TV vs Projector: Which is best for a home cinema?
- By: Ashley Saunders
- March 2020
With the rise of large format TVs, you might think that projectors are increasingly obsolete, especially in a home cinema room. However, before deciding on TV vs Projector purely on aesthetics, it’s worth comparing what each excels at and their limits.
Over the last 15 years, TVs have evolved from bulky CRT to paper-thin LED. We’ve also seen the creation of High definition formats such as 4k and the rise in on-demand streaming.
Projectors, on the other hand, have continued to be affordable yet keep pace with the latest technology. Many offer a superb level of brightness, large screen sizes over a short distance and multiple picture resolutions.
The debate between TV vs Projector needs to be settled on features and functions rather than aesthetics. Here’s how to make the right decision when building a home cinema.
Ease of installation
Before we get into the technical of TV vs projector, it’s worth looking at the basics, and installation tops the list.
In terms of ease of installation, TVs can be set-up in minutes and there’s no need to run multiple cables or calibrate it to work within your set-up. Plus mounting a TV on a wall takes minutes.
However, TVs are more fragile than projectors and aren’t as easily moved. You can easily move your projector to a friend’s and enjoy football on a large screen with a group of mates. Try it with a TV, and it might get damaged on route.
Projectors require far more work to set-up. You’ll need to build and mount the screen and then calibrate the projector to display the largest possible image. Finally, you’ll need to mount the projector and secure the cables.
You can make set-up easier by using an AV receiver to manage multiple inputs such as Blu-ray and DVD players, and games consoles as well as power the speakers. The AV receiver does the heavy lifting and feeds the projector with a single HDMI cable.
Of course, using an AV receiver and speakers on top of the projector and screen adds further complexities to setting up your home cinema. However, we’d argue that adding these pieces create a much better viewing experience.
Installation winner: TV
Most affordable projectors have built-in speakers. That said as the projector is typically mounted behind the viewers, the sound quality is less than ideal.
TVs, of course, have built-in speakers yet most suffer from two design issues. As TVs have super-sized, they’ve become paper-thin, this means speakers have less room to push air and so can sound tinny and thin.
Another design flaw inherent in modern TV is the speakers are placed at the rear. This means they project sound onto a wall which then bounces into the room. This can make audio sound muffled.
With the odd exception, neither particularly excel at offering exceptional sound quality. That why many have invested in Soundbars to improve their TV viewing experience.
Of course, if you’re building a serious home cinema, you’ll need an AV receiver to manage and distribute audio and visual. The device split into audio into discrete frequencies and is then reproduced using multiple speakers. This system offers far superior audio than a TV or soundbar.
Sound winner: TV (on a technicality, a projector with the right speaker set-up will easily out performs)
Putting installation to one side, once set-up projectors require marginally more work. With a TV, turn it on and you’re ready to go. Projectors require new bulbs every few years.
It’s also worth considering smart TVs offer multiple extras that a projector simple can’t. A smart TV enables you to easily connect to the internet and watch on-demand services such as YouTube and Netflix. Recently released TVs offer voice control and even integration with home automation systems.
Many projectors offer USB ports enabling you to use a Amazon Fire TV stick or Chromecast and enjoy on-demand streaming services, once you’ve purchased them. Again you’ll need additional kit to integrate a projector into a smart home system.
Projectors do handle 3D movies better than TV and as more films are released in this format, you could find having a projector is worth the investment.
Ease of use winner: TV
On the surface neither take up a lot of physical space. Even in a small room, you don’t need a large distance between the viewer and the TV. However, projectors need quite a bit of distance between their lens and the screen.
Using a projector in a small room can lead to a less than ideal viewing experience as the viewer is required to sit close to the screen. Images can appear distorted and it’s easy to miss important details.
Space winner: TV
Contrary to popular opinion, size does matter. Well, screen size does when it comes to TVvs projector!
While there are a few 100 inches plus flat-screen TV available on the market, they’re prohibitively expensive (example: the Hisense H100LDAUK can be yours for £10,999!). In fact, you could hire a firm to build you a fantastic home cinema for the cost!
Even the more widely available 80 inches plus TVs can easily cost £2,000. A prime example is the Samsung 82-inch RU8000.
Many projectors can easily reproduce a picture between 30 and 300 inches. All projectors in our list of the best units under £500 beat TVs on image size without trying.
As some movies ar filmed in a different aspect ratio to TV shows, using a TV to watch films might not provide the best results.
A television might crop images or introducing black lines at the top and bottom of the image (known as ‘letter boxing’) to show the full width of the image at the widescreen 2.35:1 ratio.
Screen size winner: Projector
As they work in different ways, brightness is a key consideration with projectors. Sunlight may render a projected image unviewable, yet only have a small impact on the picture displayed by a TV.
It’s because of this factor that most cheap projectors only preform adequately in a completely dark room. Introduce a hint of sunlight and the picture quality degrades quickly. You’ll, therefore, want to only consider projectors who have at least 2,500 lumens of brightness for a home cinema.
Contrast this with TVs and most LED TVs easily produce a significantly brighter image. That said, try reducing the TV’s brightness and the picture quickly becomes muddier. You’re more likely to suffer from eye strain with a TV.
What makes comparing the brightness between a TV vs projector is that they use different measurements. Lumens are used for Projectors, whereas a TV’s brightness is measured in nits.
Another factor to consider is brightness over the device’s lifespan. A lamp in a projector will dim over time, therefore producing fewer lumens in output. TVs don’t suffer from this issue, they’re just as bright after years of use.
Projectors have natural compression, which makes them easier on the eyes.
Brightness winner: Projector
While projectors are capable of very high contrast ratios, it’s also a function of brightness. Unless you’re in a completely dark room, a projector is likely to wash out, ruining the contrast.
TVs are bright enough to compete with a lighter environment. OLED TVs, for example, essentially offer infinite contrast ratio because of how the technology works.
If contrast matters or you don’t fancy watching in a completely dark room, then TVs are the better option.
Contrast winner: TV
If you’re obsessed with getting the highest possible resolution then TVs will win, easily. It’s far more affordable to buy a 4k HDR (high dynamic range) TV than a projector.
Try to find an 8k projector and you’ll struggle. If you get lucky, you’ll quickly realise that they cost the same as a family car. 8k TVs will look comparably cheap and are more available yet are still expensive.
As more films are being released in 3D, it’s worth mentioning that TVs lag behind projectors in reproducing this format. Many Blu-ray players including several affordable models are 3D ready. So in this regard, you may want to consider investing in 3d ready projector and Blu-ray player.
Resolution winner: TV (as they offer better resolution per the price)
Even cheaper projectors (DLP, 3-chip LCD, or LCOS) offer a fantastic range of colour hues. You shouldn’t need to compromise on depth or richness of colour.
TVs require more and better processing to produce a wider colour pallet, which increases the unit’s price. A TV with HDR may cost the same as an HD projector but you don’t have the maintenance or set-up issues.
Colour winner: Draw
Home Cinema: TV vs Projector
So which TV vs projector is better for a home cinema?
Looking at price and ease of set-up, then TVs win. However, projectors perform better for watching movies.
If you’re planning a snug or media room, then it might be best to invest in a TV with soundbar and subwoofer. This minimal set-up will produce fantastic results for regular watching TV.
However, if you’re building a home cinema for watching movies and sport, and playing console games, then a projector will be your best option. You’ll soon forget about the hours you spent setting the system up as the experience is far superior to what a TV can offer.
However you decide TV vs projector, you should now have a better understanding of the pros and cons of each time.