Today, projectors are a fancy class of devices with lots of variations. The fun fact is that, it has not always been this way. Once upon a time, the most viable standard for categorizing projectors was their weight, much like professional boxing titles.
We are all happy to say goodbye to those days. In recent times, projectors have had more yardsticks with which they may be grouped into different categories. These yardsticks include, but are not limited to: technology, which may be DLP, LCD, or LCOS; intended use, which may be gameplay, home theater, or business presentations; throw distance, which refers to the minimum distance at which the projector should be placed from the screen to ensure good visibility.
Having this many choices may appear to be bewildering: however, it is for the best, as it ensures that there is a projector with features tailored to your needs at different price points. How then do you find a projector with features tailored to your needs among the pile of choices out there? By asking the right questions, and making a choice based on your answers.
Best Projector Complete Guide
Panasonic PT-RZ370U DLP Projector - 1080p - HDTV - 16:9
InFocus LightPro IN1146 Mobile LED Projector, 1000 Lumens, HDMI, Wireless-Ready
Acer H6510BD 3D Home Theater Projector
Epson Home Cinema 5030UB 1080p 3D 3LCD Home Theater Projector
ViewSonic PJD5234L XGA DLP Projector, 3000 Lumens, 3D Blu-Ray w/HDMI, 120Hz
Epson Home Cinema 2030 1080p, HDMI, 3LCD, Real 3D, 2000 Lumens Color and White Brightness, Home Theater Projector
What Kind Of Images Do I Plan On Showing?
First off, projectors are designed to show some or all of four basic image kinds—data, photo, video, and game. While all projectors will show all of these image types on a screen, it is important to note that well-optimized projectors usually do a better job when showing some image types than when showing others. Therefore, you should find a projector that best handles the image kind you plan on showing.
In general, most projector models are marketed as either as a member of either of two classes:
- Data or business projectors
- Video, home theater, or home entertainment projectors
Recently, a growing class of projectors have emerged, it is a small class marketed as ideal for gameplay. Thus, the three classes are ideal for either data, video, or gameplay.
Now, you have to be definite about your needs, specifically what images you plan to show primarily.
- Data images—Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, PDF files—are best handled by ‘data or business projectors’
- Full-motion videos are best handled by ‘video, home theater, or home entertainment projectors’
- Photo images are best handled by ‘ video, home theater, or home entertainment projectors,’ because photos have similarities with videos except the complication of movement
- While there are projectors marketed for gaming, these models may be more difficult to track down. In which case, you should look out for a projector model that is sort of a hybrid, in that it has the capability of decent handling of both data and video images. This is because displaying a game on a screen requires some of the capabilities needed for data images, and some capabilities needed for video images.
Should I Be Concerned About Portability?
Yes, you should be. There are models of different sizes and weights to match your needs. If your need is for a data model you can carry to business meetings for presentation, then it sure would differ in size and weight than a video model you would use only a few times and wouldn’t be carrying up and about. Therefore, how small and how light a model should be for your needs ultimately depends on how often and far off you will be moving the model around.
What Resolution Do I Need?
It is recommended that the projector’s in-built resolution is matched to the resolution you are most likely to use often, which is usually tied to the device you will be connecting to the projector—a game console, video equipment, computer, or some other device. When the connected device and the projector have different resolutions, the projector will scale the image from the device up or down to match the in-built projector resolution, which will result in loss of image quality.
Specifically, for data images, it is important to ascertain the image detail. However, in general, SVGA (resolution of 800 by 600 pixels) is adequate for a typical PowerPoint presentation. Additionally, an SVGA model costs less than models with higher resolutions. This underscores the importance of knowing which resolution is adequate, as it may lead to considerable cost savings. If however, you require the images you show to carry more detail then you will need a model with higher resolution.
Determining what resolution is adequate for video images is more straightforward, because the resolution sweet spot for videos is 1080p. Many decent video output devices including Blu-ray players, DVD players, or other gadgets either have the 1080p as their native resolution or can efficiently upscale to 1080p.
You will also want to find out how well a video projector handles videos of lower resolutions before making a purchase, especially if there is the off chance that you will be watching lower-res videos from time to time.
What about 4K projectors? – 4K may be the future de facto resolution of video processing, and there are already projectors making a break for it. However, at this time, there is little content available to take advantage of the ultra-high resolution, which makes the expensive price points of 4K projectors a little less appealing. See also: Best Projectors for Under $1,000.
Am I In Need Of Widescreen Format?
A Widescreen Format is a must-have feature if you are looking to project videos and games. For data projectors, WXGA and 1080p may be sufficient. Nonetheless, if your presentations were designed on a widescreen notebook or monitor, they definitely would look better if you project them in a widescreen format than if you do not.
