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Home Theater Projector Buyer's Guide

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.

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    Contents: Overview Aspect Ratio Resolution Brightness
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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
    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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