If you want to go big in your home theater, you’re probably arguing with yourself over whether to go with a really big TV, or a projector and screen. On one hand, projectors have gotten a lot brighter and more affordable over the past few years, but on the other hand, TVs are bigger than ever before, and now 4K Ultra HD resolution is a consideration. Indeed, both options have their pros and cons, and there are specific scenarios where one would be a better option over the other. To help you decide which will work best in your own home theater setup, we’ve put together this guide comparing projectors vs. TVs. We’ve detailed how the two differ in terms of price, picture quality, installation, sound quality, and convenience.
How much bang can you get for your buck? We’re all looking for a good value, but when we talk about going big in a home theater, how much you pay per inch of picture, and how quality that picture is, are inextricably linked. With that in mind, we’ve broken down key picture quality considerations in terms of their relative costs for both TVs and projector/screen combinations.
TVs were once woefully behind projectors in terms of size, but the gap is much closer these days; you can get an 80-inch TV for less than $4,000. Affordable projector screens, tend to start around 100 – 120 inches, and you can get a decent projector with solid brightness, good color reproduction, and 1080p resolution for less than a high-end 4K UHD TV. So, in the end, projectors are still the most cost-effective of the two here, but it’s getting close and will only continue to get closer.
Brightness is a a big consideration with projectors, largely because perceived contrast will come down to how dark the room is or isn’t. The more ambient light there is in a room, the more brightness you’ll need to ensure the picture doesn’t wash out. High brightness drives up projector costs in a quick hurry, though. Most projectors in the $2,000 range, for instance, produce somewhere between 1,500-3,000 lumens (which winds up being much lower once it hits your eyes), whereas most $2,000 LED TVs are easily capable of producing much higher luminance. Projector/screen combinations simply have to work harder to get anywhere near as bright as even a budget LED TV, and the trouble with projector bulbs is that they dim over time — ultimately burning out — and are costly to replace. This is never a concern with an LED TV.
On the flip side, if you can get your viewing room really dark, a projector’s lower light output can be quite comfortable to watch. There’s a reason movie theater screens are easy on the eyes.
In the end, if you want a bright and vibrant picture, with no upkeep costs involved, you’ll want to go with TV.
Contrast is determined by a combination of black levels and brightness. While a projector’s brightness capabilities can be guessed at by looking at its lumen rating, black levels are determined mostly by how dark you can get your projector room. Certainly, a bunch of ambient light can wash a TV out too, but TVs can do battle with ambient light and heighten perceived contrast, whereas most projectors don’t stand a chance.
Premium 4K TVs, with their wide color gamut and high-dynamic range (there’s that brightness thing again!), are expensive. But high-performance 4K HDR projectors? Astronomical. You’re better off paying for a good 4K HDR TV and supplementing with a sound system — or an Ultra HD Blu-ray player — than you are buying a 4K HDR projector. While there are some decent 4K HDR projectors available for about $1500 – $2000, they can’t touch the performance of a comparably priced TV. When it comes to resolution per dollar, TVs win in a landslide.
You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get decent color from a projector. Depending on the projector type (DLP, 3-chip LCD, or LCOS) you can obtain great color at a nice price. On the other hand, TVs require more effort and better processing to produce the best color, thereby driving up the price. The best 4K TVs, however, can produce a wider color gamut than most consumer projectors can at this point, so there’s more potential there. This is especially true of TVs armed with high-dynamic range, or HDR (though HDR-supported projectors are becoming more common, too). To get the full rundown on the feature and how it enhances the picture quality of your TV or projector, check out our HDR guide.
If we’re to look exclusively at price-to-performance, TVs come out on top. If price isn’t an issue, and you can invest a large sum into a light-controlled projector room, you can get a much larger image with outstanding image quality. But for most folks, TVs will win if cost is an object.