Buying a home theater projector can seem daunting. At any given time, there are many models to choose from, each with its own unique benefits and downsides and each proclaiming itself to be the "right" one. The key to simplifying the process is determining what you need and then finding projectors that fit your criteria.

To find the right video projector for your home theater, read on to answer these six important questions:

  • Which aspect ratio do you want?
  • What resolution is best for you?
  • How bright should it be?
  • How much contrast do you need?
  • What are your installation constraints?
  • What will it cost?

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 ratios. 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.

What is Resolution?

A projector's resolution (or more precisely, its "native resolution") is simply the number of pixels that it has available to create an image. The higher the resolution of a projector, the more pixels it has.

Projector resolution is designated with either one or two numbers. A typical two-number resolution might be listed as "1280x720." The first number indicates how many pixels there are in each horizontal row, and the second number is how many pixels make up each vertical column. If you were to multiply the two numbers, you would end up with the total number of pixels on the display device. Often, a projector's resolution will be referred to by one number, such as "720p" or "1080p." This designation refers to the vertical resolution, or the second number in the two-number designator, while the "p" refers to progressive-scan, which simply indicates that the entire picture is displayed at the same time.

Generally speaking, the higher the resolution, the more the projector will cost. The advantages of higher resolutions are that (a) they can display more detail in the picture (assuming the video signal has the detail in it), and (b) they reduce or eliminate the visibility of the pixel structure. Both of these are highly desirable in good home theater. The price difference is not as extreme as it once was, but there is still a gap to be aware of.

Common Resolutions in Home Theater Projectors

Projectors come in a variety of different resolutions, including the following:

  • 1280x720: For a long time, this was the most popular home theater projector resolution on the market. Most 1280x720 projectors offer very good to excellent DVD video quality. They also do a beautiful job of displaying 1080-line video, such as the 1080p found on Blu-Ray discs or the 1080i of broadcast HDTV. Street prices on the most aggressively priced models have dropped below $700, so this excellent resolution format is easy to get into from a budget perspective.
  • 1280x800: This is a hybrid resolution that can natively display 720p high definition video as well as standard computer resolutions XGA (1024x768) and WXGA (1280x800) without scaling. If your viewing material includes both video and computer data or Internet surfing, this format will allow you to see the computer data signals in their clearest form. Note that this is a 16:10 aspect ratio rather than 16:9 as are the others in this list. So when you are viewing 16:9 video material, there will be small black bars at the top and bottom of the projected image. That is the penalty you pay for having those extra 48 lines available to accommodate XGA computer signals.
  • 1920x1080: This resolution will display HDTV 1080i signals, as well as 1080i and 1080p signals from Blu-ray disc players, all in native format without any scaling. This gives you the sharpest and most detailed images available from most common sources of HD material. Due to the pixel density, visible pixel structure is vastly reduced. The least expensive 1080p projectors are now less than $1,000, while higher-end models range from $1,500 to over $10,000, with a "sweet spot" of excellent performance around $2,000 to $3,000.
  • 4K: The newest resolution available is variously called 4K or Ultra HD. The resolution uses a native pixel matrix of either 4096x2160 or 3840x2160 -- four times the pixels of 1080p. 4K content is currently scarce, and 4K projectors are still quite expensive, but several projectors are now coming to market that use this new technology.
 

Selecting the right resolution for you

We currently recommend 1080p resolution projectors for home theater, as prices are now low enough that they are affordable to most projector buyers. If you want your projector to double as both a video and data projector, the 1280x800 format should be considered, as well as data projectors using WUXGA (1920x1200) which are beyond the scope of this article.

If you have the money to spend, and you want the absolute sharpest and most detailed picture possible from high definition sources, then 1080p projectors are the best choice. While 720p projectors can deliver very impressive HD images, the picture quality in terms of image detail is even better when the projector has the ability to show all 1080 lines of the signal in their native, uncompressed format.

