Projector Buying Guide

Knowing which projector to buy is very important before making an acquisition of this type (well, it’s actually better to consider it an investment). That is why we are going to teach you in this guide how to choose a projector. 

  • What to watch in a projector?
  • How do you know if it’s worth it?
  • Am I guided by the price?
  • I want it just to use at home.
  • And I need it only for my work
  • Well, what I’m looking for is to be able to take it wherever I want to take advantage of it anywhere.
  • what projector to buy

If any of these situations sound familiar to you, keep reading this guide to buying a projector and we will tell you what to look for to know which are the best projectors on the market according to your needs . Because we know that making this decision without knowing where to start can be very frustrating.

What is the Best Projector?

The perfect projector does not exist . These devices are a set of benefits, and the better or more they include, the more expensive the price will also be. So the best projector will be the one that best suits your needs and budget. The features that make the product more expensive are resolution, brightness and contrast. But then there are other features we must consider based of our intended use

How to choose a good projector?

If you are going to use it for home theater, you can give up brightness so you can have a better contrast. On the contrary, if is is for professional use, you will need to have a good light output. And if you want to be able to take it from one place to another, to use it in any situation, you will be interested in having a wireless connection to forget about annoying cables. As for projection technology, it should not affect your decision.

What to keep in mind

These are, in summary, the characteristics that you should know to know how to buy a projector depending on where you are going to use it:

  • Projection technology : each with its advantages and disadvantages.
  • Format : the type of screen or diagonal that the image will be projected natively.
  • Brightness – The light output of the device measured in ANSI lumens.
  • Contrast : the ratio of the lightest to the darkest point. Which will allow us to enjoy a greater or lesser depth of colors.
  • Resolution : the number of pixels in the image. Obviously, the higher the resolution, the better the image quality. Especially the larger the projected image.
  • Maximum screen size and projection distance
  • Connections
  • Projector size and weight
  • Extras : Wi-Fi or bluetooth connection , built-in TDT , that is a projector with Android included …
  • Maintenance
  • Bonus : refresh rate and input lag, for 3D projectors and gaming projectors

Of all these characteristics, the ones that raise the price of a projector the most are: resolution, brightness and contrast. Maybe even in that order. Then, size is another feature that makes the product more expensive: the smaller the device, or it is more expensive, or it lowers the performance compared to others of similar price. And finally, the extras obviously. All things being equal, if one model includes Wi-Fi wireless connection and the other does not, obviously the first will be more expensive than the second.

And these are the 4 main uses of projectors. So that you identify with someone.

  • Home use : for home theater , video games, to use with your mobile or smartphone …
  • Professional use : for power point presentations in classrooms, auditoriums or meeting rooms.
  • Mini projectors : to allow us to move in a comfortable way.
  • Videomapping : to project images or videos onto surfaces.

We could perhaps put another use, that of a cheap projector . Since they will be ideal for us to start in the wonderful world of projection at really reasonable prices.

10 tips before buying a projector

1. Projection technologies

Although technology should not be a determining factor in the choice, it is good to become familiar with them. They are classified into two groups:

  • Image projection: DLP vs LCD vs LCOS .
  • Light source used:  traditional lamp vs led vs laser .

If you try to learn about these technologies, you will discover that there is a fierce fight between 3LCD technology , championed by manufacturers such as Sony or Epson, and the DLP technology patented by Texas Instruments used by manufacturers such as Optoma or BenQ. Other brands, however, have decided to include both technologies in their products. This is the case of LG or Acer. This means that both technologies are mature enough and offer great results, especially in the mid-range.

And after this roll … What technology to choose?

The choice of technology has a major influence on the light source used.

The traditional lamp offers better brightness, ideal for professional environments where extra brightness is required. But we must be aware that we will have to replace it.

In a led projector , to get more brightness we will have to go at a higher price. And remember that the lumens come in ANSI for a better comparison.

And if we opt for a laser projector , or a laser / led hybrid , prepare your pocket. Of course, prepare yourselves to have the best experiences that the market currently offers.

As for how they project the image, whether it is a DLP projector , an LCD projector , or even LCoS , it shouldn’t influence our decision. Rather, we should be guided by the rest of the characteristics that we will see below.

2. Format

There are many aspect ratios , but the two most common are 4: 3 and 16: 9 (wide). Here the choice of the format is very simple:

  • 16: 9 for home use . The content that we go to the projector will be in that format (movies, video games). Television is usually in 4: 3 format. That is why in movies we see the black bands above and below the image.
  • 4: 3 for professional use . This is the common format for computer screens and presentation slides.

A projector with a native format can project in the other format, but what it will do is adapt the image. That is why it is recommended to choose the format of the content that we are going to project in the majority.

3. Brightness

Perhaps the most important point in which we must pay attention, the light power . This is measured in ANSI lumens , a standardized measure for comparing brightness. And as is evident, the higher the power, the higher the price.

