Projector buying guide 2020

Last updated on January 9th, 2020 at 02:16 pm

Table of contents

Projector buying guide 2020: introduction

Moving into the new year and upgrading your home cinema is on your mind? It’s especially difficult to make a decision when moving from TV to projector, let alone when combined with trying to meet all your resolutions. Let’s face it, projectors are high in cost and not yet considered the norm in most households. That’s why we’ve compiled a projector buying guide 2020, to help with your decision!

Jargon in the world of projection is rough, with phrases such as:

With these phrases being thrown around everywhere with no solid explanation, it’s no wonder it’s so confusing. Throughout this projector buying guide 2020, we’re here to hold your hand through the process.

Projector in dark room

Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio is the size of the image that will be projected onto your wall or screen, referring to the ratio of width (1st number) and the height (2nd number) of the projected image. So for example, a 16:9 aspect ratio means that the image displayed is 16 units wide to 9 units high.

As you can imagine, a 16:9 aspect ratio displays a more rectangular image than a 4:3 ratio. 

This is important when selecting your projector, as the type of content you consume will impact your optimal ratio. 

As an example, if you have a projector with a 16:9 aspect ratio and you’re watching content suited to a 4:3 ratio, the image will not stretch to the screen. Instead of this, little black bars will appear on either end of the projected image. This is referred to as masking. 

Of course, this is not an issue if you mainly consume 16:9 suited content, but can become annoying when your $1000 projector is not performing as you had hoped. But the plot thickens. How do you know what aspect ratio you’re most likely to use? 

Below is an overview of content per ratio, but if you’re already an aspect ratio pro, skip ahead to resolution.

Summary: Aspect ratio describes the size of the image that will be projected onto your wall or screen. It is an important decision that should be based on the content you watch.

Ultimate projector guide: Example of masking
Example of masking

4:3 ratio

Let’s take a step back. The 4:3 aspect ratio was created in the early 20th century and adapted to the first TV as the standard size. Here it became the predominant ratio used when shooting movies or TV. However, the technological advancement in cinematography brought a shift to aspect ratio and widescreen started to become popular (16:9). 

In the modern day, the 4:3 ratio is used very little. It is however, used in a lot of old SDTV programmes, for example, “Friends” was originally filmed in 4:3. 

To not completely invalidated 4:3, it is used as the standard format of presentations. As such, it is utilised by many portable projectors as business is their main assumed purpose. 

Aspect ratio: 4:3
4:3 styled content

Summary: 4:3 is outdated for the modern consumer of media, but good for business intended projectors, portable projectors, low budget projectors (although there are plenty of the latter available in 16:9) and watching SDTV.

16:9 ratio

The 16:9 ratio is also referred to as 1.78:1 or 1.78. This is simply because 16/9 = 1.78 making it faster to describe this format as such. If you come across a ratio being displayed as “1.78”, fear not, it is exactly the same as 16:9. 

1.78 is the format of all flat screen HDTVs. In the realm of TVs there’s a lot of options regarding size, but not the aspect ratio of that size. Fortunately having a projector gives you a choice, there’s no standardisation in this area. 

It’s easy to presume that because  HDTV is in this format, it’s the best choice when selecting a home cinema set-up, and in many ways it is. However, it’s not quite as easy as that. Although modern TV content is made in 1.78 format, there really is no “one size fits all”, especially when you delve into the realm of movies. However, if the majority of media you’re likely to consumer is TV shows, a 16:9 ratio is your best bet. 

Summary: 16:9, 1.78:1 and 1.78 all refer to the same aspect ratio. If you’re going to use your projector to mainly watch modern TV shows and a few movies on the side, 1.78 is your best bet. However, it’s important to keep in mind the future of TV may not stay within this ratio.

2.35:1 ratio

The majority of Hollywood movies are made with a 1.85:1 or 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The reason being that a wider screen to height ratio gives a better perception of how something would look through the human eye. The human eye is horizontally aligned and as such, widescreen format feels more natural. 

To be quite frank, using a 1.78 monitor with 1.85 content will only mask the overall image slightly, however for 2.39 content the masking will be significantly larger. For the majority of people, the masking doesn’t hinder the content too much. However, if you’re a bit of a film buff, 2.35 ratio is going to be your go to when looking to buy a projector and reduce masking. 

Media projectors however, are only available in 2.35 or 1.78, thus if you’re going to be watching mainly movies, 2.35 is your best bet and is more future proof as perhaps TV content will one day switch to this format. 

Summary: If the content you consume is mainly movies, 2.35 is your best bet. New movie releases tend to be shot in 2.39, however, it’s not guaranteed all of them will be shot in this format. If you use the projector to watch TV (1.78) it will mask some of the image.

