How To Pick A Home Theatre Projector

Integrating a projector into your home theatre system is an easy way to bring the cinematic experience to your home. With a projector for your home theatre, you can enjoy movies, TV shows, sports, and even games on the big screen without having to fork out thousands for a giant TV.

Although TV sets are becoming increasingly more affordable, the large models are still relatively expensive; you’ll be digging much deeper into your pocket for a 100-inch TV screen than for a projector capable of broadcasting an image that size. However, size isn’t all that matters when making this decision.

Home theatre projectors have their own disadvantages: they can be loud, the picture quality may not be as well-defined and engaging as a television, and a projector can’t always be enjoyed in any environment. This isn’t to say a home theatre projector isn’t a piece of gear worth investing in. This guide will walk you through what to look for in a home theatre projector to suit your viewing needs best.

Why Bother With a Projector?

You may ask, “Why should I bother with all this gear to set up a projector when I can buy a large TV screen?” Projectors offer many advantages over traditional LED television screens, but they won’t work for everyone, so evaluate your situation before jumping into the deep end.

1. Screen size can be adjusted

Projectors allow you to choose how big or small your image will be thrown and depends on the surface you’re projecting onto and how far away the projector will be stationed. Because of this function, you can use anything from a projector screen, from a shower curtain or bed sheet to a bedroom wall, garage door, or even the side of your house. 

2. Easier on the eyes

TV screens present images to you by means of direct light, which is what causes eye fatigue and headaches and can negatively affect your sleep if you watch TV before bed due to blue light exposure. Projectors are far more forgiving on the eyes, allowing you to watch for longer, on a larger screen, and at any time of day.

3. Portability

Many portable projectors on the market are compatible with cell phones, tablets, laptops, or USB drives. These portable models are great for camping trips or any other time when an impromptu movie night may occur.

4. Space-saving qualities

When not in use, a projector is practically invisible and can be mounted on a coffee table, bookcase, or ceiling, occupying no floor space. Using a projector also means you have more open wall space for art or mirrors, as you don’t need to find space for a large TV screen.

Some Limitations of Home Theatre Projectors

While they can take your viewing experience to the next level, there are several disadvantages to home theatre projectors:

1. Dark Environment Required

Projectors need darker rooms to obtain a well-detailed, vibrant picture. While this can be achieved in a room with natural light using a brighter bulb, you’d ideally want to set up a projector in a darker room. Since this guide is aimed toward home theatre projectors, we can assume you’ll be aiming for a darker room anyway, so this may not be too much of an issue unless you plan on using your projector in other rooms.

2. Maintenance Necessary

Projectors require attention that a flatscreen television doesn’t. The bulb used on a home theatre projector has a finite lifespan and will need to be replaced every two to three years, and it can cost north of $300.00, depending on the projector you’re using.

Projectors also need their air filters cleaned or replaced every few months, as a buildup of dust in the filters creates fuzzy spots on the projected image. The problem is that many projectors must be returned to the manufacturer or a qualified servicer to be cleaned.

3. Separate Audio System Needed

Unlike televisions with built-in speakers, a projector system does not require you to spend on a speaker system, cabling, and possibly an amplifier. If you’re serious about your home theatre, you’ll likely want to invest in a speaker system upgrade (perhaps to a surround sound system), so this may not scare you off like it would others.

How Do Projectors Work?

Projectors are optical devices that use a bulb or laser to project (throw) an image onto a large screen or wall area. There are various types of projectors used for different applications:

Cathode Ray Tube Projectors

Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) projectors, also referred to as gun projectors, are the oldest style of projector available, and make use of a light magnifying lens coupled with three high-brightness cathode ray tubes (in red, green, and blue) to generate images by merging these lights on a phosphor-coated surface.

While Cathode Ray Tube projectors paved the way for image projection, they have mostly been replaced with LCD projectors and digital light processing technologies.

Liquid Crystal Display Projectors

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) projectors utilize three liquid crystal panels, a lamp, a series of filters, and a prism to project an image onto the screen. The lamp provides a white light that passes through a polarizing filter (mirror) that splits the light into three colors: red, green, and blue. These three colored lights are then reflected onto separate panels and merged to generate a vibrant image projected onto the screen.

Digital Light Processing Projector

Digital Light Processing (DLP) projectors can process images containing up to 35 million colors (far more than the human eye can detect.) A DLP projector uses Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) chips comprised of millions of micromirrors (more micromirrors means greater pixel count), which assist in blending red, green, and blue colors.

Liquid Crystal on Silicon

Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) projectors are the newest style of projector on the market and can be considered a fusion of LCD and DLP design. LCOS projectors make use of silicon rather than mirrors.

Laser Projectors

Laser projectors operate in much the same way that a traditional LED projector runs. However, as the name suggests, it uses a laser rather than bulbs.

So, What Do I Look For In A Good Projector?

While most projectors on the market are simple enough to operate and should be easy enough to identify what you need for your situation, it’s helpful to have a deeper understanding of what makes a projector good and how to filter out the options that aren’t suitable for you (or could present issues down the line)

When evaluating home theatre projectors, there are a handful of specifications we look at in order to make the best possible purchase decision:


Resolution is one of the most, if not the ultimate, factor to consider when selecting a home theatre projector. A higher resolution will generate a sharper and more detailed image on your surface of choice. Resolutions are typically divided into the following brackets:

720p: This resolution is called High Definition and is most suitable for smaller screens. It has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels.

1080p: This is another High Definition resolution that operates on a scale of 1920 x 1080 pixels and is the most common resolution used in home theatre projectors.

4K: This is the highest resolution available at the moment and uses a scale of 1840 x 2160 pixels.   This resolution is called ULTRA HD and provides the most detail, accuracy, and sharpness when generating pictures.

