Projector Buyers Guides

We understand that each home theater is unique, so we recommend contacting a Projector Expert with specific questions about your space. However, this fast and easy guide will get you started with the basics. Browse our complete selection of HD home theater projectors from Panasonic, Epson, Optoma and more.


How bright of a projector do I need for my home? [ top ]

Brightness is measured in ANSI lumens for home theater projectors, the higher the lumen count, the brighter the projector. Home theater projectors typically range between 800 and 2,000 lumens. When determining the brightness of the projector one needs to consider the projector viewing environment. When it comes to home theater projectors, brighter is not always better. The ideal compromise is to find a unit that adequately produces enough light to fill your screen with a high contrast image, but not too much light as to create eye fatigue during extended viewing.

How big of screen will you be using?

Each projector has a set amount of lumens, the larger the image you are projecting the darker the image will be as lumens are spread over a bigger area. Conversely, the smaller the image, the brighter the image will be. That being said, the larger the screen, the brighter the projector will need to be.

Will you be using a projector screen? If so, what is the gain?

Projector screens are highly reflective and are manufactured to reflect the light from the projector back at the audience. A good projector screen can make a large difference in regards to image brightness. The reflectivity of a projector screen is measured in gain, the higher the gain, the more reflective the screen. Typical home theater screens have a gain of 1 to 1.5 and come in either white or gray. White screens result in a brighter picture while gray screens will result in a higher contrast ratio. For more information on choosing a screen check out our screen buying guide here.

How much ambient light will there be in the theater?

Finally, you need to consider the amount of ambient light in the theater from household lighting and windows. High to mid levels of ambient light will require a brighter projector (higher lumen count), whereas low levels of ambient light will allow you to get by with a lower lumen unit which usually have higher contrast ratios. A brighter picture will help compensate for the loss of contrast due to ambient light.

Projector Supercenter recommends the following brightness levels for home theater units:

Dedicated home theaters need a projector rated at 800 lumens or higher

Rooms with low to medium ambient light will need at least 1300 lumens

Areas with medium to high ambient light will need 2,000+ lumens depending on the application


How does the contrast ratio affect image quality? [ top ]

The contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of the image. The greater the distance the higher the contrast ratio. With home theater projectors, the contrast ratio is arguably the most important measurable quality. A high-contrast projector will produce a delightfully vivid image with crisp, deep blacks and well defined shadow detail. The contrast ratio is essential for choosing a projector which will create crisp, clear, and vivid images.

Is there anything I can do to get a higher contrast ratio?

Yes, as you have likely noticed, commercial and high end movie theaters are always dark, including black walls and ceilings. Movie theaters and high end installations go through all this trouble because projectors look their best when there is no light in the room. In high end installations this even includes stray light reflected off of the projection screen. Stray and ambient light will reduce the contrast of the image and work to make the blacks appear more grey, essentially washing out the image. A projector does not projector black, black is the absence of light. Any light falling on the screen from a source other than the projector will raise the absolute black level and reduce the contrast. Ideally, a home theater should have little to no ambient light present. However, most people do not want to darken the walls of their home theater or multipurpose rooms just to achieve ideal theater conditions. The other option is to purchase a high-contrast gray screen which will improve black levels and the contrast ratio of the projector image. For the best possible image, proceed with any steps necessary to eliminate ambient light and reflective surfaces on the walls and ceiling.


What resolution is best for me? [ top ]

Another crucial factor to look for in a home theater projector is the projectors native resolution. A projectors native resolution is made up of the number of pixels it can display, for example, a full 1080P projector will have a native resolution of 1920x1080 which can produce 2,073,600 individual pixels. Generally, the higher resolution the projector, the higher the cost. Higher resolution projectors produce more detail and also reduce the visibility of pixel structure, two highly desirable qualities in a home theater projector.

Common home theater projector resolutions:

1280x720 (720p):Home theater projectors which have a native resolution of 1280x720 (720p) are now within budget range and cost as little as $700. A 720p projector will offer excellent reproduction of DVD videos. They also offer the ability to reproduce 1080-line video, such as 1080p found on Blu-ray discs or 1080i found on broadcast HDTV. If you are serious about your home theater, consider nothing under 720p resolution.

