Today, projectors are more accessible and affordable than ever. When deciding between different types of projectors, consider whether the projector should be portable, think about how you intend to use the projector and the environment in which it will be used, compare technology types and remember to consider lamp life.
>> Consider whether portability is a factor
Projectors can either be fixed or portable. Fixed projectors are installed and not meant to be moved. Projectors used as television sets, in business conference rooms or in home theaters are typically fixed. Portable projectors are not installed and can be set up and used on demand. Projectors that are used for business presentations, in classrooms or as portable entertainment consoles are usually packed up in a protective case when not in use.
>> Intended use
When choosing from the different types of projector technologies and configurations, compare the options based on where and how you will be using the unit. This will help you determine how to buy a projector that works for your individual needs.
• Home theater: Choose a projector with the highest resolution, preferably 1080i or above. Contrast ratio and lumens are not as critical because most home theaters shut out ambient light.
• Everyday home use as a replacement for a standard television: Choose a projector that has the highest brightness and contrast ratio. Consider the cost of the replacement lamp because the projector might be on for several hours a day.
• Personal use in a variety of settings: Choose a portable projector that offers the highest contrast and brightness, a low-profile design, USB inputs and built-in audio.
>> Technology types
Though new technologies are always coming onto the market, the main three that are currently available are DLP, LCD and LED. All three are digital projectors. Although each technology is different, there is little difference in output.
Most projectors include one or more proprietary technologies. Competing units use the technology differences to position themselves as the best projector. Although there are differences between proprietary technologies, your choice ultimately comes down to finding the highest resolution, brightness and contrast ratios with the right types of connections for your needs.
DLP (digital light processing) projectors use a reflective technology. Tiny mirrors adjust themselves to create light and dark pixels. Then color is added to the projection when the light passes through a piece called the color wheel. The image is then projected through the lens.
LCD projectors employ the same technology used to create an image on a smartphone or laptop computer screen. It begins when light is bounced off mirrors that reflect red, blue and green light. Light then goes through an LCD (liquid crystal display) panel which organizes the beams of light into the picture. The image is then projected through the lens.
LED projectors are based on either DLP or LCD technology, but they use an LED (light-emitting diode) lamp to create the original beam of light. LED lamps tend to be more expensive than LCD or DLP, but they also generate less heat, use remarkably little electricity and have to be replaced far less often.
These are the terms you should be familiar with when choosing between different types of projector configurations:
• Aspect ratio compares the length and width of a projection by ratio.
• Resolution defines the number of pixels that appear in a projection. A lowercase p or i typically follows the resolution number. A "p" means that every pixel on the screen is utilized. An "i" means that only every other pixel is utilized, so 1080p is more detailed than 1080i.
• SD refers to a "standard definition" of 480p. The aspect ratio is typically 4:3.
• HD stands for "high definition." The aspect ratio is typically 16:9. An HD projector is capable of reproducing HD video at 720p, 1080p, 1080i, 1920 x 1080 or higher.
• HDMI stands for "high-definition multimedia interface." HDMI projectors produce the highest resolution projections.
• Brightness is a measure of how bright the projected image can be. Brightness is typically expressed in lumens. Rooms with lots of ambient light, such as a living room, call for higher brightness.
• Contrast indicates the difference between the dark and light parts of the projection.
>> Consider brightness and contrast together
Ultimately, these features impact the quality of the projection more than anything else. Compare these three examples when determining how to buy a projector.
Projector A Projector B Projector C Brightness (lumens) 2500 2000 2000 Contrast Ratio 3000:1 50,000:1 2000:1 Ideal Use/Environment Home theater room where ambient light is kept out Living room/any room where ambient light is difficult to control -high contrast ensures images will be visible Office/portable setting where lighting can be temporarily dimmed >> Replacement lamps
Part of understanding how to buy a projector is considering lamp replacement. It is easy to forget lamps when conducting a projector comparison. After narrowing your selection to the types of projectors you like, research replacement lamp costs and the projected life of each unit's replacement lamp. As a baseline, most television sets are on for 3,000-5,000 hours per year.
With replacement lamps, those made by the projector manufacturer generally last longer than off-brand replacement lamps. Buying a projector is a matter of comparison, choosing what matters to you and investing time into research. If you take the time to understand your options, you will be able to select the best projector for you.