BenQ Knowledge Center

2021 Home Theatre Projector Buyer's Guide

What to know before buying a projector? How to choose a projector?

BenQ
2021/10/22

You want to get a projector for your home to watch movies and TV content on an extra-large screen. But, you have questions and feel unsure about what to look for. We’re here to help gently chaperone you towards a projector that’ll make you happy for years to come.

 

We’ll cover everything from the basics to pro tips, with plenty of details and info to assuage any concerns you may have before venturing into projector land. We’ll explain many of the tech terms, advise on setup, and make sure you become more familiar with the intricacies of different projector designs. We’ll make a projectionist of you yet. Welcome to the bright lights! 

Projector or TV?

That’s the most obvious question people ask themselves when the craving for a projector first manifests. Considering the average household has a 55” to 75” TV, with an increasing number running 4K, it’s easy to tell ourselves we have viewing entertainment covered. But reality would like to object, because if you want a bona fide cinematic experience on a majestically massive screen projectors are your only option. It’s as simple as that. Want a screen bigger than 80”? Only projectors deliver that. Easily go to 200” and infinity if you want, projectors don’t mind and the cost difference between various screen sizes is marginal. Conversely, a 75” 4K TV regularly costs twice the asking price for a 55” model with the same specs.

If you want cinematic and you want big, then projectors are literally the only technology right now to deliver that for home entertainment. That’s because for the price of the largest 4K TV available you can get a fully loaded, top-of-the-line 4K HDR projector with a 200” motorised screen, sound system, furniture, and probably lifetime subscriptions to all your favorite streaming services. Add to the practical size and cost considerations the very obvious benefit of having a cinema in your living room and you can already smell the popcorn. 

If you want the biggest image possible, then projects offer the only way to go.

How to Choose a Projector?

One of the easiest ways to measure the cost-effectiveness of a home viewing solution boils down to money per inch. With projectors now offering essentially the same image quality as TVs, once the decision has been made to go big screen there’s just no contest.  Until technology emerges that allows flat-panel TVs to change sizes on demand, projectors are your only choice for that flexibility. While projectors offer portability these days, there’s something very comforting about having a dedicated movie room or corner. So you probably have a location in mind already.

 

Let's step by step to see what are the primary considerations to take into account? 

1. Portability – Fixed or Portable?

Before deciding on anything else, consider whether you’re going to move your projector or have it stay in one location. For home theatre usage, a full-size projector is recommended, and that typically means finding a good spot to situate it and sticking with that. However, if you think mobility is important then you may want to look into portable projectors. As we said, for serious audiovisual enjoyment you should get a full-size home cinema projector and place it in your living room or other home theatre area. Modern home cinema projectors are quite light and movable if you decide to use another room, and you can also consider a ceiling mount (which is more permanent).

 

If you plan on having movie nights outdoors, a portable projector is your best choice due to its compact size and light design.

 

Read more: How to Set up a Movie Night with a Projector in the Garden

2. Room Size – Short or Long Throw Ratio?

To simplify matters, throw distance describes the range a projector needs to create an accurate image on a 100” screen. Short throw projectors come in handy for big screens in small rooms, as they don’t require long distances to project a big picture. Long-throw projectors give you much-improved flexibility. They work great with big screens from any distance, so you have more options for installation.

 

Whether placed at seat level or ceiling mounted, projectors ideally should be aimed at the centre of the screen. But if you can’t manage that due to room conditions such as furniture, two technologies provide help. Keystone adjusts images projected off-centre so that you don’t lose any of the pictures due to “falling off” the screen. However, keystone correction may diminish image quality. That’s why good projectors also support lens shift. Combined, keystone correction and lens shift offer you the ability to place your projector in more locations without suffering image quality degradation.

 

As far as an actual projector to screen distance goes, for small to medium rooms we recommend 1.5 to 2.5 meters (4.9-8.2ft.). Large rooms should aim for 2.5 to 4 meters (8.2-13.1ft.). All distances are based on using a 100” screen. 

 

BenQ Calculator: https://projectorcalculator.benq.com/

Read more: Create Big Screen Cinema in Limited Places with Throw Distance and Projector Calculator

3. Projection Surface – Wall or Dedicated Screen?

The easiest way to get started with projection is to use an available white-coloured wall. If the wall is uniform and consistent enough, then you should get a pretty decent image. Also, this has the advantage of gauging your preferred image size without committing to a dedicated screen with the risk of later changing your mind. Thus, we do recommend starting your home theatre with the white wall experiment. If you already have a screen size in mind, then by all means purchase a dedicated screen.

 

Arguably just as important as the screen size for projection are the materials said screen is made of. Most plain white/light grey screens can do just fine, while dark screens would not make for very enlightening experiences. Newer screens use light rejection technologies to maximise projection efficiency and minimise detail loss. Besides, screens can be fixed installations or highly portable. You could have them roll up or drop down into special alcoves if they’re motorised. More affordable screens are held in place by standard frames but may develop wrinkles and warp over time, affecting image consistency. Tab tensioned designs employ force to keep the screen evenly flat to counter these problems, but of course, cost more.

