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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. [BAN1]

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!

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Comments (17) 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
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]
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.

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