The 1280x720 format is still a choice if you have a more modest budget. Today's 720p projectors deliver beautiful high definition images from 720p and 1080i HDTV as well as Blu-ray disc players, but you will not be getting the full resolution of your HD sources.

Once you've decided which resolution is right for you, you can go to Find Projectors and select your choice from the "Resolution" drop-down menu. You will likely get a long list of projectors, but other considerations will help you narrow it down later. When you get a feel for what's available, it's time to move on to picking your projector's Brightness.

What Is Brightness?

How much illumination your eyes perceive on the screen depends on two factors: (1) the light output of the projector, and (2) the reflective properties of the screen.

There are two common methods of measuring light in a home theater. One is the ANSI lumen rating of the projector. That measures the light energy being generated by the projector itself. The second is foot-Lamberts (fL), which takes the screen into account and measures the total light that is being reflected back toward the audience. Of the two, foot-Lamberts is the better method to use for setting up your home theater. However, since that number depends on your screen size and screen gain, there is no fL specification published by projector manufacturers.

So how much light do I need?

When it comes to home theater projectors, brighter is definitely not better. What you want is a projector that produces enough light to fill your screen with good contrast, but not so bright that it creates eye fatigue when viewed for any length of time.

It is safe to ignore the published ANSI lumen rating-it is irrelevant for a variety of reasons. Instead, use our Projection Calculator (also available from the left navigation bar) to determine the brightness characteristics of the model you are looking at. It lets you factor in your screen size and its gain rating if you know it. In a dark room, a luminance level on the screen in the range of 12 to 22 fL is in the ideal comfort range, and the calculator defaults to 16 fL to give you a starting point.

In theory, lumens and foot-Lamberts are related. One foot-Lambert of luminance is equal to one lumen per square foot. But there is no direct relationship between the ANSI lumen ratings from the manufacturer and the foot-Lambert measurements as reported in the Calculator. That is because the Calculator factors in reduced lumen outputs for video optimization and average lamp usage, in order to estimate a typical viewing experience.

If you don't want to set up a dark home theater and would rather have some low ambient light, you may prefer to get the screen luminance up into the range of 20 to 40 fL. A brighter picture will help compensate for the loss of contrast caused by ambient light. For each model you may be considering, the Calculator can be used to give you estimates of the screen size and screen gain needed to get that brighter picture.

Don't Get Misled by ANSI Lumen Specs

Whatever you do, don't make any assumptions about a projector's brightness based on its ANSI lumen rating. Some models have video optimization incorporated into their ratings and others do not. That means there are projectors out there which are officially rated at 700 ANSI lumens that are actually brighter than models rated at 1500 ANSI lumens. Spec sheets, as far as lumen ratings are concerned, are meaningless for home theater.

What is Contrast?

Contrast is the difference in brightness between the brightest and darkest parts in an image. The greater the difference, the higher the contrast.

Why is Contrast so important?

With business projectors, lumen output is of primary importance, and contrast is a secondary concern. Home theater projectors are the exact opposite. Contrast is arguably the single most important measurable quality in a home theater projector. A high-contrast projector produces a picture with a deep black level and clearly defined shadow detail. Contrast, in essence, gives "depth" to video images. A projector with excellent contrast can make a two-dimensional image appear almost three-dimensional.

Contrast Ratios

The contrast ratios noted on a projector's spec sheet can be reported in one of two ways. If it just says "Contrast," it usually indicates On/Off contrast, which is the ratio of the whitest white and the darkest black that the projector is capable of producing. If it says "ANSI contrast," the ratio has been determined by displaying a checkerboard pattern of white and black squares and measuring the relative brightness of each. On/Off contrast is always a much larger number, and more typically listed on projector spec sheets, but ANSI contrast is a somewhat more accurate representation of what your projector is actually capable of displaying in any given scene. Note that neither of these measurements tells the whole story, and only taking both numbers into account gives even a moderate approximation of a projector's capabilities. To really know what a projector is capable of in relation to other models, either find a way to see it in person or read our Projector Reviews.

