How to Buy a Projector Advice
My name is Deborah Tucker and I’m the Owner of Just Projectors, I thought it would be useful to give some advice on buying a projector, I think websites need to be informative rather than just list products and I hope that this projector buying guide offers some insight to what you need to look out for whether you want to go into a large amount of detail or you want a quick guide. All feedback is really helpful and we want to make sure we offer more than just cheap prices.
Projector Quick Guide
Most people want a solution that works, don’t want all the whistles and bells and have a budget to work too.
- If you have £280 - £550 buy an XGA like Epson EB-970 – bright easy to use, decent resolution, lightweight and affordable – ideal for an audience 10-50 people
- If you have a slightly larger budget then go for the widescreen WXGA which helps you see more on the screen, Epson EB-525W, so much more suitable for todays applications.
- If you have £600 + vat – buy WUXGA like Epson EB-990U – bright, excellent resolution, suitable for 10-80 people normal lighting
- If you need an affordable home cinema then buy Optoma HD39Darbee, doesn’t need much space, excellent TRUE HD quality, & ideal for home but can be used for business for audiences up to 15 people in standard lighting
- If space is limited then go for a short throw like the EB-685Wi, take care though as it needs a flat surface not a pull down or non-tensioned screen. Please have a discussion with us before you buy a short throw as there are things you need to know which make a huge difference.
- If you have a large hall or church then the EH416 is perfect, bright enough, flexible lens, full HD and bright.
- If you run a projector for a large amount of time then laser based projectors are suitable, like the Sony FHZ700L, but you will need to chat to us first as there are many ways of buying the wrong one.
- If you are a photographer with a limited budget then choose a home cinema projector and control the lighting. Colours are important. if you have a larger budget like a camera club then talk to us about laser projectors or Lcos projectors.
For those people who want a more than a quick guide, still nothing too detailed and still wants to make the right choice.
More Detail Projector Guide
I think of this as the quality and shape, the more pixels making up an image means it is more detailed so it looks clearer especially when with projectors you are showing a large image. The shape is also defined by how the pixels are laid out on the page that does impact on the shape you need to have for the projector screen. Imagine there is a children's jigsaw puzzle, you can see every piece as the pieces are large, then think of a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle when you first look at it then you can't see the pieces, pixels are very much like that, the smaller they are the clearer the image. After each resolution name there are numbers like 1920 x 1080 , if you multiply the numbers by each other then that tells you the total pixels, it also tells you the shape and if you want to compare quality between different resolutions then compared the total number of pixels.
Be very careful when buying a cheap Chinese projector as they never say the NATIVE resolution they will say full HD when in fact it only supports that and doesn’t delivery it, in most cases they are only 25% of that quality.
Full HD (1920 x 1080) – This is Full HD or known as 1080p, if you are showing an image or video or if you have a budget of more than £450 then it should be your first choice. It is the modern standard which all devices you link to output at and anything less is going to look worse than say a tablet or your monitor. The shape is 16:9 which again replicates modern tablets or monitors, allowing more to be shown as a wider screen image. You can use 16:9 in other formats without loss of quality but it does change how far back you need to place the projector. The two Full HD projectors we highly recommend are the Optoma EH416 & the Sony VPL-HW65ES.
WXGA (1280 x 800) – this is a wide screen format which is for people who don’t quite have the budget for 1080p but still want to replicate the shape their monitor or table it, the aspect is 16:10 rather than 16:9 so it is slightly different. It can be used for images and video but it is 80% of the quality of 1080p. The quality is the same is XGA but it is more widescreen. You would expect to see schools and presenters having this resolution, typical cost are around £300. The two WXGA projectors we highly recommend are the Epson EB-525W & the Epson EB-685Wi.
XGA (1024 x 768) – a pretty old resolution that people tend to buy as they have had this before, the aspect ratio is 4:3 and doesn’t really allow you to replicate modern monitors, it tends to be £30-50 cheaper than WXGA and the quality is the same. Think before you buy XGA, if your monitor on your desk is nearly double the width to the height then buy at least WXGA otherwise the image will feel a little squashed when you view it. Prices tend to be £250 +. The two XGA projectors we highly recommend are the Epson EB-970 & the NEC UM301X.
WUXGA (1920 x 1200) a very popular resolution for businesses who want the true HD quality, prices tend to be over £1200 so not for everyone’s budget but these projectors tend to have lots of added features that over more than just a large clear image. The format is 16:10 so like WXGA but vastly improved in quality. The two WUXGA projectors we highly recommend are the Epson EB-990U & if you are after something a bit more high end; the Sony FHZ57.
