Purchasing a Projector: What to Know

By Jared Shurtz
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If you are looking to purchase a DLP, LCOS or LCD projector this year, there are a few things you should know before making any final decisions. Projectors are quite a bit different than the standard TV you put in your living room. Factors such as brightness level, throw distance and lamp life are all things that can make or break your experience with a projector.

Purchasing a projector is quite an investment, so knowing what you plan to use the projector for is your first step in the process. A home theater projector is going to require less lumens (brightness level), whereas a presentation projector will need a much higher lumens level. This is just one example of why purchasing the first projector you come across isn't always the best idea. The following are some of the major things you will want to look for when making the big purchase.

Projector Brightness
The brightness level of a projector is measured in ANSI lumens; higher levels are going to put out much more light to the screen. The brightness level you’re shooting for completely depends on what you plan to use the projector for. A brightness level of 1,800 lumens and lower is the ideal output for a home theater room. Brightness is not nearly as important if there is no lighting in the room to wash out the picture. The average brightness level for business use is right around 3,000 lumens. This will allow some ambient light to be present, and you'll still have a clear image. If you plan on projecting an image larger than 200cm in size, it is always a good idea to go with a higher brightness level.

Resolution
Resolution is not really any different for a projector than it is for any other display device. A projector able to produce 1080p or 720p is capable of HD, whereas everything else is not. However, since many projectors are designed to be used as a computer monitor, there are a few other resolution types to look at. XGA (1024 x 768) is a standard monitor size, which means it will not distort the images from your computer. SXGA (1280 x 1024) is meant for those who have their resolution set for a wide-screen monitor, and this resolution is becoming much more common.

Contrast Ratio
Projector contrast is expressed in terms of a ratio between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks in the image. If you plan on using your projector in a home theater room, the higher the contrast ratio, the better. Most mid- to high-end home theater projectors have a ratio of between 10,000:1 to over 50,000:1. The higher the level, the better the picture is going to be. Business or classroom projectors can get away with a much lower contrast ratio since most of the time the projector is used for presentations.

Connectivity
In a world revolving around HD quality, it is a must for a good home theater projector to have at least one HDMI slot, if not more. This ensures that you are able to connect any HD-compatible device no matter where you are. USB ports are also becoming more and more prevalent since USB devices are more common and thumb drives can be used to store just about anything. Almost all projectors will come with a connection for computer use as well as your standard component and composite video connections.

Lamp Life
Lamp life (bulb life) is something you should highly consider before making any final decisions. Bulbs for most projectors will run you anywhere from $150 up to around $500. The ideal would be to find a projector that has a long lamp life and to only run the projector when it is needed. The average life for a bulb is right around 3,500 hours.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of information to absorb before heading down to your local electronics store. Projectors have a variety of different purposes. The purpose you have in mind will determine the features you’ll be looking for. If done right, your purchase of a LCD projector will be a great investment. This guide should make the process much easier and give you a good idea of what to look for as you shop.

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