What about a dynamic iris?

A dynamic iris is a device built into some projectors that sits between the lamp and the lens. Many times per second, the projector evaluates the overall brightness of the image being projected and then opens or closes the iris to allow more or less light through.

A good dynamic iris will improve on/off contrast. Dark scenes will appear darker, while bright scenes will appear brighter. The on/off contrast rating will be based on the whitest white with the iris opened, and the blackest black when the iris is closed. Dynamic irises have no effect on ANSI contrast, though, so a projector with a lower contrast rating may appear higher in contrast in any given scene. As with ANSI lumen ratings, it is best to take official contrast specifications with a grain of salt. They can be highly misleading.

Dark Room Needed for Best Results

You've noticed that commercial movie theaters are dark, including dark-colored, non-reflective ceilings and walls. That is because any front projection system looks its best when there is no light in the room; this includes stray light from the screen that reflects off the walls or ceiling. Once you introduce light into the room, that light will make blacks look more like dark gray. This reduces the contrast of the image, making it appear flat or washed out. This will happen no matter what the contrast capability of your projector is.

Though the ideal viewing room is dark, most people don't want to darken the walls and ceiling of a living room or multipurpose room just to get ideal theater conditions. Today's high-contrast gray screens help to improve black level when there is some ambient or reflected light in the room. For the best possible image quality, though, take whatever steps you can to eliminate ambient light and reduce the reflectivity of the room's walls and ceiling.

What about Installation?

The best projector on earth is useless if it doesn't fit in your theater. To make projectors easier to use in a variety of rooms and help them accommodate different screen sizes, many projectors now incorporate long zoom lenses and physical lens shift.

Zoom Range

A zoom lens is able to make the projected image larger or smaller by shifting the internal optical elements of the lens. This allows a projector to deliver the desired image size from a range of throw distances. Some projectors have a very limited zoom range. For example, a 1.20:1 lens, sometimes noted as 1.2x, means the maximum image size is just 20% larger than the minimum size. On the other hand, some projectors have zoom lenses of 2.0:1, or 2.0x, meaning that the maximum image size is double that of the minimum image size. Such a lens provides a lot more flexibility to create the image size you want from the place you want to locate the projector.

Though long zoom ranges offer great flexibility, the projector's potential light output usually drops somewhat if you use the telescopic end of a long zoom lens. Some representative samples have shown lumen loss of 25% to 41% when using the lens's telephoto position, and light output drops off linearly--meaning that it will lose half as much light at the lens's midpoint, and so on. If you want to maximize light output, it is best to avoid the longest throw distance the lens will allow.

In your search for the right projector, first determine the size of the image you want on the wall. Then use the Projection Calculator to see if the model you are looking at will create that size image with the room size and throw distances you have to work with.

Lens Shift

Another feature that makes installation easier is lens shift. Lens shift is the ability to move the projected image up or down, left or right, while keeping the projector stationary. This makes it a great deal easier to place the projector where you want it, and adjust the lens so that the image fits your screen perfectly. If you do not have any lens shift capability, you will need to take extreme care to position the projector at the precise location demanded by its fixed throw angle.

If the projector does not have lens shift, one alternative is to tilt the projector such that the image fills the screen from the position you want to place the projector. However, this will result in a trapezoidal image. You can square it up using keystone correction, but this is something you should avoid if possible. Keystone correction causes the projector to use fewer pixels to display the image, which causes the projector to scale the image to fit the new smaller pixel matrix. This eliminates some of the benefits of using an HD projector to begin with, namely native display of HD signals, resulting in maximum detail and sharpness.

Vertical lens shift, which moves the projected image up and down, allows the projector to be placed at different heights and still properly light up your screen. The range of shift varies by projector, from a modest range of half a screen height to a maximum of about three screen heights. If you plan to install your projector on a rear shelf so that the projector is about the same height as the screen, you only need a modest lens shift range. On the other hand, if you plan on ceiling mounting your projector and having it throw the image downward to the screen, or using a high rear shelf, a more extensive vertical lens shift range is required. Without lens shift, it is sometimes possible to ceiling mount the projector in the precise location dictated by its fixed throw angle. However, this often requires the use of a drop tube to distance the projector from the ceiling to achieve your preferred screen height.

Horizontal lens shift moves the projected image from side to side, allowing the projector to be placed off-center horizontally from the screen. While horizontal lens shift is not normally as extensive in its range as vertical shift, it does allow for some movement, which is crucial if you cannot place your projector in line with the center of your screen. Horizontal lens shift can vary between 5% and over 50% of a projected image's width, and it is less common than vertical shift.

The availability of vertical and/or horizontal lens shift on a given model is noted in ProjectorCentral's database, but the specific range data is not. However, these specifications are always discussed in ProjectorCentral reviews. They can also be found in the Owner's Manuals, many of which are available from the projector's specification page in our database.

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.

Replacement Lamps

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.

Screen costs

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!

Comments (44) Post a Comment
bahha Posted Feb 28, 2011 4:17 PM PST
thank you, your guide is helpful . I'm going to buy a projector now, I want to use at school for teaching.
Vichu Posted Jul 19, 2011 6:59 AM PST
Thank you. The article is very informative
b.r.nath Posted Jul 25, 2011 12:43 AM PST
a nice handy guide for all the buyers
rman Posted Jul 26, 2011 11:19 PM PST
wonderful guide.. Thanks!
hussain Posted Sep 6, 2011 10:59 PM PST
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.
sophie Posted Feb 24, 2012 2:29 AM PST
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bill Posted Apr 9, 2012 6:23 PM PST
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.
narco Posted Apr 18, 2012 2:46 AM PST
thanks for an informative and well written article.
Ash Posted Nov 12, 2012 8:14 AM PST
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.
home theater Posted Jan 15, 2014 9:09 PM PST
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]
Anil Samuel Posted Feb 4, 2014 3:02 AM PST
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
steven prentice Posted Feb 7, 2014 12:35 AM PST
Fantastic breakdown for projectors thank you
TheWiredFox Posted Feb 21, 2015 1:50 PM PST
This guide is helpful, however it does not include any information regarding inputs, specifically '3D PC' vs. 'HD 3D' inputs. I currently have a 2D setup with HTPC and Blu-Ray switched through my receiver with HDMI. Upgrading to a 3D projector is the plan, and getting into specifics with '3D PC' vs. 'HD 3D' should be included in this Buyer's Guide. Thanks.
Steve Hiegel Posted Jul 26, 2017 2:47 PM PST
All the information needed to arm yourself with the information you need to buy a projector that fits your needs. Thank you for this resource.
amedius Posted Mar 9, 2018 8:38 AM PST
Awesome article if only I would have read earlier. I purchased a Epson tw6100 four years back and placed in the last corner way back 20 feet. Since its having keystone correction, I could adjust the image of 140 inch diagonal to get it perfectly aligned. Bluerays look sharp and very bright. I was happy with it. But after reading this article, I wonder if I would have placed the projector right in the center and just 12 feet from the screen, I could have got a better image, maybe still brighter and more sharper. Thanks for the article. My next projector placement will be a lot different.
larry Posted Dec 23, 2018 10:16 PM PST
I have the Epson 8500 projector using a 106 inch screen. I calibrated it with an Avia disc. I notice curtain scenes appear to be very dark compared to a panel TV. Any suggestions to brighten it up without throwing my calibration off?
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Dec 24, 2018 8:07 AM PST
Larry, although setting black level (ie, the brightness control) with a disc theoretically puts you at the perfect setting to match how a control room or mastering studio monitor looked to the technician when the content was created, the reality is that it can sometimes be a little too dark and crush shadow detail. The ideal setting does vary somewhat based on the vagaries of content creation and or other characteristics of your display. Usually you can just click the brightness control up a notch or two if things look too dark; get it up just high enough to reveal detail in a swath of black hair or pull out the lapels on a dark suit or the texture in dark fabric. If that washes out the image too much, you can also play a bit with your display's gamma settings. You don't want to get too far off the default (probably 2.2 where most older content was mastered, or 2.4, or the newer BT.1886 profile). But adjusting gamma can alter the contrast on the mid-tones while leaving the deeper blacks less affected than adjusting brightness. Bottom line to all this: make the picture look good to you, and don't get hung up on what a disc tells you is the "perfect" setting.
Shanoof Posted Jul 1, 2019 12:07 PM PST
Hi I was planning to buy Benq TK800M 4K projector,but after reading this I am confused to have one as here its saying 1080 x 800 is good enough for a home theatre.Guys please help me on this,do I need to have spend for a 4K projector for a better view or I can get high quality views in a lesser resolution say 1920 x 1080 ,so I can save some money My room length is 5 Mtr. please help
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Jul 1, 2019 2:24 PM PST
Shanoof, this article is somewhat dated and by today's standards, 1920x1080 full HD is about the minimum you'd want for home theater, and UHD/4K resolution is ideal because you get both additional detail and the ability to watch and benefit from HDR (high dynamic range) content. If you're interested in a compromise for purpose of saving money, a projector like the Optoma HD27HDR might be of interest. It's a 1080p projector that's compatible with 4K HDR content. It won't have the full performance with either detail or color as a 4K projector, but it offers some of the benefit. You didn't say how large a screen you intend to have, but the extra sharpness of a 4K projector does become more obvious at 100 inches and above.

