Home Theater Projector Benchmarks
Home Theater projectors are improving so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. It’s good to know what the latest benchmarks are for specifications such as brightness, resolution, contrast ratio, and feature sets. Knowing what the standards are today will help you evaluate the overall value of the products you are considering. Here’s a handy ‘cheat sheet’ with what we believe are today’s portable projector benchmarks.
Resolution – 720p (Widescreen Native)
One of your first priorities in selecting a new home theater projector should be ensuring you find one with a high-definition resolution. That means you should invest in a projector that has at least 720 lines of vertical resolution (often called 720p) in its ‘native’ mode.
You will also want widescreen (16:9) native resolution to match the HDTV standards. When shopping watch for WXGA (1280×768) or WXGA-H (1280×720) resolutions. There are a plethora of options in this category today, with a few even dipping below the $1,000 mark after incentives and rebates.
Quick Tip: 1080p projectors have started trickling into the marketplace, with the lowest price offerings just under $6,000. Watch for more products becoming available by the end of the year, though the prices will most likely remain in that range at least through the end of the year.
Brightness – 800 to 1200 lumens
If you have researched projectors for business applications, you are probably familiar with the term “lights on bright.” When it comes to home theater projectors, however, you are paying closer attention to detail, and paying more money for high-contrast projectors. With the lights on, you will lose some of the rich blacks and saturated colors you are looking for, and are also removing yourself from that immersive ‘home theater’ experience. More brightness (or lumens) in a projector also typically reduces the experience of contrast. That’s why home theater projectors tend to be in the 800-1200 lumen range for brightness.
Quick Tip: If you want to use your projector for video gaming, web surfing, or daytime television viewing, you might want to look for a brighter projector (1200 – 2000 lumens) with a higher (5000:1 or better) contrast ratio.
Most home theater projectors today include some kind of digital or analog high-definition input, most likely DVI (digital visual interface), HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface), or component video (analog high definition). When you choose your projector, be sure to check your components (DVD player, receiver, etc.) and make sure that they include complimentary outputs to your new projector. Some projectors include an S-video option, which is nice to have if you are using older components. Composite inputs are also a nice fail-safe, since most sources still include one such output.
Contrast Ratios – 2000:1
The greatest advances in home theater projectors have arguably been in the area contrast. LCD and DLP technologies have been vying for position as the contrast leader, and both have come out with contrast ratios that blow away older models (as high as 10,000:1). The good news is that the push to improve the even higher contrast levels has left consumers with a number of excellent options in the 1000:1 – 2000:1 range.
Features You Should Look For
You used to have to have a degree in math to properly install your projector. You had to determine the throw of your projector from X distance with a Y lens aperture and an offset of Z, and so on. Now with the addition of lens shift and zoom lenses, the installation process much simpler than it used to be. Projectors like the Epson PowerLite Cinema 550 include 100% vertical lens shift which allows you to move the image up or down without adjusting the height of the mount. It also has 50% horizontal lens shift which allows for adjustments left and right. The 2X zoom lens allows you to fine tune the throw to get that image to just the right size. These are two features that are highly recommended for the DIY installer.
A 5000 hour lamp and economy modes are also nice features to have. The average home theater is used about 8 hours a week, which means that with a 5000 hour lamp, you would get over 10 years use from the original lamp. Many manufacturers are also offering incentives that include free replacement lamps, which saves you around $300 or so when it’s time to replace your old one. Most projectors will require minimal maintenance to achieve the specified lamp life. That maintenance usually includes filter cleanings every three months or so. Check your owners manual for manufacturer recommendations.
Quick Tip: Warranties are also something to factor into your purchase decision. One fantastic benefit you receive when purchasing an Epson PowerLite Cinema 550 or Pro Cinema 800 is in-home warranty service. It’s great to have even though you will probably never have to use it. Typical home theater projector warranties range from one to three years, with mail in service.
Still have questions about home theater projectors? Call a Projector Expert today and get more information and your best price.