How to Buy a Projector
With a wide range of technologies, sizes, and capabilities available, we help you sharpen your focus on the right projector for your needs.
Projectors have come a long way from the days when the most useful way to categorize them was by their weight class. Today there are any number of more meaningful kinds of categories, including intended use (business presentations, home theater, game playing), technology (LCD, DLP, LCOS), throw distance (how close to the screen you can place the projector), and more. Here are some questions that will help you to find a projector with the right features and performance for your needs.
What Kind of Images Do You Plan to Show?
There are basically four kinds of images you can show on a projector: data, video, photos, and games. Any projector can show any kind of image, but it's important to understand that any given projector can handle one kind of image well without necessarily doing a good job on other kinds. Naturally, you'll want a projector that does a good job with the kind of images you plan to show.
Most projectors are sold either as data or business projectors (two names for the same use) on the one hand or as home theater, home entertainment, or video projectors on the other (three names for the same use). In addition, a small but growing number are sold as game-playing projectors.
As one would expect, data projectors will most likely do well with data images like PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, and PDF files, while home theater projectors will most likely handle full-motion video well. Any projector that handles video well should also do a good job with photos, since photos have a lot in common with video, but without the added complication of movement, which opens the door to additional image artifacts.
Games require some of the capabilities you need for data images and some that you need for video images. If you want to use a projector for game playing, and can't find a review or see a demo that specifically relates to image quality for games, look for a model that handles both video and data images well.
How Portable Does It Have To Be?
Consider how portable the projector needs to be. You can find models with sizes and weights ranging from small and light enough to fit in a shirt pocket to large and massive enough to be suitable for permanent installation only. If you want a data projector to carry to business meetings for presentations, a game-playing projector to carry to a friend's house for serious game playing, or a home theater projector you can stow away when you're not using it, be sure to pick an appropriate size and weight. The more you plan to carry or move it around, the smaller and lighter you'll want the projector to be.
What Resolution Do You Need?
Ideally, you should match the projector's native resolution (the number of physical pixels in the projector's display) to the resolution you expect to use most often, whether you're planning on connecting to a computer, video equipment, game box, or some combination of the three. Projectors can scale images up or down to their native resolutions, but they lose image quality in the process.
If you plan to show data images, you should also consider how detailed the images will be. For a typical PowerPoint presentation, SVGA (800 by 600 pixels) is easily good enough, and getting an SVGA projector will save money compared to getting a higher resolution. The more detailed the images, however, the higher resolution you'll want.
For video, 1080p (the current high end for high definition, at least for projectors) is the obvious best choice, assuming you have a Blu-ray player, upscaling DVD player, or other 1080p device. But keep in mind that if you connect the projector to, say, your cable box, most of the channels will still be at lower resolution. If there's any chance you'll be watching video at lower resolutions, check out how well the projector handles those resolutions too.
Do You Need a Widescreen Format?
For video and games you'll almost certainly want a widescreen format. Even for data projectors, native widescreen resolutions have become common. If you create your presentations on a widescreen notebook or monitor, they may look better if you project them in a widescreen format as well.