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Should I Buy a Digital Projector?
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Should I Buy a Digital Projector?

A comprehensive guide to help you make the right buying decision


Often, for gamers and movie viewers, a projector offers a more affordable way to capture immersive and compelling big-screen entertainment. For businesses, a projector provides flexibility and big-screen images that add impact for better business results. Do you need one?


You probably want to buy a projector if:

You want the largest possible picture. On the high end, projectors can be used to create a very large image size, as much as 300” or more. Most produce high-quality images at a size of 90 to 180 inches. Flat screen televisions, by comparison, typically offer screens from 50 to 70 inches. (Professional installers working in large venues can double stack multiple projectors to create even larger images.)

You don't want to buy multiple TVs. Even if you want to create a smaller image (50 or 70 inches), a projector can provide a budget-friendly alternative to purchasing flat screen televisions for more than one room. A projector can be easily moved to wherever you want to view your videos or photos or to play video games.

You don’t have the budget for a flat screen TV. Particularly with projector technology dropping in price, a projector may be the least expensive option to create a big-screen viewing experience at home. At the same time, television technology has also  dropped in price—so there is some crossover between higher-end projectors and smaller HDTVs.

The average price of a flat screen television is about $1,150, while the average plasma television costs $1,590, according to June 2011 research from IHS iSuppli. Meanwhile, a home theater projector such as an Optoma HD20 OUHD20, which delivers 1080p resolutions and 300-inch images costs under $1,000.

A high brightness projector provides an image more than four times larger than the average flat screen television. A projector allows you to create the largest image possible for the space you have.

You don’t have enough space for a large TV. A small projector can easily perch on a coffee table, shelf or bookcase or be mounted on the ceiling so that it takes up little to no floor space. When not being used, a projector can be tucked away in a closet and then brought out for special events and parties (Super Bowl, Academy Awards, etc.) or set up outside to create an outdoor home theater experience.

You want to take your games or movies along with you. Portable and ultra-portable projectors can be readily taken to different locations to share games, images or movies with others. Some of these projectors can also be used outdoors or in other locations where a television is not readily available.

You want to create an immersive 3D experience. 3D content from video games, movies and sporting events delivered from video game consoles, Blu-ray 3D players or satellite televisions look more realistic and are much more engaging when displayed with image sizes greater than 100 inches. In addition, 3D projection offers a wide viewing angle that optimizes the experience for multiple viewers.

You want to customize your sharing and viewing experience. A projector with a Secure Digital (SD) or microSD card slot and built-in media player provides PC-free viewing of Microsoft Office files (Word, Excel and PowerPoint), as well as Adobe PDF documents, pictures, videos and more. Portability ensures that you can share media anywhere.

A DLP projector reproduces brilliant and accurate colors. White light passes through a color filter, so that a variety of colors are shone on the mirrored surface of the DLP chip. By switching among many mirrors, the chip blends various hues to create the full- color image that is projected on the screen.

Technology Buying Decisions: Projection Options: DLP or LCD?

Mainstream projectors use one of several technologies to project an image on a wall or screen. Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) projectors, which have been around for years, use three separate glass panels that separate the color spectrum into red, green and blue to create an image.

Look for a projector that integrates Texas Instruments’ DLP chip, such as the BenQ W6000, Optoma HD200X, or LG BX327. The DLP chip integrates a reflective surface with thousands of tiny, rotating mirrors, takes the reflected light and puts it through a color wheel to create an image. DLP projectors offer a variety of benefits that make them the choice for users for whom picture quality is paramount (such as gamers or home theater enthusiasts). For example, a higher contrast ratio allows DLP projectors to display varying levels of black as well as enhanced detail.

Light Source: Lamp or LED?

Most projectors use a traditional lamp (or light), which provides brightness to project an image. Lamp-based projectors provide the greatest brightness and are the choice for those who need to project to large audiences or rooms that have ambient light. Projectors in this category also tend to offer the most advanced features, such as networkability, high brightness and more.

