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August 20, 2021

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8 min

Projector Buying Guide

Read below for a complete projector buying guide that will help make your purchase as easy and comfortable as possible.

Projector Buying Guide

Projectors come in all different sizes and styles, providing various uses to benefit any home or office. Whether sharing presentations or having an at-home movie night, the right projector can help you take things to the next level. Even specialized projectors are available for specific uses, such as document sharing or displaying over small distances. With all the options out there, finding the right choice for you can seem intimidating. However, after learning the basics of the different types of projectors and how they function, you can go on to make the most informed purchase possible. Keep reading below for a complete projector buying guide that will help make your purchase as easy and comfortable as possible. 

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Document Cameras vs. Projectors

Specialized projectors, like document cameras, come loaded with features in a compact, manageable size. These devices are designed to clearly transmit the image of a document from a desk or workspace onto a display surface. Commonly used by teachers, document cameras are ideal for anyone needing to easily share multiple documents without scanning or using software to edit.

The major distinction between the two is that document cameras do not project onto a surface, but rather connect to a PC and display on said machine's monitor. On the other hand, standard projectors take input from other devices, such as computers or game consoles and display them on the desired surface. Within traditional projectors, there are many other distinctions to be made, but most operate similarly. Explore the guide below for a list of the different types of projectors and their key differences. 

 

Types of Projectors

There are many different types of projectors on the market today. Here’s what you need to know:

DLP

Digital Light Processing (DLP) projectors are often the most compact and affordable consumer option for general use. These devices function by using a set of small mirrors to shine light through a color wheel to produce images. Colors on DLP projectors are not as vibrant as on other systems, but they are still sufficient for most basic home or office use. The small size of DLP projectors also makes them easy to transport or use in multiple settings.

3LCD

As the name implies, 3LCD projectors use three LCD panels in combination to create an image. Each panel has a designated color (red, green, or blue) that helps produce sharp and color-accurate images when combined. The one drawback to these projectors is that they can sometimes struggle with brightness and have been known to have some contrast issues. When compared to DLP projectors, 3LCD systems do tend to operate at quieter volumes. Familiar places for 3LCD printers are classrooms or conference rooms with ample, natural light. 

LCoS

Also known as Liquid Crystal on Silicon, LCoS projectors have incredibly accurate colors, excellent contrast, and are capable of very high resolutions. These features are made possible by combining technologies found in other projectors, like DLP and 3LCD. With this high quality, LCoS projectors are also substantially more expensive than all their other counterparts, and they can be extra costly to maintain or operate as well. 

Short Throw Projectors

The last type of projector is slightly different from the others. Short throw projectors' prominent defining feature is not necessarily how the device displays images, but rather at what distance they can display images. Standard projectors like those mentioned above are typically installed eight or more feet from a display surface and need to be mounted high on a wall or ceiling. The benefit of short throw or ultra-short throw projectors is that they are quite versatile and can function at smaller distances, ranging from three to eight feet away. These devices are excellent for home use or any smaller space that might not have enough room for other projectors.

Projector Light Sources

The most common distinction between types of projectors besides display technology is the light source. There are three common projector light sources, and each has various benefits and limitations. Maintenance and operating costs are directly tied to this specification. Learning more about each will further help you make the best projector purchase for your needs.

Standard Lamp

The most common light source on projectors is a standard lamp which uses a replaceable bulb. The primary benefit of this option is that bulbs are inherently brighter than other options, and lamp-based devices are more affordable at the time of initial purchase. An important consideration with this light source is that bulbs can burn out and have limited life spans. If a projector sees many hours of daily use, replacement bulbs can quickly become a high added cost.

Laser

Unlike lamp-based systems, laser projectors do not require replacement bulbs or run the risk of burning out. Laser projects also offer better contrast and color accuracy than their lamp-based counterparts. While not as bright as some other projectors, laser technology is still sufficient for most uses. Operating costs for laser projectors are also cheaper due to their inherent energy efficiency. 

