Video Projector or TV – Which is Best for Home Theater?

The difference between TVs and video projectors

TVs and Video Projectors are used in home theaters around the world, but depending on your needs and desires, one option may be preferable over the other. Let's check out some of the key things to consider that may aid in your decision.

A home theatre with a projection screen
Nan Palmero / Flickr / Creative Commons

Overall Findings

TVs
  • Best for daily viewing of all types of content.

  • Light output fairly constant over time.

  • Brighter than video projectors.

  • Easy to set up.

  • Most TVs are smart TVs.

  • Lots of 4K TVs available.

Video Projectors
  • Best for movies and big events.

  • Video projectors that use Lamps need periodic replacement.

  • More complex setup than a TV.

  • Most don't have smart features.

  • Not all "4K" projectors are true 4K.

  • Not as bright as a TV – Needs a darkened room.

TVs are the standard for a reason. They're simple to set up. They work with nearly every device you can imagine. The costs are reasonable. And, you don't need to be a home theater expert to get satisfying results. Projectors can be great, and they do have their applications. However, you'll find yourself paying considerably more for 4K, designing your whole room around screen placement, and putting a whole lot more effort into designing and configuring your home theater. Many of the conveniences taken for granted today, like smart features and simple audio output, are lacking on most projectors, requiring a lot more thought and consideration to achieve the same results. TVs are best for everyday. Projectors are best for special occasions and niche applications.

Direct Viewing vs Reflected Viewing

TVs
  • Self-contained.

  • Emits its own light from behind, making images brighter.

Projectors
  • Light reflected off screen can look slightly faded.

  • Room light contamination can be a factor.

TVs emit light directly from the screen, and viewers(you) see the images directly, whereas projectors emit light containing the images, which is reflected off a screen before reaching the viewer.

What this means is that a TV is self-contained, but a projector requires two-pieces to work, the projector and a surface to project onto, such as a screen, wall, or sheet.

LG G7 Series OLED TV with LG HF80JA Projector
LG Electronics

Screen Size

TVs
  • Fixed size.

  • Larger screen sizes cost considerably more.

Projectors
  • You can adjust a projector's projection size.

  • Screens are relatively less expensive than TVs.

TVs range in size from 19 to 88-inches. The size of the TV you buy is the one you stuck with, unless you buy another TV.

Video projector image size is adjustable and, depending on the model, may range from 40 to 300 inches. This allows you to set the size of your projected image in relation to the projector-to-screen and seating-to-screen distance.

Content

TVs
  • Content from all sources looks good.

  • Handles low-res content better than projectors.

Projectors
  • Also easy to view streaming or Blu-Ray content.

  • Creates a more cinematic experience for high-res movies.

Consider what you will be watching on your TV or video projector.

For sources such as DVD, over-the-air TV, streaming, cable, or satellite, a TV up to 65-inches is a great option.

If you watch a lot of movies and other content from Blu-ray or Ultra HD discs or 1080p/4K streaming sources, they also look excellent on 65-inch and larger TVs, but a larger projection screen brings home a movie theater-like viewing experience.

Sony UBP-X800 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Image provided by Sony

Room Size

TVs
  • Sits flat on the wall.

  • Works better in smaller rooms.

Projectors
  • Requires more space to distance projector form the screen.

Since TVs are self-contained, you can place them in any size room. Even a larger screen set can be placed in a small room, if you don't mind sitting close to the screen.

Video projectors typically require a room that provides enough distance to display images. The projector usually needs to be placed behind the viewer in order to project an image of sufficient size to provide a large-screen viewing experience.

There are a select number of Short Throw projectors that can be placed closer to the screen and project upward from the floor, short stand, or downward from the ceiling using a special lens assembly.

Hisense Laser TV - Ultra Short Throw Projector
Image provided by Hisense

Room Light

TVs
  • Reflections can be problematic.

  • Designed to work in well-lit spaces.

Projectors
  • Reflections aren't much of an issue.

  • Performs best in dark and dim spaces.