How Bright Do I Want The Projector To Be?
Unlike the definite 1080p resolution for showing videos, there is no measure of brightness that is can be tagged as ‘best,’ or ‘definite.’ Additionally, for projectors, brighter is not always better. A home-entertainment projector that you aim to use in a dark room may only require brightness of between 1,000 and 1,200 lumens to project a large, bright image. If you were to go for 2,000 lumens for the same setup, it would be over-kill as the brightness would be hard on the eyes. If you plan to use your projector outside, you should probably go for a projector with at least 2,000 lumens.
Conversely, if you need a portable data projector for use in a well-lit location, you would need brightness in the range of 2,000 to 3,000. For a larger room, you will need more brightness.Understandably, determining the adequate brightness level is not an easy decision: what then are the factors that influence the brightness level? The size of the image, the amount of ambient light, and the material of the screen you are using. In all, you would need to match the different factors together, preferably with the help of a knowledgeable source, to know the specific range of brightness that would do.
A range is emphasized because small percentage difference in lumen values does not relate to considerable differences—for example, 1,000 versus 1,200. Additionally, human perception of brightness is not linear. That is, for an image to appear bright, you do not necessarily have to increase the lumen value by a factor of two, say from 300 to 600. Usually, you would need far more than twice the lumen value to double the perception of brightness. Conclusively, the rated lumen value of a projector’s brightness is often substantially more than the true or perceptible brightness.
Do I Have To Bother With Contrast Ratio?
If you were to measure the brightness of the brightest area of a projector and the darkest area of the same projector, the brightness ratio of the brightest area to the darkest area, is referred to as the Contrast Ratio. With other features being the same, a higher contrast ratio portends that the projector outputs colors that are more vibrant and eye-catching, while the dark areas of the screen will show more detail. However, because other factors have roles to play in the quality of images produced, the Contrast Ratio is not a factor to be bothered about.
Which Connection Standards Will I Have Need Of?
At the barest minimum, a projector should possess an analog (VGA) connector through which a computer or a composite video connector for video equipment can be connected to the projector. While this may be sufficient for 20th century setups, digital is the new language of the 21st century, and a projector worth its salt should have a digital connection. Digital connections eliminate the problems associated with analog transmissions, like jittering pixels and the likes.
There are several digital connection standards, but by far the most preferred for video sources is the HDMI standard. Many devices come with HDMI connectors, which is necessary for compatibility. However, if HDMI connectors are unavailable, the component video standard can be used as an alternative. MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link)-enabled HDMI is the latest video standard gaining widespread use. Through the MHL-enabled HDMI port, a projector will have the capability to project images from compatible mobile devices, mainly Android devices. Additionally, the mobile devices may be charged as well using the MHL-enabled HDMI ports.
For extra connectivity options, wireless Wi-Fi connectivity may be possible using a wireless dongle that may be optional. This wireless dongle fits into a USB port provided on the projector’s hardware. Aside this application, the USB port may also receive a thumb drive from which images may be projected onto a screen.
Which Technology Do I Want?
Projectors currently in the stores and shelves usually run on either of four imaging technologies—Laser rater, LCOS, LCD, DLP. Before we discuss each technology type, an important distinction must be made. A laser rater projector projects images on the screen using lasers, while there are hybrid models that use lasers specifically as a light source for a different imaging technology, such as a DLP or LCOS chip.
With that said, many inexpensive DLP projectors as well as a couple of LCOS pico projectors project their primary colors in sequence rather than in concurrence. This is true for both video and data models. The consequence of this is a rainbow effect. This effect manifests as light areas of the screen parting up into tiny rainbows for some individuals, if there is movement on the screen or if an individual sensitive to the effect shifts his or her gaze.
LCD projectors are widely known to be devoid of this problem, however size and weight does come on the high end. Even bigger, weightier, and more expensive than LCD models are the LCOS projectors of standard size. That is probably the reason behind the high quality of the images projected by these devices—they are the best. Laser rater projectors are yet to make a bold statement in the mainstream, as there are not a lot of the models around. Nonetheless, these models have an obvious advantage, in that a projected image need not be focused when a laser to make the projection.
Am I In Need of Audio Support?
A number of projectors are not equipped with audio functionality. For the select few that do, many times you do not need to be an audiophile to write off the audio as impractical and serving no real purpose, especially with very portable projectors. Sound is necessary for watching videos, during gameplay, and may be needed for your presentation. Therefore, it is important to check out the built-in audio for quality and loudness, making sure that both features match your needs. Alternatively, you could save yourself the trouble and go with a separate sound system.
Am I In Need of 3D Support?
