The Ultimate Guide for Picking a Projector for Your Home Theater

Discussion in 'Projectors & Screens' started by Danny Joseph, Nov 8, 2017.


What Things Do you consider while buying a projector ?

  1. Price

  2. Quality

  3. Other

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  1. Danny Joseph Audiophyte

    Danny Joseph
    Nov 8, 2017
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    If you are a movie buff, chances are you want the ultimate movie experience. Unfortunately, regular TV screens don’t give a theater-like experience. They work well for the average user, but as a movie buff, you want the same experience that you get in a theater. Thankfully, projectors are easily available and provide the experience you crave. There is just something special about watching your favorite movies and shows on a big projector screen. Not only does it provide exceptional picture quality but allows you to enhance the picture to your liking both size and quality wise.

    Picking the right projector can be a bit tricky. There are various factors you must consider in order to get the perfect one.

    Pay attention to the projector’s lumen
    A projector is only as good as the quality of image it relays. Brightness plays a great factor in that, you want a projector that isn’t too bright or too dull. You gauge exactly how bright a projector is, you need to pay attention to the lamps lumens. Now, that doesn’t generally mean a low lumen projector isn’t going to get the job done, it can. However, the quality of projection all depends on the size of the room you utilize the projector.

    A low lumen projector, 1,000 or less, doesn’t have an exceptional throw. That means you need to use it in a smaller room otherwise the picture will be quite dull. You typically have a distance of 10 feet between the projector and the screen with a low lumen projector. On higher lumen projectors, 2,000 or more, you can easily get exceptional picture quality in a bigger room that has a distance of 20-25 feet between the screen and the projector.

    The good thing about high lumen projectors is that you can also use them in smaller rooms. So it is always better to get a projector that has a lumen rating of 1,500 or higher so that you can easily use it in both big and small rooms.

    Picking the right projector screen
    The screen you select is just as vital for your viewing experience as the projector itself. You need to keep a few things in mind when you select a screen: size and color. The size of the screen will depend heavily on the projector and room where the projector will be installed. You want a screen that can easily be accommodated in the room while also has enough space between the projector and the screen. The bigger the screen, the more room you will need. You also want a projector and screen that are compatible with a 16 x 9 display so you get a widescreen display rather than a 4 x 3 boxed display.

    When it comes to screen color, most people opt for white. While white screens work well, you can also consider getting a gray screen. Gray screens work well in rooms that are tough to get completely dark. The gray color doesn’t reflect as much light as white does, so your viewing experience will not be deterred too much.

    Projector technology and resolution
    Of course, everyone wants the latest technology and the highest resolution possible when it comes to projectors. However, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars more on the latest technology to ensure you get the best experience. If you are smart about it, you can easily get exceptional video quality from a mid-range projector. LCD projectors are brighter than DLP projectors but cost slightly more. However, in the right conditions, you can get a great picture from DLP projectors. In smaller rooms, DLP projectors work well and the picture quality won’t vary too much. However, for bigger rooms, LCD projectors are a better option.

    As far as resolution of the projector goes, you want to go with a projector that gives an output of at least 1080p. If your budget permits then you can go for a projector with 4K resolution. However, 1080p will allow you to get exceptional picture quality through blu-ray and is more than sufficient.

    If you truly care about your viewing experience than there is no question in getting a projector. The overall experience is just more satisfying than that of a television screen. Since, projectors are more mainstream now, thanks to advances in technology, they are far more affordable. If you pair your projector with the right audio system, you are sure to get theater-like experience at home.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 8, 2017
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  2. bubbrik Enthusiast

    Jul 26, 2017
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    Thanks for posting this.

    One question...when you refer to size of rooms, small vs large rooms, what is your guidance for room dimensions?

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  3. killdozzer Audioholic Chief

    Feb 5, 2014
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    Good place to start.

    I know Epson (probably others as well) has a distance calculator on their home page, where you can enter the dimensions of your future media room and get recommendations for a suitable projector.
  4. BoredSysAdmin Audioholic Overlord

    Aug 21, 2007
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    New Joisey
    I disliked the post, since to be titled "Ultimate Guide " it's remarkably short, inaccurate in more than few places and uses sweeping generalization over critical points of selecting projector.
    I'd recommend OP to stick around, read more of what BMXTRIX posts and learn a thing or two from him.
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  5. BMXTRIX Audioholic Spartan

    Sep 16, 2004
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    Chantilly, VA
    Let me revise this a bit...

