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 up to £400 inc VAT to spend we recommend the ViewSonic PA503W – bright, easy to use, decent resolution, lightweight and affordable – ideal for an audience up to 50 people in a room with standard lighting
  • If you have up to £500 inc VAT to spend we recommend the ViewSonic PX701HD - as above but high definition so twice the picture quality for a small uplift in price, ideal for business or home use
  • If you have up to £700 inc VAT to spend we recommend the Epson EB-FH52 - as above again but even brighter and much more flexible on where bit can be placed, ideal for business or home use
  • If space is limited in your classroom or meeting room then go for a short throw like the Epson EB-685W or the interactive version EB-685Wi - take care 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 and image size under 3m then the Sony VPL-PHZ10 (A-Grade) is perfect - very bright, laser light source, full 5 year manufacturer warranty and heavily discounted from new
  • For a basic 4K home cinema under £1k we recommend the ViewSonic PX701-4K - ultra sharp pictures at an incredible price
  • For a dedicated HD home cinema we recommend the Sony VPL-HW65ES - unbeatable colour accuracy and contrast in it's price range
  • For a top-of-the-range home theatre then the Sony 4K range is definitely where to look - the very best way to sort this kind of setup is to give us a call so we can customise the setup for you or you can fill out the bespoke home cinema builder form here
  • 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 read on below.

More Detailed Projector Guide

Resolution

Think of this as the quality and shape of the picture, more pixels making up an image means it is more detailed and looks clearer especially when you are showing a large image. The shape is also defined by how the pixels are laid out on the page which does impact on the shape (or 'Aspect Ratio') of projector screen you will need. 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 unbranded projector as they never say the NATIVE resolution, for eaxmple they will say Full HD when in fact it only supports that and doesn’t deliver 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 widescreen 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.

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 of their monitor or tablet, the aspect is 16:10 rather than 16:9 so it is slightly taller. It can be used for images and video but it is 50% of the quality of 1080p. The quality is the same is XGA but it is just wider. You would expect to see schools and presenters having this resolution, typical cost are around £300-350 + VAT.

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 around £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 around £250-300 + VAT.

WUXGA (1920 x 1200) - essentially the same as Full HD but 16:10 rather than 16:9 so you get a bit of a taller picture, but bear in mind what you are showing on the projector for example movies will likely be 16:9 but computer content may be 16:10.

4K UHD (3840 x 2160) - at last there is content that can support 4K like Netflix, Amazon and with Sky Q offering over 100 Premier League live matches in UHD per season most pubs and clubs and low-cost home cinemas are putting in 4K UHD projectors now. Prices have also dropped massively with many options under the £1k mark.

True 4K (4096 x 2160) - this is for the more dedicated cinema/theatre installations, the price tag does rise substantially but so does the quality. These sort of units aren't generally specced up online so give us a call and we can get one of our specialists to run through it with you and book in a demonstration.

SVGA (800 x 600) – this is something we really don't recommend but some manufacturers still produce them. The quality is much worse even than XGA and not much less in price either.

Other resolutions represent less than 1% of the projector market but do ask us if there's something specific you're after that you can't see online.

So spend your money wisely, get as good as resolution as you can afford, the image quality is the most important thing and 1080p being much more affordable now means you can future-proof yourself much easier.

Lumens

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 it's actually more like 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 about 5 years ago getting a high brightness projector of 3000 lumens was expensive, now you can get 3000 lumens as standard and the price only really jumps at the 5000+ lumens point.

Projectors are assumed to be running in standard lighting which is lights on but not direct sunlight streaming through onto the screen. If you do have sunlight issues then you will need to add more lumens so use 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 rich colours. A lot of people think that the higher the lumens the better the picture, but all you are doing is adding more white light to the picture and washing out the colours, hence with home cinema (or some business applications like video editing, photographic work etc.) the lower the lumens the better the quality of the picture - the very best home cinema projectors tend to be between 1000-2000 lumens. Our bestselling Home Cinema projectors are the ViewSonic PX701-4K, Sony VPL-HW65ES and the Sony VPL-VW270ES (A-Grade).

Business; For an audience size up to 50 people 3500-5000 lumens should be fine in a room with standard lighting, an image size up to 3m which is plenty big enough for that number of people, and falls into an affordable price bracket with plenty of choice. Our Business best sellers for an audience size of up to 50 people are the ViewSonic PX701HD, Epson EB-FH52 & Epson EB-2250U. For an audience size up to 100 people, you should be looking between 4000 and 6000 lumens. Our best sellers for an audience size of up to 100 people are the Epson EB-2250U, ViewSonic PG800HD & the Epson EB-L510U. Any audience size larger than 100 then please 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 2500-4000. Our Educaiton Short Throw bestsellers are Epson EB-685W & Epson EB-685Wi. 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 50 people should be between 3500 and 5000 lumens, up to 100 people should be between 4000 and 6000 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 and it depends how much direct sunlight hits it during the day, you might have to go for an ultra short throw or you might be that a panel is a better solution, which is also something we can help with just give us a call for more info.

