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

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.

Direct Viewing vs Reflected Viewing

TVs emit light directly from the screen and images are directly viewed, whereas light containing the images from a video projector 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 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

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

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

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

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.

Although 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

Most TVs available have a native 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 is 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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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