Keep in mind that there are different ways to measure lumens. The led or pico lumens adopt different values. Many brands on their models do not indicate brightness in this standardized measure. One of the tricks used to get better in the photo. And deceive the consumer, why not say so. So try to always come in ANSI lumens for a correct comparison .

What we must think about to choose the appropriate brightness is the environment where the projector will be used, whether or not there will be ambient light. Also something in the distance that there will be with the screen or the wall, since at a greater distance luminosity is lost. As in the size of the projected image, the larger it is, the more brightness it loses. But mainly stay with the idea of ​​the level of exterior light that will or will not enter the room to choose the appropriate brightness . As a general rule we can say that:

For home use with the lights off, starting at 1,000 lumens is already becoming exaggerated.

However, for professional use in rooms with ambient light, we will need to go to at least 3,000 lumens. And from there up. That is why for professional use, LEDs tend to fall short.

On the other hand, here we would like to highlight that traditional lamps, although much more powerful than LEDs, over time suffer wear and tear and lose their luminosity. If someone has ever changed a projector lamp they will surely have noticed the difference with the new one.

Advice on the brightness or luminosity of a projector

The brightness of white light is not the same as the brightness for color. Manufacturers will indicate the first one, but it is worth knowing the second. Thus we observe if the difference between the two is very significant or not.

Although sometimes we cannot find the projector model that we want to analyze, the best thing in that case is to look for similar models of the same brand. So we will see if the manufacturer has a lot of lag between the brightness of white light and the brightness of color .

4. Contrast

What measures the contrast of a projector is a ratio: the maximum difference between the lightest and darkest points . A 1,000: 1 ratio means that the lightest point is 1,000 times more than the darkest point. It is important that this parameter goes hand in hand with brightness. If we have a lot of lumens but the contrast is low, the image quality suffers. Resulting in a discolored projection or image because the impact of light on the screen affects the intensity of the black.

The higher this value, the better the purity of whites and blacks. And greater sharpness in the projected image. It is important to emphasize that there are two types of contrast:

Native vs dynamic contrast

  • Native contrast : also called static, it is the ratio obtained by dividing the maximum black and white. Let’s go the one we just explained.
  • Dynamic contrast : also called on / off contrast, it incorporates the time variable . Many projectors incorporate a motorized iris that allows light input to be modulated. In such a way that in very bright scenes it opens, and in dark scenes it closes. This allows the contrast ratio to be calculated at different times, resulting in stratospheric numbers.

Therefore, do not let yourself succumb to the dynamic contrast ratio . Manufacturers are very rogue and tend to hide the static or typical contrast (another way of calling it), for the sake of adding to the figure.

Regarding their values, although they say that the minimum should be 1,000: 1, it is from 2,000: 1 when we should not have any hit. Now, from a resolution of 5,000: 1 we already talk about something else. You can even reach resolutions greater than 15,000: 1, but that is already playing in the Champions League.

And for dynamic contrast, we can easily see values from 25,000: 1 to even 150,000: 1. The older the better. But do not confuse the terms, which is what brands want to achieve.

5. Resolution

The resolution of a projector tells us the number of pixels it shows by height and width. Therefore, the quality of the image and the maximum size in which we can project without seeing pixelated images.

We must bear in mind that for high resolutions, and even more so if the distance from the projector is high, we must accompany it with a high level of brightness in lumens. If we have a Full HD projector but the light output is rather low, we will enjoy less of the high image quality because it will barely light up.

Common types of resolution

Format 4: 3 square

Four thirds to distinguish it, because in reality it is also a rectangle.

  • SVGA 800 × 600 : the most common with a recommended maximum width of 160 cm. Ideal for presentations in classrooms or meeting rooms.
  • XGA 1,024 × 768 : expanding the maximum screen width to 220 cm. Recommended when we need to expand the screen width in larger rooms with a larger audience.
  • 16: 9 widescreen
  • HD 1280 × 720 : This is the most common resolution, typically used by TV channels or DVD movies. Its maximum recommended screen width can go up to 240 cm.
  • WXGA 1,366 × 768 : used in computer graphics cards, so a projector with this resolution can be very useful in professional environments where you want an exact replica of the pc screen.
  • HDTV 1,920 × 1,080 : the famous Full HD  or HD ready resolution  . It is the resolution used by bluray players, high-definition game consoles or some pay television channel. Here the maximum width of the projection already allows us to go more than 240 cm. Can see that distinguishes between 1080p and 1080i , offering better results “p” for progressive projection being against the “i” which is intertwined.
  • UHDV 3,840 × 2,160 : of the 16: 9 format, it is not that it is the most common, but more and more is being implemented in the market with more competitive prices. This resolution is the delight of the most demanding, and is also known as  4k  or  ultra HD resolution . Basically what it has achieved is to multiply by two the full HD resolution in both dimensions, the vertical and the horizontal, hence it is called 4k.

Native resolution

Something very important that we must look at is the ” native resolution “, and not fall for the trick of the maximum resolution that the manufacturer will offer us. In this way we will know the optimal resolution for which the projector has been designed. Although it accepts others, it will be in this one where it offers us the best results.

At the moment the resolution is perhaps the most expensive feature of the product, but if you are a fan of the maximum resolution, I recommend that you take a look at this list with a selection of 4k projectors .

6. Maximum screen size and projection distance

To know the size of the projected image we must resort to the famous ” throw ratio “. Or in Spanish that we understand each other better, the projection factor . This measures the relationship between the distance and the width of the screen. It is also commonly called the type of shot you have:

Normal throw projector : to place them at a certain distance. Normally intended to be hung from the ceiling. A very common factor is 3: 1. That is, if we place the projector 3 meters from the screen, it will have a width of one meter.

Short throw projector : or ultra short. These devices are intended to be placed close to the screen without any fixation. For example, a factor of 0.5: 1 will tell us that placing the device half a meter away, the screen will be one meter wide.

This is crucial to get the best results. But that should not worry us excessively for several reasons:

Manufacturers always make size and distance calculators available for their different models. Here is Benq’s example . By the way, ” throw distance ” is the distance of the projector from the screen, what they call the projector throw. And “ image diagonal ” is the inches of the screen. In case it catches you in English.

With the zoom we adjust the focus of the image to the size of our screen.

Many projectors have a function called ” keystone “, which corrects the size and focus.

And if we do not have this function or do not want to touch the zoom … patience !, surely doing several tests within the space that we have in the room we find the ideal distance and size.

Advice on size and distance

And here are some general tips on screen size and distance:

  • 16: 9 screen , the optimal screen diagonal will be half the total length of the room (or even the row of seats if we only have one row). You can also use as a rule if you will use it at home, stand 1.5 meters from the width of the screen.
  • And 4: 3 screen , the optimal screen height will be one sixth of the distance between the screen and the last row of seats.
  • For domestic use , place the screen about 60/90 cm from the floor. The distance from the first row of seats to a minimum of 2 times the height of the screen for a comfortable viewing distance.
  • And for professional use , it is recommended that the distance from the ground be greater, about 125 cm. The distance from the first row of seats 1.5 times the height of the screen. In this way we ensure a correct viewing of both the first and last rows.

7. Connections

Today, HDMI and USB connections have already become a standard. It would be rare to find a projector that does not support them. The first one surpassed in quality the RCA connections (the typical three cables with the white, red and yellow plugs), and VGA (the connection of all the life of the computers). What nostalgia for connections for those of us who have played consoles as children… they have become retro fashion.

In short, it never hurts to check that it supports these connections, especially USB. At certain times it will be very useful to connect these small devices to play their content directly. And on the other hand, although they are falling into disuse, almost all accept the VGA and DVI inputs more designed for computers.

On the other hand, and although there are projectors with more than adequate and sufficient internal speakers, if you are a lover of sound and prefer to take it out to an external device (it will always be better than internal speakers), make sure it has bluetooth . And if you want to forget about wiring to connect the projector comfortably to your smartphone, tablet or pc, make sure it has a wireless connection via Wi-Fi, or even through the same Buetooth …

8. Size and Weight

Although we will take it into account for all types of projectors (the smaller the easier to transport), here it arises if we want to give it mainly a dynamic use instead of static. In that case, and only in that case, we are interested in a mini projector .

In general, a mini projector offers less performance. But it is also true that technology has advanced a lot in these years and we can find real giants in performance, but tiny in size. As always, the benefits will depend on the budget that we can assume in its acquisition.

And according to their size, we can classify them into:

  • Portable projector : those that exceed 20 cm in length, weigh slightly more, but have better performance.
  • Pocket projector : under 20 cm long and weighs about half a kilo. They still have good benefits.
  • Pico projector : the smallest of all, they fit in the palm of our hand. Of course, very low performance.

9. Extra functions

And finally, some other extra functions that the projectors bring. And that can make a difference when deciding:

  • DTT included : some projectors bring their own DTT decoder so that we simply connect the antenna and enjoy the television channels directly.
  • External memory cards : in addition to the USB connection, many others allow the insertion of memory cards. Very useful for projecting content such as photographs or video that we extract directly from the digital camera.
  • Keystone correction : as we have already mentioned, some projectors bring this functionality to correct the size and focus. Thus providing enormous versatility. It is especially useful when we are not going to be able to place the projector centered on the screen. Or when the distance is not adequate.
  • On-screen and multi-screen pointer : for professional use, we must check if it includes a laser pointer or the typical mouse that allows us to pass the slides. On the other hand, some projectors allow the input of multiple computers for multi-screen presentations.
  • Wi-Fi or bluetooth connection : it will allow us to connect it to our computer, tablet or smartphone without the need for cables.
  • 3D image : for lovers of this new technology.
  • Smart TV : like televisions, to have a whole series of extra applications, such as the internet connection.
  • Android : some brands, especially Chinese ones, include this operating system in the device to download the apps directly.