    Ignore the projector’s advertised lumens!

    Most projectors, from quality manufacturers, are designed for typical home theater screen use and can support an image size between about 100" and 150" easily. Some manufacturers claim very high light output from their projectors, but after the image is calibrated for a theater the actual light output is far less than what is advertised, and is often less than the similarly priced competition. Examples of this are Optoma, with the HD142X projector. The projector, while advertising 3,000 lumens, delivers less than 1,000 lumens when setup for best video quality. What does that mean when you can't trust the numbers? It means that you should check for any reviews online if you can, or ask in forums if there is a special need.

    Most projectors have a sweet spot for light output of about 1,200 lumens. Some models from Epson that are in the $1,000 price range, are noted for putting out more light to deal with a poor room. But, for the most part, accept that a typical home theater projector, from a quality major manufacturer, will deliver about 1,200 lumens and can handle that 100"-150" diagonal screen in a dark room just fine.

    Keep in mind, with most projectors as they get brighter, their contrast gets worse. They simply can't generate deep blacks or shadow details the way a dimmer projector can. So, that projector that really delivers 2,000+ lumens may not actually as good when the lights are off and you are watching a night scene in a scary movie. Reviews help tell the story on this.

    Speaking of contrast. It's not light output, but contrast, that is the most important factor in a home theater projector and the number one thing that impacts contrast is the room you put the projector in. A room with a white ceiling, light colored walls, and windows, is going to reflect a lot of light onto the screen and make the image look a lot worse. As you remove those things and make the room better, the image will get better and better. Cover the windows with thick, light blocking curtains, and your daytime viewing will be much better. Paint the walls and ceiling a darker color, and you get a similar jump. Put some dark carpet on the floor and you get another jump. Much like you have to ignore the lumen claim from manufacturers, you have to ignore their contrast claims as well in favor of reviews.

    Projector placement has absolutely NOTHING to do with lumen output of a projector. The placement of a projector has to do with the lens that is on that projector. Much like buying a camera from a store, you have different lenses on almost every single projector. Some allow you to put a projector inches or feet from the screen. Others allow you to put it right over your head, while others can be placed much further back in the room. The lens can be a very expensive part of the projector, and projectors with a better lens tend to cost more. Be aware, that some projectors have a lot of placement flexibility, because like a camera, they may have a zoom lens. Very cheap projectors or projectors which can be placed very close to the screen have little or possibly no zoom at all. So, check the manual first, or go to the calculator at Projector Central to see if placement works for you.

    Picking the right projector screen
    Well, yes, you want a 16:9 screen instead of a 4:3 screen. Except, you may want a 2.35 screen instead of a 16:9 screen. Forget about 4:3, that's the aspect ratio of your old black and white television. We've been using 16:9 screens for nearly twenty years now.

    The suggestion that the size of your screen has something to do with the projector or room is somewhat crazy. You should be picking the screen size FIRST, then match a projector to that size. The general rule is that you want about 10" to 12" of diagonal for each foot of viewing distance. There are more complicated calculations available, but you should know the room you are planning to setup as your theater. Put a chair where you intend to sit. Then measure from your eyes to the screen location. A very common distance is 12 feet. That would be about a 120" to 144" diagonal screen. 120" of screen size will make you feel like you are sitting in the middle of your typical movie theater. Larger will move you up a couple of rows. Yes, if you are 16' from the screen, look for a 160" diagonal screen!

    "When it comes to screen color, most people opt for white. While white screens work well, you can also consider getting a gray screen. Gray screens work well in rooms that are tough to get completely dark. The gray color doesn’t reflect as much light as white does, so your viewing experience will not be deterred too much."
    Really, a grey screen is a band aid. It doesn't fix the fact that the room isn't properly setup for front projection, and while it helps some, it won't be the same as a properly treated room. The negative impact of a grey screen may outweigh the positive gain in black levels. WHY? Well, if you have a couple of lights on, a grey screen improves the shadow details some, but decreases brightness as well. Certain screens maintain brightness, but typically this introduces other negative side effects. Anyway, this 'dulls' the image a bit. What are you watching though that needs that daytime shadow detail or requires you to have lights on? Most obvious answer would be 'SPORTS!'. That type of viewing isn't as negatively impacted by a loss in contrast, and actually benefits more from a white screen, so sticking with a white screen most of the time is a good way to go.

