Before You Buy a Video Projector

What to look for before reaching into your wallet

Epson Home Cinema 3900 1080p 3LCD Video Projector - Front/Rear Views
Epson Home Cinema 3900 1080p 3LCD Video Projector - Front/Rear Views. Image provided by Epson

The video projector has long been used as a presentation tool in business and commercial entertainment, as well as in some very high-end home theater systems. However, video projectors are becoming more available and affordable for the average consumer. Check out some useful tips before you buy your first video projector.

Types of Video Projectors

There are two major types of Video Projectors available: DLP (Digital Light Processing) and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). In addition, other variants of LCD video projection technology in use are LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon), D-ILA (Digital Imaging Light Amplification - developed and used by JVC) and SXRD (Silicon Crystal Reflective Display — developed and used by Sony).

Using a light source, DLP projectors employ a combination of a color wheel and chip that contains microscopic tilting mirrors. The light passes through the color wheel, reflects off the mirrors and is then projected on a screen.

An LCD video projector utilizes a light source that passes light through 3 LCD Chips (assigned to primary colors red, green, and blue) to create and project images. With LCOS/D-ILA, and SXRD projectors, the light source is reflected off the 3 LCD chips, instead of passing through them.

Lamps, LEDs, and Lasers

In addition to the core LCD or DLP technology that may be used in a video projector, another thing to take into consideration is whether the light source used in the projector is a ​lamp, LED, or Laser. All three options have their advantages and disadvantages.

Best Uses for a Video Projector

Home theater projectors are best for viewing Sports, DVDs, or Blu-ray Disc movies. If you watch mostly regular TV, an LCD/DLP projector may be an expensive option for most lamp-based video projectors as the bulb (light source) would need to be changed after about 3,000 to 4,000 hours of viewing, with some projectors now having upwards of 5,000 hours or more of bulb life. Compare that with an LCD or OLED TV which can last 60,000 hours or more, albeit with a smaller screen size. Also, make sure you have the proper room size for your projector.

Another great use for a video projector is to watch movies outdoors during the summer.


Portability is important, not just enabling you to move or travel with your projector, but simplifying installation and setup. It also makes it easy to try different screen sizes, distances, and different rooms to see what works best. If your projector is portable you can even hang a sheet on an outside wall (or garage door) in the summertime and enjoy your own drive-in movies!

Light Output and Brightness

Without sufficient light output, a projector will not be able to display a bright image. If light output is too low an image will look muddy and soft, even in a dark room. The best way to determine if a projector outputs enough light to produce bright images, check the ANSI Lumens rating. This will tell you how much light that a projector can put out. Relatively speaking, projectors with 1,000 ANSI Lumens or greater have sufficient brightness for home theater use. Room size, screen size/distance, and ambient room light connections will also affect the need for more or fewer lumens.

Contrast Ratio

Contrast ratio complements brightness. Contrast is the ratio between the black and white portions of the image. High contrast ratios deliver whiter whites and blacker blacks. A projector may have a great Lumens rating, but if the contrast ratio is low, your image will look washed out. In a darkened room, a contrast ratio of at least 1,500:1 is good, but 2,000:1 or higher is considered excellent.

Pixel Density

Pixel Density (aka display resolution) is important. LCD and DLP projectors have a fixed number of pixels. If most of your viewing is HDTV, get as high a native pixel count as possible (preferably 1920x1080). A native pixel count of 1024x768 is sufficient for DVD. However, 720p HDTV signals require a 1280x720 pixel count for native display, while a 1080i HDTV input signal needs a native pixel count of 1920x1080. If you have a Blu-ray Disc player, consider a projector with 1920x1080 native pixel resolution and the ability to the display the 1080p format.

In addition, if you desire to jump into 4K, aside from the increased expense, not all 4K projectors project true 4K resolution. It is important that you understand how 4K video projectors work and how they are labeled so that you can make the right choice for a home theater setup.

Color Reproduction

Color Reproduction is another factor. Check for natural flesh tones and color depth. Check how colors look in the brightest and darkest areas of the image. Check the degree of color stability from input to input, and that you get familiar with the types of picture settings that video projectors offer. Everyone has a slight difference in color perception and what looks pleasing. Look carefully.


Make sure the projector has the inputs you need. All video projectors these days, provide HDMI inputs, and most projectors also have VGA and/or DVI inputs for computers.

However, if you have older source components that use connections such as composite and S-video for analog sources, or component video outputs. Many newer video projectors no longer offer these options or may offer just composite video inputs. So, when shopping for a projector, it is definitely important to make sure that it has the connections that you need.

Don't Forget the Screen!

Screens come in various fabrics, sizes, and prices. The type of screen that's best depends on the projector, the viewing angle, the amount of ambient light in the room, and the distance of the projector from the screen.

The Bottom Line

A home theater setup with a video projector at its centerpiece can really elevate the home entertainment experience. However, just don't reach into your wallet and by what is on special or hyped - use the tips listed and discussed in this article to guide you towards getting the best projector for your needs.