What you need to consider before buying a projector

The television screen is an ever-expanding thing — literally. These days you can easily find a high quality and reasonably priced 65-inch TV, and some of the best TVs you can buy are also quite reasonably priced. But if you want a true cinematic experience, a projector is the way to go. Projector screens easily reach beyond 120 inches, and some projectors now support 4K UHD resolution and cover impressively wide color gamuts, just like their 4K TV counterparts.

So should you buy a projector? Well, projectors are a bit more complicated than TVs and require a little extra work and consideration, but the best projectors will bring your home theater to life. There are five major factors that will determine whether a projector is right for you.

Can you control the light in the room?

If you’re willing to put up black-out curtains or shades, nearly any room in your home can work for a projector.

The first consideration in deciding if a projector is right for you is room lighting. Projector brightness (or lack thereof) was once an issue that required an entirely dark room, but today’s projectors are brighter and less expensive than ever before. It’s easier to find a model that can handle moderate ambient light or even well-lit rooms thanks to better technology, including screens that reject ambient light.

Still, the darker the room the better the picture quality. When it comes to contrast, a projector needs darkness to make an image that looks bold, not washed out. This will also help make any required color calibration easier. Basements are popular for projectors because they tend to be dark by nature, but you can put a projector in a room with windows so long as you can effectively block out that light, usually with curtains. If you’re willing to put up black-out curtains or shades, nearly any room in your home can work for a projector.

Is there space for a screen?

You are going to need both the space and the means to install a screen. There are a few ways to do this. First you can mount a manual or motorized drop-down screen from your ceiling. You could also mount a fixed screen to your wall, so long as you’re willing to sacrifice the space. Or could paint your wall with a special projection-screen paint.

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Make sure you have enough space for the screen, plus the speakers and furniture you want to put around it. There are a number of online calculators that can give you exact height and width measurements for any given 16:9 screen size.

Do you have enough room?

There are two distances you need to think about: throw distance – the distance between the projector and screen – and viewing distance – how far it is from your seat to the screen. Thanks to “short throw” projectors, you can reliably get a 100-inch diagonal widescreen image from as little as three and a half feet away, but many projectors require at least 10 feet for the same size image. Ultra-short throw projectors can achieve a 100-inch image from as little as 1.85 feet away, but are significantly more expensive.

You’ll want to use a throw distance calculator online to determine if you have enough space for the projector you are considering. Viewing distance has to do with how far you should sit from an image of a certain size, and there are online calculators for this as well. Typically, experts recommended that you sit 10 feet from a 110-inch screen.

Can you place the projector in the right spot?

The previous steps have dealt with factors that affect the screen, but the projector itself needs special consideration, too. Specifically, you need to determine if you are able to place the projector at an ideal distance and angle from the TV. Ideally, the center of the projector’s lens should align with the horizontal center of your screen, although some projectors do allow for offset installation. If for whatever reason you can’t have your projector dead center, be sure to look for projectors with a lens-shift features. This allow for some adjustments should you need to place the projector a little off to the left or right. They’re handy, but do keep in mind that the best image quality will come from a centered projector.

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Of course, you’ll need to make sure you can cleanly run at least one HDMI cable and power to this installation location. This is more easily done if the projector is going to sit on a table or in a cabinet than with an in-ceiling installation, as that will require wires to run along either the inside or outside of the wall and ceiling. If any of this sounds confusing, don’t worry: Our projector installation guide will help you do it like a pro.

Do you have an A/V receiver?

A good A/V receiver is an important part of any home theater, and because projectors often have fewer connection ports than TVs, they’re a natural fit for projector setups. If you plan to connect just a single device to your projector and have a sound system you can connect to it, be that a Blu-ray player or game console, then you don’t necessarily need any additional equipment. But since most projectors have only one HDMI input, you’ll need an A/V receiver to connect multiple devices. An HDMI switcher is also an option, but an A/V receiver is better: it will also provide sound to your speaker system – and you definitely want a sound system of some sort, because projectors have very weak speakers, if they have them at all.

Conclusion

If you’re in the middle of new construction or are renovating your entertainment room, finding the proper space and installing a projector in conjunction is easier than putting one into a finished room. But if you’re not in the process of remodeling, it’s more complicated. The best way to answer the question is to appraise your room using the criteria discussed above.

That said, if you’ve gone through this guide and still aren’t sure if a projector is right for you, check out our detailed explanation on the differences between projectors and TVs. If you get all of those pieces in place and are ready to make the jump to Team Projector, congrats! You’re well on your way to a home theater that will have your friends and neighbors knocking down your door. Enjoy!