The smallest projectors, called Pico projectors, use solid state technology, such as Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). LED technology has not achieved the highest levels of brightness yet, but do offer good color quality which gives the appearance of a brighter image. These units, which are designed for portability, are desirable for low power consumption (which enables use of battery power and increases portability). LEDs, since they are not based on traditional lamp technology, last 20,000 or more hours without needing to replace the light source.

The Nikon S1100jp  point-and-shoot camera has a built-in Projector. The Optoma PK210 Pico Pocket is a stand-alone projector.

Since LED projectors do not use a lamp the result is that these projectors generate less heat and demand virtually no maintenance. Meanwhile, since LEDs incorporate no lead or mercury, these projectors provide a compelling solution for those seeking a greener projector.

The LED-based design, in addition to being environmentally friendly with low power usage and the elimination of mercury and other hazardous materials, allows for cool operation which in turn allows for its compact size.

How Long Will My Lamp Last?

Both DLP and LCD projectors integrate lamps (light sources optimized for use in a projector). Lamp life is measured in hours (example: 2000 or 4000), which for most users will translate to years of use. Over time, the brightness of the lamp may deteriorate. When buying a projector, it is important to consider not just the cost of the unit, but also the cost of replacement bulbs, factored over the life of the projector.

An LED light source has an estimated lifetime of more than 20,000 hours (equivalent to using the projector four hours every day for over thirteen years). LED is incredibly cost effective compared to lamp-based projectors. For example, users with a lamp-based projector would have to replace the lamp in the projector at least four times over 20,000 hours of usage—at a cost of over $800, compared to the completely maintenance-free LED lamp.

3D or not 3D? That is the question.

Many projectors promise to be able to deliver 3D images. However, there are a variety of terms, each one meaning something slightly different. “3D-Ready” and “3D-Capable” projectors, for example, will accept and display 3D signals from a computer with 3D content and a 3D capable graphics card. These projectors, meanwhile, must be paired with a converter box, such as Optoma’s 3D-XL OU3DXL box, in order to project 3D content from Blu-ray 3D players, set top boxes and game consoles. Finally, to be “Full 3D” compatible, the hardware must support High- Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) 1.4a which will allow it to connect directly to a broad range of 3D output sources including television set top boxes, Blu-ray 3D players, 3D gaming systems and more.

3D features are important if you are intending to invest in the equipment and content to project in 3D. However, investing in a 3D-Ready projector, the main component of your 3D system, gets you only part way to 3D display. You also need a 3D-compatible video source, 3D glasses, and 3D content.

The four main 3D transmission formats in use today include
• Frame sequential (or page-flip)
• Frame packing
• Side-by-side (SBS)
• Checkerboard

In affordable 3D-Ready projectors, the frame sequential format is commonly used and limits resolution to 1280x720. These projectors can only receive signals that use a computer equipped with NVIDIA’s 3D Vision system, and do not work with Blu-ray 3D or broadcast 3D content.

The frame packing format is the standard output format of Blu-ray 3D players and requires additional processing power on the projector side. The High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) 1.4a uses frame packing as its default standard. HDMI is a compact audio/video interface that provides a standard for transmitting uncompressed digital data when connecting these digital audio/video sources with compatible video projectors, digital audio devices, computer monitors and digital televisions.

The side-by-side format, popularized by DirecTV, is currently not supported by most DLP-based, 3D-Ready projectors. Similarly, checkerboard is not used at all for projectors, only DLP 3D-Ready televisions.

The bottom line: The transmission formats can be confusing. Check carefully to ensure that all the elements of your 3D system support the same format.



How Much Brightness Do I Need?

Brightness (how much light the projector can produce) is measured in “ANSI lumens.” The brightness level that you need will depend on three factors: the content (movies, presentations, games, etc.); the image size (measured diagonally in inches); and the brightness of the room (ranging from dark to full light). By managing one of these elements, you can affect the others. For example, if you want to project a large image to a large audience, you should choose a bright projector and dim the lights as much as possible. If you want to project a detailed image, you may want to project it at a smaller size and minimize the brightness of the room.

