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Home Theater Projector Buyer's Guide

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.

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Comments (22) 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

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