These features add versatility and dynamism to the projector. Getting that in many cases we decide on one model before another for the simple fact of adding any of these extras. That will undoubtedly make our day to day with the projector much more comfortable.

10. Maintenance

Finally, if we opted for a traditional lamp projector and we do not want to get scared later, it is useful to know in advance how many hours a projector lamp lasts .

Useful life : so we will know when we will have to change it more or less.

Price of replacing the projector bulb : this way we will get an idea of ​​what it will cost to replace it when it starts to give us problems or it finishes burning out.

As an advice, if the manufacturer does not indicate the useful life of the lamp, it is that it will be rather short.

11. Refresh Rate and Input Lag

The refresh rate or frequency  tells us the number of times the image is updated per seconds. It can also be called sweep frequency or scan frequency , and is measured in Hertz.

The standard is 60 Hz, but if we are looking for a 3D projector, it is better to go to 120 Hz. The 4k resolution also needs high rates to be used. Therefore, it is not something that we should worry about unless we are looking for images in very high definition, or we plan to enjoy 3D technology.

And the input lag is the delay of the image from when it leaves a device until it is projected. It is measured in milliseconds, and if you plan to enjoy video games, this aspect will make a difference.

What projector to buy for home

In theory, DLP technology can be more adjusted to home use due to its better contrast, but it should not be mandatory if we find an LCD projector with better features at a similar price.

Since we can reduce ambient light at home, LED technology will extend the life of the lamp and we will not incur maintenance costs to replace it in the future.

As for contrast , a 2,000: 1 ratio should be sufficient. But if our pocket allows us, going to 5,000: 1 will make us enjoy greater sharpness and better contrast (worth the redundancy) in the appreciation of colors. And please, this parameter is linked to a good brightness or it will not help us to have the best contrast on the market.

The native 16: 9 format will be our choice, since the content to be projected is determined by us (movies, video games …). They can also be other variants such as the cinemascope or the 16:10 format.

The resolution will depend fundamentally on the investment or the disbursement that we can make. Before we have commented that the important thing is the native resolution. But it is also true that there are projectors that offer good results in high definition even though they are not designed natively for it.

And finally, the extras . For home use, the included television may be a good idea if we intend to replace the projector with a TV. Like the wifi connection if we want to avoid cables. Or the 3D image if we are lovers of this technology.

What projector to buy for teaching or for the office

The LCD technology is more than the DLP implemented for professional use, mainly by getting higher native brightness. Now, as we have already said, it should not be the determining factor in the choice.

Here LED technology may not be the most appropriate, mainly due to the greater ambient light that we will surely find in the room. If we can afford it, the laser projector may be the best option, especially for rooms with a large audience.

The brightness we should start looking at models with 3,000 ANSI lumens, and from there up depending on the ambient light and the distance of projection and viewing. If the room is very large, it is better to look at models with 5,000 or 6,000 ANSI lumens.

The contrast we should not matter as much as the brightness, so a contrast of 2,000: 1 can be sufficient.

The native 4: 3 format will be adequate, as it is the typical format for presentations.

The resolution will also depend on the pocket, but it is not so important in this type of use. As we have been saying, let’s bet better for a good luminosity at the cost of giving up the rest of factors. What good would a full hd or 4k resolution do us if attendees can barely enjoy it because there is no light reaching them?

And as for the  \extras , here we should focus more on professional applications. Mouse or slide show, laser pointer or USB connection to directly connect a pen drive to it.

Choosing a mini-size projector

In this case, even if they are cute, you should know that you are going to give up benefits to be able to use it in any situation.

It is especially useful for professions such as commercial, allowing us to make presentations to clients. Or professions in which you travel frequently.

Although it has its limitations, we should try to \ gain luminosity . And not so much in matters such as resolution or contrast . In this way, we may not be so limited to always having to project completely in the dark. But remember that the brightness comes in ANSI lumens and not in led lumens to compare them correctly.

It may not matter so much to us that it is such a small pocket projector . In that case, we can find very light and versatile compact projectors, and we will already be gaining in performance.

CONCLUSION

Well, you have already seen that knowing which projector to buy depends mainly on the use that we are going to give it. And of course the budget that we can or are willing to spend.

A projector is not only defined by the technology it uses. As you have seen, projectors are a compendium of features or benefits . Which are the ones that we will evaluate and compare to choose ours at the best price.


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