The trend for TVs may be for bigger and cheaper designs, but you still can’t rival the best projectors for that real cinematic experience.
With prices starting at less than a decent LCD TV, you needn’t necessarily spend a fortune to get that big-screen experience. Here’s a brief guide on what to look out for, but skip ahead to our list if you already know what your needs are.
When buying a projector, there are three main technologies to choose from: LCD, LCoS and DLP. LCD projectors use the oldest technology around. A light source is split into three wavelengths: red, green and blue. Each light wavelength passes through an LCD screen, before being combined in a prism and projected. Colour saturation and brightness is decent with these projectors, and pricing is keen. However, black levels aren’t always the best and you can sometimes see the “screen door” effect, where individual pixels stand out.
Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) projectors work in a similar way to LCD projectors. The difference is that the LCDs used by LCoS projectors are mounted onto a reflective, rather than transmissive, surface. These projectors offer better black levels, higher contrast and less-visible pixel structures. This is the best projector technology you can buy, but expect to pay a lot more. Some companies have their own names for LCoS. In Sony’s projectors – the 4K Sony VPL-VW550ES, for example – it calls this technology Silicon X-tal Reflective Display (SXRD).
Most DLP projectors use a single digital micromirror device, or DMD, inside. These have one mirror per pixel, and the projector can angle the mirror to turn light on or off; shades of grey are achieved by turning a pixel on and off in rapid succession.
Colour is made by shining a completed frame through a colour wheel that spins at the front; a colour image is formed by layering red, green and blue images. DLP projectors can be super-small and offer great black performance. The downside is that contrast ratios haven’t improved significantly, and the colour wheel can create the “rainbow effect”, where you can see flashes of colour in each frame.
Three-chip DLP projectors eliminate the rainbow effect, but are exceptionally expensive. On the flip side, an entry-level DLP projector can be bought for very little – the Optoma H183X, for example.
Top projectors have dynamic irises that automatically adjust the amount of light that’s emitted. This lets the projector make adjustments for the image being broadcast, lowering light to bring out detail in dark scenes, and pushing brightness and detail in light scenes.
It isn’t easy to line up a projector with a wall and get a square picture, so the level of image control on offer is important. All projectors are capable of digital keystone adjustment to help you get a square image, but this lowers resolution. Lens-shift is a superior technology; here you line up the projector to get a square image, and then physically move the image using the lens.
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The throw ratio is an important stat, since it indicates the size of screen you can project at what distance. Short-throw projectors, which can project big images close-up, are a good choice if you want a projector that that you’ll only occasionally set up on a table. The BenQ TH530 is a good example. For permanently installed, ceiling-mounted models, throw ratio is less of a problem. Nevertheless, check that your chosen screen size can be filled from the installation distance.
The final consideration is resolution, and we recommend buying a minimum of a 1080p projector. If you want the latest in home entertainment, you’ll want a 4K projector, but expect to pay significantly for one.
Finally, do you need HDR support? The latest projector models support it, although it’s hard to find a model that’s bright enough to really take advantage.