2020 Home Theater Projector Buyer's Guide: What You Need to Know Before Buying a Projector
You want to get a projector for your home to watch movies and TV content on an extra-large screen. But, you have questions and feel unsure about what to look for. Sign trade show is here to help gently chaperone you towards a projector that’ll make you happy for years to come.
Sign trade show will cover everything from the basics to pro tips, with plenty of details and info to assuage any concerns you may have before venturing into projector land. We’ll explain many of the tech terms, advise on setup, and make sure you become more familiar with the intricacies of different projector designs. Sign trade show will make a projectionist of you yet. Welcome to the signage expo!
Projector or TV?
That’s the most obvious question people ask themselves when the craving for a projector first manifests. Considering the average household has a 55” to 75” TV, with an increasing number running 4K, it’s easy to tell ourselves we have viewing entertainment covered. But reality would like to object, because if you want a bona fide cinematic experience on a majestically massive screen projectors are your only option. It’s as simple as that. Want a screen bigger than 80”? Only projectors deliver that. Easily go to 200” and infinity if you want, projectors don’t mind and the cost difference between various screen sizes is marginal. Conversely, a 75” 4K TV regularly costs twice the asking price for a 55” model with the same specs.
If you want the biggest image possible, then projects offer the only way to go.
If you want cinematic and you want big, then projectors are literally the only technology right now to deliver that for home entertainment. That’s because for the price of the largest 4K TV available you can get a fully loaded, top of the line 4K HDR projector with a 200” motorized screen, sound system, furniture, and probably lifetime subscriptions to all your favorite streaming services. Add to the practical size and cost considerations the very obvious benefit of having a cinema in your living room and you can already smell the popcorn.
Beyond that, advancing technology means today’s projectors by their nature offer good portability. Even the most spec-laden and largest models present no hassle if you choose to relocate them to another room. They’re much easier to move than a large TV, because projectors today are quite compact and light. You could also go with what’s known as a pico projector, or a mini projector. These often fit in one hand but naturally have to make concessions, so you’re not going to get anywhere near the image and sound quality of a full-blown home cinema projector. If setting up a movie room, we’d definitely advise against pico projectors but insist on reminding you that there’s no need to fret. Your glorious 4K HDR projector will gladly move to another room or home if needed and won’t make the process complex.
How to Choose a Projector?
One of the easiest ways to measure the cost effectiveness of a home viewing solution boils down to money per inch. With projectors now offering essentially the same image quality as TVs, once the decision has been made to go big screen there’s just no contest. TVs remain locked into set screen sizes and cap out at about 80”. Sure, you could get a bigger set but for that kind of money you might be able to buy your own cinema. And we don’t mean the home variety. No, projectors offer an unbeatable value for money for displays beyond the range of television panels. While TVs have a strong diminishing returns effect at play, for instance while an 85” costs exponentially more than a 65” but delivers marginal differences for most people, projectors upend that phenomenon. Going from an 80” to a 200” screen costs very little, and while the projected image remains consistent on all sizes, the impact of a bigger screen is all yours to enjoy.
Until technology emerges that allows flat panel TVs to change sizes on demand, projectors are your only choice for that flexibility.
While projectors offer portability these days, there’s something very comforting about having a dedicated movie room or corner. So you probably have a location in mind already. What are the primary considerations to take into account when putting it together?
Projectors work best in dark rooms or locations that allow the highest level of detail in every content type to be shown. However, naturally that often proves tough to achieve in the real world. Modern projectors have custom modes and technologies designed to maintain good image quality in diverse light conditions, but we recommend a room or area where you have a greater degree of control over illumination. Pick a location that has few or small windows or windows that you could easily cover whenever needed. A living room with massive floor to ceiling windows that face east or west would not make for good viewing ambience, but a large study with one window with dark-colored blinds will work great, as will a basement if you have one.
Ambient light conditions in your viewing environment make a huge difference.
Throw Distance – Short or Long?
To simplify matters, throw distance describes the range a projector needs to create an accurate image on a 100” screen. Short throw projectors come in handy for big screens in small rooms, as they don’t require long distances to project a big picture. Long throw projectors give you much improved flexibility. They work great with big screens from any distance, so you have more options for installation.
Whether placed at seat level or ceiling mounted, projectors ideally should be aimed at the center of the screen. But if you can’t manage that due to room conditions such as furniture, two technologies provide help. Keystone adjusts images projected off-center so that you don’t lose any of the picture due to “falling off” the screen. However, keystone correction may diminish image quality. That’s why good projectors also support lens shift. Combined, keystone correction and lens shift offer you the ability to place your projector in more locations without suffering image quality degradation.
As far as actual projector to screen distance goes, for small to medium rooms we recommend 1.5 to 2.5 meters (4.9-8.2ft.). Large rooms should aim for 2.5 to 4 meters (8.2-13.1ft.). All distances based on using a 100” screen.
Arguably just as important as the size of the screen you use for projection are the materials said screen is made of. Most plain white/light grey screens can do just fine, but so many variants and deployment technologies exist, things may get confusing. Reflectivity serves as the most important factor, as screens need to “reject” light so that it goes back to you and becomes visible. Thus dark screens would not make for very enlightening experiences. Newer screens use special light bounce or light rejection technologies to maximize projection efficiency and minimize detail loss.
Screens can be fixed installations or highly portable. You could have them roll up or drop down into special alcoves if they’re motorized, and that brings up the question of whether you want a remote control or localized switch to manage screen movement. More affordable screens are held in place by standard frames but may develop wrinkles and warping over time, affecting image consistency. Tab tensioned designs employ force to keep the screen evenly flat to counter these problems, but of course cost more.
Nominally, for the most cinematic experiences we’d recommend a motorized roll up, tab tensioned, light rejecting screen. Those three attributes ensure the finest and longest lasting image quality plus a very luxurious, comforting experience. But they come at the expense of portability and affordability.
There’s a lot more to choosing the right screen, so take your time and learn as much as you can – this guide serves as a starting point, but the journey is more fun and intricate than we could hope to cover here.