    Then we get into a long discussion of the actual type of screen you should use. I'll keep it simple:
    Get a fixed frame screen and hang it on your wall like a picture if you can.

    Projector technology and resolution
    LCD vs. DLP vs. LCoS - The great debate.
    LCD does tend to be brighter than either of the other two technologies, but the cheaper models also tend to have much weaker contrast. So, in a halfway decent room, they don't perform better than DLP does (under $1,000 price point). The sub-$1,000 DLP models are a great way to go and you can certainly deliver a 100"-150" image without issue from most DLP models. The image will be similar to your local movie theater. The better the sound you have, the better the experience will be.
    For a family room replacement television, in a brighter/weaker room, then the entry/lower-mid LCD projectors are a great way to go. They are bright and have inexpensive replacement lamps.
    DLP tends to wane out in quality as price goes up. LCD, on the other hand, introduces technology to improve image contrast while retaining solid brightness. So, between $2,000 and $3,000 you get a very solid choice from LCD.
    LCoS is one of the top tier technologies for home theater. Sony and JVC compete heavily with models starting at about $1,500 (11/10/2017) right now. Their 1920x1080 projectors have typical brightness and have higher contrast and a tighter image than other technologies. Above $3,000 and JVC and Sony models become one of the most respected and utilized products on the market.

    Yes, resolution of at least 1920x1080. Don't believe advertising that uses words like 'compatible with 4K' or 'Supports 1080p!'. Almost always with an exclamation point. If there is no statement that says 'NATIVE RESOLUTION: 1920x1080', then you likely are getting something less. If you haven't heard of the brand, then check for reviews, and look for their website. If you can't find either, then ask yourself "WHY?" before buying.

    Most of all, ask on forums. Finding out what projector is right for you is much easier than finding a good dishwasher. There are tons of hands-on reviews of top-tier brands and the technologies tend to all work very well. Plan on spending about $500 as a bottom line target for the projector and don't be afraid to ask. You may get directly to read articles or look at websites which more fully answer your questions, but then come back if things aren't clear to you. Don't get suckered in by your local store, and don't buy the cables there if you can avoid it.

    So much more to go over... But, it would take pages. Also we should add the basics:
    Under $1,000
    Epson: LCD - 2150 or 1060 - 1080p resolution - bright, cheap lamps, weaker contrast.
    BenQ: DLP - HT2050, HT1070, HT2150ST - 1080p resolution - average brightness, good contrast

    Epson - LCD - 3100 or 3700 - 1080p - very bright, cheaper lamps, good contrast, good placement flexibility.
    Sony - LCoS - HW45ES - 1080p - average brightness, excellent contrast, very quiet, good placement flexibility (and more)

    Epson - LCD - 5040 - Pixel Shifting 4K - bright, higher resolution, very good contrast, best placement flexibility, very good colors.

    $3,000+ - Sony/JVC models (varying) - Top shelf contrast, average brightness, pixel shift and native 4K models available, good placement flexibility, very good lenses. For dedicated home theaters which are properly painted/treated for light control.

    Screen: Silver Ticket fixed frame 120" screen, white material, Amazon for about $300 shipped - or just use a white wall in your home! Yes, that works fine if budget is limited.

    Speakers: Ask on a great website like Audioholics! Really, you can start off with something as simple as some computer speakers if you want to, and many projectors have speakers built in. They aren't very good, but they will suffice.

    LED and laser projectors? That's a long discussion by itself. We are seeing products come to market that do both, at reasonable prices. LED is not as bright as typical projectors, and cost a bit more, for a bit less quality, but they never need a new lamp. LG, with their PF1500 has a heck of a product for around $1,000.

    All this changes over time, and 2018 may bring a completely different list of recommendations. Which is why it is best to ask questions online and come in with a realistic expectation.
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