A TV Buying Guide
to Home Theater Projectors and Rear Projection
Our comprehensive TV buying Guide can help you choose your projection system wisely!
A front or rear projection system - whether in the form of a video projector or even a rear projecting TV - presents a significant investment; you cannot afford to make mistakes with your purchase. Help is here! This projection TV buying guide should help you discover the features to look for when searching for a video projection system for home theater use.
An affordable yet excellent 2D/3D home video projector capable of excellent picture and bright 100-inch projections at a fraction of the cost of a 70-inch LED TV!
Introduction to this TV Buying Guide
A video projector or even a big rear projection TV can turn out to be a key element of a great home theater experience.
Unfortunately, a big screen TV is one of the most costly elements in a home theater setup. Expect to spend anything between $2,000 and $2,500 for a suitable mid-range video projection solution.
Therefore, going for the wrong product is not an option. Great care should be taken in your choice of a big screen TV solution to ensure that you get the features and functionalities you want.
In addition, complete integration of a home theater projector setup or a rear projection TV with the rest of your home theater components and overall room setup is also essential.
In this TV buying guide, we discuss a number of basic issues to consider when making a video projection system purchase. The guidelines presented in this article apply to both front and rear projection solutions. We hope that this TV buying guide will assist you in selecting a most suitable product while helping you avoid costly mistakes.
Buying a Video Projector (or RPTV): What to look for
There are two main aspects that come into play when planning a projection TV or video projector purchase: On one side, there are those elements that make the picture, on the other, there are those that make the product.
In this TV buying guide, we look at the various issues that fall under these two categories.
Making the Picture - the very basic image attributes
We start this TV buying guide by first looking at the very basics of image attributes, namely image size, projected image quality, and projector resolution.
1. Projection TV Image Size
Once you decide on available budget, the most important issue is to arrive at a most suitable screen size. At a time when video projector and RPTV prices are going down, many tend to fall into the trap of buying the biggest projection TV solution they can afford.
Though it is not the scope of this TV buying guide to go into details of how to arrive at the right image size, yet one has to be very careful here. Why? You may end up with too big a screen for your home theater room! You need to keep both the size of your room in mind, and the number of persons watching at the same time.
Room Size: Having life size projections is impressive and contributes to a more immersive movie experience, but if you end up sitting too close to your big-screen TV or projection screen, you will be able to see the flaws in the picture; this can be extremely distracting. Sit too far away and the impact will be lost.
Choosing the right size for your screen in particular, is extremely important when working with rear projection TV systems since here you are stuck with a fixed screen size. This is not the case with front projection. At the same time, projecting an image smaller than you projection screen can turn the surrounding white surface of the screen distracting unless you include some black masking material over the surrounding screen area. In other words, going for the right size is equally important with a projection screen solution.
As a rule of thumb, the viewing distance between you and your big screen TV should be twice to three times the screen width, while the furthest distance being no more than four to five times. This is not the ideal viewing distance but rather the range within which your TV viewing will be out of the trouble zone.
For more info on this subject, please check our TV Viewing Distance & Screen Placement guide.
Number of People: No fast rules here but it is important that your audience will be comfortably seated and without any obstructions within the field of view.
In particular, make sure that the lower part of the screen will be visible from all seats - hence care should be taken with respect to the positioning of the screen. In home theaters with only one or two rows, the lower part of the screen is usually set at 24" - 36" above the floor. This also limits your maximum screen size, as these 24" to 36" have to be deducted from the overall room height.
For more information on home theater set-up, room layout and home theater seating, please refer to our Home Theater Design section.
2. Image Quality
This is different from 'picture resolution'. Resolution defines the level of detail while image quality is the result of the device ability to correctly render contrast, color & shades of gray, brightness and even image illumination.
Contrast: Contrast is the difference between the brightest and the darkest parts of the image. Though often confused with the gray-scale performance of a device, yet the two are completely different. Contrast helps an image 'pop-up' while gray-scaling helps bring out subtle detail. A minimum level of contrast is necessary for the eye to perceive a real impression of brightness ...BUT do not be impressed with big contrast ratio numbers!
In general, anything higher than a contrast ratio of 500:1 would not be perceived by the eye unless viewing takes place in a totally darkened room. Spend more and go for a video projector with a higher contrast ratio e.g. 2000:1, only if viewing takes place in a light controlled room. Detailed information of the subject of Contrast Ratio ratings can be found in our Contrast Ratio Guide.
Color & Gray-scale Performance: The more colors a projector or projection TV support, the better. A wide color palette helps define the depth of an image by adding a wider range of shades. The larger the number of shades (gray-scale performance), the wider is the supported color palette and the greater is the ability of the imaging device to render subtle detail in dark or bright areas of an image. This leads to more natural looking colors. Typically, projectors can display 16.8 million colors.
When choosing your system, always check how colors look in the brightest and darkest areas of the image. Also, check the degree of color stability from input to input. This may not be important with business presentations, but in the home theater, the capability of a front or rear projection system to render correct color reproduction on all inputs is essential.
Brightness: The required brightness level depends on the ambient light present; the higher the ambient light level, the brighter the image has to be to achieve a minimum contrast level.
Brightness is usually specified in either lumens or ANSI-lumens. ANSI-lumens is brightness measured according to the ANSI standard. It is not possible to compare a projector brightness expressed in non ANSI-lumens with another projector brightness rating, irrespective of whether the latter is in ANSI-lumens or not.
A 1000 ANSI-lumens projector is enough for use in dimly lit rooms room and medium size projections. However, there are other factors that have to be taken into account here. In particular, if you are after 3D viewing, look for a brighter video projector to compensate for the loss in brightness resulting from viewing through the 3D glasses; anything between 1800 and 2400 ANSI-lumens should generally suffice.
Equally important, the required projector brightness is also dependent on the selection of an appropriate projection screen surface. More information on this subject is available in the following 'Projection Screen' guide.
Illumination: Look for video projectors that are capable of generating even illumination all round the projected image; avoid projectors that produce bright centers and dark corners, or vice-versa. In case of rear projection TV systems, ensure that there wouldn't be a drastic darkening of the image when viewing at extreme angles.
3. Projector Resolution: SVGA, XGA or Widescreen
The sharpness and clarity of a projected picture is determined by the projector resolution i.e. by the number of picture lines in the case of CRT-type RPTVs and the number of picture elements or pixels in the case of LCD and DLP type projectors, the projection device uses to create the image.
All digital home theater projectors (LCD and DLP) are fixed-resolution devices. This means that irrespective of the resolution of the incoming video signal, these devices will either up or down convert the video signal to match the projector native or 'true' optical resolution. This is not the case with CRT type projectors; these adjust the display resolution in terms of number of picture lines according to the incoming video signal.
The most common digital projector resolutions are SVGA (800x600 pixels), XGA (1024x768 pixels), and WXGA (1280x720 pixels); the 'W' stands for widescreen. Higher resolutions are also available e.g. SXGA (1280 x 1024 pixels). In the case of dedicated home theater projectors, these generally come either in 1280 x 720 pixels for a 720p projector and 1920 x 1080 pixels for a 1080p video projector. The first number refers to the number of pixels from side to side while the second number refers to the number of pixels from top to bottom.
Higher resolution projectors can reproduce more accurately high-resolution signals (like HDTV). Pixels are smaller and therefore images look more seamless, with less noticeable 'pixel-structure'. To display HDTV signals, a home theater projector should have at least a vertical resolution of 720 pixels. Preferably, if budget permits, opt for a 1080p video projector, as this will enable you to obtain better big screen projections with less pixilation issues; but expect to pay a few hundred dollars more for the higher pixel count.
Lower resolution projectors are less expensive, yet they still produce images that are just as bright and attractive for moderate size projections as higher resolution projectors. However, these are best used with standard DVD movies.
Matching of video source: Coupled with the issue of projector resolution is the video source; matching the two is important for best results as the up-scaling or downscaling of an image to match the projector native resolution always leads to loss of image content or added picture noise.
Making the Product: Specifications and Supported Features
We continue with our discussion in this TV buying Guide by looking at a number of issues often taken for granted or even ignored, but that one should consider when planning a projection TV or video projector purchase.
Video Format: See that your video projector supports the video standard in use.
Input panel: It is important to think about the gear you will be connecting to. Ensure that the selected home theater projector or rear projection TV has all the inputs you need: composite and S-video for analog sources, component inputs for DVD, and DVI or HDMI inputs for HDTV. Most systems also include a VGA-type input for computers.
Build-in Speakers: Do NOT rely on the internal speakers of a video projector or RPTV; but these generally constitute a welcome convenience when a surround sound system is not present in your projection room. Keep in mind however that in a surround sound setup, all sound within your home theater should be coming from the same surround receiver using a matched set of speakers.
Powered Lens (Video Projectors): Power zoom and power focus lenses provide quick and easy adjustment of your image size. This can be a bonus but in general, if you plan to permanently mounting your projector, this feature is not so important.
Key-stone Correction (Video Projectors): This will help correct geometrical distortions in the image resulting from a projector not being set correctly in line with the projection screen. However, try to avoid the use of keystone correction if it makes use of digital processing rather than movement of the lens optical elements.
Fan Noise: The noise generated by the cooling fan, in particular on video projectors, can turn out to be an annoying factor during silent parts of a movie scene. A low fan noise is essential for best results in the home theater unless you place your projector in a projection booth outside your room.
Projection Screen: The end quality of your projected picture is partly the result of the projection screen itself. Do not cut short on a good quality screen in a front projection TV setup, nor do under-rate the importance of the projection screen in your rear projection TV. For a complete guide to projection screens please refer to our Projection Screens section.
Lamp Replacement on DLP and LCD Units: Projector lamps can be expensive and represent a substantial running cost. Spare lamps may run into a few hundred dollars each. Expected lamp lifetime vary from as little as 1000 hours up to several 1000s hours on video projectors. Lamps on LCD and DLP rear projection TVs may need replacement every 6,000 to 7,000 hours. Always take into consideration the lamp replacement costs, the expected lamp lifetime, and the lamp replacement process - can you handle this directly yourself, or is there the need for professional assistance?
Price: Price can never serve as some sort of performance indicator; in other words, price has NO bearing on system performance. Never choose your product simply because it is more expensive.
Warranty: Most projector and RPTV warranties range from 1-3 years. Always read the small print, and go for a product that is covered by the best warranty terms and conditions!
Are you Shopping Online?
Buying online is cheaper and often provides you with a much wider choice, but it also carries higher risks. We discuss the subject of shopping online and how best to manage the risks while enjoying the big savings when buying your HDTV or video projector in our TV Buying Guide to Shopping Online.