On the other hand, transmissive rear projection screens do sacrifice some brightness compared with a standard reflective screen. But the good news is that a large number of manufacturers now offer ultra-short-throw (UST) lenses for their high-brightness large venue projectors, which reduces the space requirement behind the screen and often eliminates the need for elaborate mirror systems that were once required for these installations. You can read more about rear projection in "Behind the Scene: Rear vs. Front Projection".

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Rear-projection setups, such as the one used in this TV studio, can be challenging to install but allow for bright images in high ambient light. (Image: Screen Innovations).

Along these same lines, determining your projector location in advance will allow you to determine the throw distance to your screen and the ability to position the projector with minimal or no use of lens shift or keystone correction, both of which may have a negative effect on brightness or image quality and which will come into play in making a projector or lens selection. Along with just trying to place the projector where it squares up to the screen, among the other considerations here are access to power, the ability to run signal cables in an aesthetic fashion, security from theft, and in the case of a projector suspended above the audience, a strong mount and solid infrastructure to insure the safety of worshipers. "Projector Mounting for Houses of Worship & Other Venues" covers this topic in more detail.

Projector Selection

Choosing a specific projector for a sanctuary or religious classroom space will depend on many factors, some of which we've already discussed. The primary considerations begin with your budget. But the key technical criteria are (1) whether the projector you've selected has a lens (or can be ordered with one) that suits your throw distance and presumed mounting location, and (2) whether its rated brightness is high enough to achieve a satisfying image given your established throw distance, image size, screen material, and ambient light conditions—all of which have an impact on the perceived brightness of the picture.

Determining how many ANSI lumens of brightness you really need means accounting for all these factors. In his article "How Many Lumens Do You Need?," Tim Adams recommends shooting for about 60 foot-Lamberts coming off the screen for bright rooms, or about half that for dark projection environments—and he provides the simple calculation to determine the Ft-L based on a projector's lumen rating, the screen size, and the screen gain specification.

Laser projectors have largely supplanted lamp-based models among commercial units in recent years, thanks to falling prices that have taken these from an expensive oddity to affordability. Their solid-state light engines are good for the life of the projector—typically a minimum of 20,000 hours—and many require little or no maintenance or filter replacements. That represents a big savings in both parts cost and labor over time, particularly for projectors mounted in inconvenient locations that might require a dangerous ladder climb or a forklift basket to reach.

For most projectors below 6,500 lumens, the premium for laser is small enough today to justify the extra cost vs. a lamp-based model, though above that brightness there's a price jump that may put an 8,000 or 10,000 lumen projector out of reach for a small parish with a tight budget. In that case, "Projector Stacking for Houses of Worship & Other Venues" discusses how it might be possible to mate a pair of less-bright, lower-priced projectors to achieve the desired brightness without breaking the bank.

NEC Projector Stack
Stacked projectors may help budget-sensitive houses of worship achieve required brightness at lower cost.

Keep in mind, too, that there are still some situations where a traditional lamp-based projector may be the best choice, typically where only moderate brightness is required and when budget is a strong factor. Small classroom spaces used for religious instruction, for example, might be most cost-effectively served this way, even when factoring in the price of replacement lamps and filters. Another factor is whether you need portability, as lamp and LED projectors are often smaller and lighter than a laser projector of equivalent brightness. You can read more on this subject in "Lamp, LED, or Laser: What's Best for You?"

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A decrease in resolution means a reduction in the pixel density (or pitch) for a given screen size...and a commensurate loss of detail.

Beyond the brightness requirement for your new projector, you'll have the option of selecting an appropriate resolution. This will determine how sharp the image is to viewers at a given seating distance. More pixels in the image will usually cost more at a given lumen brightness, and though you'll most often opt for at least 1080p (1920x1080 pixels) or WUXGA (1900x1200) high definition these days, there are times when you can save money with a lower resolution. "It's All in the Detail: How Much Resolution is Enough?" will provide some insight on making this determination.

A final consideration that may affect your projector selection is what you hope to do with it. We've discussed the most common and obvious uses for a projector in houses of worship, but there are some unusual and engaging applications that today's technology lends itself to which can provide even greater utility for your investment. Some of these are discussed in "Creative Projection for Houses of Worship and Other Venues."

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Giant ceiling projections with an ultra-short-throw laser projector can create a fun movie night for a church youth group.

The Final Steps

Once you've done your homework and established some basic brightness and throw-distance criteria for your prospective projector, you can use ProjectorCentral's Find a Projector search engine to scan our extensive database and isolate current models that meet your needs and budget. Our Projector Throw Calculator can also be used to determine the required throw distance for any projector at different screen sizes, or help you select the correct lens for those models that offer interchangeable lenses. Also keep in mind that nothing can replace the expertise of an experienced integrator familiar with worship installations, who may look at your space and immediately see options and solutions you won't. It helps to equip yourself with knowledge, but if you don't have an experienced in-house A/V team, seek out a pro and don't look back.

To learn more about planning a church projector installation and see recent church projector reviews, visit our House of Worship Buying Center.

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