So you’ve decided you want a projector, but you don’t know where to begin? Don’t panic, in reality, there are only a few simple decisions you need to make, to know what projectors will be right for you. Before you begin, you want to decide whether you will be using your new projector for displaying movies, playing video games, or giving presentations. This will affect how bright or dark your viewing room is and what resolutions you need, plus things like connection options. Also work out where you want to place your projector relative to its screen.
To begin with, you will need to consider brightness and contrast. Most projectors have their brightness stated in two ways, Lumens and foot-Lamberts. Sadly the Lumen rating is not a really useful gauge of brightness, as it often does not take into account the viewing size of the final image or reduction due to normal rather than max usage. In dark conditions such as a dedicated home theatre room, look for a brightness rating of around 40 fL, and increase it depending on how much extra ambient light your viewing room will have.
Contrast is often a more useful measure of projector quality than brightness. A high-quality projector will have a contrast ratio of 5,000:1 or more, all though check to see if the projector uses a “dynamic iris” to help boost its contrast range. These work by restricting the light output in dark scenes, allowing the projector to produce “blacker blacks”. Many such projectors will also just quote “on/off” contrast, which is the difference between a full black and full white screen. A better measure is ANSI contrast, which uses a chequered test pattern, and measures the difference between the light and dark squares. This value will be unaffected by any dynamic iris, and is usually a lower value.
Next you need to think about the supported resolutions you want to display. The very best is 1080p,so called “full HD”, and will allow you to display Blu-Rays and other high-definition content properly. Most games and computer presentations will only need 720p or 1024×768 resolution, so if you won’t be primarily watching movies, save some money and go for a lower-spec model. 1080p and 720p are both 16:9 widescreen resolutions, whereas 1024×768 is 4:3, which is a more square standard used by many computer monitors and older TV’s. Consider the screen you will be displaying on. To get full use of the screen, make sure it’s resolution matches that of your projector.
Finally, make note of the “throw distance” of the projector. “Short Throw” projectors are designed to be placed closer to the screen and still produce a big image, whereas “long throw” projectors are the opposite. Also quoted will be the amount of zoom available, which will allow you to grow or shrink the image somewhat. Another useful feature on most projectors is lens-shift. This will allow you more flexibility in placing the projector relative to the screen by enabling you to move the image up and down or left and right by a certain amount without distorting the image.