Home theatre projector buyer's guide part I - Rapallo New Zealand :: Home Theatre & Hifi | Design & Installation
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Buying a home theater projector can seem daunting. There are many models on the market at any given time. But where do you start in determining which projector is the right one for you?  The key, as with anything, is to find out what you need. What it boils down to is to determine your answer to these seven questions:

  • Which aspect ratio do you want?
  • What resolution is best for you?
  • How bright should it be?
  • How much contrast do you need?
  • LCD or DLP or Lcos?
  • What are your installation constraints?
  • What is your budget?

What is Aspect Ratio?

When we talk about aspect ratio, we’re talking about the rectangular shape of the video image.An old-fashioned TV has an aspect ratio of 4:3.This means the picture is four units wide for every three units of height.The HDTV standard is 16:9, which is 16 units of width for every 9 units of height. So HDTV’s 16:9 is horizontally wider than regular TV, which by comparison looks almost square.

What is important to know is that a projector comes in its own native format (typically either 4:3 or 16:9). On the other hand, movies and videos come in many different aspect ratio formats. TV programs and videos intended for regular TV are done in 4:3 format (often denoted “1.33:1” since 4 divided by 3 = 1.33). On the other hand, programs made for HDTV are in 16:9 format, which is 1.78:1 (16 divided by 9 = 1.78).

On top of this, there is absolutely no universal standard for a DVD or Blu-Ray. 

In other words, there is no perfect solution, no matter which format projector you get.

So when considering a purchase, here is where you start when it comes to Aspect Ratio:  

  • The most popular choice for a home theater system is to go with a 16:9 projector and a 16:9 screen, as this aspect ratio works with all HDTV, widescreen DVD and Blu-Ray material.
  • Unless you are a big fan of classic films made prior to 1953, as these are made in a 4:3 format. Understandably so, 4:3 projectors are fairly hard to find.  
  • There is also a lot of interest in dedicated super-widescreen 2.35:1 systems as well, which basically involves the additional purchase of a separate, external 1.33x anamorphic lens to stretch the image out to 2.35:1. While this might seem like an attractive option (a lot of today’s popular dvd’s and blu-rays are wider than 16:9), the 1.33xanamorphic lens will add substantially to the cost of your home theatre.

What is Resolution?

A projector’s resolution (or more precisely, its “native resolution”) is simply the number of pixels that it has available to create an image. The higher the resolution of a projector, the more pixels it has.

Generally speaking, the higher the resolution, the more the projector will cost. The advantages of higher resolutions are that (a) they can display more detail in the picture (assuming the video signal has the detail in it), and (b) they reduce or eliminate the visibility of the pixel structure. Both of these are highly desirable in a good home theater.

The decision on which option to choose is basically a matter of budget:

  • Today’s 720p projectors – once thought to deliver beautiful high definition – are really not quite as sharp as the 1080p format. Considering the fact that there is not even much difference in price, we would not recommend this option unless you are restricted by a really low budget.
  • If you consider budget an important deciding factor but you also want a detailed picture from high definition sources, then 1080p projectors are the middle of the road option at this moment. Most of our best-sellers fall into this category.
  • Resolutions classified as 4K are referring to the horizontal dimension (most commonly 3840×2160). When up close to a display, you should be able to notice the greater detail that comes with having more pixels in the same amount of space immediately. It is the size and the arrangement of your room that determines if you’ll benefit from the extra pixels (generally speaking, you need a decent sized room). The price is the current downside, as these projectors come with a hefty price tag.

What Is Brightness?

How much illumination your eyes perceive on the screen depends on two factors: (1) the light output of the projector, and (2) the reflective properties of the screen.

The ANSI lumen rating measures the light energy being generated by the projector itself and will be detailed when looking at the specifications of a projector.

When it comes to home theater projectors, brighter is definitely not better. What you want is a projector that produces enough light to fill your screen with good contrast, but not so bright that it creates eye fatigue when viewed for any length of time.

In this consideration, it is however equally important to look at the reflective properties and size of your screen. The combination of those two factors is expressed in foot Lamberts (fL) and can be calculated with the help of a projection calculator.

In a dark room, a luminance level on the screen in the range of 12 to 22 fL is in the ideal comfort range.

If you don’t want to set up a dark home theater and would rather have some low ambient light, you may prefer to get the screen luminance up into the range of 30 to 50 fL.

 Last but not least, it is important to realize that some models have video optimization incorporated into their ratings and others do not. That means there are projectors out there that are officially rated at 700 ANSI lumens that are actually brighter than models rated at 1500 ANSI lumens. This makes spec sheets, as far as lumen ratings is concerned, pretty meaningless for home theater and we strongly advise to use the projection calculator in making your decision.

What is Contrast?

Contrast is the difference in brightness between the brightest and darkest parts in an image. The greater the difference, the higher the contrast.

Contrast is arguably the single most important measurable quality in a home theater projector. A high-contrast projector produces a picture with a deep black level and clearly defined shadow detail. Contrast, in essence, gives “depth” to video images. A projector with excellent contrast can make a two-dimensional image appear almost three-dimensional.

The contrast ratios noted on a projector’s spec sheet is typically reported as “Contrast” indicating the ratio of the whitest white and the darkest black that the projector is capable of producing but doesn’t really provide the full story of how a projector performs. To really know what a projector is capable of in relation to other models, either contact Rapallo staff to see it in person in our demo room or read projector reviews.

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