In the days before the digital technology revolution changed entertainment forever, home theater projectors were the only way to get a picture larger than 30 inches or so in your home.
These devices were notoriously bulky, heavy, hot, unreliable, and produced a lower-quality picture — but if you wanted to treat a room full of people to a movie without buying a theater out, it was your only choice.
The Return of Home Theater Projectors: What You Should Know
Let’s look at seven things you need to consider before upgrading your home theater with one of the modern home theater projectors.
1. Brightness is Key
The home theater experience is all about replicating the classic darkened theater, and as such you will need to know what your own particular room is like before you decide what home theater projectors to consider.
The brightness of a projector is still measured in lumens, and while you can get a surprisingly affordable projector that’ll display under 1000 lumens, it’s not going to be bright enough in a dark room.
if you like to leave a little ambient light in your home theater, as most folks do, you’ll want something between 1000 and 1500 lumens.
The more ambient light in the room, the higher the number of lumens. Some projectors will blast into a well-lit room at 3000 lumens, but those are expensive — and they don’t really replicate that theater feel.
2. Old School or New?
There are essentially two types of home theater projectors on the market.
There’s the classic LCD kind, which utilizes the technology that used to light up the numbers in our clock radio, and the newer DLP standard, which stands for Digital Light Processing.
The classic LCD refracts light into red, green, and blue by passing it through three separate mirrored chips; the image is brighter, but it can pixelate on the screen, and the projector itself is heavier.
DLP passes the light through a color wheel, which means the projector can be lighter, but the image may not be as bright coming out the other end.
Various other silicon and crystal technologies bounce the image off the chips rather than through them, but these are still fairly expensive and experimental.
3. Match Your Res
Most home theater projectors these days come with a 16:9 aspect ratio, which will replicate the image of a wide-screen television. Anything else could produce letterboxing, so be sure and get 16:9.
You should always match the resolution of your projector to the resolution of your DVD or Blu-ray player unless you’re planning on watching TV all the time on it.
There’s no reason to suffer through anything less than 1080p, but 4K projection is available.
4. Contrast and Color
Contrast and color are two of the most important aspects to look for in home theater projectors: it’s here where the projected image is most likely to be noticeably different than one on a TV screen.
The number you’ll be looking for is called the contrast ratio, and it typically should be between 1500 and 2000:1.
The contrast ratio measures the difference between the blackest black projected onto your screen and the whitest white, and in a darkened room like a home theater, that’s important.
While the science is very complicated, more than 2,000 to 1 contrast ratio is not really significant in anything but a pitch-black room. Projector manufacturers love to pump up the contrast ratio and charge you more money, but you really don’t need it.
Be sure to check out the color yourself, however, and make sure it’s up to your standards; color display can be notoriously changeable in various conditions. Make sure your projector complies to the relatively recent DEEP color standard which allows for trillions of more shades then old projectors.
5. Short or Long?
You’ll also need to know about something called “throw ratio,” which has everything to do with the dimensions of the room you’ll be projecting in. Smaller rooms need a short throw ratio and larger rooms need a long one.
This is especially important to know if you plan on permanently mounting your projector to the ceiling, rather than investing in something portable that you can put on a desktop.
Zoom range and lens shift options should be available to help you correct the ratio yourself. Be sure your projector has the proper “keystone correction,” which will make sure your image is completely flat and undistorted on the projected surface.
6. Know Your Lighting
Modern projectors use light from either a lamp, LCD, or a laser.
Those with lamps are essentially using old school technology, although much improved from your father’s time. You’ll need to know the half-life of your lamp because that’s the moment when your light will start to fade slightly every time you use it.
LEDs are more efficient, but they tend to scatter light and produce a slightly dimmer image. Laser lighting is by far the best technology available, but it does tend to make the projector more expensive.
7. Screen, Sound, and Ports
Don’t get so hung up on the projector that you forget to buy a screen and some speakers! Projectors are not known for home theater level sound quality.
Actually, wall projection has always been a possibility with these devices, and even more so today, especially if you know where to get some special non-reflective wall paint made for just such a purpose.
Make sure your projector also has some HDMI and USB ports. Ethernet and WiFi capability will allow you to view almost anything from any device brought into your room.
Home Theater Projectors Have Come a Long Way
No longer an expensive, unwieldy option that runs hot and requires a lot of setup, modern projectors allow anyone to turn any room in the house into a home theater.
You’ll have to learn some jargon and shop around a bit, but the effects are definitely worth it.
Home projection screens are a technology whose time has come… again! Start pricing some today and revisit those Saturday matinees and stadium games of your youth.
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