The Best Projectors for Sports Bars

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sports bar projector

With March Madness underway, sports bars around the country are overflowing with team-color-clad revelers cheering on their favorite men’s basketball team. If you’re a homebody looking to avoid the crowds, check out our Bracket Buster Bargains for the best Home Theater equipment to turn your living room into a sports paradise. But if you’re a sports bar owner who wants to give your customers the best b-ball viewing experience, we’ve scoped out the projectors that will give you the most bang for your buck.

When it comes to projectors, the most important attributes for a sports bar environment are resolution, brightness and throw distance.

Resolution

The keyword here is HD. And True HD (native 1080p and 16:9 aspect ratio) resolution is the specification de jour. The bad news is that True HD will cost a bit more than a traditional 4:3 projector, but the good news is buying an HD projector now will cost you at least $1000 less than it did for the sports bar that went HD last year. So, if you’re late to the HD party, at least you’re saving some cash. For that reason, as well as the recent influx of 16:9 projectors to select from, we’d recommend HD from here on out.

As for XGA (4:3) resolution, we’d probably recommend against it if it’s possible to avoid it. If you still have some 4:3 content to display, most 16:9 projectors will still play it for you. Connectivity may also be an issue for you if you go with an XGA projector, as HDMI inputs are not a given on an XGA projector. Here’s a quick chart with recommendations. We took brightness into consideration here also, which we will discuss in a moment.

Recommended Resolution for Sports Bar Projection
Resolution Brightness Projector Suggestion MSRP Price
WXGA-H (1280×720) 2000 lumens Panasonic PT-AX200U $999
HD (1920×1080) – entry level 3500 lumens Optoma TX1080 $2499
HD (1920×1080) – high end 4000 lumens BenQ SP890 $2999
*Due to new HD format for sporting events, we no longer recommend XGA (1024×768) resolution projectors for sports bars.

So, if HD is where it’s at, why wouldn’t you just go with one of the incredibly popular home theater projectors you keep hearing about? Well, for some, it might not be the worst choice. But for your average sports bar or family restaurant, the super high quality video with super rich contrast is not as important as it is for the projector to be visible in brighter conditions.

Brightness

So how much brightness does the typical sports bar or family restaurant projector need to be seen? In general, excluding large volumes of direct light, a 2000-2500 lumen projector can do the job on a smaller (60-80 inch) screen. However, for larger screens (80-120 inch), a bit more brightness is required. We’d recommend about 3000-3500 lumens for a screen of that size. A projector that offers 3500 lumens or more will be more forgiving for a large screen and for spaces with some ambient light. Here’s a quick chart for your reference:

Recommended Brightness by Screen Size
Screen Size (diagonal) Brightness (lumens) Suggested
60-80 inches 2000-2500 lumens
80-120 inches 3000-3500 lumens
120 inches plus 3500 or more lumens

So what else is there to consider? How about throw distance? We’re not talking about two- or three-pointers here. Let’s discuss.

Throw Distance

A projector operates a little like a flashlight. When your projector is close to the screen, the image is smaller and brighter. When you move the projector back from the screen, the image becomes larger, and just a bit dimmer. With a projector over 2000 lumens, and a screen size of under 120-inches (diagonal), you shouldn’t have to worry about losing brightness from a few more feet back.

So, how might throw distance impact your projector decision? Good question! Let’s say you are imagining a 150-inch image in a prominent location of your bar or restaurant. And let’s say you plan to mount your projector to the ceiling to keep cheering sports fans heads out of the picture. The throw distance of the projector will determine how far back your projector will need to be mounted to achieve the 150-inch picture. A standard throw, for example, is about 1 foot of screen (width, not diagonal) for every two feet back. So a projector with a ‘short throw’ projector will produce a 150-inch (diagonal) image from a shorter distance than a ‘long throw’ projector. So, if you have limitations for where you can mount the projector to your ceiling, you will need to consider the throw distance when you purchase. Here’s an example from two recommended projectors for sports bars.

Two Throw Distance Examples
Projector Throw Range for 150-inch Screen
Optoma TX1080 20 feet 2 inches – 24 feet 2 inches
BenQ SP890 17 feet 8 inches – 26 feet 5 inches

You’ll notice you get a bit more range with the BenQ SP890. That’s because it offers both lens shift and zoom lensing. The zoom lens lets you make the image larger or smaller from a fixed distance, while lens shift allows you to adjust the image from side to side and up and down, making it easier to get the image centered on your screen. The Optoma TX1080 gives you less flexibility, but comes in about $1000 less, and provides a nice amount of brightness at 3600 lumens. The moral of the story is, if you want to make mounting your projector a little easier, get a projector with lens shift and zoom. If you want a less expensive projector, consider your ceiling mounting options and make sure it’s going to give you the image size you want in your space. And as always, if you have any questions, call a Projector Expert.

Replacement Lamps

We sell a lot of replacement lamps to our sports bar clients because the projectors are used as much as 12 hours a day (maybe more). That means the 2000-4000 expected lamp life can get “used up” in a few months. Replacements lamps usually cost between $250 – $400. Check out our Tips to Extended Lamp Life for some tips on keeping the lamp going as long as possible.

Quick Tip: If your state or local laws allow smokers to light up indoors, you might want to an extra look at stipulations in the manufacturer warranty. Some manufacturers may not honor a warranty in a smoky environment because smoke can do damage to the optic system. The good news is, most customers never have to use their warranty. Ask a Projector Expert for warranty details before you purchase.

So whether you are a sports bar owner, or a customer who wants to create the sports bar environment in his home, we hope these tips were helpful. As always, if you have more questions, feel free to contact a Projector Expert.