Projector Buying Guide
There was a time the word “projector” made us think of being in a classroom, but today’s projectors are so much more than a teaching tool. The latest projectors are extremely bright, can project a huge, vibrant image, are ultra-quiet, and versatile enough to project everything from family photos to your favourite streaming TV shows.
Projector 101: How will you use your projector?
There are 3 basic uses for projectors. Narrowing your primary usage will help you decide which model is right for you.
Home Theatre Projectors
Home theatre projectors are no longer just for slides and PowerPoint presentations. The latest projectors are much more like TVs, only they are in a much smaller box. It’s easy to hook a computer up to a projector and stream TV, photos, home videos, and more. Projectors today also usually have quieter fans since they’re used in small rooms like media rooms and family rooms.
Home theatre projectors tend to come with a variety of connections or cable inputs to give you many options for hooking up to a home theatre system. It’s now even possible to enjoy streaming TV on a home theatre projector. You can choose a projector with built-in Wi-Fi or add a media streamer like Google Chromecast.
Home Theatre Projectors are most often recommended for:
- Home theatre such as movies and TV
- Photo presentations or slideshows
Business or Data Projectors
Business projectors are meant to be used in large spaces, so they need to be powerful and bright. In fact, data or business projectors are often brighter than home theatre projectors because they often need to compensate for overhead lighting or windows in some large meeting spaces. Business projectors often easily connect to laptop computers, either via cable such as HDMI, or Wi-Fi so that sharing presentations or files is easy. Because they’re used in remote or out-of-office locations, a business projector is often portable.
Business/Data projectors are most often recommended for:
- Presentations in large spaces
- When displaying PowerPoint-style or data and info presentations
- People who need a portable solution for displays
Gaming projectors project huge, vibrant images in 1080p or 4K resolution. Some models have HDR compatibility, and you’ll find most gaming projectors run at least 60Hz refresh rate. They have extremely low input lag and speedy response times, so you can enjoy gaming on a truly big home screen.
Gaming projectors are most often recommended for:
- Gamers who want a big-screen experience
- Families who’d like to game together
Pocket or Pico projectors are tiny pocket-sized projectors perfect for the businessperson on the go. They will fit easily into a handbag, carry-on, or briefcase and often weigh less than 3 pounds. Despite the small size, pocket projectors can display images up to 70 inches.
Pico projectors tend not to be as bright as full-size models, but they are often ‘smart”, connecting easily to Wi-Fi for use with cloud storage or streaming. You can also connect a pico model to a compact camera, smartphone or tablet, or laptop, giving you versatility in a very small package.
Pico Projectors are most often recommended for:
- Small groups or small rooms
- Personal and travel use
You may also hear about one other type of projector, that encompasses a couple of the points noted earlier: the Multi-Use Projector. Multi-Use Projectors often have the ability to be used as both a data projector for business applications and presentations, but also as a home theatre projector, allowing you to also use it for movies, gaming, and other home entertainment.
Projector 101: How to connect your projector
Projectors often have several ways to connect, depending on what kind of content you’d like to display.
Does your projector have enough ports?
Many home theatre projectors have HDMI connections, allowing you to connect to smart devices like streaming TV boxes such as Roku, Apple TV, or Google Chromecast.
Depending on how many components you wish to hook up (Blu-ray player, cable box, streaming device, and gaming console) it’s important to make sure the projector has enough ports to accommodate every device.
How will you run cables to your projector?
It’s important to keep in mind that if your projector is mounted to the ceiling or stashed at the back of the room, you’ll need to find a way to run the appropriate cables to it.
Data or business projectors often have several data connection options including USB and VGA, and usually include Wi-Fi connectivity to avoid the hassle of lugging cables around.
It’s also worth considering sound if you’ll be projecting to a large room, and picking up some external speakers that will properly work with your data device.
Projector 101: 3 projector image types
There are three main types of projectors, and each projects images in a different way.
LCD, or “Liquid Crystal Display” is basically the same technology used in flatscreen TVs, except that LCD projectors use light that’s beamed through liquid crystals rather than having the light bounce off them.
LCD projector advantages:
◦ Brighter output makes it ideal for use in well-lit rooms
◦ Excellent color brightness
◦ Sharper images for improved graphs and data on screen
◦ Displays crisp, clear 3D images with no ‘ghosting’
DLP, or Digital Light Processing, uses millions of tiny mirrors, or “digital micromirrors” to reflect light and beam an image. DLP projectors are most often found in movie theatres.
◦ Lightweight and compact (especially for compact, or “pico” models)
◦ Gives a more Hollywood-like picture when using Blu-ray, DVD, or HDTV
◦ Provides deeper, truer blacks when compared to LCD projectors
◦ Superior color contrast
◦ Smooth motion for videos and fast-action scenes
LCOS projectors are the third type. The letters stand for “liquid crystal on silicon”. LCOS projectors were designed to be a combination of LCD and DLP technology.
