Projector resolution guide: the impact of resolution on your projector

Projector resolution guide: Contents

Projector resolution guide intro

Resolution is a funny term. Consumers know that the higher the resolution the better a product will be – whether it’s a TV or a projector. However, often people don’t really know what it means and how it can differ from product to product. Often searching for the same resolution across different devices is like expecting the same sweetness from a lime and an orange – they’re both fruits, but we have different expectations of their taste. What we’re getting at here is that of course a Smartphone is going to differ in resolution when compared against a TV. The same holds true with projectors. That’s why we’ve compiled this projector resolution guide, to help you, the consumer.

We’re going to help you understand what resolution is for your projector, how it can help you when making a decision and the importance it holds. 

What is resolution

Every electronic image you view is made up of small squares called pixels or “picture element”. These are usually displayed in a two dimensional grid and are the smallest unit of measurement in a digital image. Each pixel uses a combination of RGB (red, green and blue) to represent a colour respective to the feed of data (laptop, TV box, playstation, etc.).  When these pixels come together they make up the desired image. 

Of course, if you have 4000 pixels to display an image, the image will be more detailed than if you only had 2000 pixels. So we know that the more pixels the better the:

  • Shadow depth 
  • Detail of an image 
  • Sharpness of an image 

Shadow depth 

If your image has more pixels, not only will it provide obvious benefits like the sharpness and detail, but will impact less obvious elements such as colour. This is not to be confused with the contrast ratio your projector can display, this is entirely different. The amount of pixels doesn’t impact the ability of your projector to show a variety of colours. However, it will impact the ability to showcase these colours in a way that shows depth. 

Imagine you have an image displaying black fading into gray and then to white. If you have 3 pixels, this will be described as 3 individual blocks of colour. However, if you have 3000 pixels to display this, the image will show gradual fading into these colours. So, the higher the pixel capabilities, the more depth your projector will show in its images (in combination with a high contrast ratio). 

Detail and sharpness of an image

Similarly to depth, the more pixels a projector has, the more detail will be shown. If you have to display a beach for example, a projector will less pixels will clump all the sand together and only show colour variation. With more pixels, a projector will start to also display the sand individually in hyper detail. 

Lower resolution
Higher resolution

The sharpness of an image will be impacted by the pixels of your projector. When you have less pixels to display an image, the pixels can start to become visible as they try to fit with an image (that’s usually stretched). Below you can see an example of what this looks like. 

Higher resolution
Lower resolution

Summary: Resolution impacts the detail and depth within an image. It describes the number of pixels a device is capable of showing. The higher the resolution, the better. 

How is resolution displayed

Resolution is described in two main formats:

  • PPI (image resolution)
  • Width x Height (projector resolution)  


PPI is described as the “Pixels per inch”. It describes the number of pixels there are per inch of an image. This means that higher PPI equals a more detailed image. It is typically used to describe computer monitors as their size is fixed. However, because projectors have a variety of screen sizes, this metric is not relevant. It is also used to describe the number of pixels and detail within an image, such as a photograph.

Horizontal x vertical 

Because the pixels in projectors are on a chip within the body and the size of the screen differs based on positioning, the measure needs to reflect a fixed number. Because of this, pixels are displayed as horizontally to vertically. So, a resolution of 1920 x 1080 is 1920 pixels horizontally to 1080 pixels vertically. This means the number will not change based on the size of the screen you project. 

Summary: When purchasing a projector the resolution will be displayed as Horizontal pixels by Vertical Pixels

4k in projectors 

Before we delve into the resolution you should seek when making a purchase decision, we thought it best to first mention the ability of a projector to display 4k images. 

A lot of projectors will display themselves as “4k” when marketing themselves to consumers. However, it’s important to understand the difference between:

  • Native resolution
  • Marketed resolution

When projectors were first introduced into the consumer market, the resolution displayed reflected the number of pixels on a projectors chip i.e. The native resolution. That is, the number displayed on the package mimicked the capabilities of the projector chip. 

However, with a rise in demand for projectors at low prices, a new technology was developed: Pixel shifting. This means that the resolution of the projector isn’t dependent on the chip. So, you can have a chip with less pixels, but due to pixel shifting the image displayed appears as 4k.

This doesn’t have a noticeable impact on the image. The quality you see is entirely reflective of 4k images. This is great for us as consumers because it does 2 things:

  • Makes 4k more accessible to lower budgets
  • Increases the expectation of 4k in projectors

What qualifies as HD

4k and HD are two separate terms for resolution count. To clarify the difference, traditionally HD is referred to as anything above 720p (1280 x 720). However, this is not full HD, which is the measurement we’re accustomed to in modern day TV, Youtube videos and images. Full HD is 1080p (1920 x 1080). Finally 4k is described as “ultra HD” and sits at 3840p (3840 x 2160). 

4k and HD are two separate terms for resolution count. To clarify the difference, traditionally HD is referred to as anything above 720p (1280 x 720). However, this is not full HD, which is the measurement we’re accustomed to in modern day TV, Youtube videos and images. Full HD is 1080p (1920 x 1080). Finally 4k is described as “ultra HD” and sits at 3840p (3840 x 2160). 

HD720p (1280 x 720)Standard
Full HD1080p (1920 x 1080)Better detail for fast moving content
Ultra HD3840p (3840 x 2160)All content is very detailed

So, what resolution should you look for?

The resolution you should seek for your projector is entirely based on its intended purpose. There are two main purposes for projectors:

  • Home theatres
  • Business meetings

Home theatre projectors 

Let’s delve right into the juicy details of what you should expect from you home cinema system. Nowadays, when purchasing a home cinema system, do not settle for anything less than 1080p. There are plenty of viable cheap home cinema systems that are under $500 and offer 1080p resolution. 

Today, most of the content you watch will be displayed in 1080p or 4k. Settling for anything less than this is going to severely limit the quality of the movie you watch. On top of this, the future is 4k+, if you want to future proof your investment, go 4k. However, most 4k projectors are currently placed around the $1000 (USD) mark. With the trajectory of projector popularity, this should soon start to fall. 

Other important factors to look into when buying a home cinema system:

Business meetings

In business meetings, the most information you’ll be displaying will be powerpoint slides with perhaps some short videos. By default, google slides and powerpoint are not in HD. Because of this, you do not need to buy a HD projector. Of course, if you plan to use it on the projector to watch extensive videos or display creations to a partner, the upgrade might come in handy. 

Powerpoints in general are displayed as 1280 x 720 (source), so anything around this resolution would be ideal to invest in. 

Other important factors to look into when buying a business projector:

  • Lumen rating 
  • Aspect ratio

Projector resolution guide: conclusion

So, now that you’re a projector resolution buff, it’s time to head forward and invest into the world of 4k projection! Jokes aside, it’s handy to know exactly what it is you’re being offered when making a significant purchase decision. 

If there’s more you still yearning to learn about projection, check out our full projector guide:

Let us know if this projector resolution guide helped you out by leaving a comment below!

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