Setting up a movie house quality entertainment you can enjoy from the comfort of your own living space is always a great idea. Just think about it — no more squeezing into crowded public theaters or annoying strangers blocking your view. But, setting up a home theater can be more challenging than you think. One of the most critical purchases you need to make is a home projector. This guide will show you how to buy a projector like a pro.
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Yes, a projector! This device has morphed into a powerful entertainment device throughout the years. And, no, it’s far from the projector you used to borrow from the procurement office for a business presentation! Selecting the right unit will be critical in creating the ultimate home movie experience you and your loved ones can revel in whether it’s an action-packed movie or a heart-warming rom-com blockbuster you’re in the mood for.
This guide will walk you through how you can bring home the reel experience you seek.
How to Buy a Projector: Top 6 Things to Consider
Before you get lost daydreaming about the glorious images of your own home theater, get back to reality for a second. First thing first — you need a home projector.
Don’t think for a moment that shopping for one will be an easy, breezy decision to make. Once you mistakenly think so, you’re bound to either lose a significant amount of money or end up buying a substandard model.
Most of the time, what makes a difference is not so much picking up the wrong projector. Rather, it’s making the wrong choice. To improve your chances of selecting the correct projector, there are six factors you have to consider when buying one. We’ll show you how to navigate the market. You should know that a wide range of choices is available.
The six most important factors to consider are:
- For indoor or outdoor use
- Room Size
- Projector Screen Size
- Throw Distance
Each of these is presented in more detail in the succeeding sections.
For Indoor or Outdoor Use?
There’s a higher chance you’d want to own a projector that you can use either inside enclosed living spaces or in your backyard while enjoying a weekend barbecue. Any well-written buyer’s guide will still discourage mixed use to limit moving around your projector too much.
The best option is to buy one that you can set up permanently indoors and another one that you can set up every once in a while outdoors. There are good quality mobile projectors available in the market that’s built to give you maximum viewing experience even when you take it to camp with you.
Keep in mind that the best projector for outdoor use are the ones designed for HD, Ultra HD, or 4K projection. These projectors fall on the higher end and will definitely cost more.
Although such high-end projectors for outdoors may work, expect to get the full HD experience only when the sky turns completely dark. So, in many ways, you will still rely on ambient lighting, whether that is natural light or artificial light from your lamp post, to enjoy the ultimate theater experience when you’re watching outdoors.
That’s not an exclusive reminder on this instruction post. In fact, you’ll probably find it explicitly stated in the product manual. So, take note and level off your expectations.
Before getting down with your measuring tape or meter stick, you have to make one crucial decision first. Gather the fam together and agree where you want to set up your home theater. That space will tell you a lot about the specs you should be looking for when you shop for a projector.
Once you’ve decided, choose which side of the wall you want to project on. You might also want to get a projector screen for that if you don’t have a plain wall to project your image against.
The other crucial decision you need to make is whether or not you’d rather have your projector installed to hang from your ceiling. That way, it frees up much of your home theater space and you can worry less about someone blocking everybody else’s view every time they get up to collect the popcorn or go for a toilet break.
The other option is to place the projector on a stand. For this, we suggest assigning a spot and a table that will house only your projector. Although there are plenty of good quality mobile projectors in the market, it’s always best not to have to move it to different places to refrain from causing shocks on the parts or, worse, accidentally dropping it. There’s no need to be reminded that this dedicated table should also be off-limits to snacks and drinks.
Projector Screen Size
Again, a projection screen is optional. If you don’t have a plain wall painted in light color, it becomes a must. That’s why it remains to be a crucial part of any discussion about how to buy a projector.
The key consideration has a lot to do with the throw distance which is discussed in the succeeding section. Taking note of your projection screen size will greatly help determine the projector specs you should be looking for.
Of course, if you don’t already have a projector screen or, if you’re not quite satisfied with the one you currently have, then now is a good opportunity to weigh together what size of the screen and what projector to get for your home theater.
For this, you’ll need to take the time to do some actual measurements. Before getting down with your measuring tape or meter stick, validate again which living space you’d like to double as your home theater.
Throw distance is a projection concept that simply tells you how far you should place the projector from the wall or the projector screen to obtain the projection size that you want to achieve. Each product you come across in the market will indicate the throw distance.
To determine the distance where you need to place your projector, simply set how big of a projection will be satisfying to you. Needless to say, that has a lot to do with your projection wall or projection screen size.
For a projector that has a throw distance of 2 and an ideal projection width of 5 feet, you’ll have to set up the projector 10 feet away from the screen to achieve the ideal projection. For which, we just multiplied the throw distance of 2 and the ideal projection width of 5 feet.
Jot down this tip because it will definitely impact your satisfaction. Don’t forget to measure the total width of your wall. Also, measure the distance between your projection wall and the wall at the opposite end of the room. That distance will help you logically limit the options you have available. Make sure to write it down or type it up on your mobile so you have it with you once you’re ready to hit the stores.
Remember, getting a high throw distance is not always ideal. You’ll have to take into consideration two factors, that is, the width of the projection wall and its distance from the opposite wall, to get the ideal projector that is both satisfying and practical for you.
Now, it’s time to drill down on the resolution. Much of the resolution you’ll get depends on the input. As such, even when you’re buying a projector with the highest resolution available, you won’t necessarily get to enjoy life-like colors and images if the video that you’re watching isn’t formatted for that HD, ULTRA HD, or 4K resolution.
You’ll also come across projector units that boast a 1080p supported resolution. These models are otherwise known as non-native 1080p which will still be capable of playing movies made for HD. But, these are not capable of projecting a true full HD resolution. So, level down your expectations for these units or, you might as well get a true HD.
You may be stuck with the old image of projectors being used with every possible cable connector, usually one going to your laptop, a USB, or a disc player. In case you’re not already aware, newer projector models are now capable of playing videos from your laptop or mobile or tv stick using a Bluetooth or WiFi connection.
So, you’ll be wise to choose one that does stream or play your favorite movies via a wireless connection to avoid clutter. That is if you have a reliable home Internet connection. Nonetheless, projectors that use one typically have HDMI connections available as an alternative. If you’re playing from your tablet or mobile phone, you may have to add an adaptor to your cable.
Wired connections will give you seamless playtime at the expense of clutter. On the other hand, wireless connections will keep your living space free from cables sticking out from everywhere but experiencing connection glitches will always be a possibility. So, weigh what works for you.
Of all the valuable takeaways you can get from this guide, you better keep this part in mind. It’s easy to lose track of the practical specs you should be looking for that satisfies all the other factors listed above once you find out some of the special features that come with a projector.
Remember: special features are nice to have but are non-essential. When you’ve ticked off all the other factors you need to have in a projector that satisfies your preferences and suits your space, it doesn’t hurt to have these special features too. Just try not to be bedazzled or you’ll end up setting aside your shopping goals to get “the latest,” “the only,” or “the top choice”.
You do know these are nothing more than marketing tactics, right? In the same way, refrain from shopping for brands. Not even so-called consumer rankings are guaranteed to give you the performance you seek for home entertaining.
Again, go back to your real needs. There’s a suitable product for your space and your needs. Get down to business and stick to your must-have list.
Some of the special features you’ll likely encounter are listed below.
Adjustable contrast and brightness
There are models that have built-in sensors which can automatically detect if the picture is too dark or too bright. These kinds of projectors are capable of automatically adjusting brightness and contrast to constantly give you a clear view.
Most home projectors you’ll encounter online or in-store allow you to manually adjust picture settings. Having a way to adjust picture output quality is ideal. While a sensor saves you from the trouble of having to adjust these settings yourself from time to time, these features usually come for an added cost. If you want to stick to your budget, you better get a unit that allows you to make manual adjustments.
Then, there are those projectors, usually applicable to units intended for mobile or remote use, that don’t allow you to make these simple manipulations. But then, lacking such special features make them cheaper by up to a few hundred dollars too.
If you do your measurements well and nail the product canvassing stage, you’ll likely find a good selection of products to choose from. Such projectors will have the ideal throw ratio that fits your home theater room size. That way, you won’t really have a need to either zoom in or zoom out.