Room lighting is a major factor for both TV and video projector viewing.

Although strides have been made to increase video projector light output enabling some projectors to provide viewable images in a room with ambient light, they perform best in a darkened room.

While TVs can be used in darkened rooms, they are designed to display good image quality under normal light conditions. LED/LCD TVs perform well under normal light, whereas OLED TVs perform better in a dimly lit room. However, both look fine in a standard lit room, barring any screen reflections from light coming from windows or lamps.

Modern Living Room - TV Room Lighting
Modern Living Room - TV Room Lighting. Getty Images - Tulcarion - Collection: E+

Resolution

TVs
  • Most TVs are 4K.

  • Picture on TVs is generally clearer.

  • Higher resolution TVs cost less on average.

Projectors
  • Most projectors are 1080p.

  • High resolution projectors cost significantly more.

Most TVs available have a real display resolution of 4K. 4K Ultra HD TVs come in price ranges ranging from below $500 to over $4,000 and in screen sizes ranging from 40 to 85-inches.

However, implementing 4K resolution in a video projector is more expensive than on a TV (most home theater video projectors are 1080p), and although some 4K projectors are priced as low as $1,500 (1080p projectors can be found as low as $600), take into consideration that you still need to purchase a screen. However, with the ability to project images much larger than currently available TVs can display, this is definitely an option.

To make things more confusing some inexpensive video projectors may be compatible with 1080p or 4K input signals, but the display resolution of the projector may be as low as 720p. This means that 1080p and 4K resolution signals are downscaled to 720p for screen display. The takeaway here is "buyer beware" with video projectors priced $400 or less that promote 1080p or 4K "compatibility."

4K Resolution Comparison Chart
Image courtesy of OPPO Digital

Brightness and HDR

TVs
  • HDR results are more pronounced on TVs.

Projectors
  • HDR on projectors is more subdued.

TVs can output a lot more light than a video projector. As a result, TVs are brighter overall and HDR-enabled TVs can display HDR-encoded images a lot better than a video projector.

HDR expands the brightness and contrast range of specially-encoded content that results in the display of images that look more like you would see in the real world. However, since HDR-enabled video projectors can't put out as much light as an HDR-enabled TV, the results are more subdued.

Sony SDR and HDR Comparison
Sony

3D

TVs
  • Most, if not all, have been discontinued.

Projectors
  • 3D projectors are still made.

  • Finding content can be difficult.

If you are looking for the 3D viewing option, unfortunately, the production of 3D TVs has been discontinued. There are only a few select models that may still be available on clearance or used.

However, many video projectors are still being made with 3D capability included. If you are looking for a video projector and desire the 3D viewing option, confirm that the projector includes it. Be aware in most cases, you will have to purchase the required 3D glasses separately. You will also need compatible source devices and content.

Family Watching TV With 3D Glasses.
Getty Images - Credit: vgajic - Collection: E+ - 185121753

Audio

TVs
  • Most include speakers, even if they aren't great.

  • More outputs included to connect to external speakers.

  • Simpler to wire and set up external speakers.

Projectors
  • Many don't include speakers.

  • You'll usually need to wire the audio directly from the source to speakers.

Although the speaker systems built-into TVs aren't that great, you don't have to purchase a separate audio system if you feel the sound the TV provides is adequate for your needs. Also, almost all TVs provide connections for an external audio system. Soundbars are a popular option.

There are a select number of video projectors with built-in speakers (which, like TVs, don't sound that great), but the most require an external audio system to listen to the sound. Also, if you are using HDMI to connect your source to the projector unless the projector has an audio output, you need to make a separate connection from the source device to an external audio system.

TV Audio Output Connection Options

Streaming/Smart Features

TVs
  • Most have smart features.

  • Easy to connect streaming devices.

Projectors
  • Most don't have smart features.

  • Connecting streaming devices requires more audio configuration.

Most TVs these days come with smart features built-in. This means that they connect directly to the internet and can access a varying selection of internet streaming services, such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Video, etc...