shanoof Posted Jul 1, 2019 11:00 PM PST
Thanks Rob for the quick reply.My Screen size would be 100 Inches +.Please recommend me a best quality projector+screen .My budget is $1,200 Max
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Jul 2, 2019 9:23 AM PST
Assuming you are doing dark-room viewing, I'd put aside approximately $200-$250 to get a budget screen and use our Find a Projector search feature to look at models at around $1,000 or less. We have reviewed many 1080p projectors in the $600-$1,000 range. You can also call any of our associated projector resellers and let them talk you through some options.
stella Posted Jul 17, 2019 3:15 AM PST
i am after a projector that will do a 43" perfect. I am not after any bigger. what is best for me? I like to have it portable and played from a coffee table. thanks
Bernie J Sullivan Posted Jul 25, 2019 9:26 AM PST
I'm trying to have a 172 inch screen on a 2.35 to 1 aspect ratio. I read that you could use a projector with a 1.3 to 1 zoom lens and a 2.35 to 1 screen to accomplish ....trying understand how that would be done...can you explain .??? Thanks, Bernie
Mike Posted Aug 15, 2019 11:24 AM PST
I have a brand new theater room, no windows with a very high vaulted ceiling. The room is 15' wide by 20' long. I don't want to mount the projector hanging from the high ceiling, so I need to mount it on the back wall which is 20' from the screen. I would like the screen size to be about 9-10' across. Any ideas of what the best projector would be for this? (I called BenQ and they steered me to their BenQ HT 5550.....but its $2,400. Any less expensive options??
Kari Posted Oct 1, 2019 9:02 PM PST
In a short and to the point answer... what would be the best projector for watching YouTube yoga videos and amazon prime shows and movies? I want to stream through my iPad or iPhone and take for travel if needed Thank you so much, Lost in the technology forestūüėČ
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 6, 2019 11:45 AM PST
Kari, I apologize but there is no short and sweet answer for this with the information you've given. Based on your need for portability and your less-critical need for the very best image quality (versus a serious home theater enthusiast), I'd suggest you look at an affordable pico-style projector such as the Viewsonic M1 or M1+ for about $300. I also like the Optoma 750ST at somewhat higher cost. But these selections make assumptions about your budget, the size of the image you hope to achieve, the ambient light conditions you intend to view in, and the surface or screen you expect to project onto. I suggest you contact one of the projector resellers from our Where to Buy Projectors link on the home page and let a qualified sales consultant walk you through some options at your budget.
Abdul Azeez Posted Oct 21, 2019 5:49 AM PST
I am confused by the estimated image brightness on your calculator. I have a dark room with low ambient light. When I plugged in the projector model I need it shows me 40fl manufacturer spec for a 119 inch screen at a time 11.8 feet distance with a 0.7 gain. Do I interpret this number to mean the projector is not suitable for my room?
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 21, 2019 9:39 AM PST
Abdul, although you don't specifically mention the projector you are using for these calculations, the 40 ftL at the screen size and gain you mention is likely based on the projector's full rated brightness. That presumes you will use its brightest color mode setting, which in many projectors does not provide terribly accurate color and may even be too green to use for anything but very high ambient light viewing, if at all. For your dark room, you'll likely select a more color-accurate mode with less brightness. So if the concern is that this projector will be too bright, that's not likely to be an issue here once you select one of the preferred modes.