In which case, you’ll probably only need one if the source formatting is originally made for viewing on smaller screens. Although, it’s likely you’ll be playing from your laptop, tablet, or mobile phone which support formats fit for big-screen projection. In which case, zoom lenses are mostly nice to have rather than absolutely necessary.
Come on! Are you trying to build a home theater setup or what? Don’t kid yourself. No matter how good a salesman tries to sell those built-in speakers you know deep inside that it can’t be as good as a stereo surround external speaker.
You should rather make sure that the projector you are buying is compatible with the speaker you have at home if you already have one. In any case, it’s always best to consider both the projector you’re buying and the speaker you’re planning to use with it. Key takeaway: forget those built-in speakers. If any, they’ll only spoil your home movie experience. They don’t really matter.
Vertical and Horizontal Lens Shifts
Some projectors come with either vertical lens or horizontal lens shifts. Few have both. These features come in handy when you can’t find a stable, level placement for your projector.
However, if you know how to set up your projector or if you’re getting pro help, you won’t ever have to manually adjust the vertical or horizontal alignment of your projection image. This can’t be more true if you’re planning to hang your projector from the ceiling. Or, if you’re buying a unit specifically designed for that.
If you mind the noise or if you’re the type who can get a migraine from projector noise then, you should definitely include this feature as a must-have. That’s a reminder that the best way to get the most value from these tips is to tweak it accordingly with your unique style, preferences, budget, and needs.
Other Important Considerations to Keep in Mind
Let’s set aside the projector specs and features for a while and go back to the very basics. Just forget about your obsession to own and entertain in a home theater running on projector for a moment. It’s time to think about critical factors you should consider well before starting on a projector shopping expedition.
Here are top things to think about.
Do you have the space for a theater running on a projector?
Sure, it will be nice to have your own home theater running on a projector. It’ll be cool to have some of your best buds or besties over and entertain over a blockbuster title and homemade popcorn. But, do you really have a space built for a home theater?
Ideal home projectors come with a throw distance ratio of at least 2. To really create a home theater experience, you need to project against a wall that is at least 5 ft in width. Do you have that kind of wall at home?
Plus, to achieve that projection size, you need to place the projector at least 10 feet away from the wall or projection screen. Do you have a room in your house that has opposite walls that are at least 10 feet apart? Not all homes will have a room this spacious.
Think hard but, more importantly, put that meter tape or meter stick to good use. Get down on the floor and find out for sure. You should start sketching where you plan to set up your projector. Don’t forget to make provisions for seats and speakers too. These considerations can easily eat up even a huge space in your house.
How Much are You Willing to Spend on a Home Theater?
Finding out how best to save and get the best value for your purchase are not enough. To achieve a real home theater experience, you have other considerations, perhaps equating to additional purchases, you need to make.
You need high-performance speakers and comfortable seats that, ideally, you can recline. You’ll likely require air conditioning to protect your equipment as well. In the case of projectors, a projection screen will likely be an added requirement if you don’t have one available at home already.
The best part is that these days, projectors have become so much more affordable than they’ve ever been. Still, you have to determine how much you’re willing to spend on a projector given the other potential expenses for setting up a home theater.
Do You Really Need a Projector or a TV?
Needless to say, you’ll need a bigger room if you prefer to stream movies on a projector. So, if you have a smaller room, you’re probably better off getting a large screen TV rather than a projector. So, before pondering on how to buy a projector, you should start by asking yourself if you really need one.
There are projectors that have a lower throw distance ratio of less than 1. Although that might prove to be more suited for smaller spaces, it simply defeats the purpose of getting a projector. Face it. You want a big screen!
For this, a TV can have desirable advantages over projectors, such as follows:
- TV has evolved to a higher resolution 5K resolution. Most projectors, however, are stuck at 1080p resolution or 1080p supported resolution. Back read to know the difference between these two types of resolution. It’s important to keep in mind that achieving high resolution levels mostly depend on the video source format.
- TV offers more functionality. You can enjoy local channels, stream videos, and play your favorite video games on your choice of a game console on a quality tv. You may well use your projector for the same purpose but still, it seems, it is best suited for watching videos.