4K or UHD (4096 x 2160) at last there is content that can support 4K, with SKY Q offer 124 premier league live matches this season, it does seem that sport drives the improved resolution and with Amazon offering UHD it now makes sense to buy 4K, or at least start thinking about it. Prices are still out of the reach of most households but compared to the price of a large TV then they still offer better value. The only word is stunning, the units tend to be larger, and prices are over normally £3k. The two 4K UHD projectors we highly recommend are the BenQ W2700 & the Optoma UHD65. The TRUE 4K projector we highly recommend is the Sony VPL-VW270
SVGA (800 x 600) – only 4 manufacturers still produce this resolution and I wish they wouldn’t, the quality is awful and whilst I appreciate they offer prices under £200 for that extra £50 go for XGA, SVGA is out of date by 10 years, most modern devices struggle to show it and you will end up with a projector that cannot support things you link too it.
Other resolutions represent less than 1% of the projector market
So spend your money wisely, get as good as resolution as you can afford, the image quality is the most important thing and the affordable 1080p or WUXGA is really the best choice for future proofing
Simply the brightness, it used to be the major consideration when you purchased a projector but as lumens in 90% of all projectors is bright enough, the internet is flooded with cheap LED that state they are 3000 lumens but in fact when you read the detail its actually on 30 lumens. The simple reason is that unless they are ANSI lumens which is a certified brightness then you are not comparing like for like. We always quote ANSI lumens. Prior to 3 years ago getting a high brightness projector of 3000 lumens was expensive, you can get 3000 lumens as standard now, and the price only really jumps at the 5000+ lumens point.
Projectors are assumed to be running in standard lighting which lights on but not direct sunlight streaming through, if you do have sunlight issues then you will need to add more lumens to my suggestions below or go short throw and limit the effect of direct sunlight
Home Cinema; It’s a small audience so lumens tend to be around 1500-3000 to get the advantage of a high contrast ratio and deep blacks. That is daylight viewing, no lights and not in a conservatory. More lumens is not the way to go, it will look very white light and washed out. Our home cinema best sellers include the Optoma HD39Darbee, BenQ W2700, Optoma UHD65 & the Sony VPL-HW65ES.
Business; For an audience size up to 30 people 2500-4000 lumens will be fine, you can have lights on, an image size up to 3m which is plenty big enough for that number of people, affordable price bracket and plenty of choice. Our Business best sellers for an audience size of up to 30 people are the Epson EB-970, Epson EB-990U & Optoma EH320UST. For an audience size up to 100 people, you should be looking between 2500 and 5000 lumens. Our best sellers for an audience size of up to 100 people are the Epson EB-2250U, Optoma EH503 & the Epson EB-680. Any audience size larger than 100 then please definitely give us a call and we will advise accordingly.
Education; Most schools go for a short throw projector, if this is the route you choose to go down then the lumens are normally less as the projector sits closer, so the lumens range for an education short throw is 2000-4000. Our Educaiton Short Throw bestsellers are Epson 525W, NEC UM301X & Optoma EH320UST. If you are going for a standard throw projector then the same rules apply for audience size as we have suggested for business; up to 30 people should be between 2500 and 4000 lumens, up to 100 people should be between 2500 and 5000 lumens and anything of an audience size above that then please give us a call.
If you have a really bright room with windows then think carefully where you place the projector, shop windows are a classic case it depends how much direct sunlight hits it during the day, you might have to go for an ultra thro or you might be that a panel is a better solution.
Having too many lumens can be as bad as too little, too much white light makes the image look washed out, kills off any decent contrast and is total overkill. Projectors usually offer 2-3 different modes; try doing the eco first to save lamp life and running costs. Some projectors are clever enough to adjust the brightness depending on which image they are showing.
In truth it’s the hardest and least regulated spec that manufacturers quote, nobody measures it the same and people who buy based on contrast are not looking at the whole picture. Think of the 15,000:1 means there are 15,000 shades of grey shades between white and black, if you are watching home cinema you will get more enjoyment with deeper blacks, dark shot images will be clearer with a higher contrast, the challenge remains how can you be sure one have more contrast than another. Typically some brands out high numbers and others put low numbers but in truth they could be the other way around. If a projector is brighter then the contrast will be lower as there is more white light impacting on the ability to show dark blacks, so don’t get too many lumens if you don’t need it.
90% of all projectors have HDMI as that is the standard connection for sending data and video for modern devices. If it doesn’t have HDmi then I suggest you don’t buy it as it will not work with modern devices in the future.
Other connections you see are:
VGA or known an RGB; An old way of connecting to data, still used by the vast number of people until they upgrade their cabling. If you get 2 VGA’s then you can link 2 sources at the same time, if you get a VGA out then you can what you call daisy chain two projectors to run off one source, many churches do this.
USB B; Like the USB connection you see on a printer, squarer than the other USB, this allows you to connect your laptop to the projector and turn the remote control into a way of forwarding slides. Not all projectors have this, if you not you will need a laser pointer.
USB A; Not to connect but to run USB stick, there are numerous issues with this device, it can only run certain file types, doesn’t like large size files and as projectors have no brains is very fussy about what software it runs. Infocus have built some internal memory into their models but we say take care when buying a projector solely for the USB A reason, let us have a copy of the file you want to show so we can send it to the manufacturer and get confirmation it will work. In normal circumstance as devices such as iPhones etc can run presentations it is better to still link to a device rather than rely on a USB A memory stick. Some of our best sellers that have a USB A connection are; Epson EB-2250U & Optoma GT1080Darbee.
