Projectors Buying Guide
Before buying a projector, it's important to first ask yourself these: What is the projector mainly going to project - data or video? And, where are you going to use it - at home, in the office, or outdoors? You'd be surprised that once you've the answers to these two questions, you can easily filter out half of the projectors in the market that don't apply, so that you can make better use of your time to pour over the nitty gritty (e.g. specs, software, accessories) of those that do. Of course, most people don't have an unlimited budget, so that alone is another good filter to quickly shorten your list of options. Alternatively, you can continue reading this buying guide, and see what we recommend.
Projector Deals at PC Show 2013
Like TVs, there aren't a lot of projector brands at this year's PC Show. But we still managed to find two very decent business projector deals:
PC Show 2013 Offer
Dell 1210SThe 1210S is a DLP projector with an modest SVGA (800 x 600) resolution. Still, this 2.4kg beamer touts 2,500 lumens of brightness, 2,200:1 contrast ratio, and up to 4,000 hours of lamp life. If your projection needs are simple, give this a look. The 1210S comes with a 2-year advanced exchange and 3-month bulb warranty.
PC Show 2013 Offer
Hall 6, Booth 6008
Hall 6, Booth 6001, 6004, 6017, 6000A
PC Show 2013 Projectors Portal
Projectors are typically categorized based on their use case (e.g. business and education projectors, home theater projectors, large venue projectors, interactive projectors) or how portable they are. For example, a 4kg business projector that you like very much may not be the best option once you remember that it's meant for the traveling salesman in your company.
Business & Education Projectors
Brightness is arguably the most important spec to pay attention to for a projector meant for meeting room or classroom use, since controlling the ambient light in such venues is often not encouraged or impossible. Thus, we recommend a projector of no less than 2,200 lumens; go higher if you need to overcome a stronger ambient light. A high contrast ratio is also welcomed if you play a lot of video content. A lens with a high zoom ratio is good to have as well, as it gives you placement flexibility. Resolution-wise, we recommend no less than 1,024 x 768 pixels natively. If you're willing to pay a bit more and the projector is going to be connected mostly to widescreen laptops, go for 1,280 x 800.
If 3D projection is a must, take a look at 3D-ready DLP projectors; they all come with DLP Link, which allows glasses to link to the projector without special emitters.
Short Throw / Ultra Short Throw / Interactive Projectors
For even tighter spaces, look for short throw or even ultra short throw projectors. Such projectors offer a large screen projection at a very short distance between the projector and the screen. For example, the Canon LV-8235 UST is an ultra short throw projector capable of an 80-inch projection from a range as short as 32cm. As you might expect, such projectors are ideal for meeting areas and classrooms.
Using their ultra short throw advantage, some of these projectors can function as interactive projectors too. A good example is the Epson EB-485Wi, which supports two interactive pens.
Home Theater Projectors
While you can use any projector to watch video (that's why some of them are called multimedia projectors), a home theater (or home cinema) projector is always better at color accuracy, shadow details, motion control - simply because projecting video as best as possible is what it's designed for. Most home theaters have controlled lighting or no ambient light, that's why having a high brightness rating isn't as important (unless we're talking about doing 3D projection on a very large screen). Instead, contrast is the most important here. Resolution-wise, the two most common ones today are 1,280 x 800 and 1,920 x 1,080; naturally, the higher the resolution, the sharper the image. Another area to pay attention to is how easy it is to install the projector in your home theater room: a zoom lens is good, but a lens shift feature is even better.
MULTIMEDIA PROJECTOR BUYING TIPS
Before you head out to IT Show, here are a few more tips and considerations for buying a multimedia projector. They won't turn you into an expert instantly, but at least you won't come off as a complete newbie in front of an eager salesperson.
- LCD vs. DLP. You’d have seen instances in brochures where terms like LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) are being thrown around. Simply put, both are video projection technologies. Most mainstream business-class projectors adopt either 3LCD or single-chip DLP. The ‘3’ in 3LCD means that three LCD panels are used in creating each pixel’s color. DLP projectors typically have contrast and size advantages over similarly priced 3LCD models. However, as single-chip DLP projects colors one at a time in quick succession, and rely on the viewer’s eyes to blend these super-fast flashes to see the intended hue, users with sensitive eyes may see rainbow artifacts. Colors may also look a bit duller than those from 3LCD projectors, but that greatly depends on each manufacturer's implementation.
- Brightness. In our experience, an LCD projector often gives a greater light output than a DLP projector, even when they’ve the same lumen rating. Getting a bright projector makes more sense if you’re buying it as a presentation tool, but not so if you want to use it as a home theater projector. Case in point: brightness is never a selling point in home theater-oriented projectors. That’s because, for movie watching, sufficient brightness, and not high brightness, is more important. This is also one of the reasons that when you switch the image mode from Presentation to say, Movie or Video, the projector would lower the brightness automatically. If you‘ve control over the ambient light (like drawing the curtains), a 2,000-lumen projector is usually more than enough.
- Contrast. Expressed as a ratio, this basically means the number of levels between the blackest black and the whitest white a projector can achieve. This is a spec that’s typically in DLP’s favor. But no matter how high your projector’s contrast ratio is, it’d be wasted if you can’t control the room lighting. The quickest and easiest way to improve contrast even if you’ve a beamer with a low contrast ratio is to turn down the lights, though many a time this isn’t possible as some light is needed for the students to take notes, or to facilitate eye contact between the speaker and the audience. Also, avoid projecting on a wall or a blackboard; use a projection screen instead. If possible, find out the projector’s native contrast ratio, instead of passing judgment solely based on its dynamic contrast ratio.
- Inputs & Outputs. If you’re on a shoestring budget, it’s good to consider beforehand which features can be omitted. For example, HDMI connectivity is not really necessary if your desktop or laptop PCs are only capable of outputting analog video via D-sub. A projector that can do 1,920 x 1,080 natively might sound awesome, but what’s the point if your old laptop can only output at 1,024 x 768? If the projector is always on the road or is never going to be connected to a network, maybe that LAN port is unnecessary.
- Maintenance. Over time, projectors fail or perform below par for various reasons: dust built-up, mechanical failure, and end of lamp life are the more common ones. It’s wise to find out what kind of maintenance needs to be done before handing over the credit card. Is the filter easy to remove, clean, and replace? How does one change the lamp? Since most LCD light engines are not sealed, there’s always a chance that dust may land on the panels. So check the dust removal policy of the brand you’re buying from, and purchase extended warranties if required. On the other hand, most DLP chips are sealed and filters aren’t required.
Check out the latest projectors at our HardwareZone Projectors Product Guide.