You may not be able to get the same 100 to 200 inches of screen size you can get from a projector with a TV. At most, you could probably settle for a 65-inch TV. But, keep in mind that filling up 200 inches of projection requires a considerable amount of room space which you may or may not have.
If you do find that room, the major advantage of a projector over a large TV screen is that its low cost is simply unbeatable. You can resemble a big-screen experience better at a considerably lower cost than buying a large screen TV.
How to Setup a Projector
Keep in mind that the best guide you have are the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Also, some projectors need to be professionally calibrated. In which case, you’ll want to hire a pro to set up your home theater and make sure you’re getting the best picture quality from your new projector.
Here are the basic steps to install a projector (standing, not hanging from the ceiling):
- Determine the throw distance. Simultaneously, make a note of your ideal projection size. Make some simple computations to determine how far from the screen you need to place your projector to achieve the desired image size. Use your meter tape or stick to mark that spot. Set up the projector on a table on this spot.
- Set up your table. Determine the ideal table height depending on the ideal height of the projector against a flat floor. You may have to experiment on this until you get the correct projector height. For projector units that have it, use the horizontal and vertical shifts to achieve the desired alignment and height.
- Make sure you have the required cables. Of course, this is for projector screens that are wired. Most wired projectors will require an HDMI cable to connect the projector from the source. You should determine what source you will be using. Mobile phones and tablets will likely require additional adaptors, types and sizes will depend on the brand and model.
- Set up your projector screen. This step is optional. Again, you may always use a plain wall as your projection screen. Make sure that your projector screen is vertically and horizontally aligned. If you’re installing your screen to roll down from the ceiling, you will require the services of a pro. If you’re using a standing projection screen, make sure that the legs are stable.
- Set up room lighting. For the projection to display in the best resolution, you must have a way to control the ambient lighting. If there are windows and doors opening to the outdoors, it will be best to hang blackout curtains or blinds to keep the light from creeping in.
How to Take Care of Your Projector
Learning to set up your projector is crucial to achieving a satisfying viewing experience at the best value for money. Making your projector last for many years is just as vital if you want to keep harnessing value for your investment.
That’s why regular care and maintenance are imperative. Here are some tips to make your projector last for a very long time:
- Give it a rest. Projectors can heat up easily. That’s why if you’re planning on using one, air conditioning is essential, most especially if you’re located in tropical climates or experience summer. Turn off the projector after running for a few hours, or roughly two to three full videos in a row.
- Modern projectors run on LED lights which burn out easily with prolonged use. But, if you practice extra care, LED bulbs can last for many years.
- Keep the table and projector stable. Use BluTack to keep the projector from accidentally falling. More importantly, position the projector and table where there’s low to no foot traffic, and where the risk of accidentally toppling it over is low. If you have a way to have it installed to hang from the wall or ceiling, perhaps it is best mounted and kept off of the floor.
- Plug the projector in a socket with a dedicated breaker. Otherwise, use a voltage regulator. This protects your unit from short circuits that may be caused by the fluctuating current. A breaker or voltage regulator will automatically cut the power supply in case of a sudden surge in electricity to stop it from damaging the unit.
- Read the product manual. Find out exactly what you can and cannot do, and how. Push the buttons and levers with care. Use the projector only as intended. A projector is made up of several breakable components and it’s best kept away from small children.
- Clean the unit regularly. If not in use, it is best covered with a soft cloth after cooling down to prevent dust from entering inside. Use only a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe the lens. Refrain from touching the lens. Keep food, drinks, and buttery fingers away from the projector.
You’re excited to get the best experience from your projector and that’s understandable. This could be the moment your dream of owning a home theater becomes real and we’re happy for you. But, if you want your projector to keep giving you and your loved ones more memorable times of watching and bonding together at home, you have to do go out of your way to make sure it stays in tip-top shape.
So, now that you know how to buy a projector, what are you waiting for? Time to get down to your measurements. It’s time to hit the stores and come up with a practical comparison chart of the best product options you’ll find.
Just keep in mind that it’s not so much the kind, type, or cost of the projector you’re getting but how well suited it is for your space and needs that make a difference. Whether you have a good or a bad experience highly depends on it. So, make sure to do your homework and have some patience. You’ll figure it out.