Everything you ever needed to know to buy your projector

 | Jul 26, 2013

After years of squinting to see anything on that TV that’s smaller than your computer screen and suffering through low quality sound, you’ve decided you need a change and you’re ready to enter the wonderful world of home theaters. But, that raises the question…where do you start? After all, there are so many options, styles, and sizes to consider. Do you want a home theater room that doubles as a living room? Or do you want your own personalized IMAX experience in the comfort of your own home? Are you setting up a new home theater from scratch, or just want to upgrade what you’ve got?

While there are many components that go into a home theater, the one that receives the most attention is the screen. Somehow, it doesn’t matter how great everything else is, a tiny TV can end up killing your home theater experience. When you look for a TV you’ll have tons of different makes and models to choose from, but all of these options can be boiled down to two basic types: projectors and HDTVs. So, the question is, which one is better?

As with most of the components in home theater setups, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. We’ll lay out some of the basics so that you can decide which one would be best for you. This article explains everything you need to know about projectors. Find out about HDTVs.

Home theater with a projector
Projectors let you bring the movie theater home with you


Only a few years ago projectors were too expensive for all but the most elaborate budgets, but as technology has increased the cost of projectors has come down considerably. Now you can find good quality projectors that don’t require you to take out a mortgage in order to buy one.

Before we get into the pros and cons you should know some basics about home theater projectors. Home theater projectors are basically like the projectors that you see in movie theaters, only smaller. A projection system comes with two critical pieces: the projector which, as the name would suggest, creates and projects the image, and the screen that reflects the image so you can see it.

Types of Projectors

There are three different kinds of projectors out there: LCD , DLP ,and LCOS.

LCD (liquid-crystal display) projectors use similar technology as LCD TVs and monitors. While they used to be lower quality, and therefore restricted to the low-budget buyer, recent developments have made these projectors much better.

DLP (digital light processing) projectors use the same technology as many cinema projectors. They use microscopic mirrors laid out in a matrix on a semiconductor chip. Each mirror represents one or more pixels in the image. The more mirrors a projector has, the higher resolution it is able to achieve. These projectors vary greatly in quality and price. Generally their contrast ratios aren’t as good, but motion resolution is better than in LCOS or LCD projectors.

LCOS (liquid-crystal on silicon) are similar to DLP projectors, but instead of mirrors, it uses liquid crystals. These projectors usually have the highest resolution and best contrast ratios of any projector, so the quality is high; the problem is the price usually is as well.

No matter which technology you choose, you can find a great projector. The differences vary more in model than in the type of technology.

Projector Pros and Cons

So, now that we’ve got the basics down, let’s look at how projectors compare.


Projector Screen Sizes
Bigger is better

Size: This is usually the reason people want to go with projectors. While a big TV is pretty awesome, projectors allow you to get massive screen sizes. Think of watching a movie at home on a 100 inch screen. Talk about an immersive experience.

But, not only can projectors give you bigger viewing area, they are smaller and lighter than TVs. A projector screen may have more viewing area, but they are thin and lightweight. That makes them easy to pull down and roll up after use. You could even get a retractable screen that disappears up into the ceiling.

Resolution: HDTVs have fixed resolutions. Projector images can be adjusted by varying the distance of the projector from the screen. Just remember that the maximum resolution is fixed. However, higher quality projectors can achieve higher resolutions than 1080p.

Bigger Screen Size is Good for the Eyes: We’ve all had eyestrain working on a computer or watching TV in a dark room. That happens because of how your eyes adjust to light. When it’s dark, your pupils dilate, allowing more light to enter your eye. While a small screen does emit a lot of light, because it is small and your room is dark, your eyes remain dilated. This causes too much light to enter your eyes, causing eyestrain. As you fill more of your viewing field, your eyes are able to adjust to light much easier.


Ambient Light
Ambient light is not your friend with a projector

Light: While ambient light never is a good thing for your home theater, that fact is doubly true for projection systems. Any ambient light is going to wash out your image. So if you want your home theater in a room with lots of windows, or want to watch TV with your lights on, projectors might not be for you.

Lifespan: Because of the special light requirements projectors have, the lamps they use are very powerful, which comes at a cost. Most projectors use UHP lamps, which only last a few thousand hours. That means you could have to replace the lamp every year to two years, and each lamp can easily set you back a few hundred dollars.

Standard TV: While resolution levels with Blu-ray, DVD, or HDTV are great with projectors, standard cable or satellite stations look much worse when compared with HDTVs.

Cables: Any home theater setup is going to need lots of cables. But since projectors are behind your screen, you will probably need more cables than you would with an HDTV.

Screens: While projectors and HDTVs are becoming more evenly priced, if you buy a projector you’re still going to need to buy a screen, and screens can range in price from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. And you’ll want a screen. Projecting on the wall adds texture to the screen which you will notice.

Bottom Line

Projectors are a great choice if you want the ultimate dedicated theater room, while HDTVs offer a more versatile option. Which option is best to you depends on your theater room, your budget, and your own preference. Learn more about HDTVs.