Projector 101: Streaming to a projector
The latest projectors offer 4K resolution and built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. That means you can use this type of home theatre projector as an alternate to a TV, and you can even choose projectors with streaming services already on board.
Some types of streaming projectors have a hub with Android TV features built-in, so you can stream your favourite movies and TV shows on apps like Netflix or YouTube. You can also connect a media streaming device to your projector and stream content via your external device.
Projector 101: Outdoor projectors
You can now find outdoor projectors designed for outdoor use, but most projectors designated as outdoor projectors generally offer dual-use inside and outside.
This type of projector has a brighter light and is portable so you can set it up anywhere. It’s best viewed using an outdoor screen. One thing to keep in mind when using a projector outdoors is that projectors are not waterproof or water-resistant. You’ll need to avoid using it in inclement weather or near water, and you will always want to bring it inside when not in use.
You’ll also find that projectors work best in dark or dim light. They are great for outdoor movie nights on the patio, but f your goal is to stream a movie during the day, you’ll have a hard time seeing video or images in bright light.
Projector 101: Light Sources
How bright is your projector bulb? It depends on what type of light source it has.
Lamp or bulb projector
Lamps or bulbs are the way projectors in years past operated. While a bulb can be very bright and can last thousands of hours, there are other advances in projector light technology that will give you a stronger and more reliable light option.
LED is a subcategory of bulbs. LED projectors provide light without the same heat as regular bulbs, meaning a large noisy fan isn’t needed to keep the projector cool. LED bulbs also last much longer than traditional bulbs, singing for up to 20,000 hours compared to a traditional bulb’s 3-4,000 hour lifespan.
Laser projectors use a technology that does away with bulbs altogether. Lasers provide a very bright illumination source and better contrast than a bulb. Laser projectors are also much more energy-efficient than either regular or even LED bulbs, and because they run cooler, projectors using laser light can be much less noisy.
Projector 101: Learning The Lingo
Before you choose your new projector, there are a few terms to know.
Projector brightness is measured in ‘lumens’. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the image will be. Most projectors now use about 2300 lumens minimum, but you’ll find projectors as bright as 7000 lumens.
Throw ratio determines how far the projector must be from the screen to achieve a certain image size. Throw ratio is most important when mounting the projector or putting it in a fixed location, since you’ll need to ensure the projector is at the right distance from the wall or screen to display properly. A short-throw projector is the best option if you won’t be using it in a fixed location.
Throw Ratio is calculated by looking at throw distance per foot of image width (Throw Distance: Image Width). A 2:1 throw ratio translates to 2 feet of throw distance per foot of screen width, meaning that to get a 7-foot wide image, the projector needs to be 14 feet from the screen.
Resolution in projectors is quite similar to resolution in TVs. It is the total number of pixels that a projector is able to display, ranging from 480p, 720p, 1080p (HD), and 4K.
Choosing the right resolution is about more than going for the biggest number of pixels. It makes sense to also choose the resolution that will match the format being displayed most often. Whether that’s matching the resolution on a computer monitor (like XGA), or choosing a 4K projector for best watching Hollywood flicks, think about how the projector will most often be utilized and choose proper resolution for that situation.
Contrast ratio measures the difference between the lightest areas of the image and the darkest. What that means in practical terms is that it allows viewers to see light and shadow, providing a depth of picture and much more realism. A low contrast ratio means a more ‘washed out’ picture.
Light bleeding into the display space can affect how contrast is seen. In dark rooms, for example, contrast will be more noticeable. In that case, a projector with a higher contrast ratio would be better. On the other hand, a brightly lit presentation or convention space will mean contrast is less noticeable, so it’s not usually as important to show such fine detail when it comes to contrast.
When presenting in a space with walls that are not flat and square, or if placing the projector at a 90-degree angle to the screen or surface isn’t an option, look for a projector with “keystone correction”. Keystone Correction compensates for displaying at slight angles or projecting on curved surfaces by adjusting for those warped or distorted images digitally.
Projector 101: Do you need a projector screen?
Wherever you’re displaying your image, whether it’s at home or at the office, having a proper screen to project onto results in the highest quality image. While a white wall can be an acceptable canvas in a pinch, a proper screen will display the video to its best advantage.
Projector screen options
Pull down screen (Fixed or Manual)
A screen with a self-locking mechanism gives you the most options for display. Rather than just pulling into one or two positions, a self-locking projector screen can be unrolled to almost any position.
Retractable screens are best for permanent installation, so they are ideally used in a home theatre. When not in use, the screen retracts into the ceiling and slides into a casing designed to lie flat and be nearly invisible.
This type of screen is best for travel. These screens come with tripod legs and a retractable screen that can be assembled in minutes.