When it comes to TVs at home, there are two teams. Team Hide That Thing Away does not want that distracting piece of technology messing up their design story, and they’d rather put it behind pocket doors or in a piece of furniture. And then there is Team Hail To The Screen: The Television, in all its glory, IS the design story, and the size is only limited to how large a screen can fit through the front door.
What both teams might be interested to know is that there’s a much-bigger-yet-simultaneously-more-discrete solution out there: the home projector.
Compared to TVs, which typically peak at 70 or 80 inches, home projector screens can stretch to a whopping 300 inches diagonally. What’s more, because the image is projected on a wall or separate vinyl screen, there’s no glass involved, so you don’t have to deal with distracting glare. And when you’re done watching La La Land or playing the latest installment of Zelda, the screen rolls up and the whole system virtually disappears, leaving your room unblemished by the dreaded black mirror.
Simply put: Whether you’re a movie buff, a rabid sports fan, a gamer, or simply someone who wouldn’t dream of missing an episode of The Bachelor, a home theater projector has the potential to seriously elevate your entertainment experience.
Here are some things to consider when choosing one for your home:
The two most common types of projectors are DLP and LCD.
DLP (digital light processing) projectors have better image quality (higher contrast, blacker blacks) and smoother video with less pixelation. But they are typically more expensive than LCD projectors, and viewers complain that flashes of red, green and blue (known as the “rainbow effect”) are often visible on the screen. You’d want to choose a DLP projector if you know you’re looking for a portable option that you can easily move from place to place.
LCD (liquid crystal display) projectors are more energy efficient and quieter than DLP projectors; they also tend to work better for daylight viewing or in well-lit rooms. One drawback, however, is that a grid of pixels (known as the “screen door effect”) may be visible.
LCD projectors work well in well-lit rooms where you can’t block out all the light, and if your projector is going to be so close to the viewing area that the hum of a louder projector might be an issue.
LCoS (liquid crystal on silicone) is a third type that brings together the best of both DLP and LCD, but it’s typically available on high end models only, so you’ll pay a premium for it.
Most projectors use one of three light sources: Standard lamp, LED or lasers.
The majority of projectors, like this one, use a standard lamp, which is very bright and easy to replace. However, it dims over time and has a limited lifespan of 3,000 to 5,000 hours.
Compared to a standard lamp, LEDs (Light Emitting Diode) have better color; are quieter and more energy-efficient; and have a longer lifespan — up to 20,000 hours.
Lasers have the most advantages by far: brighter, more accurate images; faster on and off times; less fan noise; and a much longer lifespan than bulbs and greater consistency over that lifespan. Plus, you’ll never need to replace a bulb.
If you plan on using your projector for the occasional movie night or game-watching party, I recommend choosing one that’s portable and on the smaller side. To watch, you can place it on a table or other flat surface, and later store it in a closet or entertainment console when it’s not in use. However, if you’ll be using it frequently and want a more permanent solution, consider mounting it on the ceiling for a clean, uncluttered look.
Different projectors have different “throw ratios” — a specification that tells you how far back the projector needs to be placed from the screen in order to produce quality images. You’ll need to know the throw ratio — the distance from the lens to the screen, divided by the width of the screen — to choose a projector that works for the room in your home where it will be located. For example, if your screen is 10 feet wide, and your projector is 15 feet away, you will need a lens that covers a throw ration of 1.5:1.
Now that you know the calculation, do the math: If you can’t get your projector to sit far enough away from the screen to create the picture (due to room size restrictions), you’ll have to look for a Short Throw projector that can sit close to the screen.
Ultra Short Throw projectors are a new category that have a small footprint and allow you to place the projector mere inches from the wall yet produce a big picture, making it a great option to put on top of a console in a bedroom or multi-purpose space. For example, the LG model below can project a hewge 100″ screen when placed just 15″ away from the wall.
Of course the simplest and least expensive viewing option is to shine your projector on a large, blank white wall. But if you want the best quality picture, a screen is the way to go. When selecting a screen, consider its “gain”, which measures the amount of light reflected by the screen back at viewers. The higher the gain, the more the colors and images will pop off the screen.
If wall space is at a premium, opt for a motorized or pull-down screen so you can retract it when it’s not in use. If you are using the whole room as a dedicated home theater, however, a fixed screen mounted on the wall might make more sense.
Decide which image sources you’ll want to hook up to your projector before making a purchase. Do you want to connect your Blu-ray player, your Xbox and your AppleTV to your projector? Well, then you’ll need to select a projector with at least three HDMI inputs. In addition to HDMI, most projectors typically include other ports such as component video, VGA, SD card slot and USB, as well as an audio output. And, speaking of audio…
Here’s the thing about the built-in speakers on most projectors: They’re usually awful. That’s why most of them have an audio output. For the best sound, you’ll need to connect your projector to an external audio system.
They’re a bit unconventional and used to be the sole domain of high-end home theaters, but thanks to falling prices, higher quality options and lots of portability, home projectors might be a totally doable option for your next Oscar party or binge watching marathon.
Do you think a home projector might be the right solution for you? Let me know in the comments.