That said, even half of that light output should serve to give you a good picture in a dark room, as 16 to 20 ft-L or so is a common target these days for on-screen brightness with regular standard dynamic range content. For HDR content, the target may be 20-30 ft-L.

AJS Posted Oct 23, 2019 2:35 PM PST
How important is it to have lens shift in the projector. My projector would be ceiling mounted more of less center (horizontally) of the screen. The screen would be hung from ceiling as well (5 ft away). Do I need something which has shift ? Looking for projector under $750 (streaming on wifi). Any recommendations since this article seems to be recommending stuff from 2007 !
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 23, 2019 3:34 PM PST
This article is in need of updating as you've pointed out, but the central question of whether you need lens shift is timeless. The bottom line is that unless you can very specifically mount the projector at exactly the right height from the ceiling to drop the image to where your screen is using only the native vertical offset of the lens, you would want some degree of vertical lens shift to pull that image up or down slightly to match your desired screen position. If not, you'll be tilting the projector down, which creates keystone distortion which must then be corrected with a digital keystone control in the menu, which the projector would need to have available. We recommend avoiding the use of keystone correction because it can negatively affect the quality of the image.

There are a number of projectors in your price range that have some degree of zoom and at least a modest degree of vertical lens shift. I suggest you check our group roundup review of under-$700 models, and also go through our more recent reviews of models that fall into your price range since this mid-2018 feature was published. These are all 1080p projectors, but you'll find a couple of more recent units that accept 4K/HDR signals and can display them with HDR at 1080p.

Best Under-$700 Home Theater Projectors
AJS Posted Oct 24, 2019 6:30 AM PST
Thanks for the response Rob. So as I understand ideally the projector should be dead center of screen if it does not offer lens shift. Since in my case the projector is center horizontally I would ideally need a vertical shift at least to avoid the keystone. I have checked out the list and I will go through recent review as well ! Thanks again !
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 24, 2019 7:43 AM PST
Actually, every projector has a fixed vertical offset that in most cases will raise the image up by a fixed amount from the lens height if the projector is on a table or shelf or raise the image down by that same amount if the projector is ceiling mounted. So a projector without vertical lens shift that is ceiling mounted will usually be mounted with the lens at or near the height of the top edge of the screen -- otherwise, you can imagine that the projector would end up being so low it would get in the way of viewing the image. Having vertical lens shift allows you to make adjustments in the height in reference to this native vertical offset to avoid that keystone I mentioned. So if you don't have lens shift, you must find out what this fixed vertical offset is and apply it for a image size you're using to determine what distance from the top of the screen your projector must be mounted. The user manuals usually have this information along with charts that show the result with different screen sizes.

