How to choose a projector - Guide

With so many different projectors on the market it is easy to become confused.
Which projector should you choose from the over 300 models on the market?

This quick guide has been created to help you choose. We will be answering a few questions to help you pin point the projector that will meet your requirements.

Projectors are usually compared using four main factors:

Once these factors have been considered, you can narrow down your choice further with secondary factors such as contrast ratio, warranty, lamp life etc.


Projector Brightness

Brightness is measured in ANSI (American National Standards Institute) lumens: the higher the ANSI lumens level, the brighter the projector.
So how bright should your projector be? First you need to consider the following factors:

Can you control the light in the room ?
The best results, regardless of projector brightness, are obtained in a dark room; however it is not always possible to control the light.
If you are going to use the projector in a room where there will be lighting or where there aren't any curtains to block out the natural light, it is recommended to choose a bright projector.
Home users are advised to use their projector in a dark room to enjoy the home cinema experience to the full.

The more light there is in a room the brighter the projector will need to be in order to compete.
How many people will be in the room?
The more people in the room, the bigger the picture will need to be to ensure everyone can see it.
Increasing the size of the picture will typically require the projector to be situated further away from the screen reducing the image brightness as the light is spread and travelling over a bigger area.

The more people in the room, the bigger the picture, the brighter the projector.
What is your application ?
Projecting text, graphs or any other detailed material from PC will require a brighter projector because of the need to see and read the details of what is being projected. These applications will also require some amount of ambient light for note-taking and communication.
Videos and TV do not need such a bright projector as they are visually less demanding and are usually shown in darker rooms, if the projector is too bright for home cinema this may reduce the image contrast.

The more detailed the image/picture, the brighter the projector.

Once you have decided the factors of room brightness, image size and what you will be projecting, you can decide what level of brightness is best for your application.

Less than 1000 Lumens
Most projectors in this category are for home cinema applications as they are used in dark rooms to ensure an optimal picture quality (contrast levels).
Business projectors in this category are to be used in darkened rooms so that the image isn't washed out by ambient light.
1000 to 2000 Lumens
The majority of projectors in this category are for education use, in classrooms or training rooms for example, or for home cinema use when users want to watch daytime television or prefer to keep some lights on while watching a movie.
Projectors between 1000 and 1500 lumens may need reduced lighting for better results; projectors between 1500 and 2000 lumens do not require a totally dark or dimly lit room to give a good picture.
2000 to 3000 Lumens
These projectors are suitable for large conference rooms, classrooms and portable use.
Most projectors sold to business and education users belong to this brightness range. They will be able to cope with increased levels of ambient and natural lighting and a larger screen.
3000 to 4000 lumens
These projectors are used in larger and brighter rooms where detailed data is projected requiring the highest levels of image clarity.
More than 4000 lumens
Projectors brighter than 3000 lumens are typically used in large venues such as auditoriums, churches, concerts etc. where a large screen is required or in very bright environments.


Projector Resolution

The resolution is the number of pixels that make up an image - e.g. 800 x 600 means the picture is made of 800 columns of pixels by 600 rows of pixels; for a total of 480.000 (800x600) pixels making up the whole image.
The larger the number of pixels the higher the resolution and the sharper and more detailed the image is.
When comparing projectors, we are comparing their native resolution: most projectors are compatible with higher source resolution through the use of compression technology, but the native resolution is the actual number of physical pixels.

There is a range of resolutions available:

Resolution Pixels Aspect Ratio Description
SVGA 800x600
480.000 pixels
4:3 Entry level projector reolution which is quite popular thanks to the lower purchase cost.
WVGA 800x480
384.000 px
16:10 Entry level home cinema resolution, also   often refered to as 480p
XGA 1024x768
786.432 px
4:3 Currently the most popular resolution as it is compatible with most computers and notebooks and provides good value for money.
HD2 1280x720
921.600 px
16:9 Mid range home cinema resolution also known as 720p. It is the minimum resolution a projector needs to be to be HD Ready.
WXGA 1280x800
1.024.000 px
16:10 An increasingly popular resolution for use with widescreen laptop computers.
SXGA+ 1400x1050
1.470.000 px
4:3 High range resolution used for very   detailed applications such as CAD drawings or video surveillance.
UXGA 1600x1200
1.920.000 px
4:3 High range resolution used for the most detailed applications such as technical plans or medical applications.
HD 1920x1080
2.073.600 px
16:9 High range home cinema resolution also   known as 1080p. This resolution is true Full HD resolution.
2K 2048x1080
2.211.840 px
  High range resolution used in commercial event projectors for large venues, rental market or outdoor productions.
4K 4096x2160
8.847.360 px
  Highest resolution available in current projectors, available on some high end home cinema projectors and commercial event projectors.


