Recreating the cinema experience at home and outdoors with a projector has never been easier or more affordable. But there are a number of key factors to consider in the pursuit of big screen luxury.
A dedicated home theatre set-up boasting a projector was once reserved for the affluent or the diehard movie buff. Not anymore. Projectors have not only substantially decreased in price, but are also now packing the kind of tech and functionality found in smart TVs.
“…let’s dive into some key things to consider when purchasing a projector.”
Moreover, a pitch black room is no longer a necessity to get the best possible image quality from a projector, with today’s models optimised for both daytime viewing and movie nights. Modern projectors can beam pictures in glorious 4K Ultra HD with image sizes up to 150 inches and, even better, there are portable models that can take the cinema experience outdoors under the stars.
Bringing the big screen home is a tantalising prospect indeed, not least bidding farewell to exorbitant cinema ticket and candy bar prices. But before you take the plunge and transform your lounge room or backyard into a personal cinema, let’s dive into some key things to consider when purchasing a projector.
First assess the size of the room where you plan to set it up, and then the size of the projected image in relation to the projector’s position in the room. A portable model will provide more flexibility, of course.
Will the projector be pointed at a clean white wall, a portable screen on a tripod, or a fixed wall-mounted screen? All three are ideal, however the light-reflective properties of a dedicated screen will always trump even the cleanest of walls, and bring out the best in 4K content (see breakout).
FIXED OR PORTABLE?
Where will it be used the most? If it won’t be budging from a home theatre set-up or lounge room, the size of the unit isn’t really a factor. But should you wish to create a ‘moonlight cinema’ experience in the backyard or on the deck, or throw the projector in a backpack to take camping, then choose a portable or ‘capsule’ model. Always ensure the projector sits on a perfectly flat surface and is centred directly in front of the screen/wall to avoid image distortion.
THE RIGHT KIND OF BRIGHT
Brightness levels are an important factor in both the projector and the room it’s set up in. The amount of ambient light in a room can affect the quality of the picture – the darker the room, the better the clarity. A projector’s brightness is measured in ANSI lumens, and the higher the lumen count, the brighter the image will be. 2000-3000 lumens is good for a standard lounge room and daytime viewing, while 3000-4500 is optimal for larger rooms and will also deliver better image quality in environments with more ambient light. A lower lumen count will suit a very dark room, like a dedicated home theatre.
“Brightness levels are an important factor in both the projector and the room it’s set up in.”
Laser projectors are gaining in popularity over the traditional lamp variety, which required the bulb to be replaced after 8,000 hours of use and were prone to overheating. Laser projectors have a lifespan of 20,000 hours, which equates to around ten years – even when running eight hours a day, every day. Lasers offer greater colour accuracy and image stability, and deliver the deep blacks synonymous with 4K HDR content – and they’re more energy efficient, too.
GO WITH THE THROW
Throw is the distance between the projector and the screen/wall and is determined by the type of lens. Short Throw projectors beam a picture 100” or more when set three to eight feet away from the screen/wall and are ideal for use in apartments and small rooms, while Ultra-Short Throw projectors cater to every kind of living space and can sit even closer – they work best when positioned up to four feet away. Both types offer increased brightness for optimal viewing of 4K content, and also eliminate shadows and glare for higher image resolution. Gone are the days of having to install a projector in a ceiling mount – all you need is a coffee table or an entertainment cabinet where a smart TV would usually sit.
Old school projectors delivered a decent enough image, but often the bigger the picture got, the more the clarity was likely to fade. Nowadays projectors support Full HD 1080p, but more and more now feature 4K 3840 x 2160 resolution to deliver a pin-sharp and clear image with perfect colour reproduction that’s comparable to the best 4K UHD TVs. When you see premium 4K projectors in action, the quality is truly jaw-dropping! Contrast ratio (the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of an image) is also a factor when viewing 4K HDR content. The higher the ratio, the better the balance – 2,000:1 and above is considered optimal for a projector.
Most modern projectors feature built-in speakers, which is convenient if you’re opting for a portable model. But when you’re watching a blockbuster movie on a 100” screen at home, you’ll want a similarly huge and immersive soundscape to match, so make sure the projector you choose has an HDMI port (which a majority do) for connecting a soundbar.
Many of the latest models offer all the functionality of a smart TV, including Android TV, access to the major steaming services as well as a built-in tuner for free-to-air channels, and HDMI ports to connect a 4K Blu-ray player, game console or laptop. And there’s the convenience of built-in voice assistants and AirPlay 2 support for casting content from other smart devices.
Pointing a projector at a clean white wall is a simple ad hoc solution, but if you want the best and brightest possible picture quality (and why wouldn’t you?) or intend the projector to double as a TV, a dedicated screen is a must. They are easy to install and there’s one to suit every budget, from the rollable, motorised and tripod-mounted variety, to fixed frame Ambient Light Rejecting (ALR) screens. The latter feature a light-reflecting coating and are the best option for regular use and home theatre rooms. Consider a portable screen if the projector is used occasionally, or you want the flexibility of creating an outdoor cinema experience.