Today on the hookup I’m going to show you 7 of the biggest mistakes that people make when buying and using projectors, and how to avoid them to save money and get the right projector for your needs.
In the last few years huge improvements have been made in projector technology to not only make them more affordable, but also easier and more convenient to own… but shopping for a projector is still super overwhelming because there are so many different types of projectors and so many different options. In this video I’m going to cover 7 of the biggest projector selection pitfalls and how you can avoid them.
The first mistake is misunderstanding advertised brightness. Every projector will perform best when viewed in a completely dark room, and the more light you have in the room the more brightness your projector will need to avoid looking washed out.
Unfortunately even though there IS an agreed upon standard for measuring projector brightness called ANSI lumens many dishonest companies choose to represent their brightness in different units to make them sound much better than they are.
ANSI Lumens are the standard measurement of projector brightness and are calculated by projecting an all white screen, then measuring the brightness at 6 different areas, averaging those measurements and then multiplying by the screen size in square meters.
But instead of ANSI Lumens most cheap LED projectors on Amazon list their light source lumens instead, which just tells you how bright the LED chip inside the projector is and not the actual projected image. There’s no perfect way to convert between light source lumens and ANSI lumens, but as an example this projector which is my current recommendation in the sub $100 category claims 6500 lumens on the product page, but actually has around 96 ANSI lumens.
And it’s not just off-brand projectors trying to trick you, even Samsung lists the brightness of their $900 Freestyle projector at 550 Lumens, but you’ll notice the word ANSI isn’t next to that measurement, and that’s because it actually represents something called LED lumens which can thankfully be converted to ANSI lumens by dividing by 2.4, meaning the freestyle should have around 230 ANSI Lumens, and in my testing it came out slightly higher than that at 240 ANSI Lumens, but close enough.
There’s no hard and fast rule for how much brightness is needed for different amounts of ambient light and remember that all projectors will look best in a dark room, but these are my general recommendations for ANSI lumens required to get a usable 100” screen in different lighting conditions: Projecting outside during the day, but not in direct sunlight you’ll want at least 3500 ANSI lumens for a usable image, inside during the day with the blinds open and lights on you should look for over 2500 ANSI lumens, if you close the blinds and turn most of your light off you can get by with around 600 ANSI lumens, and projectors around 300 ANSI lumens will work best at night in mostly dark conditions.
The second most common mistake that I see is buying the wrong projector type for your planned use and location. This may sound obvious, but if you are planning on making a dedicated home theater, or replacing your TV with a projector then you probably shouldn’t buy a portable projector because they generally cost more for less performance.
Not only is it more expensive to include a battery inside the projector, but it also means that the projector has to be able to conserve power to make the battery last longer, and all the parts including the light source and DLP chip need to be miniaturized to fit into a portable case. This also applies to non-portable projectors, where in general a larger projector will deliver higher performance for less cost than a miniature one, because the parts inside don’t need to be as small.
If you ARE looking for a portable projector then one of my favorites is the XGiMi Halo+ which costs $849, and gets you a 1080p projector with 665 ANSI Lumens, solid battery life, auto focus and keystone, and androidTV 10. The Halo+ is great if you want to take it camping, or temporarily set up a projector outside for a night time backyard movie, but if you’re not planning on moving your projector around then a similarly priced non-portable projector like the Optoma GT1080HDR will get you over 5 times the brightness for the exact same price, but they do have different light source technologies.
Which leads me to mistake number three, which is choosing the right light source tech. One thing every projector needs is a bright light, and projectors have 3 different ways of creating that light: First, there’s High Intensity Discharge Bulbs, commonly called bulb projectors. Second, LED projectors use a bright array of white LEDs, or 3 separate color LEDs. And third, the newest technology is uses either a single laser or 3 separate color lasers for an ultra bright long lasting light source.
There are some subtle differences in the images created by these three projection types, but overall the biggest differences are the tradeoffs between brightness, cost, and lifespan.