And yes, you do always want to mount your projector horizontally lined up with the center of with the screen.
AMEDIUS Posted Oct 31, 2019 8:50 PM PST
I own a eh tw9400 Epson with loads of shifts. My projector is off center by 5 inch. I have aligned the picture to the center by horizontal lens shift. Do you thing there will be a degration of picture quality. I did not find any. What are your views
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Nov 1, 2019 7:10 AM PST
It's generally best to avoid using horizontal shift and properly centering the projector if possible, but you're honestly not likely to see any real detectable image degradation in a situation like yours with a modest amount of lens shift on a good projector. Pushing either horizontal or vertical lens shift to the very end limit of its range on either side can sometimes introduce some modest focus issues at the edges of the image on some projectors.
David Ross Posted Dec 24, 2019 11:48 PM PST
Thank you for this guide. Can you please suggest me best projector under $1000?
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Dec 25, 2019 11:13 AM PST
David, there are too many considerations in any projector purchase to simply recommend "the best" at any given price point. I suggest you call one of the projector resellers that can be found under the Where to Buy a Projector link on our home page and let one of their phone reps assess your environment, expected screen size, needs for gaming (which may call for a projector with low input lag) and other considerations so they can make a couple of recommendations.
roger luna Posted Feb 23, 2020 8:29 PM PST
I'm so confused. I have a family room 20 X 15 that has an entire wall of windows that faces South so i have plenty of sun light. I was considering a 5000 lumen, but after reading your article this may not be the best option. I'm willing to pay $3500-4000, but what do you recommend? Please advise . . . thank Y O U !
IRVING RIVAS VILLANUEVA Posted Mar 28, 2020 6:48 AM PST
What is the difference between Used Lamp Hour Bundle and Used Lamp Hour?
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Mar 28, 2020 11:55 AM PST
Irving, I have never heard the phrase "Used Lamp Hour Bundle" before. Used Lamp Hours is what it sounds like and tells you how many hours on the lamp since the counter was last reset, which would be when it was new or when the lamp was last replaced.
Rin Collins Posted Apr 7, 2020 8:41 AM PST
I am looking at trying to get a projector to occasionally use for playing video games with through PS4 and Nintendo Switch consoles when I host parties. What would you suggest as a relatively cheap option for occasional use?
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Apr 7, 2020 12:11 PM PST
I suggest looking into a 1080p gaming projector with low input lag, which should run about $500 to $700. This is from our group review a while back of under-$700 projectors.

"Lowest Input Lag. For serious gamers who won't settle for anything but the lowest input lag they can find, five models are essentially tied for that honor at 16.4 or 16.5 ms: The Optoma HD143X, HD27e, and HD29Darbee, and the ViewSonic PJD7720HD and PJD7828HDL."

https://www.projectorcentral.com/Best-Cheap-Home-Theater-Projectors-2018.htm
Andrew N. Posted Jun 2, 2020 7:13 PM PST
Thank you so much for taking the time to thoroughly pass down so many informational specifications for a newbie like myself to the projector world.
Malcolm Adams Posted Aug 27, 2020 12:02 PM PST
Hi Rob,

I am building a dedicated golf sim and don't need it as dark as a theater setting. What luminance range would you recommend for this application. Right now I have three projectors that could work well for my 185 inch diagonal screen, my throw and my wallet. The BenQ LU710 has a luminance of 37 fL, the InFocus IN2139WU has 42 fL and the EIKI EK-308U is 54 fL at 6000 lumens. I am leaning toward the BenQ for a number of reasons but it does have the lowest fL. Thx - Malcolm
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Aug 27, 2020 12:06 PM PST
Malcom, I don't have much background to understand what makes a good golf sim projector, other than the obvious notion that brighter is usually better for an ambient light environment. I'm not sure what your requirements are other than 16:10 WUXGA aspect ratio, but you might want to check our Find a Projector database and scan for other laser models in that 5,000 to 6,000 lumen range. Laser will be a key feature here and I wouldn't go without it if budget permits.

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