Projector: Several Things You Need To Know Before Buying One

Projector Several Things You Need To Know Before Buying One

Let’s go through the basics from lumen to lamps, DLP vs. LED, and set up to seating positions.

Projectors aren’t any better than televisions. They just cost less. At least, that’s what everyone says. In reality, projectors are no better than television sets, and they’re not much cheaper either. You can find a good set for around $500, and if you really want one, you’ll pay about $700. That’s why people buy them instead of TVs.

Home theater projectors range in cost from a few hundred to ten thousand USD, but you don’t need to spend that much to obtain a high-quality image. However, what features do you require? What technology is best for your needs? How do you decode HPP, UHP, ANSI, and countless other abbreviations?

So friends, let’s get started and answer some of the questions you may have had. If you don’t mind skipping all that and just reading our reviews, we recommend checking out the Best Movie Projectors For Home.


Projectors are often measured by the amount of light they produce. While there are various ways to determine lumen output, ANSI lumen ratings are the most common method. Lumen measurements vary between manufacturers, so it’s difficult to say what exactly is being displayed in any given projection system. However, if you’re buying a new projector, you should know that the higher the number, the brighter the picture.

You can compare broad strokes, however. Generally speaking, a 3000-lumen projector is probably brighter than a 2000 model. But if you’re trying to pick between 3000 and 3100 lumens, good job. Even if those numbers were accurate, that little difference probably won’t be visible anyway.

So how much lumen does one need? Well, there are a number of things to consider, but generally speaking, you shouldn’t regret buying the brightest possible projection system you can afford. Other factors, such as contrast ratio, resolution, and more, are important, but for an initial survey of potential projects, check out what kinds of lumen outputs are available within your budget. It’s worth noting that you can often reduce the lumen output of a projection system without compromising quality, but you can’t increase it.

To provide an example, if you were to go into your local Best Buy store and purchase a 50-inch HDTV (which they sell for $1,500), you would get roughly 18 hours of battery life out of the device. If you purchased a 65-inch TV (which they also sell for $2,000) you’d get about 22 hours of battery life. You can see how these numbers vary based on the size of the display. In addition, if you had a 1080p resolution, you could expect to get around 30 hours of battery life. Again, this is just an example; these figures are not exact.

Laser, lamp, or LED?

Projector technology is used to display images onto screens such as televisions, computer monitors, and movie theaters. Projection systems can be categorized into two types: front projection and rear projection. Front projection systems project images directly onto a screen without any intermediate media. Rear projection systems require an additional device called a projector lens. These lenses focus light emitted from a light source and project it onto the screen.

UHP lamps, also known as Ultra High Performance (UHP) lamps, are essentially very powerful incandescent lights. They’re not only able to create a lot of brightness, but they can last much longer than regular incandescents. The downside is that they do cost more money upfront. Projectors that utilize UHP lamps are generally more expensive than those that use traditional incandescent. However, these projectors will never lose their brightness, unlike traditional incandescents, so if you plan on keeping your projection system for a long period of time, then a UHP lamp might be worth the extra cash.

This aging is a process that takes place slowly over time. We’ve reviewed several models that, in certain modes (usually high), have lamps that can survive for 15,000 hours before needing replacement. So if you watch your movie for 4 hours each night, that means the bulb will burn for about 10 years! Prices vary, but typically, a new bulb will cost between $100 and $300. More expensive projectors have higher quality bulbs. That’s just how it goes.


A number of new technologies have emerged recently, including ones that allow us to control what kind of light we get out of our projective devices. Laser and LED technology can produce much higher levels of brightness, and also provide better color reproduction. But these two technologies are very expensive compared to traditional UHP bulbs. And if you were to buy an inexpensive LED or laser-powered device today, you’d likely find yourself disappointed. While the quality of the image might improve, the brightness would not necessarily increase.


I absolutely understand the attraction of LED/lasers, especially since they’re often rated for 30, 000 hours. Not having to change the bulb, aka spending money on something you’ve already spent money on, makes sense. But the cost/benefit ratio of ultra high-pressure lamps (UHP) projector bulbs still can’t be beaten. Spending $150 every five to ten years doesn’t seem unreasonable. You also have a far broader selection of UHP projector bulbs from many different manufacturers.

Chip tech

After the UHP lamps/LEDs/lasers create the lights, some kind of chip processes those lights into images. There are three technology categories when it comes to projection chips: DLP, LCOS, and LCD. We discuss these technologies in greater depth in DLP vs LCD: Projector pros and cons, but we’ll give you a quick overview of them here:


  • Available from numerous brands.
  • The widest range of prices, from cheap to expensive.
  • Sharpest Picture.
  • The contrast ratio is only average.
  • Color is often mediocre but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any value in using color.


