How to choose the right home theater projector for you

To really put the “theater” in your home cinema, nothing like a projector capable of broadcasting a large bright image of film or sporting event on your wall or on the accompanying screen, effectively transforming your living room or your backyard in your own private AMC. A projector can provide a great cinematic experience…if you choose the right one. But when you consider all of the technologies and terms involved in modern projectors – from short-throw projectors to lasers to DLP and LcOS – picking the right one can be tricky. It’s also important to choose a projector that will be comfortable in your movie theater and won’t be too much of a pain to set up and adjust.

If you’re making the leap from a TV to a projector for the first time, some projector specs and requirements can seem overwhelming. Our guide will help you focus on what matters, like deciding which popcorn to buy for your movie night. Let’s go!

A man in a chair with a remote control and a projector on a table.

Start with our guides

Don’t stop at this guide – we have other resources that will be of great help to you as well. Our list of The best homemade film projectors and the best short focal projectors are an excellent starting point to search for potential models when you are ready, and they include FAQs to explain more detail some important elements.

Our guide on the configuration of a domestic projector is also an invaluable resource that will help you know more about the projection distance, the important decisions concerning the placement of the projector and much more when you are ready. We also have great guides on choosing the right projection screens for indoors and outdoors.

What is your budget ?

Perhaps the most important question you need to ask yourself is, “How much do I want to spend?” It’s always a good idea to start with budget parameters, especially since a home projector is a big investment, often costing as much (or more) than a TV. Take a look online and you’ll see everything from a budget pick for around $600 to a feature-packed model for over $3,000. For a proper home theater experience, we recommend sticking to at least the $1,500-$2,000 range, but there is some wiggle room. And don’t forget extra expenses like a projector screen, soundbars or audio systems, and a projector stand if you need it.

A couple watching an image displayed by the lg cinebeam hu915qe ultra short throw 4k laser projector.

Standard to Ultra-Short Throw Projectors

It’s time to make some choices to narrow down the type of projector you want. A standard focal length projector, such as the $1,800 Optoma UHD55, typically requires about 8 to 10 feet of space from the wall to properly project a 100 inch image. For small theater spaces, this could place the projector in the middle of your seat, which is why standard projection projectors often offer mounting options to the ceiling to ensure that the projector is away.

A “short-throw” projector will reduce that distance by a few feet, making it easier to find a ceiling-free solution for your projector placement, which will make a huge difference.

For a real game changer, consider an ultra-short-throw (UST) projector. These projectors, like the$3,500 Samsung LSP9T Premiereoperate just inches from a screen or wall, so they’re great for saving space and time with a home cinema…but they also tend to cost more.

Consider the lamp versus the laser

The light from a projector can come from two different sources: a lamp or a laser. A bulb lamp typically has a “half-life” of several thousand hours, after which the image quality begins to decline and you will need to replace it with a new bulb. A laser projector (and its close cousin, the LED projector) costs more, runs cooler than lamps, and can last up to 30,000 hours, so you won’t need to replace anything over time. .

It’s usually an easy choice. If you’re using your projector in a dedicated movie theater where you’ll watch movies or shows several times a week, one lamp model should suffice and save you some money. If your projector is going to be the primary way to watch anything at home, it’s best to save up for a laser model for its longevity and improved color and contrast.

Lg cinebeam hu710p 4k hdr projector.

Find the right light

Another projector specification is “lumens”, a measure of the amount of light emitted by a projector. You may also see this listed as “ANSI lumens”, which is just a reference to the current standards body, the American National Standards Institute. Brightness isn’t a major concern unless you’re using the projector during the day in a room that gets lots of ambient light or you’re using it with the lights on (like in a living room). Next, you’ll want to make sure you have 2,500 lumens or more. Many high-end projectors go beyond 3,000 lumens, so it may not be a problem. But some projectors are specifically designed for dark movie theaters and may not have the lumens to handle a bright room well – again, this is where room and location become critical. As a frame of reference, and as a simple anecdote, a 100 watt light bulb equates to around 1,600 lumens, while a candle is a measly 14 lumens.

Decide on a resolution

4K support has become so common in projectors these days, so you should have no trouble finding models at this resolution. 4K resolution is one of the best ways to take advantage of the larger screens supported by projectors, so it’s a great spec to look for. On the other hand, budget projectors are much more likely to cap out at 720p or Full HD 1080p, which can significantly reduce the cost of the projector. Our advice would be to buy the highest resolution your budget allows – you don’t want to go 4K down the line.

Learn more about imaging chips

If you look at the projector’s specs, you’ll start to see information about the imaging chips, which is how the projector controls its light. There are three main chip options today: DLP (Digital Light Processing), LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), and LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon).

We’ll make this step easier for you without getting bogged down in imaging technologies. If you want great contrast ratio on a projector image that can handle a cinematic experience, look to LCoS. If you want to save as much money as possible, go for the LCD screen. If you’re interested in the sharpest picture, search for DLP. But in the end, do not make the chip the most important factor to choose the best domestic projector for you.

How to choose the right home theater projector for you

Additional video and audio features

A home projector should support the latest viewing technologies for the best possible picture and sound and can maximize the experience by allowing you to watch movies and TV shows as close as possible to the way the creators saw them. have planned.

Image features such as HDR (High Dynamic Range) will make the image brighter with much more dynamic contrasts. There are a number of HDR formats, but they all optimize image quality to be the best it can be and work particularly well with projectors with high brightness capabilities.

When it comes to sound, Dolby Atmos is an immersive audio experience like no other. While some projectors have built-in Atmos speakers, you can look for projectors that have HDMI eARC ports that allow them to pass high-quality audio, including Atmos, to your surround sound system, if that’s a priority.

Keep in mind, however, that your hardware, such as your TV and sound system, as well as the content you watch, will also need to support these and other technologies to reap these benefits. You can usually find icons for these features on physical media like discs or streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to let you know they’re supported. If you’re using something like Google Chromecast or smart rigs built into a projector, you should be able to easily spot format support – the most popular shows and movies will have it. If you are viewing files from a USB drive, you may not be able to tell if additional standards are present.

A couple is sitting in front of their home cinema.

Check connection support

How do you plan to watch content on your projector? As we mentioned, many projectors have built-in smart rigs like TVs, so all you need is a reliable Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection. But you may be planning a lot more than just streaming. If you have Blu-Ray discs, for example, you’ll need a nearby Blu-Ray player and a free HDMI port on your projector (also remember the note above about eARC and Dolby sound Atmos). If you have additional devices, like an Apple TV and PlayStation 5, that you want to connect, they’ll also need HDMI ports – you can see how you could quickly run out of ports for all your connections. Check that your projector has enough connection options to support the configuration you have in mind.

If you do not want to use an intelligent platform on a projector, you still have options. Some projectors support wireless streaming directly from your smartphone. For others, you may need to connect your smartphone with a cable, so the projector will need a USB port that matches your phone’s cable…or you can use a USB to HDMI adapter. like this Anker model. A USB flash drive requires a USB port on the projector to work.

A good plan

Some home projectors come with built-in speakers, but if you want a truly cinematic experience, you’ll want something else. You may want consider a soundbar or surround sound system for your projector and verify that the projector has the necessary ports to support it. You may also be able to connect your projector to your existing home audio setup, such as an A/V receiver. Again, you will need to make sure that your projector has enough HDMI ports to add an audio connection. This can help you save a port if you are routing content from one of the consoles or set-top boxes mentioned above, as you would only need one HDMI connection from your source to the speakers and then to your projector.

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