On the other hand, although there are a smaller number of video projectors available from companies such as LG and Hisense that have smart TV-type features, the vast majority of models just provide inputs for the connection of external devices.

Although media streaming sticks and boxes can be connected to any projector that has an HDMI input, unless the projector has built-in audio or has an audio output that connects to an external audio system, you will not be able to hear your content. This means that you will have to route your media streamer through a home theater receiver before it gets to the projector to access both picture and sound.

Smart TV Platform Examples (LG, Samsung, Sony, Roku)
Smart TV Platform Examples (LG, Samsung, Sony, Roku). Images provided by LG, Samsung, Sony, Roku

TV Reception

TVs
  • Most come with a built-in tuner.

  • Connecting an antenna is direct and simple.

Projectors
  • Most don't include a TV tuner.

  • Connecting an antenna requires an external tuner device.

With very few exceptions, TVs have RF inputs and built-in tuners for the reception of over-the-air TV signals via an antenna.

Video projectors typically don't have RF or antenna connections.

The only exception is some of the projectors available from LG and the Hisense. However, if you have an external tuner that you can connect an antenna to or cable/satellite box that has one or more of the following connection options: composite, S-Video, component, and/or DVI, or HDMI you would be able to hook them up to a video projector.

When shopping for a video projector make sure it has the connections you need as a growing number of projectors are eliminating analog video connections and may only have DVI and HDMI connection options.

LG Antenna TV and LG Channels Combined Listing

Light Source

TVs
  • Built-in backlighting or self-illuminating pixels.

  • Designed to last for the life of the TV.

Projectors
  • Most use a bulb/lamp.

  • Lamps burn out after about 2 years.

  • Replacing bulbs costs $200+.

To display images, TVs either use a backlight light system (LED/LCD TVs) or the pixels emit their own light (OLED TVs). These systems are designed to last the life of the TV with little dimming over time.

Video projectors also employ a light source (Lamps, Laser, LED) to project images, but there are things to take into consideration.

Video projectors that use lamps as their light source have a limited bulb life. This means that if you are watching TV on your video projector about four or more hours every day, you might need to replace the light source bulb about every 2 years or so at about 200-400 dollars (or more) a pop. If you desire longer bulb life, limit your viewing to about 12 hours a week and your projection bulb might last several years.

On the other hand, LED and laser-based light sources, which have much longer lifespans, are being incorporated into more projectors. As these "lampless" projectors become more affordable, the lifespan problems associated with light bulbs will be less of a factor.

Setup

TVs
  • Much simpler to set up.

  • Designed to work just about anywhere out of the box.

Projectors
  • Requires much more in-depth setup.

  • Placement is a big factor.

  • Planning and design are needed to construct your theater system.

A TV is easier to set up than a video projector.

You put a TV on a stand or mount it on the wall, plug in your sources, turn it on, and perform some prompted steps whether the TV is a standard or smart model.

Setting up a video projector takes more forethought, such as:

  • Deciding between ceiling mounting or stand placement. If you opt for a portable projector, the ceiling option is not for you.
  • Placing it at the right distance to the screen.
  • Making sure the projector is close enough to your sources or, if needed, implementing any long-distance connection options.
  • Focusing the image on the screen.
  • Making sure the image conforms to the screen dimensions.
  • Adjusting room lighting.
  • Going into the projector setup menu and make any additional picture adjustments.
Video Projector Placement Options Example
Video Projector Placement Options Example. Image provided by Benq

Final Verdict

Is a brand new 4K TV right for you, or should you go with the more cinematic experience of a projector? There are plenty of factors to consider, but a TV, especially a quality one, is always going to be simpler. For most people, a good TV is a better fit. Projectors aren't without their niche applications, though. If you are trying to create a home cinema, a projector really does give that "at the movies" feel. In those instances, the extra effort and cost required to due a projector setup justice are warranted. Otherwise, stick to a great TV. Find something that looks good, fits where you need it, has the features you'll use, and is built to last. You'll be much more satisfied in the long run.