Home Theater Buyers Guide
When choosing a projector for a home theater, you need to consider what will meet
your needs. Are you going to be using your home theater projector to watch regular
TV programming and standard DVD’s or are you looking for a projector to
connect to your next generation game system, Blu-ray player and HD source box
(cable, satellite, etc.)?
The aspect ratio is the number of units wide by the number of units high. The
most common aspect ratios for projectors are 4:3 and 16:9. The standard (NTSC)
4:3 ratio image is almost square like an older television or computer monitor, whereas
the widescreen (HDTV) 16:9 ratio is panoramic like a movie screen. Currently the
majority of specified home theater projectors have a native 16:9 aspect ratio.
The resolution of your projector combined with the source of the image will
determine how sharp your picture is. The higher the resolution of the projector,
the more pixels the image has. As your pixel count increases, they can become
smaller thus creating greater detail and smaller separation between them. When
it comes to home theater projectors there are currently 2 16:9 resolutions 1280x720
The 1280x720 format is a good choice if you have a budget under $500. 1280x720
projectors deliver beautiful high definition images from HDTV 720p, 1080i, as
well as Blu-ray disc players. As such, there really isn’t much of a compromise in
picture quality by going with 1280x720 instead of the higher resolution 1920x1080
The 1920x1080 format has come down in price within the last year+ and a good
(1080p) unit can be had for under $1000. If you want the absolute sharpest
and most detailed picture possible from high definition sources, then 1920x1080
projectors are the best choice. While the 1280x720 projectors can deliver very
impressive HD images, the picture quality in terms of image detail is even better
when the projector has the ability to show all 1080 lines of the signal in their
native, uncompressed format.
A projector’s brightness is measured in ANSI lumens. When it comes to
home theater projectors, brighter is not always better. You need to have a projector
that produces enough brightness for a bright vibrant image, but not too much
because additional brightness will wash out the color and contrast. For home
theater projectors, brightness typically ranges from 1000-3000 ANSI lumens. The
amount of ambient light in your viewing environment will be the biggest factor
in determining how bright your projector needs to be. Dedicated home theaters
with controlled lighting and no ambient light will not require as much brightness
as a family room with ambient light from windows or other household lighting.
For home theater projectors, contrast is a very important quality especially
when watching movies. Contrast gives depth and shadow detail to video images.
Excellent contrast can take a two-dimensional image and make it appear almost
three-dimensional. A high contrast projector produces good shadow definition,
deep color saturation, and a picture with a rich dynamic look.
There are three installation options for a home theater projector: Table mount,
rear shelf mount and ceiling mount. The most common option is ceiling mounting.
When ceiling mounting a projector it will only have to be adjusted once during
the initial setup. Due to the high placement, heat from the projector is dispersed
over the viewers head and the noise level is lower. Also, because of the variety
of mounts and colors and because cables can be run inside the wall, a projector
can be integrated rather seamlessly when installed on the ceiling. The other
options of tabletop and rear shelf mounting are often used for a portable setup
or when ceiling mounting is not possible. Both options allow for easy access
to the projector.
Remember that a high quality screen is a long term investment. Projectors continue
to get better and cheaper with time, but screens are different. It is not uncommon
for a person to change projectors every 3-4 years but keep the same screen throughout.
In dedicated home theaters, permanently mounted screens are often a good choice because they combine best quality of image with reasonable pricing.
Manual or electric retractable screens can be mounted to the wall, a ceiling and can also
be ceiling recessed. When a dedicated home theater room is not an option,
a retractable screen can easily be concealed when not in use. The manual version
is less expensive and less glamorous than the motorized version which can be
controlled with the touch of a button. The electric screens definitely make
an impression in your home theater guests.
If your projector is going to replace your current television, lamp replacement
cost should be factored into your purchase. Lamps typically last between 2000-4000
hours (Note: regular filter cleaning and proper operation will
improve lamp life). The average projector used for movies and special events
runs 8 hours a week. At this rate, a lamp will last approximately 4.8 years.
As a high pressure lamp is used, its light output diminishes. So, many users
choose to replace their lamps more frequently than the maximum life in order
to maintain a brighter picture. Replacement lamps usually run between $200-$400.
If your projector will be used primarily for watching movies and special events,
lamp life will not be quite as important. Still, it is wise to factor in the
cost of replacement lamps before you decide which projector to purchase. You
may also want to purchase a spare lamp when you purchase your projector. This
will minimize downtime of your projector when your lamp needs replacement.