Video Projector vs. TV

Which is best for your home theater?

TVs and video projectors are used in home theaters around the world. Depending on your needs and desires, one option may be preferable over the other. Here are the key things to consider when making your decision.

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

Overall Findings

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

  • Light output is fairly constant over time.

  • Brighter than video projectors.

  • Easy to set up.

  • Most TVs are smart TVs.

  • Lots of 4K TVs are available.

Video Projectors
  • Best for movies and events.

  • Lamps need periodic replacement.

  • More complex setup.

  • 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 because they're simple to set up. TVs 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 pay more for 4K, need to design your room around screen placement, and put more effort into designing and configuring your home theater.

Many conveniences, like smart features and simple audio output, are lacking on most projectors, requiring more thought and consideration to achieve the same results.

TVs are best for every day. Projectors are best for special occasions and niche applications.

Direct Viewing vs. Reflected Viewing

TVs
  • Self-contained.

  • Emits light from behind, making images brighter.

Projectors
  • Light reflected off a screen can look slightly faded.

  • Room light contamination can be a factor.

TVs emit light directly from the screen, and you see the images directly. Projectors emit light containing the images, which is reflected off a screen before you can view it.

A TV is self-contained. In contrast, 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 only size you have 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 the 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
  • 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, these images also look excellent on 65-inch and larger TVs. Still, a larger projection screen delivers a movie theater-like viewing experience.

Sony UBP-X800 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Sony

Room Size

TVs
  • Sits flat on the wall.

  • Works better in smaller rooms.

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

Since TVs are self-contained, you can place a TV 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 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
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.

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

While TVs can be used in darkened rooms, TVs 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
Tulcarion / Collection: E+ / Getty Images

Resolution

TVs
  • Most TVs are 4K.

  • The picture is generally clearer.

  • Higher resolution TVs cost less, on average.

Projectors
  • Most projectors are 1080p.

  • High-resolution projectors cost significantly more.

Most TVs have a real display resolution of 4K. 4K Ultra HD TVs come in price ranges 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). 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 need a screen. With the ability to project images larger than TVs can display, this is an option.

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. Be wary of video projectors priced $400 or less that promote 1080p or 4K compatibility.

4K Resolution Comparison Chart
OPPO Digital

Brightness and HDR

TVs
  • HDR results are more pronounced on TVs.

Projectors
  • HDR on projectors is more subdued.

TVs can output more light than a video projector. As a result, TVs are brighter overall, and HDR-enabled TVs can display HDR-encoded images 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're looking for a 3D viewing option, the production of 3D TVs has been discontinued. There are only a few models that may be available on clearance or used.

However, many video projectors are still made with 3D capability included. If you're looking for a video projector and desire 3D viewing, confirm that the projector includes it. In most cases, you must purchase the required 3D glasses separately. You will also need compatible source devices and content.

Family Watching TV With 3D Glasses.
vgajic / Collection: E+ / Getty Images

Audio

TVs
  • Most include speakers but may not have great sound.

  • Includes more outputs 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 the speakers.

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

A few video projectors have built-in speakers (which, like TVs, don't sound that great). Still, most require an external audio system to listen to the sound. Also, if you use HDMI to connect the source to the projector, you need to make a separate connection from the source device to an external audio system, unless the projector has an audio output.

TV Audio Output Connection Options

Streaming and Smart Features

TVs
  • Most have smart features.

  • Easy to connect streaming devices.

Projectors
  • Most don't have smart features.

  • Connecting streaming devices requires audio configuration.

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

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

Although media streaming sticks and boxes can be connected to any projector with an HDMI input, unless the projector has built-in audio or has an audio output that connects to an external audio system, you won't hear the content. This means that you must 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)
LG, Samsung, Sony, and 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 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, except for some projectors available from LG and Hisense. However, if you can connect an antenna to an external tuner or if you have a cable or satellite box with connection options (such as composite, S-Video, component, DVI, or HDMI), you can hook those up to a video projector.

When shopping for a video projector, make sure it has the connections you need. 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 or lamp.

  • Lamps burn out after two years.

  • Replacing bulbs costs over $200.

To display images, TVs either use a backlight light system (LED/LCD TVs) or the pixels emit 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, or LED) to project images, but there are things to consider.

Video projectors that use lamps as the light source have a limited bulb life. So, if you watch TV on your video projector for four or more hours every day, you might need to replace the light source bulb about every two years or so at about $200 to $400 (or more) each. 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 a longer lifespan, 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 in-depth setup.

  • Placement is a factor.

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

A TV is easier to set up than a video projector. 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 the right distance from 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 the room lighting.
  • Going into the projector setup menu and making picture adjustments.
Video Projector Placement Options Example
Benq

Final Verdict

Is a brand new 4K TV right for you, or should you go with the cinematic experience of a projector? There are plenty of factors to consider. 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 niche applications, though. If you want to create a home cinema, a projector will make you feel like you're at a movie theater. In those instances, the extra effort and cost required to do a projector setup justice are warranted. Otherwise, choose 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 more satisfied in the long run.

Was this page helpful?