  • You should buy budget to midrange projectors, mainly from Epson.
  • Motion blur.
  • Contrast ratios tend to be low.
  • Color can be better at projecting movies than most DLP projector models.


  • High-quality projectors including Sony and Panasonic.
  • Motion blur.
  • Best contrast ratio.
  • Brightness is usually pretty good, but that’s mainly because it’s easier for people to see when they’re projected onto a screen.

Projector light engines are one of the most complicated parts of projects. They’re responsible for producing all the colors you see on your screen. But they’re very hard to change. Most manufacturers stick to a single type of chip, so if you buy a new projector, you’ll probably get the same kind of chip. A few manufacturers do offer multiple options, but they come at a premium price. And even then, the differences between them aren’t huge. So unless you really know what you’re doing, you should probably go with whatever comes with the projector.

For LCD, Epsons are by far the biggest brand. Lower-end ones often have abysmal contrast rations. It’s just harder to get a good black level with LCD, something that’s true with TVs as well. However, Epson has come a long way in recent years. Its home cinema 2150, for instance, had a better contrast ratio than many competing DLP projectors. They’re all three-chip designs, as in there’s a separate chip for the red, green, and blue components of an image, so they can have better color compared to many DLP projectors, which usually rely on a spinning color wheel. This largely varies per projector, however.

In terms of overall image clarity, LCDs are superior to both CRTs and laser discs. However, they do not offer as wide a viewing angle as CRTs. Additionally, LCDs require backlights, which can cause eyestrain if used for an extended period.


Once you know the basics, it’s worth thinking about where in your house you’ll place the projection screen. It may limit what types of screens you can purchase.

Projection screens are often used to display images on walls or ceilings. They’re generally small (about 36 inches wide), so they won’t take up much space. However, because they’re flat, they require special mounting hardware. You’ll probably find yourself having to mount your screen on the wall or ceiling itself. That may mean drilling holes into drywall, plasterboard, or wood paneling.

Most LCD and nearly all LCO projectors have lenses that shift, so they’ll work in more places than traditional projectors.

If you place a projector in the middle of the display without using lens shifts, then you’re stuck with having the image appear at an angle. Most cheap projectors don’t use lens shifts, so they won’t be able to put the image straight up.

When considering where to position your projection system, keep in mind that you’ll likely need to adjust the throw of your system based on the dimensions of your screen. Most projectors have a maximum magnification, known as the “zooming ratio.” A higher number means a wider angle of view, so if you’re projecting onto a wall, you may want to move farther away rather than closer. On the flip side, a lower number means a narrower angle of view, so you may want to get closer to the screen. In either case, make sure you know what kind of throw you can expect before buying.

Don’t forget cables

Most new projectors include a USB port that lets you connect a device that has an HDMI input.

You’ll also need to make sure your computer can output video in the format you want. Most people today would recommend an HDMI cable, but VGA cables work just fine too. Some computers can do both, so check out what kind of ports your computer has before buying one.

One option to consider if you’re not interested in spending money on HDMI cable is to simply buy one of those cheap HDMI extenders. They’ll work just fine for your needs. You can get them for under $10.00 each. I’ve got two of them right next to my TV. They extend the range of my HDMI port so I can connect my PS3 and Xbox 360 to my TV without having to move the TV.

If you want to go wireless, you may need to pay more for them. They may not be able to handle high resolutions, they may get weaker when you move them from one place to another, and they may not be able to function properly if you put them inside a cabinet.


Does a projector really help?

You don’t need a white sheet or any kind of reflective material to project an image onto a large screen. But if you do choose one, be sure to buy a screen so that you can get the most out of your projector.

Do projectors work well for gaming?

Of course, if you’re buying a new projection system, you need to consider these factors when choosing one. For example, a normal TV doesn’t provide a good image quality for watching movies. So, if you want to watch movies, you need to get a better TV.

Which one should I get?

Whether you’re watching movies or playing games, television offers a larger viewing area than a portable DVD player. A portable DVD player can also play music CDs, DVDs, and videos. In addition, a portable DVD player can connect to your computer via a USB cable so you can watch movies stored on your hard drive.

About Alysson Emard

Alysson Emard was born in South Africa, grew up in Texas, and attended Pomona College. He has spent more than a decade covering the technology industry from San Francisco and is a noted Silicon Valley historian.

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