Bulb projectors are the least expensive way to achieve high brightness, but the bulbs will typically need to be replaced every 3-5000 watch hours, and possibly sooner than that if they overheat, get dirty, or are constantly being moved around. Another disadvantage of a bulb projector is that they consume more energy and get hotter than LED and Laser projectors, which can be uncomfortable if you plan on sitting next to or under your projector. If you’re just planning on using your projector to watch an occasional movie, then a bulb projector might make sense because it will take you years to rack up enough usage to need to change the bulb, but if you plan on replacing your TV with a projector then you should focus on one of the other two light sources.
LED projectors consume less energy, have a lamp life up to 10x longer than bulb projectors and are generally cheaper to produce, but they typically don’t offer the same brightness as a bulb projector in the same price point. Recently there have been some exceptions to this rule like the Benq X3000i which consumes a massive 330w of power to pump out 3000 ANSI lumens from its 4 LED light sources, it’s a bit of an exception to the general rule.
Last are laser projectors, which are the newest technology in projector light sources. Laser offers the best of both worlds giving you high brightness, lower energy consumption, lower heat production, and high life span at the expense of, well expense. Laser projectors tend to be the most expensive option and are rarely available for less than $2000 but the highly columnated light is also useful for advanced optics like ultra short throw lenses, and that leads to mistake number 4.
Which is not planning for where your projector will need to be mounted to get the screen size that you want. There are three general categories of projectors based on something called throw ratio: There’s Standard throw, Short Throw, and Ultra short throw. Standard throw projectors have throw ratios between around 1.0 and 1.5 which would mean if a projector had a throw ratio of 1.5 that in order to project a 100 inch screen the projector would need to sit 100” x 1.5 or 150” away from the screen.
This could cause a problem if you’re in a small room or limited in where you can place your projector so you might need a short throw projector which would generally have a throw ratio between 0.5 and 0.7 meaning you could get a 100 inch screen placing the projector as little as 50 inches away.
The last throw ratio category is called Ultra Short Throw or UST and it allows you to place your projector directly under the screen and project a 100” image with the lens only around 20-25” away from the screen.
Ultra short throws have gained popularity because it’s not only easier to set your projector on a piece of furniture under the screen than it is to hang it from the ceiling, but it also puts the built in speakers in front of you instead of behind and lets you use a special type of screen called an optical ambient light rejecting screen which reflects light that comes from low angles and rejects light sources
that comes from above.
And leads me to mistake number 5 which is spending your entire budget on a projector and forgetting about the screen.
Like all displays a projector’s image is made of light. Wherever the image should be all white the projector will send out full brightness red, green, and blue light which our eyes perceive as white, and where ever the image should be black the projector will attempt to block as much light as possible from passing through its LCD screen or DLP chip. In reality this means that the color of the surface you are projecting onto will dictate the true color of the white parts of the image, and the ambient light in the room will affect how deep the blacks are.
If you take a really bright light and shine it on your projection surface that will tell you what your white areas will look like, and if you turn that bright light off, that will be the color of the black parts of the screen. In a bright room you’ll notice that the black levels can’t be completely black because of ambient light and if you are projecting your image onto a wall with a color other than grey tones, then all of your projected colors including white will shift towards the color of your wall.
If you have a dedicated home theater room with dark colored walls, no windows, and minimal lighting then you don’t need to worry as much about ambient light, but even then light will reflect off of the screen and bounce off the ceiling and furniture to introduce ambient light into the room.
To combat these projector screens have a statistic called screen gain, which is how much light they will absorb or reflect.
A screen with a gain of 1.0 will reflect 100% of the light shined on it, and would be ideal for a purpose built home theater room, but in a bright room where not all the sunlight can be blocked out a projector screen with a gain value below 1.0 will block out some of that ambient light at the expense of also blocking some of your projector’s brightness.
Using some oversimplified math we can estimate that a 650 ANSI Lumen projector like the XGiMi projected onto a 0.8 gain screen would have a total perceived brightness of only 520 lumens, but the black level on the screen would be improved by roughly 20%.