When choosing a projector, aim to buy a product that is best for your most-often chosen activities, such as sharing business presentations, watching movies or playing games. When using your projector, optimize the light in the room to the brightness of your projector. Brighter rooms need a projector with higher lumens. For dark rooms, 1000 to 1200 lumens is effective, although professional presenters tend to want 2500 lumens or more. In addition, if you are projecting large images clearly, you’ll want a projector with a higher brightness rating. When choosing your projector, consider your application, the size of your group, the size of your room, the screen size and the amount of light in the room.


What Resolution Do I Need?

Resolution is the term used to describe the number of dots, or pixels, used to display an image. Higher resolutions, meaning that more pixels are used to create the image, allow you to display more information (greater detail) on your screen and create a crisper, cleaner image. Today, you’ll see a number of possible resolutions: SVGA (800x600 pixels), XGA (1024x768 pixels), WXGA (1280x800 pixels), 720p (1280x720 pixels), 1080p (1920x1080 pixels) and WUXGA (1920x1200 pixels). You can see this is a broad range of resolutions with the number of pixels used ranging from 480,000 up to 2,304,000.

For standard presentations, 800x600 pixels may be sufficient, but for other uses (such as larger images or advanced presentations) you’ll want a higher resolution, such as 1080p. The highest resolutions may be needed for presenting detailed autoCAD drawings, photos or video. Many users will want to match the resolution of their computer to display widescreen images or to project the image in the same resolution in which it was created.

What Contrast Ratio Do I Need?

Contrast ratio measures how well a projector can reproduce black and white (or how black is the blackest black and how white is the whitest white). The simplest way to explain this measurement is to say that it’s the difference between the darkest and brightest spot on the image being displayed, which is communicated as a ratio.

Currently, there is no accepted and widely-adopted industry standard method for measuring contrast ratio, so this stat will vary greatly between manufacturers. One method, called full on/full off, measures equal proportions of light reflected from the displayed image to the room and back for both black and white colors. This method cancels out the effect of room differences and measures dynamic contrast ratio. Meanwhile, measuring ANSI contrast (which uses a checkerboard test pattern in which black and white luminosity values are measured at the same time) is another way to measure contrast ratio. This method allows for static contrast ratio to be measured.

Although contrast ratio is of interest to those using projectors for still presentations (especially if the presenter uses a lot of text or black and white charts in the presentation), this measure is more important if you will be projecting video. Basically, a higher contrast ratio indicates a greater ability for the projector to show subtle color details and tolerate extraneous room light.

Keep in mind that when there is ambient light in the room, the measured contrast ratio may be dramatically reduced.



What Input/Output Options Do I Want?

Today’s projectors offer an array of input and output connectors. A projector with both HDMI and VGA ports lets you connect to a variety of video sources, including set-top boxes; DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray players; camcorders; PCs; video game consoles; and AV receivers. HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) supports, on a single cable, any uncompressed TV or PC video format, including standard, enhanced, and high-definition video; up to eight channels of compressed or uncompressed digital audio; a Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) connection; and an Ethernet data connection.

How Much Should I Worry About Projector Weight?

Common sense should reign when deciding on which sized projector to buy. Consider whether you will be travelling with your projector and choose accordingly. Many projectors weigh six pounds or less and come with a carrying case or backpack, making them easy to carry along. For a heavier projector, a hard-sided case with wheels will ease transport. Pico project ors, meanwhile, weigh in at less than half a pound and fit into a pocket, purse or briefcase easily.

On the other end of the spectrum, mountable projectors can be much heavier. With the appropriate mounting hardware, these projectors can be safely mounted on the ceiling in a way that accommodates the projector weight. On the high end, installation projectors which are mounted in large auditoriums can weigh 50 pounds or more. These projectors should be installed by a professional installer to ensure safety and best performance. Meanwhile, ultra short throw projectors designed for classrooms and home theater projectors weigh around 15 to 20 pounds and are designed to be easily mounted on a ceiling, with or without the help of a trained installer.


Based on a white paper provided by Optoma.


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