Living room with digital projector on the wall

Movie nights at home make for great family memories—especially when the action is larger than life. That’s what a digital projector can deliver by throwing images onto a wall-sized screen. If you’ve never used a projector before, then you might feel a little out of your depth, but digital projectors are actually a cinch to set up and use. Plus, good projectors have come down in price and we’ve got a line on some of the best budget projectors available. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about projectors, projector screens and how to properly position them in your home.

Jump to

  1. Projectors vs TVs
  2. Digital projector features
  3. Digital projector display types
  4. Deciding where to put your projector
  5. Choosing a projector screen
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1Projectors vs TVs

projector throw ratio

Before you head off to buy a projector, make sure it’s the best choice for your space.

  • When to buy a home theatre projector: If you want a huge picture at an affordable price and have a dark room where you can watch movies, a projector is a great option. Just make sure there is enough distance from the projector to the wall to get the size of image you want. This distance will depend on the throw ratio of the projector. See more about throw ratio. Projectors also work well if you want to watch movies in different rooms or take the cinema experience on family trips.
  • When to stick with a TV: If it’s hard to get your space dark due to large windows and white walls or you have a big budget for a huge screen with high-tech display, then a TV is your best bet.

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2Digital projector features

digital projector

Once you start shopping, you’re going to be confronted with a dizzying barrage of acronyms and specifications. Don’t worry. There’s just a handful of key terms and features you really need to understand in order to make a good decision: resolution, brightness, contrast ratio, wireless connectivity and light source.[2]

Resolution

Resolution is the number of points of light (a.k.a. pixels) used to make a picture. The more pixels, the clearer the image, which can be a huge plus when watching nature documentaries and action movies. Just keep in mind that projector prices increase dramatically with higher resolutions.

Here are the four standard resolutions you’ll likely encounter:

Resolution Pixels Quick facts
HD (720p) 1,280 x 720 Most common in inexpensive business projectors. Not ideal for home theatres.
Full HD (1080p) 1,920 x 1,080 Standard for most affordable home theatre projectors, delivering around two million pixels and plenty of image detail.
4K UHD 3,840 x 2,160 Eight million pixels means a big jump up in clarity. Expect to pay significantly more for all those extra dots.
8K UHD 7,680 x 4,320 Still very rare (and there’s not a lot of content available in 8K format), plus it’s expensive.

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Brightness

This spec is arguably the most important to check when shopping for a projector.[3] Measured in lumens, brightness is what makes a projector’s image pop and feel alive—or not. High brightness is especially important if your room isn’t completely dark or is dark but has white walls, which reflect light.

Projector manufacturers often measure lumens differently, but here’s a good starting point:

  • Dark room: For home theatre projectors set up in dark rooms, aim for at least 1,500 lumens. More is better.
  • Dim room: If you intend to project in a slightly lit room, aim for 3,000 lumens or more.
  • Brightly lit room: You’ll be better off sticking with a TV. (Here are eight things to consider when buying your next TV.)

Also keep in mind that the listed lumens rating for most projectors refers to white brightness. Colour brightness—a.k.a. the brightness of projected colours, such as red, blue and green—is typically lower than white brightness.

Contrast ratio

Contrast ratio is the difference in the amount of light reflected from a screen when an image is white compared to black. A contrast ratio of 1,000:1 simply means that 1,000 times more light is reflected when the image is white. The higher the number, the more likely you are to see subtler details in dark and shadowy scenes—like in The Batman, for example.

A good starting point for a home theatre projector is 1,500:1, but as with most projector specs, the higher the number the better. If you can find a model with a contrast ratio of 3,000:1 or higher that’s also in your price range, you’re set.

Wireless connectivity

Trying to run HDMI cables from set top boxes, streaming devices and game consoles to a projector that’s mounted to the ceiling or high on a wall can be a real pain. This problem is easily solved if your projector supports wireless connectivity.  Some projectors have Wi-Fi built in, while others require an optional Wi-Fi module in order to stream content from devices.

Light source

Digital projectors rely on a small, bright light source to project an image. This light source can be a UHP lamp, a laser or LED.

  • UHP lamp projectors: They’re the most common type and can be found in models ranging from low end to premium. These bulbs slowly degrade with time, but are typically rated for at least 10,000 hours—meaning you can watch a two-hour movie every night for 13 years before needing to buy a replacement (though the brightness will fade with time).
  • Laser and LED projectors: A newer technology, these projectors are rated for between 20,000 and 30,000 hours, have potential to deliver higher brightness and run cooler (meaning less fan noise). They also tend to be noticeably pricier.

3Digital projector display types

Just as there are competing types of TV display technologies (LCD, LED, OLED), there are rival projector display technologies in the form of processing chips that render the light that passes through them into images. Certain technologies are favoured by specific manufacturers, but each has its own benefits and drawbacks when it comes to picture quality. Here’s how they compare.[4]

Display type Pros Cons Pricing
DLP Handles fast moving video very well, making it a good choice for sports and action movie fans. Struggles a bit with contrast ratio, meaning darker scenes may lack detail. Models available from a variety of manufacturers at a range of prices.
LCD/3LCD Delivers high brightness and vivid colours, even at lower price points. Known to suffer motion blur and middling contrast. Generally found in more affordable models.
LCoS (a.k.a. SXRD, DILA) Known for excellent contrast and extraordinary colours, making it suitable for lushly shot cinematic content. Like LCD, it has some difficulty rendering fast motion smoothly. Typically found only in higher end projectors.

4Deciding where to put your projector

digital projector placement

There are a few different ways to set up a digital projector.

  • Place it on a table or shelf: Some projectors are designed to be portable and even come with a carrying case, while others are much larger and heavier and meant to stay in one place. Before you buy, make sure to consider whether you want to take your projector with you when travelling or easily move it indoors or outdoors.
  • Attach it to a tripod: If you don’t have a good surface for placing your projector and don’t want to permanently install it, you can purchase a tripod that’s easy to stash in a cupboard when not in use.
  • Mount it on the ceiling or wall: If you plan to use your projector in one room only, you may want to mount it.

Set-up features/specs to check before you buy:

  • Throw ratio: A projector’s throw ratio will tell you how big of a picture you’ll be able to project in the intended space.[5] For example, a throw ratio of 1:1 means your image will be one foot wide for every foot between the projector and the screen. Place it 10 feet back and the image will be 10 feet wide. The higher the ratio, the bigger the image from a short distance.
  • Lens shift: If your projector has a lens shift feature, you can adjust the height of the image without moving the projector around.

Check out even more tips for setting up your home theatre.

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5Choosing a projector screen

projector screen

Plenty of first-time projector buyers imagine projecting movies onto a wall or bedsheet. That works in a pinch, but it’s not ideal. Chips in the drywall and wrinkles in sheets detract from the viewing experience.

For a truly cinematic feel, you’ll need a projector screen with a perfectly white surface made of a material designed to reflect projector light. The difference in image quality is like night and day. Not only that, but screens save the hassle of taking down frames and art from walls and pinning up and smoothing out a sheet whenever you decide to watch a movie.

Trust us: You’ll get much more use out of your projector if all you need to do is pull down a screen.

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