What to Look for When Buying a Projector

10 things to consider including key specs and portability

Video projectors have long been used as a presentation tool in business and commercial entertainment, as well as in some high-end home theater systems. However, video projectors are becoming more affordable and available for most people. Some are downright cheap. Check out some valuable tips before buying your first video projector.

10 Factors to Consider When Buying a Projector

Here are the main things to look at when shopping for a new projector:

  • Cost
  • Lamps, LEDs, and Lasers
  • Light Output and Brightness
  • Contrast Ratio
  • Pixel Density and Resolution
  • Color Reproduction
  • Inputs
  • Portability
  • Screens
  • Types of Projectors
Illustration of a woman projecting a slide onto the wall: Video projector purchasing factors
Lifewire / Emilie Dunphy 

How Much Should I Spend on a Projector?

Projector prices vary drastically, ranging from budget projectors for less than $100 to high-end 4K projectors worth around $2,000. The image quality matters more than the brand.

Price Range What to Expect
 >$100 480p image resolution. 2000:1 contrast ratio. Must be used in the dark. Minimal speaker output. No wireless connectivity. No SD card slot.
$100 - $500 480p image resolution. 3,000:1 contrast ratio. Must be used in the dark. Support for HDMI, VGA, microSD, and USB inputs. 3.5mm audio output for headphones and speakers. No wireless functionality.
$300 - $500 720p image resolution. 3,000:1 contrast ratio. Must be used in dim lighting. Some wireless functionality.
$500 - $1,000 1920x1080 image resolution. 15,000:1 contrast ratio. Clear during the daytime from most angles. Some wireless functionality. Good enough for gaming.
$1,000 - $2,000+ Produces a 4K image that’s completely clear during the daytime from all angles. Automatically corrects image distortions. Connects to wireless devices. Ideal for gaming.

Lamps, LEDs, and Lasers

In addition to LCD and DLP technology, you should consider whether the light source in the projector is a ​lamp, LED, or laser. All three options have their advantages and disadvantages:

  • Video projectors that use lamps need to be changed after about 3,000 to 4,000 hours of viewing. However, some projectors deliver upwards of 5,000 hours of viewing.
  • Video projectors that use LEDs or lasers as a light source have a much longer life—often as much as 20,000 hours or more.

Compare the light source life of video projectors LED/LCD or OLED TVs, which can last over 60,000 hours, albeit with smaller screen sizes.

VAVA 4K UST Laser TV Home Theatre Projector

Courtesy of Amazon

Light Output and Brightness

Without sufficient light, a projector cannot display a bright image. If the 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. It will tell you how much light a projector can put out.

Projectors with 1,000 ANSI Lumens 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. Although video projectors' light output capabilities have improved, they still work best in a darkened room.

LCD and DLP projectors output light differently. LCD projectors output the same amount of white and color light, whereas DLP projectors output more white light than color light.

Contrast Ratio

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

Pixel Density and Display Resolution

Pixel Density (aka display resolution) is essential. LCD and DLP projectors both have a fixed number of pixels.

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

If you want to jump into 4K territory, aside from the higher price tag, not all 4K projectors project true 4K resolution. You must understand how 4K video projectors work and how they are labeled so that you can make the right choice for a home theater setup.

To get the most out of 4K projector, you need to provide 4K content from an Ultra HD Blu-ray playeror 4K streaming sources (such as Netflix or Vudu).

Color Reproduction

Color reproduction is another factor to consider. Check for natural flesh tones and color depth, how colors look in the brightest and darkest areas of the image, 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 to them, so 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 or DVI inputs for computers.

However, if you have older source components with composite, component, or S-video outputs, know that many newer video projectors no longer offer these options or may offer just composite video inputs. When shopping for a projector, ensure it has the connections you need.

Some video projectors include audio inputs and onboard speakers, but like speakers built into TVs, they are not great. It is best to connect your audio source to an external audio system (even a modest one) for a better viewing experience.


Portability is vital not just in terms of moving or traveling with your projector but in simplifying the installation and setup. It also makes it easier to try out different screen sizes, distances, and rooms to see which arrangement works best.

If your projector is portable, you can hang a sheet on an outside wall (or garage door) in the summertime and enjoy your own personal 'drive-in' movies. Watching movies outdoors using a video projector can be a great experience.

Different types of outdoor projectors

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Don't Forget the Screen

Screens come in various fabrics, sizes, and prices. The best type of screen depends on the projector, the viewing angle, the amount of ambient light in the room, and the distance from the projector to the screen. If you have a small space, consider a Short Throw projector, which can display large images from a shorter distance.

There are many great projector screens on the market; what's best for you depends on your specific needs.

Types of Video Projectors

Two types of video projectors are available: DLP (Digital Light Processing) and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display).

  • DLP projectors employ a light source in combination with a color wheel and chip that contains microscopic tilting mirrors. The light passes through the color wheel, reflects off the mirrors, and is projected onto a screen.
  • LCD projectors utilize a light source that passes light through 3 LCD Chips (assigned to primary colors red, green, and blue) to create and project images.

Variants of LCD technology include LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon), JVC's D-ILA (Digital Imaging Light Amplification), and Sony's SXRD (Silicon Crystal Reflective Display). With LCOS/D-ILA and SXRD projectors, the light source reflects off the 3 LCD chips instead of passing through them.

Who Should Buy a Projector?

If you like inviting people over for movie nights, or if you just want your own private showings, a projector can be a perfect addition to your home theater. You just need to make sure you have the space and budget to accommodate all the necessary peripherals.

What Should I Do After I Buy a Projector?

The first step is to arrange the room or outdoor space you want to use. Choose a spot for the screen and adjust the seating to optimize visibility. Once your projector is set up, connect it to your sound system. Don't forget to keep your projector screen clean.

More Tips for Buying a Projector

A home theater setup with a video projector at its centerpiece can elevate the home entertainment experience. However, don't reach into your wallet and buy anything promoted or on sale.

Video projector prices vary widely from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the above factors. Unless projecting onto a wall, you also have to consider the cost of a screen, which comes in similar price ranges.

  • Do I need a projector screen?

    No. A white wall, white sheet, or another light-colored semi-reflective surface will work in a pinch. However, you'll want to invest in a screen to get the best possible image from your projector.

  • Are projectors good for gaming?

    Yes, providing you buy the right projector for the job. For example, a regular projector won't be good enough for gaming. A good gaming projector must offer a high resolution, fast refresh rate, and low input latency.

  • Should I buy a TV or a projector?

    It depends. When deciding between a video projector or a TV, consider your specific needs for the device. TVs are best for everyday use. Projectors are best for special occasions and niche applications.

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