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Projectors Buying Guide

Purchasing a projector for in-home viewing is a great way to get some time together with the family, make some popcorn, and just watch movies. Although many older adults remember old models of projectors using film as a way to watch home movies, newer models are far more advanced. There is no film to worry about. There are no glimpses of shots. The ideal projector today provides a crisp image, is portable, and is easy to use. That is something not all of the projectors from the 70's and 80's could offer.

What to Expect

When creating a home theater, numerous factors play a role in determining which projector is right for you. This can seem like a very daunting task. There are many makes and models available. In addition, the terms used are often difficult to understand and hard to compare. Every model claims to have something the others do not. The goal is to determine which one is ultimately right for your needs.

Consider the following questions before you compare the options in projectors for your home.

  • Where do you plan to use it? The amount of control you have over your lighting is a big factor with projectors. Know where you plan to use it.
  • How often do you plan to use it? If you will use it once or more a week, it may be worth spending a bit more to get a higher quality product.
  • How much space do you have to dedicate to it? Though models do offer numerous options here, it is still a good idea to know where you plan to use it.

Determine the Right Aspect


One of the first and most important things to consider when buying a projector is what the aspect ratio is. The aspect ratio is the rectangular shape of the video's image that is projected. This is often expressed in a way such as 4:3. This indicates that the system is four units wide by three units high. The standard HDTV is 16:9. This can give you a good idea of the size differences to compare. The most popular choice consumers make is the 16:9 projector and then they buy the same screen. If you are watching mostly older movies, though, you may want a 4:3 projector and screen instead. The 16:9 offers the following benefits:

  • Works for HDTV and widescreen DVDs, including Blu-Ray.

  • Most programming is available in this format.

  • Most are designed for high-quality home theaters and therefore worthwhile.

  • Any 4:3 material displayed on this version will be very small.


The second most common feature and element to consider when buying a projector is the contrast. The term refers to the difference in brightness between the darkest and the lightest parts of the image being projected. In short, the higher the contrast is, the greater this difference will be. Contrast is an important quality to look for in a home projector because it produces a better quality picture when the contrast is higher. It creates a deep black level, which gives depth to the image and almost provides a 3D look.

If the projector states just "contrast" this means it offers just a simple on/off contrast. This is the deepest black and brightest white it can offer. Some will instead say ANSI contrast. This is a number determined by displaying a checkerboard pattern and then measuring the brightness of each white and black square. ANSI creates a more accurate representation of what you can expect.


Resolution is usually displayed between models of projectors. The resolution is the number of pixels available to create the image. The higher this number is, the more pixels the system has. This is often displayed as a two-number list: 1280 by 720. In this example, 1280 represents the number of pixels in the horizontal row where as 720 displays the number in a vertical row.

Sometimes, the resolution has just one number, for example, 1080p. This is speaking just of the vertical resolution. The letter "p" after the number describes progressive scan, which means that the entire picture is displayed at the same time. 

You will find that more resolution costs more. However, with a higher number, you are going to get more detail and less visibility of pixels on the screen. The examples provided above are considered the high standard, a good option for most applications.


Another element you will need to choose from when buying a projector is the brightness level. Most projectors will provide this in the specs for easy comparison. When considering brightness, there are two things to keep in mind. First, the amount of light output the projector creates and the reflectivity of the screen are the two things to keep in mind. Brighter is not better for most home theaters. Bright light can easily cause your eyes to fatigue. However, you do want enough light that the projector fills the screen.

A key factor to consider here is ANSI lumen ratings. Do not make your decision based just on this. Some models will have video optimization included in this rating and others do not. Therefore, when you bring it home, you may find that the projector is not what you expected.


Another factor to consider when purchasing projectors is the actual installation process. Do you want something that is mobile and easy to take with you? Alternatively, do you want it built into your home theater system for regular viewing in the same location every time?

Manufacturers know that every home theater room is different. To make sure the projectors work, some now have built-in long zoom lenses and even a physical lens shift. These are good features to have, but you still want to ensure the installation is seamless with your current system aside from these factors.


Projector buying is made simpler by comparing reviews and ratings of specific models. Added features are not always better. Rather, look for a system that works well in your current setup or one that offers the contrast and resolution desired.

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