LED

Similar to standard lamp-based projectors, LED lamps use bulbs to create light and project an image. Compared to standard lamps, LED bulbs have a much longer lifespan and can last up to 20,000 hours. Other benefits include superior color accuracy and control, as well as quieter operating volumes. LED bulbs can be more expensive than standard replacements. However, their energy efficiency combined with extended life span makes them better for the environment and your wallet.

Projector Specifications

After learning about all the different types of projectors and the available light sources, you are almost ready to make your next projector purchase. All that is left to learn are the standard specifications shared between all projectors. This information will further help you determine the pro and cons of each projector so you can find a device that is ideal for your specific needs.

Resolution

Measured in pixels using height and width, a projector's resolution represents the total number of pixels the projector can display. The higher the resolution, the clearer the picture. You might often hear things like 1080p or 4K when looking at projector resolution. These are just abbreviations of the full specification. 1920x1080 or 1080p is considered full-high definition and is a standard in both projectors and monitors. 4K is short for a 3840x2160 pixel resolution and is one of the highest quality images possible today. 

Aspect Ratio

There are three common aspect ratios available in projectors today. Choosing one should be based on the type of media you will most often display with the projector. Check below for a quick list of aspect ratios and their associated media formats. 

  • 4:3 (Standard) - Used for older tv shows, films, or DVD-based media
  • 16:9 (Widescreen) - Ideal for current HD media, Blu-ray discs, or any widescreen display surface
  • 2.4:1 (Cinemascope) - Rare, but ideal for movie theatre-like experiences, and can require specific setup or lenses
 

Contrast

The difference between the darkest areas and the brightest areas displayed is called the contrast. Having a high contrast ratio means that the projector can produce high-quality and easily defined colors. Contrast can be affected by outside light sources and is most noticeable in dark areas, such as home theatres. Spaces with ample natural light, such as an office, can be less concerned with contrast ratio, because overhead and natural lights can wash out slight differences between colors.

 

Connections

One of the most important and often forgotten specifications of projectors is how they connect to other devices. Some older printers may have built-in DVD players. However, more often than not, an external device will be sending the image to the projector to be displayed onto a surface. HDMI is a standard connection found on almost any modern device that allows for the easy transfer of audio and full high-definition video through a single cable. Other connections found on projectors include VGA, which transmits video but no audio. DisplayPort, which is similar to HDMI but capable of higher resolutions, and RCA, an older technology that combines many small colored connections to transmit low-quality images and audio. Determining which connection type(s) you need is key to ensuring compatibility between your projector and other devices.

Projector Display Surfaces

While you can often find projectors displayed on walls or sheets hanging from ceilings, that is not ideal when looking for the highest quality experience possible. There are four main kinds of screens, but each serves the same purpose of providing a clean surface for your images to be displayed on. Look below for a list of display surfaces and their key features and uses.

Portable

Often smaller than other options, portable display surfaces are great for short throw projectors or offices where locations need to change regularly. Typically, these devices are mounted on tripods or have some kind of stand built-in to a storage case. 

Pull-Down

Almost everyone has had some experience with a pull-down projector screen. These are standard in most schools and are often mounted over chalk or whiteboards. The slim, yet sturdy design of pull-down display surfaces makes them great for multi-purpose areas or frequent use.

Fixed Screens

There is not much to say about fixed screens that the name does not already reveal. These surfaces are often larger in size than others and require zero set up after the initial installation. Fixed screens are great for dedicated presentation spaces where the projector or display surface will likely never be moved.

Motorized

Most high-end display surfaces are equipped with motors or electronics that make setup and adjusting the display surface as easy as possible. Although more expensive than all the other surfaces, a nice motorized screen can help add a level of professionalism and convenience to your projector setup.

 

Summary

There are many different kinds of projectors out there, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Finding the right projector for you requires learning the distinctions between each and how they can affect your business or home theatre setup. The different specifications and light source types can tell you where each projector excels and further inform your purchasing decision. By taking your time and finding a projector that is compatible with your devices and favors the media you wish to project, you can save money and find the perfect device for you.  

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