Ultimate projector guide: Aspect ratio for projectors
Shape of each aspect ratio

Aspect ratio overview

Aspect RatioUse
4:3Business presentations and SDTV
16:9 (1.78) widescreenHDTV content and some films shot in 1.85:1
2.35:1Mainly films

Resolution

Resolution is undoubtedly the point at which you’re going to distinguish the type of projector that’s within your budget.

Although high resolution is what we all want from a projector, it isn’t necessarily what we need or what our budget allows. But what exactly is resolution? To first understand this, we have to get to grips with its foundation.

Pixels

Every electronic image that you view, whether it be your phone screen or transmitted on to a wall from a projector, is made up of tiny squares called pixels. When these pixels come together they make up the image that you see.

Delving into colour theory, all of these pixels are made up of a combination of three colours: Red, green and blue (RGB). By combining these colours together, every colour can be accessed. Overall, each pixel can only carry one combination of RGB, thus displaying one colour per pixel. 

It of course makes sense that the more pixels you have, the clearer your image becomes and the more depth and clarity an image can show.

High resolution
Low resolution

Summary: Resolution therefore is the description of the number of pixels that a projector can display. It shown as the number of pixels horizontally to vertically. For example, 1920 x 1080 consists of 1920 pixels vertically by 1080 horizontal pixels.

Screen-door effect

The screen door effect describes the ability to see the space between pixels. This usually isn’t apparent for still images, but can become a problem for moving images. Usually this issue is only present when sitting too close to the projected image. 

However, the type of projector you purchase has an impact on this. This happens when the spacing between pixels is larger and is usually more apparent in LCD and LED projectors. DLP projectors, although more expensive, don’t experience this problem.

Of course the main function of your projector should influence your resolution preference. If you’re using your projector for primarily business, you don’t need to splash out on a HD projector – there’s no point. 

Ultimate projector guide: Screen door effect example
Example of the screen-door effect

Resolution overview

Resolution is the output of pixels from a projector.

It is exhibited as the pixels horizontally by the pixels vertically.  The higher the resolution, the larger the depth and clarity of your image and the smaller the chance of the “screen-door” effect.

Brightness (Lumens)

The measure of light output from your projector is called Lumens and refers to your devices luminous flux. This indicates the amount of light that comes from your projector lens. 

The measure of Lumens can go from 500 – 3200+, so there’s a large variety of choice. Deciding what lumen figure is  optimal for your home cinema set-up is based on a multitude of factors.

Ultimate projector guide: Low vs high lumen levels
Low level Lumen v.s. High level Lumen

Distance of projector from the screen

Where you place your projector in relation to the wall or screen that your image will be displayed on is a hugely important factor. 

The closer your projector is to the screen, the more concentrated the light will be and the smaller the image displayed. This allows you to be able to have a lower lumen output in your projector. 

The further you place your projector from your screen, the larger your image will appear. Bigger images require more light to be dispersed in order to create them, calling for a higher lumen output. If you’re unsure about this, it is further explained in the projector set-up guide. 

Ambient lighting

Ambient lighting refers to the light present in the room before lighting is added from your projector. This light can come naturally from windows or artificially from lights. In an ideal world a projector would be used with low level or no ambient lighting.

However, if your needs extend into uncontrolled environments, such as business meetings, it is fair to assume lighting conditions won’t be optimal.

If you’re planning on using a projector in your home, where you can control lighting, a minimum of 1500 lumens is recommended. For environments such as business meetings and classrooms 2500 lumens is needed as a minimum.

Lumen overview

It is important to also consider that the material of your projector screen is going to have an impact on how the light from your projector interacts. Further to this, brighter is not always better, it can often cause eye fatigue over time. As such, do not go for the highest Lumen rating and assume that it is the best for your needs. 

Summary: Projector brightness is described as Lumens. The required lumens you need for your setup depends on the control you have on the environment in the form of external lighting and projected image size. Below are some tables to help guide you in the decision making process.

Ambient light
Ambient lighting

Image that is up to 6 foot wide

ConditionMin LumensMax Lumens
100% light controlled10001000
Some ambient light10001000
Lights on (no direct light)10001200
Bright ambient lighting14001500

Image that is 7 feet to 14 feet wide

ConditionMin LumensMax Lumens
100% light controlled20002000
Some ambient light20002300
Lights on (no direct light)23002700
Bright ambient lighting27003200

Contrast

Contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest part of a projected image. The higher the contrast, the deeper the “black level”, allowing for more shadow definition. Higher contrast ratio will better the experience when viewing dimly lit scenes and give more depth to your images. 

As a result, contrast ratio is the most important factor when buying a projector for home use, whilst Lumens is the most important factor for business projectors. Contrast ratio goes from 500:1 to 100,000:1, although there are some claims of contrast ratios as high as 200,000:1. 

