Projector Buying Guide
PROJECTOR BUYING GUIDE
Picking the right Projector that best suits your needs can seem very complicated. There are many different models to choose from, all with their own individual pros and cons. Depending on the brightness, resolution, technology or room size, some projectors may be more beneficial than others. The key to simplifying this process, is determining what you need. The below Projector Buying Guide will help you understand the common terminology, features and other important factors in choosing a projector.
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LUMENS / BRIGHTNESS
How bright does my projector need to be?
Projectors come in a wide range of brightness which are measured in Lumens. The brighter the projector, the higher the Lumen rating. When deciding on projector, be sure to look for lumen specifications.
The amount of Lumens or brightness you need is dependent on the room you are projecting in and the reflective properties or "Gain" of the projector screen being used. For home theater projectors where ambient light is kept to a minimum, you'll need a minimum of 1,500 lumens. For classrooms, conference rooms or rooms with some windows, a projector with a minimum of 2,500 lumens is better. Large auditoriums or lecture halls, will need more lumens to clearly project an image. Typically the higher the Lumens, the higher the cost
The Projector Screen Gain also directly influences the brightness of a projected image. The higher or lower the Gain rating of a projection screen the brighter or dimmer an image will appear. A typical Gain of 1.0, means that the projection screen surface is reflecting back the same amount of light being projected onto it. So, screen Gains less than 1 are losing some brightness, while Gains greater than 1 are increasing brightness. Given this fact, a projector screen with a higher Gain can compensate for a lower Lumen projector or vice versa.
What Resolution is the best for me?
Resolution is the number of dots, or pixels, used to display an image. Higher resolutions mean more pixels are used to create the image, resulting in a crisper, cleaner image. Higher resolutions are important for projecting detailed charts and graphs, text and high-definition videos. The resolution is indicated by a number combination such as 800 x 600. This indicates that there are 800 dots horizontally across the display by 600 lines of dots vertically, equaling 480,000 total dots that make up the projected image.
Multimedia Projector Resolutions:
SVGA (800x600 pixels, 4:3 aspect ratio): SVGA projectors are affordable, low-resolution projectors suitable for projecting simple data and charts, as well as short video clips.
XGA (1024x768 pixels, 4:3 aspect ratio): XGA is still widely used; most computers and use XGA as their native resolution, so pairing computers to XGA projectors is common.
WXGA (1280x800 pixels, 16:10 aspect ratio): WXGA is the widescreen version of XGA, delivering the same vertical resolution but providing 20% more horizontal resolution. This has become a common resolution for widescreen notebooks, computers and smartphones.
SXGA+ (1400x1050 pixels, 4:3 aspect ratio): SXGA+ is the High Definition version of XGA. This is a common resolution for high resolution laptops, notebooks and computers.
WUXGA (1920x1200 pixels, 16:10 aspect ratio): WUXGA is becoming the standard for higher-end notebooks and workstation computers. In addition, WUXGA is increasingly used for installation and large-venue projectors needed for bright, high-definition content.
Home Theater Projector Resolutions:
720p (1280x720 pixels, 16:9 aspect ratio): This format is most commonly used for economical, front-movie projection. It matches the 720p HDTV standard.
1080p (1920x1080 pixels, 16:9 aspect ratio): This is now the High Definition standard format for home theater, front projection. It matches the 1080i/1080p HDTV broadcast and Blu-ray formats.
LCD or DLP Projection?
Currently, there are two technologies being used in the majority of all projectors: DLP and LCD. So what's the difference and which is better?
LCD - Pros and Cons
The most common benefits of LCD Technology are a more power-efficient projection, brighter colors/whites and often a sharper or clearer picture quality. LCD projectors are able to produce brighter colors compared to those using single-chip DLP technology. LCD Technology accomplishes this by mixing and projecting the light beams from 3 Colors (Red, Green and Blue) to form each individual pixel. LCD projectors also have a higher color light output than single-chip DLP projectors of the same brightness rating. Lastly, LCD projectors are able to display finer image gradations by giving each pixel on the projected image a smooth variation in brightness levels.
The most common disadvantages to LCD are potential pixilation problems, lower contrast ratios and overall larger projector sizes. Some older LCD Projectors can sometime have pixilation problems that create a "screen door effect", whereas the individual pixels are noticeable, like the grid pattern in a screen door. Also, DLP projectors typically have a higher contrast ratio (listed below) than LCD Projectors, and can handle dark colors better. Lastly, the actual sizes of LCD projectors are larger than DLP.
DLP - Pros and Cons
The most common benefits of DLP(Digital Light Processing)Technology are a very smooth projection quality at higher definitions, higher contrast ratios, quieter operation, smaller in size and sealed optics(perfect for dusty or smoky environments). Because the pixels are so close together on DLP, there is a less noticeable screen door effect, creating a smoother image. DLP projectors also have a higher contrast ratio (listed below) than LCD Projectors, and can handle dark colors better. DLP's are typically smaller in size and quieter to operate. Lastly, because of the sealed optic design of the DLP, they are ideal for dusty and smoky environments.
The most common disadvantages to DLP are a potentially less bright image appearance, possible "rainbow effects" and slightly less capable than LCD at color rendering. Some DLP users can suffer from the "rainbow effect" described as brief flashes of rainbow like "shadows" most often seen on high contrast areas of moving bright/white objects on a mostly dark/black background - for example the credits at the end of a movie. Improvements in the technology have recently greatly reduced this effect however. Also barely noticeable on new models, DLP projectors aren't as good as LCD models at rendering the brightest and most accurate colors. This can be important for photography clubs or where the corporate colors need to be spot on.
What is Contrast Ratio and how much do I need?
Contrast is the difference in brightness between the brightest(white) and darkest(black) parts in an image. For example, a 1000:1 contrast ratio means that the brightest white is 1000x brighter than the darkest black. The greater the difference, the higher the contrast. Generally, contrast is less important in Business or Educational projectors, but arguably one of the single most important qualities in a good home theater projector. High contrast projectors will have incredibly rich, crystal-clear details and black/shadow levels.
The projector position and the size of the image will depend upon the room configuration. The best projector on earth is useless if it doesn't fit in your theater, boardroom or classroom. Therefore, you will need to consider the throw distance and the projector features that will give you flexibility in placement.
A few common throw distances are:
Long Throw: Providing very large images, this type of throw is usually seen from projectors that are installed in the ceiling in the center of a large room.
Short Throw: Providing large images while reducing shadows and eye glare, this type of throw is usually seen from projectors either installed on the wall or the ceiling nearer to a wall - anywhere that is close to where the image will be projected. Short-throw projection generally refers to a distance between 3 to 8 feet away from projector to screen.
Ultra-Short Throw: Virtually completely eliminating shadows and eye glare, this type of throw is seen from projectors installed on the wall, the ceiling nearer to a wall, or a table projecting downwards. Ultra-short throw projection refers to a distance between 0 to 4 feet away from projector to screen.
A projector that gives you simple control of image alignment makes using your projector effortless. Manual adjustment should require only a few steps. Having a physical adjustment or a slider on the projector keeps you from having to go into the menu to change your settings. Automatic adjustment is an even greater benefit, allowing instant alignment with no need for user control of any kind. Most projectors have some degree of adjustability, but some are more advanced than others. Here are some methods of positioning your projected image:
Horizontal and Vertical Keystone Correction
When a projector is not centered directly in front of the screen but tilted or angled toward it, the resulting image will be distorted into a trapezoidal shape. However, keystone correction will correct this so the picture will be rectangular. This can be done manually or automatically.
With automatic keystone correction, the projector will automatically detect and correct the distorted image, with the touch of a button. A vertical keystone correction aligns the distortion on the top or bottom of the image, and a horizontal keystone correction aligns the distortion on the left or right side.
Lens shift allows the lens to move vertically and/or horizontally within the projector to provide a perfect, straight-edged image with uniform focus. This allows for more flexible installation and placement options for the projector, with no loss of resolution. A vertical lens shift allows the projector to move the image up and down, and a horizontal lens shift allows a lens to move from side to side.
Like keystone correction, lens shift corrects the distortion of the image. However, lens shift has no loss in the quality of the image, since there is a physical movement of the lens to account for the adjustment rather than an alteration of the image itself for the correction.
Optical zoom is a function of the lens allowing you to increase the image optically without distortion or loss of image quality, while digital zoom, which simulates optical zoom, is a function of the projector allowing you to enlarge a portion of an image.
Some projectors have lenses that can be changed. If a projector allows for optional lenses, you have greater flexibility on where you can position the projector in relation to the screen. Lens options allow users to choose the motorized lens most suited for their environment, and a quick-release lever allows for easy lens exchange. Using optional lenses, projectors can handle projection distances near and far.
There are many types of projector connections, including HDMI, VGA, Component, RCA, USB and Display Port. Below are brief explanations of each particular type.
- HDMI - (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) compact digital connectivity is compatible with the latest laptops, Blu-ray and other media players and allows you to project HD video and audio for powerful possibilities, with just one cable.
- VGA - (Video Graphics Array) is a 3-row/15-pin connector found on many video cards, computers and other media players. VGA is an analog video signal that is most commonly used as the connection from computer to monitor(or in this case - projector).
- DVI - (Digital Visual Interface) is an industry standard in the transfer of uncompressed digital video. Commonly found on many video cards, computers, HDTV's and other media players.
- Component - is a analog video signal that has been split into three component channels RGB (red, green, blue). Component is capable of carrying various video signals up to 1080P HD, but does not carry audio signals.
- RCA - also referred to as A/V Jacks are the original audio and video signal connectors. Commonly the red, white and yellow, plugs. Yellow for video, Red and White for Audio.
- Ethernet - is an internet computer networking cable that is a fast, inexpensive technology. Ethernet is the standard networking connection for computers, modems, projectors and VOIP phones.
- USB - (Universal Serial Bus)Plug 'n Play technology projects digital images in seconds, using just a USB connection - allowing for instant set up. USB devices are self identifying, which means installation and configuration of USB devices should be relatively easy.