 

Nominally, a good screen offers much better image quality than a wall and allows you to enjoy the projector’s full potential.

 

Read more: Choosing Projector Screen Type, Size, Material, and More

4. Light Conditions – Dark or Well-Lit?

Projectors work best in dark rooms or locations that allow the highest level of detail in every content type to be shown. However, naturally, that often proves tough to achieve in the real world. Modern projectors have custom modes and technologies designed to maintain good image quality in diverse light conditions, but we recommend a room or area where you have a greater degree of control over illumination. Pick a location that has few or small windows or windows that you could easily cover whenever needed. A living room with massive floor-to-ceiling windows that face east or west would not make for a good viewing ambiance, but a large study with one window with dark-coloured blinds will work great, as will a basement if you have one. 

 

Read more: Make Your Home Theatre Dreams Come True in Three Easy Steps

Ambient light conditions in your viewing environment make a huge difference.

5. Connectivity – Content Sources and Audio

Think about the devices and sources you’ll have working with the projector. This aspect of the equation requires careful contemplation because not every projector has all the ports and connectors you may need. At the very least, your projector of choice should possess two HDMI 2.0 ports and a USB 2.0 port, with newer versions of HDMI and USB always welcome, and multiple USB ports a definite advantage. With two HDMI ports, you can connect a 4K Blu-ray player plus another device, for example, a streaming box or game console. USB ports prove useful for hooking up storage devices when you want to watch home videos or photos, and they deliver power to streaming sticks and other modules that plug into HDMI.

 

External audio presents an area of much interest for many home cinema buffs. While quite a few home cinema projectors arrive with impressive built-in speakers that should be enough for even large rooms, chances are you’ll eventually want to add a sound system to your setup. Look for projectors with digital and analog audio connectors, meaning SPDIF and 3.5mm. And having one of the HDMI ports support the audio return channel (ARC) further helps with setting up a home cinema sound system.

 

Read more: Does HDMI Cable Bandwidth Matter?

6. Want to Play Games?

We mentioned connecting a game console in the previous segment, and that’s also a very popular pairing for projectors these days. With true 4K and superb colour depiction, high-quality home cinema projectors have the potential to double as hosts for big-screen gaming. The most important consideration for gaming is latency or total input lag. Support for 4K 60Hz is normal among good home cinema projectors, with some models offering 1080p at up to 240Hz, but many projectors have over 40ms actual lag, and that affects gaming. Look for models that deliver the lowest possible input lag, for example, 16ms 4K 60Hz. With those specs, a 100” or 120” projected image is just as responsive as a much smaller flat-screen TV, and often even more responsive. In short, don’t forget to check a projector’s performance in the latency department before making a purchase if gaming is something you’re interested in. 

 

Read more: Input Lag and Gaming Projector Performance

Projector Technology and Features

We have an assortment of articles dedicated to the many technologies that drive modern projectors, but for the sake of this guide we’ll also quickly touch upon several of the basics. First up we have the type of projection design or technology. Currently, DLP (Digital Light Processing) and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) serve as the two main approaches to projection. Our recommendation (which we stand by throughout our entire projector lineup) goes to DLP as the better option. 

DLP Provides Better Image Resolution and Quality

In DLP, light shines on a digital micromirror device, also known as a DMD or DLP chip. Up to several million mirrors fit on one DMD, the size and intricacy of which determines the projector’s resolution. BenQ home projectors use Texas Instruments DMDs with support for 8.3 million pixels, providing true 4K. In any case, from the DMD the light passes through a colour wheel. Here too differences emerge. Basic projectors have tri-coloured wheels, with red, green, and blue segments. Advanced models such as those made by BenQ use “RGBRGB” hex-colour wheels. That means each of the three primary colours gets two segments and the wheel spins much faster, ensuring exponentially more accurate colour reproduction compared to basic RGB designs.

DLP technology uses a dedicated micromirror for each pixel on the screen, so a 1080p projector has over two million mirrors, while a 4K projector uses 8.3 million. LCD projectors use an array with only a few mirrors to project light from a source onto an LCD panel, not unlike the one found in your smartphone, regardless of resolution. DLP requires high precision manufacturing of the DMD/DLP chip with its millions of mirrors, whereas LCD projectors use common off-the-shelf components. LCD image quality tends to appear very saturated in projection applications. Because of their relatively simplistic design and use of small LCD panels, projectors based on this technology deliver images that look much “jaggier” and more pixelated compared to DLP.

 

Read more: BenQ DLP Projection Technology

One of the most important factors when choosing a projector is color accuracy.

Understanding Resolution: What is True 4K? What is Enhanced 4K?