Projector screens are available for all budgets with the least expensive being spandex style screens, that meant for temporary usage. For permanent installations you can choose between different mounting options like fixed frame screens, manual and motorized pull down screens, and even motorized floor rising screens. Most of those mounting options are available with different screen styles with different gains and gains and here’s a quick demonstration of how a different screen material can affect the overall look of the projected image during the day with the blinds open.
Here what it looks like with the blinds closed and ceiling lights on.
This is the projected image during the day with the blinds closed and no lights on.
Here’s what they look like at night with minimal room lighting.
And finally this is what it looks like at night with as little ambient as I can possibly have in my living room.
You can see that the best black levels and contrast come from the optical ambient light rejecting screen made specifically for ultra short throw projectors, but in all conditions the brightest screen is the pure white option, so if you are looking for a more high contrast HDR experience a gray low gain screen paired with a high brightness projector is best, but if you just want as much brightest as possible then a white screen with a gain between 1.0 and 1.3 is probably the way to go.
Mistake number 6 is getting too fixated on a projector’s resolution. If you are looking at a specific price range and have the option between a 1080p projector and a 4K projector it’s entirely possible that the 1080p projector will produce a clearer more crisp looking image from normal viewing distance than a 4K projector, even though the 4k projector has 4 times as many pixels. This is because out eyes perceive clarity not only as a function of pixel density, but also brightness and contrast ratio, so if you are making large sacrifices in brightness and contrast to be able to afford a higher resolution, you may end up with a worse overall viewing experience.
There is also a lot confusion about the term native resolution. Some cheap LED projectors on Amazon might claim to be 4K projectors when in fact they only have a native 1080p LCD screen, in this case
claiming to be a 4K projector is just an outright lie and what they mean is that it can play a 4K source and automatically downscale the video to a 1080p signal that the screen can display.
However, there are projectors that use 1080p chips to output a true 4K image. This technique is called pixel shifting and basically instead of drawing 1 1080p image with 2 million pixels per frame the DLP chip can rapidly shift to draw 4 different 1080p images slightly offset from one other to make a total of 8 million pixels which we call 4K. Some might argue that a projector with an actual 4K screen is higher quality than a 1080p pixel shifted screen, but in practice for video it’s basically impossible to tell the difference between a pixel shifted and native resolution and in some cases pixel shifting can actually result in better color accuracy and less distinct pixel structure.
So instead of focusing purely on resolution, when choosing a projector for your specific budget, you should prioritize brightness, then contrast ratio, then resolution as long as you are choosing between 1080p and 4k. I wouldn’t recommend spending more than $100 on a projector with 720p resolution.
Last, mistake number 7 is getting too hung up on a projector’s smart functionality. Very rarely should you make your projector selection based on an operating system like AndroidTV, WebOS, or TizenOS. It’s common for the native operating system on projectors to have limitations with specific apps like Netflix, to not be able to output dolby atmos surround sound, and to generally just be slow and clunky.
But for $34 you can get an Amazon Fire Stick 4k, $49 gets you a full featured googleTV with chromecast, and if you want to go all in $200 will get you the nVidia shield which is generally regarded as the best streaming media player ever made. Point is, there are a lot more important things to worry about when selecting your projector and a smartOS shouldn’t be one of them. As long as your projector’s interface offers keystoning and image correction options, you shouldn’t worry too much about what apps it may or may not be compatible with.
If you are looking for a purely portable projector then I could see how carrying around another remote and dongle might not be ideal, but for permanent or even semi-permanent setups it definitely doesn’t matter and you’re much better off with a purpose built streaming device that you can replace in a few years if something better comes along.
So what do you think, did I miss a mistake that you made? Let me know down in the comments. If you’re still thoroughly confused as to which projector you should choose I’ve linked a few of my favorites from different price categories down in the description and I’ve got a playlist of projector showdown videos that I’ve made to help you pick the one that’s right for you.
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