1280x768:This is a hybrid resolution which is ideal for applications in which video as well as computer signals will be used. This hybrid resolution allows you to produce video in the standard 1280x720p resolution as well as standard computer resolutions such as XGA (1024x768) and WXGA (1280x768) without scaling. This format is ideal for viewing video, computer, or web surfing. Note, this resolution has an aspect ratio of 15:9, not 16:9 like the other two resolutions on the list. When viewing a 16:9 video there will be tiny black bars on the top and bottom of the image. While these black bars are annoying while viewing video they are responsible for allowing the projector to produce XGA computer signals.

1920x1080 (1080p):1080p will give your home theater the sharpest and most detailed image available today. These projectors will produce Blu-ray and 1080i HDTV broadcasts at full resolution without any scaling which will result in a beautiful, detailed image. Due to the high number of pixels (2,073,600) pixel structure is virtually non-existent. Currently, the cheapest 1080p projectors will set you back $1,000 while the high end models can creep up into the 10,000+ range. The best bang for your buck right now typically lies in the $2,000 - $3,000 range for home theater projectors.

Selecting the right resolution for your home theater:

Depending on your budget, we recommend either a 720p or 1080p projector for 16:9 widescreen viewing. However, if you want your projector to double as a data projector, 1280x768 is an appealing alternative. With new units selling for as low as $700, 1280x720p is an attractive choice for creating a great theater on a budget. However, if you want the sharpest image quality and have the money to spend we would not recommend anything but the best, 1920x1080p. When selecting a projector it is also important to take into consideration the input sources. If you want full, uncompressed resolution from a Blu-ray player you will need to get a 1920x1080p projector. If you are only going to be watching DVD or similar resolution formats then you will be able to skate by with a 1280x720p unit just fine.


What is a native aspect ratio and what should I look for? [ top ]

The native aspect ratio is the width to height ratio of the native displayed image. The most common aspect ratios are 4:3 (standard computer monitor and television), 16:9 (widescreen images), and 15:9 (Hybrid between 4:3 and 16:9). Most projectors are capable of producing an image in various aspect ratios but what we need to focus on is the native resolution.

What is the best aspect ratio for a dedicated home theater?

A 16:9 aspect ratio is the best choice for a home theater as this widescreen format was produced specifically for HDTV and widescreen DVDs.

What is the best aspect ratio for a multi-purpose projector?

Nearly all projectors are capable of displaying an image in a number of different aspect ratios, however, when displaying their non-native signals you will encounter black bars on the top or bottom of the screen. For example, if you have a native 4:3 projector and are viewing a widescreen movie the projector will produce black bars on the top and bottom of the image. If you plan on using your projector to produce video and computer data signals the best choice may be something with a 15:9 image. This will allow you to produce a native video and computer data signal without scaling.

What sources work best on a 4:3 aspect ratio?

Recommended applications for 4:3 aspect ratio include: Standard DVDs (not widescreen), Standard American television (NTSC), Computer data signals, VHS tapes, Older video game consoles and computer games.

What sources work best on a 16:9 aspect ratio?

Recommended applications for 16:9 aspect ratio include: Blu-ray, HD DVDs, Widescreen DVDs, HDTV broadcasts, Newer video game consoles and computer games.


What cables and connections will give me the clearest image? [ top ]

To get top performance from your audio and video equipment it is essential to use the highest quality cables to connect your devices. Projector Supercenter recommends that your home theater projector have at least one of the following inputs to guarantee the clearest and sharpest image quality: component, DVI, or HDMI. The highest quality of these two are the HDMI and DVI, both of these cords have 19 dedicated channels for video and will produce the same image quality. Before purchasing any cables please check out the dedicated cable guide here. The guide will walk you through the different cables available as well as the maximum cable lengths to ensure optimal quality.


Where should I install my projector? [ top ]

Home theater installations can take a number of forms, you can mount the projector on the ceiling in front or behind the screen as well as set the projector on a shelf or table in front or behind the screen. Each option carries its respective pros and cons.

Should I mount the projector on the ceiling?

Typically, mounting the projector on the ceiling will provide the most polished and aesthetically pleasing look to your theater. This will also keep the projector safe from accidental spills, eliminates running cords across the floor, as well as provides ideal ventilation for the projector which will improve the lamp life. Keeping the projector installed will also allow for little to no setup when you are ready to use the projector. The downside, however, is the unit becomes less portable as it is sometimes difficult or time consuming to un-mount the projector in the event you want to take it on the road or over to a friend's house.

Ceiling mounting a projector also requires more planning, you will need to know the screen size you want to use as well as the throw distance required to produce the image. The larger the screen size you plan on using, the further the projector will need to be from the screen. Before purchasing a screen or mounting your unit make sure to research the throw distance necessary to produce the desired image size. When looking at a unit on Projector Supercenter's website click downloads and follow the link to an image calculator where you can look up these details for each specific model. Don't know how to use the projector image size calculator, click here to read how.

What about placing the projector on a shelf or table top?

Placing the projector on a shelf or table you will give you the added flexibility to pick up and go at any point. The downside, however, is that you will have to set up and take down the projector more often and will also miss out on the nice polished look of a ceiling mounted projector. Be sure to leave enough room between the projector and any surfaces to allow proper ventilation. In addition, any noise from a table mounted projector will be more prominent as you will be on the same level as the projector. When choosing a projector for any home theater but specifically a table mounted unit make sure to purchase a unit with less than a 30dB noise rating.

Can't decide between ceiling or table top mounting?

If you cannot decide between ceiling or table top mounting Projector Supercenter recommends a ceiling mount which will allow a quick release. A quick release mount will allow you to quickly remove and reattach the projector from the mount for those special occasions where you need to take the projector on the road. In addition, it is best to keep an extra set of cables handy for road trips. Cables running to a ceiling mounted projector are usually installed in the walls and difficult to access making a spare set of cables a necessity if you plan on using the projector at another location.

How far away does the projector need to be from the screen?

To make projectors easier to use in a variety of rooms and applications, projectors are made with different zoom and throw ratios. When choosing a projector, first determine the image size you want to project on the wall or screen and then see if the projector you are looking at will produce the desired image size within the limits of the room size and throw distance that you have to work with. Also, when mounting or placing a projector it is best to position the unit as close as possible to the screen with the zoom fully opened. Zoom lenses offer greater placement flexibility and are necessary for many applications but can result in a lumen drop of %25-%40 at full zoom. If you want to maximize light output it is best to use the shortest throw distance the lens will allow.


What do I need to know about projector lamp life? [ top ]

Home theater projectors typically have lamp life between 2,000 and 4,000 hours. This specification is actually referring to the half life of the lamp which is the point in which the lamp produces 50% of the original new lamp brightness. Choosing a projector with a longer lamp life will result in paying less to maintain your projector. Replacement lamps typically cost somewhere between $200-$400. This clearly seems like a steep price to pay and might deter some users from purchasing a projector. However, it is good to note that this equates to roughly $.1-$.2 per hour for a 2,000 hr. unit or $.05-.1 per hour for a 4,000 hr. unit. The average home theater used for movies and special events is used 8-12 hrs. per week, this results in an average lamp life of around 4-5 years with a small monthly cost of $4-$6. Regular filter cleaning and proper use will increase the operational lamp life of your unit, to see hints and tips to extend your lamp life click here.


Are there any special features or capabilities I should look for? [ top ]

There are a number of different features and capabilities that will set one projector apart from another, these can include but are in no way limited to: Lens shift, Picture-in-Picture, Hollywood Quality Video tuning, Back lit remote controls, Internal scalers, screen triggers, Various image modes, dynamic iris', Noise reduction, Gamma and color management features, frame creation with motion blur, clarity processors, smooth screen technologies, auto input search and many many more. For a general overview and description of projector features please check out our guide listed here.


I have read the guide, now what? [ top ]

Now that you have read the home theater buyers guide you hopefully have a greater grasp on what you are looking for, take your time to peruse the home theater projectors available for sale by Projector Supercenter by simply clicking here. If you have any questions or want a recommendation for your particular situation please feel free to contact us with any questions, we are more than happy to help with your projector search. Above all, avoid buyer's remorse. There will always be a new projector/technology on the pipeline and it is easy to become discontent with your purchase. Do not let this worry you, sit back and enjoy your new home theater, that is after all the point of a home theater. Just relax and don't be afraid to become immersed in the drama, comedy, action, and excitement of viewing a movie on the largest screen you have ever had in your home!