Projectors with 3D support are at the frontiers of projector technology today. However, 3D support does not use a universal standard like the USB. Therefore, a projector marketed to have 3D support may be using a 3D scheme that would not be compatible with the 3D source you plan to use.
Accordingly, you should make sure there is a match between the scheme used and your 3D source. As an example, TI’s DLP-Link is a scheme that requires a computer to have the following specs—Open GL, quad buffer, 3D-compatible graphics card. This scheme is much different from the scheme used in 3D Blu-ray players. A projector may work with TI’s DLP-Link, but not with a 3D Blu-ray player. Fortunately, many projectors with 3D-capability are catching up with the wind of versatility. Hence, this growing class of projectors can project 3D content from a TV set-top box, a Blu-ray player, or a similar image source.
Am I In Need of A Big Image In A Small Room?
The last question you should ask is if you need, what is technically referred to as, a ‘short throw.’ A short throw represents the ability of a projector to stay within a short distance from the screen and cast an image of a certain size on the screen. Projectors with this capability have two core advantages:
- The projector can be used in tight spaces
- The risk of people blocking part of the image when they move to the front of the projector is minimized
Short-throw like other budding features in the projector space does not have universally accepted standards/definitions. However, just to highlight the implication of a short throw, standard projectors throw an image of approximately 6 feet in width at a distance of between 12 and 15 feet from the screen. Standard short-throw projectors do not need that much distance; the range for a similar-sized image is 3 to 6 feet. In general, ultra-short-throw projectors need less than a foot.
Short throw projectors and especially projectors with ultra-short-throw capabilities have a few snags:
- Are expensive than standard projector models
- Do not have similar top-grade performance in small auditoriums and large conference rooms.
In the table below, we highlight the best projectors that cover a range of factors—portability, feature-set, purpose, and brightness. In the next section, we discuss our overall top picks, models that awed us out of our wits.
What Are The Best Projectors?
1. Panasonic PT-RZ370U Review
Salient Selling Points
- Terrific for business and home entertainment uses
- Convenient and robust proprietary Digital Link technology
- Excellent image quality
- Wide availability at decent discounts
First Impression: Primarily, the Panasonic PT-RZ370U is a data projector for corporate use. However, it does a decent job handling other image types. It uses a hybrid technology of laser-LED light source paired with a DLP chip, to eliminate rainbow artifacts that are endemic to 100% DLP projectors. For clear image projection, the device is
equipped with 1080p (1920 by 1080) resolution. These qualities, in addition to lots of amazing discounts sprawling the web, the PT-RZ370U is a top choice for data and home entertainment purposes.
Features: Of special importance is the hybrid system that powers the PT-RZ370U. While DLP technology is by no means an inefficient standard, its success has been marred by the rainbow effect. Rainbow artifacts as they are technically known owe their presence in DLP projected images to the mode of operation of the DLP technology.
The DLP technology project colors sequentially. Therefore, after receiving the colors in sequences, the technology relies on the resolving power of the eye to integrate the separate colors to form the intended image with all the right colors.
All things been equal, this technology works well. However, if an individual were to shift his or her gaze or an object was to move on the screen, the separate colors could fall on different parts of the retina. Consequently, the bright areas of the image break into little rainbows. The hybrid system of the Panasonic PT-RZ370U is an innovative way to eradicate the rainbow effect that often mars the viewing experience.
Another terrific piece of technology on the PT-RZ370U is the inclusion of dozen sensors that detect microscopic changes in the primary colors that primarily result from an aging light source. During the rated 20,000-hour life cycle of the light source, these sensors track the disparity of primary colors, with the aim of smartly compensating for considerable change detected. This process is an automatic process, which maintains the color balance over the lifetime of the light source.
Panasonic’s proprietary Digital Link technology is another impressive innovation built into the PT-RZ370U. The DL technology favors convenience, robust scaling, and versatility. At its core, the technology permits all image and audio sources to be aggregated after been sent to an optional Digital Interface Box. From this box, a single network cable with length extending to 328 feet carries the imaging information to the projector. Sometimes, this same connection can be a vehicle for controls and management of the projector.
Image Quality: The PT-RZ370U has all the optimization needed to deliver very rich data images. We were stunned by the performance of the device when it went through our standard catalog of DisplayMate tests. The colors were captivating, vibrant, and had full saturation on all preset modes. The detail on images also stood out impressively.
Videos were not at par with data images in excellence. Understandable seeing that it is primarily a data image projector. One of the downsides was subtle noise levels in dark areas for a clip that had the tendency to display noise. The other was a trivial loss of shadow detail (details that are based on dark areas shading) in a clip that is particularly demanding.