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 mode first to save lamp life and running costs. Some projectors are clever enough to adjust the brightness depending on which image they are showing.

Contrast Ratio

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 put 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. To show how difficult it is to work out, some manufacturers even quote the contrast ratio at infinity:1 which is nonsense!

Connectivity

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. There are also several different grades of HDMI, for example HDMI 1.4 which is the lower end of the quality or HDMI 2.0 which is the minimum you need for 4K content.

Other connections you see are:

VGA or known an RGB – 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 - mostly just to run a USB stick but it is usually wrought with issues like incompatibility with USB stick brands, file types, file sizes etc. There are a few Epson units which allow proper connectivity via USB and have the best feedback for this functionality.

USB C - some projectors are now introducing USB-C for easy connection to modern laptops.

Audio Out - to run the audio to an external speaker system, this is usually a headphone jack (3.5mm) connection.

Lan/RJ45 – the way to get network maintenance support from your projector some can even send you an email when the lamp is low or be able to turn on/off the projector at set times during the day which is pretty vital for education establishments and businesses with large buildings and multiple sites. It is does not mean it can send content to it if your laptop is connected to the same network though.

Wireless - this is a huge topic on its own. Very few projectors have wireless capabilities built-in and those that do can still be limited on what data can be sent to them wirelessly. That being said, it is still very easy to get around this and make an easy wireless connection from your laptop or mobile device to the projector by simply adding a wireless adapter. Why not check out our dedicated page on this.

Light Source Life

When we started selling projectors all those years ago there was so much emphasis on lamp life, the replacement costs were in excess of £300 and the lamp life was around 1000-2000 hours and they popped easily if the projector wasn’t allowed to cool down. Things have changed and buying a projector based on lamp life is no longer necessary. Most projectors now have a light source life of over 10,000 hours which if you used it for 5 hours a week then that is 30 years worth, or even 25 hours a week comes to over 7 years worth. Lamps cost much less now and most cool down within seconds. 

You also have the added benefit these days of a lot of LED or Laser light source projectors, these go up to 20,000-30,000 hour life expectancy which make them perfect for education, churches, halls etc as they require little to no maintenance and if you have to hire a scaffold tower to change a light bulb ever year then that is a huge benefit.

Weight

If you are going to be carrying the projector around then you want it to be as small and lightweight as possible, but be careful because the handheld projectors which are under 1kg tend to be no more than about 1,000 lumens so need to be used in a dark room or for a very small image - the best compromise is usually something around 2-3kg, with a footprint around the same as a bit of A4 paper, which will open up options for projectors over 3,000 lumens and at least HD/4K resolution. 

High end projectors say over 5,000 lumens or with interchangeable lenses tend to be a lot heavier as they are normally designed to be either permanently installed or professionally transported.

Throw Ratio

This seems very complicated but it isn’t, it makes a huge difference and I would say it is the biggest single reason someone buys the wrong projector.

Projectors have lenses on them and the throw ratio is how far back that lens is compared to the width of the image. If you are going to just put the projector on a table and project 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 just click here to start a chat/leave a message 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 on.

The throw ratio is usually written with 1 or 2 numbers then ":1" for example 1.5-1.65:1 or 0.33:1, with the left hand number(s) representing how far away the projector is and the right hand "1" representing the width of the picture.

There are 3 calculations you can do depending on what information you have:

  1. If you know what image size you'd like/have and how far away you can place the projector, then to work out what throw ratio you need to do: Distance divided by Image Width = Throw Ratio. For example: Distance = 3.5m, Image Width = 2m, Throw Ratio is 3.5/2 = 1.75:1
  2. If you know what projector you have/are getting and what the image size is, then to work out how far away it has to go you need to do: Throw Ratio multiplied by Image Width = Distance. For example: projector has a Throw Ratio of 1.2-2:1, Image Width = 2.5m, Minimum distance is 1.2 x 2.5 = 3m away & Maximum distance is 2 x 2.5 = 5m away. You can place the projector anywhere between 3-5m away.
  3. If you know what projector you have/are getting and how far away you can place it, then to work out the image size you need to do: Distance divided by Throw Ratio = Image Width. For example: projector has a Throw Ratio of 1.5-1.65:1, Distance = 5m, Maximum Image Width is 5/1.5 = 3.33m Wide & Minimum Image Width is 5/1.65 = 3.03m Wide

It can seem a bit daunting but we do try to help by having the calculator on each projector page, or if you speak to one of our sales team they will be able to work it out straight away for you.

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 are loads more I could say but then it gets into too much detail and 70% of all business purchases would be covered with this advice. 

Back to the Projector Page