What resolution is best for you?

Projectors are compatible with different resolutions, converting different input resolution to the native output resolution. This process is called 'scaling'.
However, scaling generally causes a loss of picture quality: it is not as sharp and detailed. This happens not only when the projector is of lower resolution than the source but also when the projector is of higher resolution. Therefore it is always advised to match the projector resolution to the source's resolution (e.g. if you are using an XGA laptop you should if possible use an XGA projector). This will ensure you are getting the sharpest and cleanest image.

Another factor in choosing the right resolution for your projector is the typical application:

If you are using the projector for 'Powerpoint' type applications, you don't need a very high resolution; SVGA should be enough.

If you are using the projector for numeric data presentations, 'Excel' spreadsheets etc. where the image needs to be clearer, XGA is recommended.

If you are projecting highly detailed technical data such as engineering drawings, or high end photography, SXGA or UXGA resolutions would be best.

If you are using a widescreen computer or are buying a projector for home cinema, choose a widescreen projector that will match the computer resolution or the quality of video you would like to have.


Projector Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of an image to its height.
Projectors are divided between 4:3 (computer monitor shape), 16:10 (commercial widescreen format) and 16:9 (widescreen TV shape) aspect ratios.

The 4:3 projectors are mainly used for business purposes to use with a computer.
The 16:9 projectors are used for home cinema or to project DVDs. 
The 16:10 aspect ratio is seen in widescreen business projectors. These projectors have been designed for use with widescreen computers, although they are also used by some home users as they can be brighter and cost less than "true home cinema" models.

Most projectors, whether they are 4:3, 16:10 or 16:9, are compatible with other aspect ratios. A simple option in the projector menu will switch the picture between formats. It is however not recommended to use a projector in a format other than its native aspect ratio as it will stretch or compress the image or it will miss parts of the picture. The ideal aspect ratio depends on the application:

If you are going to use the projector mainly for business presentations, training, classroom application etc. with a standard computer it is advised to choose a 4:3 projector.

If you are using the projector with a widescreen computer it is recommended to choose a 16:10 projector.

If you are using the projector for home cinema or to project DVDs to an audience, it is recommended to choose a 16:9 projector.


Projector Weight

The more advanced and powerful the projector, the heavier it is.

If you are planning on using your projector on the road, you might need to consider its weight. A lighter, more portable machine around 1 - 2 kg would be more suitable.

If you don't intend to move the projector a lot but still want the option or it is more important to have a more powerful projector, you can look at projectors between 2 and 5 kg.

If your projector is going to be installed, the weight is not an issue and you should ignore it and concentrate on other cost or performance factors.


Once you have answered these four questions (brightness, resolution, aspect ratio and weight), you should be able to shortlist a few projectors.

To determine which one is best, you can also narrow down your choice further by considering the following factors:

There are a few types of technologies used in projectors but the main ones are LCD and DLP.
Both can be used for any application and give good results; however DLP projectors are usually preferred for video applications because they give a smoother/softer image while LCD projectors are ideal for data/computer application because they are sharper and often brighter.
To learn more about DLP and LCD technology and help choosing between the two, check our guide on DLP projectors vs LCD projectors.
Contrast Ratio
This is the ratio between white and black. The larger the contrast ratio the greater the ability of a projector to show subtle colour details and tolerate extraneous room light.
Inputs and Outputs
If you intend to use the projector with specific equipment, you will need to check that it has the correct inputs to work with the source. For example, it may need a HDMI input to work with a Blu-ray player.
If you are planning on using multiple computer or video inputs it is also recommended to choose a dual input projector. This will save you switching input every time you want to change the source which can be difficult if your projector is installed out of the way or can be inconvenient during a presentation.
Lamp Life and Price
Depending on the use of the projector, the lamp will have to be replaced from every few months to every few years. Most lamps last on average 2000hrs but some can last up to 6000hrs.
While lamp prices are lower than they used to be and vary depending on the model, some lamps can cost around £300. It is therefore important to take into consideration the price and life of the projector lamp.
Each manufacturer has a different warranty policy. It is important to know which level of warranty you expect in case your projector develops a fault.
It may be worth paying a little bit more to know that if you have a problem the manufacturer will come within 24hrs to pick up your projector while giving you a loan unit while your machine is being repaired rather than having to send the unit yourself and wait a few weeks without a replacement.
Audible Noise
Projectors produce noises because of their fans. Most projectors are no louder than a normal computer, but some are very quiet producing a low 25dB. This is an important factor for home users as fan noise could distract from the movie.