Projector buying guide: How to buy the ideal unit for a home cinema
- By: Ashley Saunders
- March 2020
At the heart of every home cinema is a display. While we’ve seen the trend move towards using a TV, many are still installing a projector and screen. But you might have never puchased a projector before. It’s why we’ve put together this projector buying guide!
The decision is made complex as there’s a tremendous range available and choosing the right projector for your cinema set-up can be tricky. Do you want a 4K unit? Are HDMI ports enough? Do you need a short-throw projector?
Within this projector buying guide, we’ll explore the different types available and answer some key questions you may have about projectors. We aim to enable you to choose the right model for your home cinema room.
Types of projection
Let’s start this projector buying guide with one of the simplest questions. There are only two types of projector available and each suits a different room size. In a small room, you’d typically use a short throw projector. Whereas a long throw projector is used for a larger space.
What is a short throw projector?
Ideal for smaller space, short throw projectors can be positioned quite close to a wall or screen yet can still project a large image.
What is a long throw projector?
Designed to placed further from the screen, long throw projectors can project massive images that are perfect for larger spaces. Some even allow you to project from up to 15 m away from a wall or screen.
This might sound complex but isn’t but it’s an important part of any projector buying guide. However, it’s one of the biggest reasons why many end up purchasing the wrong projector.
The throw ratio is how far back the lens has to be from the screen for the image to fill the screen.
The best example of throw ratio is to place a projector on a table facing a white wall. If you push the table towards the wall, the image shrinks. Pull the projector away and the picture grows.
The optimum throw ratio is where your image fills the screen and your projector can be mounted comfortably within the room.
If your projector has a 1:1 throw. Placing the projector’s lens at 1m from the screen will produce a 1m wide image. Move the projector so that it’s lens is at 3m and you’ll have a 3m wide image.
If your working with a 1.5:1 throw ratio. Each 1.5m distance from the lens to screen will produce a 1m wide image. So if you need an image that’s 2.5m wide, you’ll need to position your projector 3.75m from the screen.
As the maths demonstrates, a greater throw ratio means the lens needs to be further from the screen.
Just to confuse you, some projectors have a zoom which means their throw ratio can be adjusted. For example, you might see a projector with a throw ratio of 1-1.5:1.
Setting the projector on 1:1, you would produce a 2.5m wide image at a 2.5m distance. If you changed the ratio to 1.5, you now have a 3.75m wide image. This means you can place the projector between 2.5m to 3.75m and the further back, the bigger the range becomes.
Projectors with a zoom allow you to be more flexible with their placement.
Alternative way to calculate
Another way to calculate the throw ratio involved your screen. First, measure your screen width. Next measure the maximum distance from the projector to screen. Finally divide the distance by the screen size.
For example, say your screen is 2.7 metres wide and your projector can sit 4 metres away from the screen. 4/2.7 = 1.48
So you’ll want to look for a projector with a throw ratio of 1.48. However, it’s best to look for a projector will a higher ratio as this allows room for error.
With multiple shapes and sizes available, choosing the right type of projector can be tough. Here are the major projector types for home use.
Home cinema projectors
Designed to replicate images in HD resolution just like a TV, home cinema projectors easily connect to set-top boxes, AV receivers and existing speakers.
Comparably tiny and lightweight, portable projectors uses battery power allowing you to watch movies on the move. Sometimes they’re called ‘Pico’ projectors.
With built-in speakers, All-in-one projectors offer a way to watch movies without needing a lot of equipment. Many are 3D ready and are short throw. Ideal for any room, All-in-one projectors produce a detailed image.
As the best of both worlds, compact projectors have all the features of a standard size projector yet have a compact design. They can be ideal for home cinemas.
Much like with any TV or computer monitor, resolution means the number of pixels that make up the image. The more pixels, the more detailed the picture.
A few different resolutions are available including:
- SVGA = 800 x 600 pixels. Lower entry level
- XGA = 1024 x 768 pixels. Entry level
- WXGA = 1280 x 800 pixels. Multimedia
- HD ready = 1280 x 720 pixels. Entry level home cinema
- Full HD = 1920 x 1080 pixels. Ideal for home cinema
- 4K = 3840 x 2160 pixels. High-end home Cinema
The aspect ratio is the shape of the image display. Older films and TV shows are often in different ratios than modern widescreen ones. Thankfully, most projectors can display multiple aspect ratios and so are perfect for viewing content filmed in different ways.
- 4:3 = Standard PC monitor
- 16:9 = Widescreen TV
- 16:10 = Slightly wider than a TV
The next aspect we’ll consider as part of our projector buying guide is lumens. As a measure of brightness, the higher the lumen count, the brighter the image.
The ideal lumens count for a home cinema room is at least 2,500 as this will ensure a clear and bright image, regardless of the room’s ambient light.
While it’s possible to use a projector with a lumen count of less than 2,500, you will need a dark room for the best results.
The contrast ratio determines the difference between the darkest and lightest images a projector is capable of displaying. A contrast ratio of 5000:1 means the brightest part of an image will be five thousand times brighter than the darkest.
Gone are the days when the emphasis was on lamp life. It used to be the case that a lamp would last around 1,000 to 2,000 hours and would cost about £300 to replace. Lamps would easily blow if the projector wasn’t allowed to cool down.
Thankfully, technology has moved on and so you don’t need to be concerned about lamp life when deciding on a projector.
Lamps today have a life span of between 8,000 to 10,000 hours. This means if you use your projector for 5 hours a week then each year you use it for 1600 hours. Under these conditions, a lamp is likely to last you at least 25 years.
Lamps also no longer have cooling issues and replacements are cheaper (between £120 and £200).
No projector buying guide would be complete without talking about connectivity. Whether you plan to connect to an AV receiver, set-top box or Blu-ray player, it’s essential to check if the two devices can seamlessly connect.
A Video Graphics Array or VGA port lets you connect your projector to many laptops.
As USB drives have become more powerful, many projectors have included USB ports to allow you to play media directly. You can enjoy family photos or movies on the big screen. Also, you can watch media using streaming devices such as Fire TV and Chromecast.
Some battery-powered projectors charged using a USB A or B port. While others let you charge your smartphone or tablet while you enjoy watching a film.
If you want to run external speakers or headphone, then many projectors have a mini-jack output, much like your smartphone or laptop.
As with any Bluetooth enabled device, some projectors can wirelessly connect to compatible speakers or headphones. You might be able to connect a soundbar, wireless speaker or headphones without the need for cables.
With the growth of 3D Blu-ray discs and as many players can handle the format, it’s worth considering a 3D ready projector, especially if you like the experience. This will, of course, cost more and you’ll need 3D glasses.
Projector Buying Guide
There is a lot to consider when buying a projector and hopefully our projector buying guide has made the subject clearer. If you’re unsure or buying your first projector, it’s best to talk with a local expert and get specific advice.