What's the best projector for you?

We take you through the key factors in choosing the most appropriate projector

by Steve Withers Aug 5, 2015 at 3:53 PM

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    What's the best projector for you?
    So you've decided to take the plunge and buy a projector but you're not sure what to do next.
    Well don't worry, AVForums are here to help and over a series of articles we will take you through choosing the best projector for your needs and then show you how to set it up correctly. When choosing a projector there are a number of key factors to consider but the obvious starting point will be how much you want to spend. You can take a look at our dedicated Projector Buyers Guide for more information on which projectors are available in your price range.

    However even within each price bracket there are still plenty of projectors to choose from and the single most important factor in determining the best projector for you is the actual viewing environment. Aside from your initial budget, all the other possible choices such as projection technology, light source and screen material will be dictated by the room itself. So in the first of these articles, we'll explain why your room is such an important factor in determining which projector you should buy.
    Aside from your budget, the biggest factor in determining the right projector is the room itself.
    So the first question is do you plan on creating a dedicated room for your projector or are you going to just use it in the main living room? If you intend to build a home cinema that has effective light control with dark coloured walls and ceiling then you can look at projectors that have superior black levels because you will be able to take full advantage of their dynamic range. The projectors that currently offer the best black levels are the JVC X500, the JVC X700 and Epson LS10000. In addition if you are planning a dedicated setup with the projector permanently installed then you could also consider the higher range 4K models from Sony such as the VW300 or the VW500.

    If you plan on using your projector in a normal living room with either ambient light or light coloured walls and ceiling, then the important factor is actually its brightness rather than its black levels. The ambient light or reflected light hitting the screen would washout the image of a projector with good blacks, compromising its dynamic range. You could buy a special screen to mitigate the impact of reflected light but these are expensive, so if you're on a budget a brighter projector is essential. Thankfully many of the cheaper DLP projectors deliver plenty of brightness, making them ideal for use in a normal living room. Although if you suffer from 'rainbow' artefacts with DLP projectors then you could also consider an LCD projector, which can also offer the required brightness.

    Should you buy a 4K projector?

    Over the last few years the consumer electronics industry has been moving towards a new higher resolution standard called Ultra High Definition (UHD) or Ultra HD. This new resolution uses 3840 x 2160 pixels and is essentially the same as the 4K resolution (4096 x 2160) that is gradually being rolled out in commercial cinemas. The UHD standard will soon be adopted for UHD broadcasts, UHD streaming and UHD Blu-ray and along with the higher resolution it will incorporate other features such as higher bit video, a wider colour space, higher frame rates and High Dynamic Range (HDR).

    To date the only manufacturer to launch native Ultra HD 4K projectors is Sony, who have released the high-end VW1000/1100, the mid-range VW 500 and the cheaper VW300. There are projectors such as the JVC X500 and X700 and Epson LS10000 that include a physical device that increases the perceived resolution of their projectors to 3840 x 2160, although the native resolution of the panels they use remains Full HD (1920 x 1080). However these projectors can accept an Ultra HD source and project it at a higher resolution than Full HD but not quite Ultra HD.

    There will undoubtedly be more native Ultra HD 4K projectors released over the next few years and prices are sure to drop eventually but before taking the plunge it's worth remembering that current models might not be able to meet all the new Ultra HD standards. So the important factors you need to consider before buying an Ultra HD 4K projector are does it support 10-bit video, can it reproduce the DCI colour space, does it use HDMI 2.0 inputs and is it HDCP 2.2 compliant? These are all going to be vital aspects in ensuring that your new Ultra HD 4K projector remains future proof.

    How can I improve my viewing environment?

    Whatever projector you ultimately end up buying, you can still improve the performance by taking the time to ensure the best environment possible. If you can make the room darker, that will immediately improve the impact of your your projected image. The brightness of the projector, a dynamic iris or the screen you choose can all help but just painting the walls and ceiling a darker colour can quickly and cheaply pay dividends. If you don't want to paint your entire lounge a darker colour then try just painting around where the screen is to minimise the light reflections. If you have a light carpet try putting a darker coloured rug on the floor beneath the screen and, of course, make sure you block out any light sources with solid doors and blackout curtains on the windows.
    Should you buy a 4K projector? Is 3D worth worrying about? What is a dynamic iris?

    What is a dynamic iris?

    We mentioned a dynamic iris in the previous section but what exactly is it? A dynamic iris is a device that's designed to improve the perceived dynamic range of a projector by adjusting the lens aperture depending on the content. Dynamic irises were developed to improve the dynamic range of projectors with inherently weak blacks. They dynamically change the aperture, opening it up for lighter scenes and closing it for darker scenes. This makes brighter scenes appear brighter and darker scenes appear darker, thus improving the perceived dynamic range, which is effectively the difference between absolute black and peak white.

    The effectiveness of this feature is will depend on how quickly the dynamic iris can react to changing scenes; with some the response is too slow and you can see the image brightening and darkening as the scene changes. A dynamic iris can also crush blacks and reduce shadow detail as the iris closes and blow-out whites as it opens, which again can adversely affect the image. In the case of some dynamic irises you can also hear them operating, depending on how close you sit to the projector. Epson and Sony have successfully employed dynamic irises to improve the perceived blacks on their projectors and, despite already having great blacks, even JVC have added them to their most recent range of projectors.

    Is 3D worth worrying about?

    Although 3D hasn't been as successful as the consumer electronics industry had hoped, many projectors still support the format although you'll generally have to buy the glasses separately. However when it comes to creating an immersive 3D experience, a big projected image is highly effective. All projectors use active shutter technology and whilst the majority can deliver impressive results these days, there are certain projector technologies that are better suited to 3D than others.

    In terms of the best projector technology for 3D, DLP wins thanks to its faster response times and superior motion handling which means minimal artefacts such as crosstalk. DLP projectors are usually also very bright, which is handy with 3D where the glasses reduce the brightness considerably. So if you're interested in 3D and don't suffer from 'rainbow' artefacts, then DLP could be the best choice for you.

    However if rainbows are an issue you could choose an LCD projector because not only does the 3D tend to be very good with minimal crosstalk but also they can be quite bright, resulting in punchy 3D images. The LCoS projectors can also deliver good 3D images that are generally free of crosstalk but sometimes struggle with brightness. Whichever projector you choose, make sure you block out any light when watching 3D or you're liable to see flicker through the glasses.

    What Next?

    So there you have it, whilst other factors such as budget, Ultra HD 4K and 3D may be a factor, the most important element in deciding which projector to buy is the room itself. The simple rule of thumb is the lighter the room, the brighter the projector. In this article we've mentioned a number of projector technologies such as DLP, LCD and LCoS but what exactly are they? In our next article, we'll explain how all these different projector technologies work.

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