Audio Out; To put an external signal in
MHL; Quite a unique feature still but it for mobile devices and makes the setting up much easier as it allows you to interact at an easily stage. All projectors will have MHL in the end as it works so well with mobile devices so it you see one with MHL and you use mobile or tablets then it’s a good thing. The Optoma EH416 is one of our most popular projectors and it has an MHL connection.
Lan/RJ45; The way to get network maintenance support from your projector, send you an email when the lamp is low, or be able to turn on/off the projector at set times during the day, pretty much vital for education. It does not mean it can run as a network projector, merely just control it. Two of the projectors which we highly recommend that have a LAN/RJ45 connection are; Epson EB-990U & Sony VPL-FHZ57.
Wireless; This is a huge topic on its own, projectors don’t tend to be wireless enabled just about to run wireless with another external dongle or adaptor attached. There are powered ones, ones that run off UBS’s, some that run of VGA, some that deliver full HD content, so like I said there is a huge topic on this so check out our dedicated page on this.
When I started selling projectors 16 years ago there was so much emphasis on lamp life, the replacement costs were £300 and the lamp life was around 1000-2000 hours and they lamps popped easily if the projector wasn’t allowed to cool down. Things have changed and buying a projector based on lamp life is not necessary now. Think most projectors have a lamp life of 8000-10,000 hours. If you use a projector for 5 hours a week then that is 1600 weeks is 30 years. Lamps cost £120- £200 and don’t have the same cooling down issue. Hence when LED offer 30,000 lamp life people seem dazzled by that but unless you run 24/7 you don’t need that length of hours.
Another thing to consider when thinking about lamp life are Laser Projectors.
Weight – High end units are heavy as they are bright and have lots of connections, other projectors tend to be less than 3Kg’s and are easily portable. If space is a real issue then go for a 1,000 lumen LED such as the xx which is only 0.8 Kgs and a small footprint. Realistically anything from 2.5-3.5 Kgs can be easily transported in/out of a car.
This seems very complicated but it isn’t but it does make a huge difference and I would say it is the biggest single reason someone buys the wrong projector.
Projectors have lenses on them; the throw ratio is how far back you need to be compared to the width of the image. If you are going to just put the projector on a table and projector onto a wall and you can move the projector to any position then the throw ratio will not be a major issue. However if you need to fill a screen from a set distance or range of distances or it’s a replacement for your old projector then you have to get the right throw ratio, otherwise the screen will be not filled or the image will be too big for the screen. So let us look at what is a throw ratio but if you don’t want to go into this level of detail there is a simple chat button on a web you can hit or just pick up the phone and call us, we can help. On each projector product page on the left hand side there is a throw distance calculator and as long as you know either the distance back you need to work with or the screen size then it will tell you if that projector works. For those who want to know more then read this
For every one metre wide image the throw ratio is the distance back
1:1 throw is 1m wide image 1m back from the screen, 2.5m wide = 2.5m wide back and so on
1.5:1 for every 1m wide image then 1.5m back so 2.5m wide is 3.75m back
Easily you can see that the higher the throw ratio number the further back you need to be.
Then it gets a little more complicated as you see some projectors say a throw ratio 1-1.5:1
This means the projector has a zoom on it, there is a range the projector can be placed, so looking at the numbers closer
Say on 2.5m wide image 1:1 is 2.5m, 2.5m on 1.5 is 3.75m so that means the projector can be placed on or between 2.5m to 3.75m, the further back the bigger the range becomes. So if you have a good zoom on a projector the more flexible you can be placing the projector. Projectors like the NEC “M” range have a throw 1.4-2.3, working on those figure again the placement could be anywhere from 3.5m to 5.75- this is an exceptional and it gives you the best chance to put as a replacement projector in the same location.
If you know that you have a screen width and you know the distance then you take the distance back of say 4m and divide by the screen size say 2.7m 4/2.7 will give you a throw ratio of 1.48, therefore you look for a projector which covers that range, best to be well within that range as often measuring can be a little off and then you leave no margin for error.
Short throw projectors are ones that have less than 1, so a 0.35 is really short you can get a 2m wide image from just 70cm back, there are lots of positive points about short throws but they are also needing to be set up a certain way and go onto a certain surface – we suggest you read our guide on short throw or better still save your time just chat or call. With these projectors every cm makes a huge difference so care is needed.
Talking to a Specialist
Just Projectors are here to sell projectors and I don't apologise for that, no point being in business if we don't. However we are independent of which brand we sell, we have top pricing from all recognised UK brands with accredited status allowing us to provide pre and post sales support. We often have better warranties than standard, we see the projectors before we sell them and we know what they can do. Buying is more than just price, it's about getting the best model for your needs. We have been around since 2001 and I welcome any feedback.
I hope this guide was useful, there is lots more I could say but then it gets into too much detail and 70% of all pruchases would be covered with this advice.