Both downsides are only minor issues that can only be eliminated on primary home entertainment projectors, which, by the way, would clearly not perform as well as the PT-RZ370U in handling data images.
All told, the RZ370U did well during use in a home theater. In fact, it performs better than lower priced projectors that are primarily designed for home theater use. Its performance can only be bested by home theater projectors that are similarly priced with advanced features like frame interpolation, for smoother movement.
The PT-RZ370U has an inbuilt stereo system with input and output capabilities, but does not include a speaker. Consequently, if you need top quality sound, especially for home entertainment needs, you would need a standalone audio system.
Final Verdict: 3D is not part of the Panasonic PT-RZ370U feature list. If 3D capability is a must-have for you, we recommend the NEC Display Solutions NP-PE401H. We also recommend the Canon SX80 Mark II, if you have an acute need for the closest you can get to live display of colors.
If either features are not essential needs, then you do not have to look any farther than the PT-RZ370U. It is an impressive device in virtually all aspects, from the top-quality rainbow-artifact-free images, to premium features like lens shift, to versatile extras like single cable connectivity and the ability of being mounted in any orientation.
2. InFocus LightPro IN1146 Review
Salient Selling Points
Brightness: Projectors powered with DLP technology have a deficit in the quality of brightness across the color spectrum. For white images, brightness is at the best levels. However, for color images, the brightness levels diminish even at the same setting.
With that said, there is usually a limit to how well an image can be viewed for a given brightness level—measured in lumens. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) have a list of recommendations at different brightness levels. At 1000 lumens, SMPTE recommends that the appropriate image size be kept at between 120 and 163 inches (measured diagonally), for an aspect ratio of 16:10, under dark lighting conditions (like in a theater). At the same aspect ratio, the appropriate image size reduces to between 80 and 90 inches (measured diagonally as well) under moderate ambient lighting conditions.
During real time tests, we found a 92-inch image (measured diagonally), to be a tad bit too dim for comfortable viewing for a long session, during both moderate and dark lighting conditions. For a short session, however, the exact same setting proved to be comfortable.
Image Quality: Data image quality is remarkable on the IN1146. We found the colors to be finely saturated in all presets on our standard suite of DisplayMate tests. Color balance was also brilliant in virtually all modes, safe the brightest mode.
The prominent downside we encountered was scaling artifacts. Most projectors are not immune to these artifacts, which can be visually detected at the projector’s native resolution and in areas of closely spaced dots or lines.In the InFocus IN1146, these artifacts occur because of the DLP technology on which the projector is built on. The artifacts may also manifest as a soft-focus effect. Video image quality, while not the best across the board, is decent. Skin tones and shadow detail were handled just fine, as was color display.
A common issue with DLP projectors that irked users was the presence of rainbow artifacts. Thankfully, the IN1146 eliminates these artifacts though it is uses a DLP chip, which is admirable. The absence of these artifacts during image handling helped improve the data and video quality on the InFocus LightPro IN1146.
Sound can be produced without the need for an external audio system. The projector has an inbuilt stereo system, complete with 2-watt speakers. There’s a limit to the loudness and quality of sound that can be produced with the projector’s inbuilt audio system, which may require you to get or use an external sound system.
Setup: The IN1146 is easy to setup. Processes are straightforward, without the need for workarounds or kludges. Extended functionality of the projector is possible thanks to an HDMI port, a mini-jack AV-in port that can be paired with an appropriate adapter for composite audio and video, a VGA port for component video or a computer, and a USB Type A port to be used with a USB memory key or with an optional Wi-Fi dongle.
Acquiring a Wi-Fi dongle will enable the projector to use Wi-Fi connections from PCs, Macs, or Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices (like smartphones and tablets).
The available of full set of controls on the projector’s hardware, helps out for convenience reasons when the remote may not be available for use.
Final Verdict: The InFocus LightPro IN1146 is an all-round projector with decent performance in all areas. It can be described as a multi-purpose projector appropriate for users who may need a projector for more than one specific need.
The IN1146 also manages to tote these many useful features and good performance at an attractive price point.
3. Acer H6510BD Review
Salient Selling Points
First Impression: It is difficult to find a premium device with top-notch quality and features at an attractive price point. The Acer H6510BD is such a device, and we are certain finding a better offering would be more difficult at an equivalent price point.
Features and Performance: 1080p resolution is the standard on high-end projectors, and it being the native resolution of the H6510BD launches it into the premium category of projectors. Image quality is fascinatingly clear. To top that, is a memorable experience when handling high definition. The handling is seamless, and the result is breathtaking.
Decent 3D support is available, supplemented with auto-detection of image type (if it is video or gameplay) for automatic adjustment to image-type-specific settings that deliver stunning visuals.