When choosing a resolution for your home theatre projector, jumping to the best-quality options may be tempting. However, you need to consider the size of your screen and how far away you’ll be watching the screen from, as a higher resolution would be wasted on a small screen in a small room.


Brightness is yet another specification that greatly depends on your needs and the environment in which you’ll be using your home theatre projector. Brightness is measured in lumens, with a higher lumen count resulting in a brighter image.

If you plan on setting up a projector in a typical home theatre setting, where the room is likely dark, you can get away with a lower lumen count. If you may find yourself using the projector in lighter environments, you’ll need a higher lumen count.

Contrast Ratio

Contrast Ratio is a specification that tells us the difference between an image’s brightest and darkest parts. Therefore, a higher contract ratio provides an image with greater detail and depth, while a lower contrast ratio can generate a dull-looking image. We generally look for the highest contrast ratio possible to enjoy the smaller details of what we’re watching. Remember that this specification can sometimes be adjusted in the device’s settings, but getting a good contrast ratio from the start is recommended.

If you are in a room where you can achieve a relatively dark environment, you may only need a 2000:1 or 3000:1 contrast ratio, but if you’re in an area that has a lot of brightness, you’ll want to look for a contrast ratio of around 5000:1 or higher.

Lamp Life

The lamp is the projector’s light source and, thus, is an incredibly important feature to consider. Home theatre projector lamps have a finite lifespan, so choosing a higher-quality lamp will reduce the maintenance and replacement necessary. We typically look for lamps with a lifespan of at least 2,000 hours. While this may be a little pricier upfront, you’ll save on replacements down the line.

Noise Level

Projectors make much more noise than television sets, so this is a vital aspect to consider, as it can quickly become a distraction when enjoying your visual content.

Most home theatre projectors produce noise levels around 30 to 40 decibels (dB) which can be compared to the volume and intensity of rustling leaves or wind. This noise level typically shouldn’t be too much of an issue during normal use. However, it can become annoying during quiet scenes or presentations. If you’re looking at newer projector technologies, such as laser projectors, the noise level will be significantly lower than a traditional lamp projector (typically 20-30 dB).

The noise level at play depends on the style of the projector, the size of the projector, and several other factors, so it’s a specification you’ll have to look out for and keep in mind throughout the buying process.

Throw Distance

The throw distance of a projector relates to the distance between the projector unit and the screen it is projecting on. The throw distance is one of the most vital factors to check as it is directly related to the size of the room in which you’ll be using your home theatre projector.

A short-throw projector works for smaller home theatres, bedrooms, and office spaces, as it creates a larger image when placed closer to the surface, it is projecting the image onto. A short-throw projector is ideal for a distance between 1.2 and 8.2 feet.

For medium-sized rooms, I recommend a standard throw projector, which generally can operate on a ratio between 1.5 to 2.5, meaning for every foot of screen width, the projector needs to be 1.5 to 2.5 feet from the surface. Standard throw projectors are pretty versatile and can come in handy when adjusting the throw distance from time to time.

For larger rooms, a long-throw projector is necessary. Long-throw projectors run a ratio of 2.5 or more, so they must be stationed much farther from the screen surface. While these aren’t generally necessary for home theatre applications, since the throw distance should ideally be around 90 feet, they are ideal for those looking to host outdoor movie nights, broadcasting films onto a large wall or house.

The image size can be adjusted on the projector using Zoom, Lens Shift Zoom, and Lens Shift functions found on most home theatre projectors. These functions come in handy if you’re using your home theatre projector in several rooms or find yourself needing to adjust the image size often.


It would be best if you considered how you’ll connect your home theatre projector to your source device, whether it’s a media player, external hard drive, computer, cell phone, or portable TV unit. Some common connectivity options to look out for include the following:

HDMI: HDMI is the industry-standard digital video and audio interface used to connect virtually any device to projectors. HDMI connections transfer high-quality video and audio.

VGA: VGA (Video Graphics Array) are older analog connections that transmit standard-quality video without audio.

USB: A USB connection is your best bet to stream content stored on a hard drive or perhaps straight from a laptop screen to the projector.

Wireless: Many modern home theatre projectors can stream video content wirelessly using commonly-used features, including Apple AirPlay, Miracast, Chromecast, or WiFi. These wireless transmission technologies can be pretty useful but can introduce latency issues, so I wouldn’t recommend using these methods for gaming or other time-sensitive activities.

When looking at connectivity, I recommend selecting a home theatre projector with several options, allowing you to connect multiple devices to the unit.


Lastly, we look at budget when considering a home theatre projector. Generally, the price directly affects the performance of a home theatre projector.

More expensive projectors will hold better image quality, brightness, contrast ratio, and some advanced onboard features, with a potentially longer lamp life.

Budget-friendly projectors can mostly offer sufficient image quality and brightness but may lack some advanced features. However, suppose you want to test the waters without breaking the bank. In that case, a more affordable home theatre projector is a great way to experience it before investing in a more expensive model.

An important note to remember is that while the price of a projector generally dictates what quality you can expect, this is not always the case. Some lower-priced models may outperform the premium options in some aspects, so keep a close eye on the technical specifications.

Final Thoughts

It’s all about selecting the right projector for your needs. Be sure to evaluate the above-mentioned factors carefully, and you’re guaranteed to make a well-informed and long-lasting satisfactory purchase decision.

Matthew Cox - Author
Written by
Matthew Cox

Matthew is an audio engineering graduate with a strong passion for post-production, recording engineering, and audio technology. Matthew is also an experienced musician with over a decade of experience in recording, touring, and performing. Matthew enjoys studying the inner workings of audio equipment and acoustics theory.

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