As of the writing of this guide, the balance of power in the realm of resolution has shifted in favour of 4K, or 3840 x 2160, most commonly. Another 4K format has 4096 x 2160 pixels, but remains mostly used in cinemas. Effectively when 4K ultra HD (UHD) is discussed, 3840 x 2160 is the resolution in mind, totaling 8.3 million pixels (megapixels) per frame/image.

 

Between 2005 and 2017 the pre-eminent resolution was full HD or 1920 x 1080, which equals 2.1 megapixels. So it’s easy to see 4K has about four times the pixel count of full HD, creating noticeably more detailed images.

 

When we say “true”, we mean you could pause playback and then actually count 8.3 million distinct pixels on the screen. DLP/DMD designs with 8.3 million mirrors remain very rare and costly, so most true 4K projectors employ pixel shifting to generate duplicates of any given frame. The duplication happens so fast you can’t perceive it and there’s no flickering or other undesired side effects. The net result are 8.3 million beautiful pixels per frame.

While BenQ 4K projectors offer true 4K with 8.3 million distinct pixels per frame, many projectors on the market provide what is known as 4K enhancement. Due to technical limitations, those projectors only double a 1920 x 1080 image to display 4.1 million actual pixels or less than half the resolution of true 4K. At the moment, only DLP/DMD technology as used by BenQ offers true 4K on home projectors.

 

Read more: What is True 4K UHD?

True 4K has over four million more actual pixels compared to 4K-enhanced content.

The Big HDR Factor

High dynamic range, or HDR, stands together with 4K resolution as the most important development in the home video during the past few years. Contrasted with SDR (standard dynamic range), HDR began appearing in photography and movie theatres during the early 2000s. By the mid-2010s a variety of HDR standards made their way onto flat-panel TVs and from there to projectors.

 

At the core of HDR reside higher peak brightness, greater image contrast, and deeper colour spaces or a wider colour gamut. With HDR you get deeper darks, brighter whites, stronger contrast, more realistic colours, and greater overall image detail. You experience content as created in its native form without missing out on crucial details. Several HDR standards exist, most notably HDR10 by the UHD Alliance, Dolby’s Dolby Vision, and HLG, supported by broadcasters like the BBC. HDR10/HDR10+ are by far the most common.

 

All good projectors have onboard computing elements just like smart TVs that handle what is known as metadata, or the added information that’s required to transform a raw image into refined output, in this case with HDR.

 

Selected BenQ home projectors have contrast ratios of up to 100,000:1 or one hundred thousand units of white per unit of the dark. With those specs processing, HDR content becomes very attainable and accurate to the source material. Currently, all major streaming platforms (Netflix, Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Hulu) have 4K HDR content, and gaming is likewise increasingly dominated by 4K HDR graphics you don’t want to miss out on. 

 

Read more: Can Projectors Really be HDR?

True 4K has over four million more actual pixels compared to 4K-enhanced content.

Colour Gamut

A direct result of quality lenses is the enablement of deeper colour spaces like Rec.709 and DCI-P3. Good home projectors support an assortment of industry-standard definitions, most prominently Rec. 709, DCI-P3, and Rec. 2020. All three were developed and sanctioned by the SMPTE, or Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and are intimately linked to HDR and 4K. DCI-P3 was developed for digital cinema and has a much wider colour gamut than Rec. 709, which was created for regular HD content. You should strive to get a projector with 95% DCI-P3 coverage or higher to really enjoy content as intended by its cinematographers and directors.  

 

Read more: What is Colour-Accuracy and Why It’s Important to Select a Colour-Accurate Projector?

 

The DCI-P3 color space was originally designed for digital movie theaters, but now benefits home projector users.

All-Glass Lenses

Projectors can only perform as well as their optics allow just as TVs depend on their panel quality. That’s why you should research the optical design of any projector you’re thinking of buying. What you’re looking for are multi-lens arrays that use coated, heat-resistant, all-glass components. The importance of glass affects more than just image quality. Mixed material or plastic lenses result in blur and lost details, plus lens warping in short order due to lamp heat exposure. Tough glass lenses that pass strenuous testing guarantee long-lasting image fidelity. Lenses are essentially the most important part of a projector, determining the quality and accuracy of what you see. A projector may have excellent image processing but if its lenses aren’t up to the task you’re not going to benefit from any of its advertised features, including 4K and HDR. That’s why you need top-notch optics, to support and enable everything else. 

 

Read more: Why Glass Lenses are Important for Projectors

 

The bottom line for this part: seek out projectors with powerful lamps, premium lenses, and advanced processing. 

With an array of all-glass lenses, BenQ projectors offer long lasting image fidelity.

Projector Terminology

Now that you've read the guide and learned much about projectors, you may have more specific questions about some of the terms used. We've compiled a lexicon of the most frequently used projector jargon with quick and clear descriptions. So if you want to zoom in on a particular word, check out the glossary and terms you should know about projectors. We tried to cover as many bases as possible so it's quite a comprehensive list. Knowledge means enlightenment, as they say in the projector business. 

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