Contrast ratio is measured in 2 methods, on/off contrast and ANSI contrast. On/off contrast measures the whitest white available to the darkest black available and sets a figure based on this. ANSI creates a checkerboard pattern of white and black and measuring the brightness of each shade, coming up with a ratio based on this. 

The output of these methods is the same, a ratio that shows how white measures to black. So a contrast ratio of 3000:1 means that the white measures at 3000 times brighter than the black.

However, the two methods yield widely different results in contrast ratio for the same projector. It is determined that in general, ANSI is a more accurate representation of the projectors contrast ratio. The lowest recommended contrast ratio for your setup is 1000:1. 

Contrast summary

Contrast ratio measures the level of white to black a projector is capable of showing. ANSI is the most accurate depiction of a projectors contrast. The higher the contrast ratio, the more depth an image is likely to have. It is the most important factor when selecting a projector for home use.

ultimate projector guide: Low v.s. high contrast levels
Low contrast v.s. High contrast

Connection input

There is a multitude of ways you can connect your projector to a source, the most common being HDMI. It is important to note that the way you connect your projector to a source can impact the quality of an image.

For example, if you have a 4k projector and connect it to a device that isn’t 4k compatible, the content shown will not be in 4k. Although there are analogue ways to connect your projector to a source, it isn’t recommended as it compromises the quality and speed.

As a result, we only go through the digital types of connectors we recommend your projector has.

ConnectorUseRating

USB 
Projects films downloaded on a USB device
4/5



HDMI
Connects projector to another source, such as a computer where the image is derived from in real time (video + audio). 4K compatible. 5/5

Display port 
High bandwidth transfer of audio/video with one cable. 8K compatible5/5

Ethernet
High speed link for your projector to your router. 5/5

DVI
Designed to connect a video source to a display device. Not 4k compatible3/5

Zoom range

The zoom range allows a projector to make the projected image larger or smaller by shifting the internal optics in a similar fashion to a camera lens. This allows the projector to correctly size the image from a variety of throw distances.

A throw distance is the space between your projector and the screen in which the projected image is placed on. It can be easily calculated online by putting the projector model alongside details of the room size.

Zoom lens

Zoom range is displayed as 1.20:1, meaning the maximum image size is 20% larger than the minimum image size. Zoom ranges can go up to as much as 2.0:1, meaning that the maximum size is double that of the minimum. It is important before deciding if the zoom range is important for you to understand the size of the image you want displayed.

Summary: Zoom range is the ability of the projector to increase or decrease the size of the projected image. Understanding your need for a high zoom range depends on the throw distance and the size of the image displayed.

Lens shift

Another feature that is handy to have when installing your projector is lens shift. The lens shift allows you to move the projected image both horizontally or vertically on the wall or screen. If your projector does not have lens shift, it is possible to move the entire body. However, this is not recommended, as it displays the image at fewer pixels.

Vertical lens shift

The vertical lens shift is the ability of the projected image to shift up or down. This is especially important when mounting your projector from the ceiling, which requires a bigger vertical lens shift. If however, you’re using the projector on a rear shelf, the vertical lens shift is of less importance. 

In general, the range in shift varies by projector from around half a screen height to a maximum of 3 screen heights. It’s also important to bear in mind the size of the room in which the projector will sit. If you’re using your projector in a smaller room, the importance of big vertical lens shift is lesser. 

Horizontal lens shift

Horizontal lens shift allows the projected image to shift from left to right. This is crucial for when you cannot place your projector inline with the middle of your screen. Often horizontal lens shift is not as extensive in its range as its vertical counterpart, it offers between 5% and 50% of the projected images width.

Summary: lens shift is the ability to move the projected image vertically and horizontally without moving the body of the projector. Some projectors come with one, both or neither. Out of the two, vertical lens shift is most important. If you can’t centre your projected image to the screen, horizontal shift is a necessity.

Projector guide 2020: Conclusion

When selecting a projector, there are a multitude of factors to consider based on your needs, the control you have of the environment and your budget. All of us would love to have a 4k projector and there are plenty of “cheap” models available. However, it’s important to prioritise exactly what you want to achieve from your device. 

If you’re looking for a business projector, the most important factor is brightness, you’re most likely to need a 4:3 aspect ratio and resolution + contrast are not your main concerns. 

For a home cinema projector, search for either a 1.78 or 2.35 aspect ratio, a high contrast ratio, high resolution and ideally some ability to control the lens shift. Here, if you’re fully in control of the environment, brightness is not as important.

For more detailed information per topic, check out:

Ready to buy? Check out:

If you enjoyed this projector buying guide 2020, please leave a comment below and share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *