You’ve decided to replace your aging television, so you stroll the aisles of your favorite big-box electronics store and marvel at the rows of flat-screen TVs.
Choosing the right one can be daunting. They all tend to look the same.
Perhaps you don’t need a new TV. Maybe a video projector that can replicate the theater experience is the answer.
6 important features
No matter which type of projector you want, Sabin and Stone say be sure to include:
1. Enough HDMI ports so you can connect devices
2. Smart TV features so you can stream your favorite shows, or the ability to add a streaming stick to gain those features
3. A minimum brightness of 2,400 ANSI lumens. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is the industry standard unit for a projector’s overall light output. Higher is better, especially if you’ll be viewing in a room that’s not dark.
4. 4K resolution so you can view the highest quality available from streaming services
5. Integrated sound so you won’t need to buy a sound bar
6. An established brand name. Check what reviewers say about a model you’re interested in, whether an ultra-short-throw projector includes an ALR screen and the accuracy of the projected image.
Bigger creates an immersive experience
“Without a doubt, the number one reason to move into projection is image size,” says Editor-in-Chief Rob Sabin of ProjectorCentral, a website that calls itself the “world’s largest projector resource.” “People underestimate the impact of what happens with a 100-inch or larger picture compared to the average TV in a typical home viewing room.”
The difference is what fills your peripheral vision, he says. At home, you’re seeing more of the room than the TV.
“In most cases, watching a 65-inch TV from across the room is like watching pixies dancing through a window,” he says. The big screen in a movie theater gives you a feeling of immersion that is easy to get used to.
Cheaper than a TV with the same screen size
Cost per inch is another consideration, says M. David Stone, contributing editor at PC Magazine. You can snag a good-quality 4K laser projector to splash a 100- to 120-inch screen across your wall for 20 percent or 25 percent of the price of the least expensive 100-inch TVs, which are typically $8,000 to $10,000.
Huge TVs are also more difficult to set up because of their weight and bulk. A high-quality 4K ultra-short-throw laser projector delivers a 100-inch or larger image starting at around $3,000. A premium projector runs up to about $5,000, Sabin says.
Unlike a ceiling-mounted, bulb-based projector, an ultra-short-throw laser projector never needs a lamp replacement, can operate in a bright room like a TV, and typically sits on a floor or credenza only a few inches in front of the screen or wall. That means it can be used in smaller rooms.
“One big issue used to be that you had to mount the projector on a ceiling or elsewhere and string cables through walls and ceilings,” Stone says. But ultra-short-throw models “let you put the projector on a flat surface, pretty much where you might put a TV, and fill a 100- or 110-inch screen hanging on the wall just above it.”
More versatility, portability than TVs
“From family movie nights in the backyard to online gaming sessions and big-screen sports viewing on a massive, 120-inch projected image, families are enjoying content in ways a traditional flat-panel TV cannot accommodate,” says Rodrigo Catalan, group product manager for projectors at Epson.
Reviewers often list the company’s products among the best available. Other projector manufacturers that get high marks among reviewers include BenQ, Hisense, LG, Optoma and Samsung.
Projectors offer more flexibility, Catalan says. The screen size doesn’t have to remain the same all the time, and you can easily pack up a projector for traveling. Many of today’s projectors are bright enough to splash a movie against a wall or ceiling without a screen and in some cases outside against the side of a home for backyard movie nights with the neighbors.
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Types of TV projectors
TV projectors fall into three categories:
• Ceiling mount. These typically have bulbs, are bigger and hang at the back of a room. Their lamps get dimmer with age, replacements can cost hundreds of dollars and changing one is not as easy as screwing in a lightbulb.
• Ultra-short-throw laser. These smaller projectors can sit on the floor, a small table or a credenza against the wall. They have fewer wires but could be more expensive than a ceiling mount.
“The projector installation is simplified since it’s placed in front of the screen wall on a piece of furniture,” says Sabin, who is a fan. “The screen is relatively lightweight and just hangs on the wall from a couple of brackets.”
• Portable. These really small projectors are ideal for moving between rooms or from a summer home to a friend’s house to a tent for a night of glamping. They may use battery power. While these may be a couple of hundred dollars, they’re generally not as bright and can’t produce as large an image.
Drawbacks of TV projectors
If you don’t want or need a huge image, buying a television is much more affordable. A brand-name, 70-inch 4K television goes for as low as $700, or even $500 for a lesser-known brand.
And because of its large image size, no projector can give you the full effect of high dynamic range found in a flat-screen TV. With a projector you’ll also need wall space, which might rule out its use in an apartment or condo. But a dark room for screening isn’t necessary anymore, Stone says.
“Plenty of projectors today ... combine good picture quality with high brightness,” he says. “And ambient light rejection [ALR] screens can direct all the light from the projector toward you while diffusing light coming from windows or overhead lighting or directing it away from where you’re sitting.”
Pro tip: Some projectors include an ALR screen in their equipment package.
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies.