Best projectors of March 2017

Top 10 projectors

How to choose the best projector

Projectors have become increasingly popular over the years and are now frequently found in boardrooms, lecture halls, home theaters, and even parks. The market is now flooded with a wide variety of projectors with an equally wide variety of capabilities and technical specifications, from powerful high performance machines capable of rendering high definition cinematic images to portable projectors that can fit into your pocket. This diversity means that you now have the ability to choose a projector that perfectly suits your specific needs, whether you are looking to build a home theater experience to rival the multiplex, make your gaming experience even more immersive, or deliver effective and compelling multimedia presentations.

There are hundreds of different brands and models of projectors to choose from, built to serve different functions and with various further distinguishing factors such as light source, projection size, image resolution etc. Narrowing down this dizzying array of options can often seem daunting, and for that reason we have crafted this guide to help you better understand the different qualities of projectors so that you have a strong understanding of how to look for and find a new projector that will perfectly suit your needs.

Types of projectors

As there are so many potential projectors available in the market, each with distinct strengths and capabilities, it is important to first understand the various types of projectors and then determine which category the one you are looking for falls into. Projectors are most commonly categorized based on 1) how they will primarily be used and 2) the type of light source they contain.

1) Usage

There are three main types of projectors depending on usage:

  • multimedia projectors, also known as all-purpose or business projectors
  • home theater projectors
  • pocket projectors, also known as pico projectors.

Multimedia projectors, such as the Epson VS240 SVGA, are versatile devices most often used for presentations in business or classroom settings. As they are most often used for projecting static images, charts, and text, they require bright, visible displays but do not need extremely high resolution or refresh rates. Home theater projectors, as the name makes clear, are intended to replicate an immersive, cinematic, entertainment experience within the comforts of your own home. They are used primarily for watching films and sporting events and playing video games with detailed graphics, and consequently require the highest performance from across the range of technical specifications. Finally, we have pocket projectors, or pico projectors. These devices typically are not as high performance as either multimedia or home theater projectors, but if you are prioritizing portability, ease of set up, and ease of use, these lightweight devices, such as the Celluon PicoPro, may be what you are looking for.

2) Light sources

Projectors can also be categorized by their light sources: lamp, LED or laser. Lamp projectors are the most affordable and the light source is very bright, but have to have their bulbs replaced every 3000-5000 hours. Lamps are also prone to having their image degraded by dust particles settling on the light source. LED projectors replace the traditional lamp light source with an LED lighting system that is longer lasting (with a lifespan of 10000-20000 hours) and has better color control. LED lighting is most common in pocket projectors, but is also found in a number of home theater projectors. Laser projectors are the most costly, but have stronger, more consistent contrast and brightness, with the ability to handle a wider range of colors. Additionally, their virtually unlimited lifespan and energy efficiency makes them have a high return for those willing to make the initially steep investment.

Resolution & projection size

Resolution is a term for the amount and density of pixels displayed on a screen. A higher resolution indicates an increase in the sharpness, clarity, and overall quality of an image. A projector’s native resolution is the maximum amount of pixels that it has the capability to display. For example, a home theater projector with a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels would be able to display 1920 horizontal and 1080 vertical pixels. Keep in mind that the best end result occurs when the native resolution matches the resolution of the video source, so if you project a movie stored on a high definition blu-ray disc using a machine that only has a native resolution of 800 x 600, the video will be downgraded in order to be compatible with the projector, and as a result the image will suffer.

The resolution you require will vary depending on the primary usage of your projector. Simple presentations comprised mostly of text and basic images will not require a resolution as high as more complex multimedia presentations comprised of detailed images and videos. Home theater projectors used for displaying high quality movies and video games will naturally require the highest resolutions. The most common resolution, particularly for home theater projectors, is 1920 x 1080 pixels, also known as HD. There is also a steadily increasing number of projectors, such as Sony’s VPLVW350ES 4K, that are capable of projecting at 4k resolution (4096 x 2160 pixels).

The maximum projection size, or maximum image size, of a projector is the greatest possible sized image a device can project without a degradation of image quality. The maximum projection size stated by a manufacturer in a product’s technical specifications is the largest size for which they ensure a satisfactory projection, and attempts at projecting a larger image may be successful, but will result in compromised image quality.

Lenses & lens zoom

Another important set of features to take into consideration is the type and capabilities of a projector’s lens. One important feature of a lens is its throw ratio, which is the ratio of the distance between a projector and screen and the width of an image. Short throw lenses are able to project larger images across shorter distances, while long-throw lenses require a greater distance in order to project an image of the same size. For example, a projector with a short throw ratio of .6:1 would need to be placed six feet from the screen in order to project an image that is ten feet wide, while a projector with a longer throw ration of 1.5:1 would need a fifteen foot distance to project an equal sized image. You will also need to decide whether you need a zoom lens or a fixed lens. Zoom lenses are capable of enlarging an image up to a certain point, while fixed lenses have no enlargement or reduction capability. Most short throw lenses are also fixed lenses. Most home theaters have lenses with a zoom ratio of 2:1, allowing them to enlarge an image to twice its maximum size. Multimedia projectors tends to have smaller zoom ratios, with a popular ratio being 1.2:1. Pocket projectors do not have zoom capability.

Refresh rate

A projector’s refresh rate is the frequency at which it refreshed the projected image. A higher frequency means that the device has an enhanced ability to process video that will result in more fluid, seamless image movement with less noise and blur. The standard refresh rate in many televisions and projectors is 60 Hz, but if you plan to use your projector for viewing high definition videos and video gaming you will probably be better served by having a refresh rate of at least 120 Hz.

Contrast Ratio

The degree of difference between the darkest and lightest parts of a picture is the contrast ratio. A higher contrast ratio indicates a greater depth and complexity of colors, with more intense dark colors and more vivid and brilliant light colors. Lower contrast ratios lead to a loss of subtlety and gradation that results in a relatively washed out, muddied picture. A contrast ratio of 5000:1 is common and satisfactory in multimedia projectors, but for home theaters one should look for contrast ratios of 15000:1-20000:1, if not higher. 

Brightness

Brightness, or illumination, is the maximum amount of light produced by a projector, and is measured by lumens. It is the most important specification in multimedia projectors, especially as they are most likely to be used in a room with some form of lighting. A projector with 2000 lumens will likely be acceptable in most situations, but it is a good idea to go with one that has a greater capability than is needed so that you do not have to always have it on at the highest level. Many available projectors offer 3000-3500 lumens, with the BenQ SW921 having a maximum brightness of a whopping 5000 lumens. 

Connectivity

Finally, it is vital to keep in mind how you intend to connect your projector to an image source. Home theater projectors most frequently make use of HDMI inputs for high definition video and USB/SD ports from which to load video or image files. Multimedia projectors often also have HDMI and USB/SD ports, but typically rely on VGA, which allow them to access to and display presentations from computers and laptops, and wireless connections, which allow them to easily access files stored remotely. Pocket projectors usually employ HDMI or wireless connections.

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