Video Projectors and Video Projection Guide

Elevate your home theater experience with a video projector

Designing your own home theater system is getting more exciting all the time. TVs are bigger, better, cheaper, and slimmer than ever.

You can hang a TV on a wall or place it on a stand. However, viewing options place the viewer "outside the box" (so to speak). All of the work of generating the video image (from input to display) is done within a thin cabinet that shoots the image directly to your eyes. The cabinet is also a piece of furniture that takes up space either on a table or wall.

On the other hand, a video projector, whether at a movie theater or at home, places the viewer "inside the box". The image is usually projected from behind or above and reflected off a screen so the image reaches your eyes indirectly. You are within the image environment as the beams of light travel from the projection unit to the screen. That's what separates TV viewing from video projector viewing.

Epson Video Projector with 4K Enhancement - Lifestyle Image
Image provided by Epson

Making Your Own Home Theater Magic

You can come very close to a movie theater experience with a video projection setup. Projectors have been around for some time, but they were big, bulky, power hogs, and very expensive; definitely out of reach for the average consumer.

However, over the years, the need for compact, affordable, portable multi-media projection units for use in business presentations and the classroom, new developments in image processing technology have made video projectors an affordable home entertainment option.

Video Projectors vs Rear-Projection TVs

Video projection technology has also been used in a type of TV referred to as a "Rear Projection TV" or RPTV. Although this type of TV is no longer available (Mitsubishi, the last maker of RPTVs, discontinued production in December 2012), there are still some in use.

In a "rear-projection TV" the image is projected and reflected onto the screen from behind the screen within a sealed box. Such TVs were large and could overwhelm a room with the amount of space they took up.

Video Projection vs Film Projection

The video projector is similar to a film projector in that they both accept a source, and project the image from that source onto a screen. However, that is where the similarity ends. Inside a video projector is processing circuitry that converts an analog or digital video input signal into an image that can be projected onto a screen or wall.

If you haven't considered the video projector option, you may find that it's a great complement to your home theater setup. However, there are some basic things you need to know before getting started.

The following sections provide brief tips on various aspects of video projectors and video projection to consider. The sections provide link-outs to more details that can be explored further as needed.

Before You Buy a Video Projector

BenQ HT6050 DLP Video Projector - Shown With Standard Lens
Images provided by BenQ

There are a lot of video projectors to choose from, so where do you start? Before taking the plunge, here is a brief list of things to consider:

  • The Room – The room is very important as the amount of light present affects picture quality and the size of the room may affect the size of the image you can project.
  • Screen or Wall – Will you be projecting on a screen or wall.
  • Type of Projector – There are two main types of projectors: DLP and LCD (more on that below).
  • Lamp, LED, Laser – Most projectors use lamps as their light source, which need to be periodically replaced, but a growing number using Laser or LED light sources that last the life of the projector.
  • Contrast Ratio – The contrast ratio of the projector determines the range of light to dark can be displayed.
  • Light Output – Video projectors aren't as bright as TVs, but the one you use needs to bright enough to display a good viewable image.
  • Pixel Resolution – With large screen sizes, the more pixels the better.
  • Color Reproduction – In combination with light, resolution, and contrast, the ability to reproduce accurate color is important, especially flesh tones.
  • Inputs/Connections – Just as with TVs, you need to be able to connect source devices to a video projector. Make sure the projector you purchase has the connections you need. Common connections include HDMI, USB, and VGA. In some cases, a DVI connection may be provided. If you have older analog sources, check to see if the projector provides composite and/or component video inputs.

What is a Short Throw Projector?

Hisense Laser TV - Ultra Short Throw Projector

Image provided by Hisense

Many think that a large room is needed to get a big-screen video projection experience. However, that is not the case. If you have space for a screen, or large, blank wall space, a Short and Ultra Short-Throw projector provides a practical way to project large images with less distance required between the projector and the screen.

Also, for any size room, viewers don't have to pass between the projector light and screen to get a soda or popcorn refill or use the restroom during the movie.

DLP Video Projector Basics

Image of DLP DMD Chip (top left) - DMD Micromirror (top righht) - Benq MH530 DLP Projector (bottom)

DLP Chip and Micromirror Images provided by Texas Instruments.

There are two core technologies used in video projectors: DLP and LCD. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but what makes DLP interesting is that all the magic is the result of rapidly tilting mirrors – Sound weird? Yep, it's weird all right. DLP video projectors are both mechanical and electrical, but it works. Check out the details on this popular video projector technology.

LCD Video Projector Basics

3LCD Video Projector Technology
3LCD

Most people own an LED/LCD TV these days, but did you know that LCD technology is also used in video projectors? Of course, video projectors are a lot smaller than TVs, so, how do you fit an LCD TV panel inside a video projector? Although you can't fit an actual LCD panel in a video projector, the number of pixels required for various resolutions (720p, 1080p, or 4K) can be placed on an LCD image chip. Check out the surprising details on how LCD technology is used in video projectors, and how it is different than DLP.

Laser Video Projectors – What Are They and How They Work

Epson Dual Laser with Phosphor Video Projector Light Engine
Image provided by Epson

Another twist in video projection is the introduction of lasers in the mix. However, the lasers don't directly create images, that is still done by an LCD or DLP chip. Instead, one, or more, lasers are used to replace traditional energy-hogging lamp system used in most projectors with a more energy efficient, color-enhancing, light source solution. Check out the details.

4K Video Projector Basics

Epson 4KE Pixel Shift Process

Epson

 

In addition to the core DLP and LCD video projector technologies, and different light source options, there is the question of resolution. Video projectors with 720p or 1080p resolution capability are quite common, and also very affordable.

However, 4K video projectors are also becoming more common, and affordable, but not all 4K projectors are created equal as many are not "true 4K". Some projectors use a technique referred to as "pixel shifting" or "pixel wiggling" to display a 4K-like image using a 1080p resolution (Full HD) pixel chip.

Before you consider the purchase of a 4K video projector, check out the difference between true 4K projectors and 4K "pixel shifting" projectors.

Video Projectors and Color Brightness

Epson Color Brightness Demo - CES 2013

One important thing to consider when purchasing a video projector is whether it will be bright enough for the room environment you will be using it in. However, the specifications (using the term Lumens) don't always provide an accurate picture of how bright the projector really is.

On many projectors, the amount of color brightness is lower than white brightness. Find out why this is an important thing to consider.

Before You Buy a Video Projection Screen

Elite Screens Yard Master Series Outdoor Projection Screens at CES 2014

When buying and setting up a home theater video projector, the screen is just as important as the projector itself. Projection Screens come in various fabrics, sizes, and prices. The type of screen that will work 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. Explore what you need to know before purchasing a video projection screen for your home theater.

How To Set Up A Video Projector For Home Theater Viewing

Video Projector Setup Example
Image provided by Benq

So, you decided to make the video projector plunge. You purchased a screen and projector, but after you place your screen on the wall and unpack your projector, what else do you need to do to get everything up and running? Check out our step-by-step process on how to install and setup your video projector for the best viewing experience.

Also, included: How to make sure you get the best sound quality to complement those large projected images.

Backyard Home Theater

Backyard Home Theater Setup
Image Provided by Open Air Cinema

As video projectors provide increased light output capability, become more compact, and more affordable, an increasing number of consumers are discovering the fun of setting up an outdoor home theater for those warm Summer nights, and other special occasions. We provide all the details on how you can set one up yourself.