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Projector & Screen Basics
New to the world of projection? Learn about how projectors can be used, important ways in which they differ, and how to go about choosing the right one for your needs.

See the possibilities

Watching movies projected on a giant screen is amazing, but that's only the beginning. Anything you can view on your TV, you can also enjoy — only bigger — with a projector. And because projectors are achieving higher than ever color and white brightness, there's no need to be in a dark room. Enjoy your favorite entertainment content with the right projector, including:

  • Television and sports (simply plug in your cable or satellite box)
  • Video games (all current systems, including the Wii, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and PlayStation 3 and 4 have HDMI so you can plug into a projector as you would on your TV)
  • Movies
  • Online and streaming content
  • Home videos and photos

For business presentations, a projector can boost your professional image and help your ideas make a bigger impact. Business projectors are portable and designed for quick setup and takedown, with inputs that will accommodate laptops, smart phones and other mobile devices. Business projectors are ideal for:

  • Business presentations
  • Community group meetings
  • Family events, slideshows and more

Plus, many of the new lightweight projectors include speakers and convenient setup features so you can go big just about anywhere. Here are a few examples:

  • Purchase an outdoor screen and enjoy a backyard movie night.
  • Pool parties
  • Campsites
  • School events, sporting events, weddings and more

So how big is big?

With projectors, you can control the size of the image and achieve sizes that no other display can offer. Brighter projectors (2000 lumens and up) can achieve images up to 300". That's 25 times a 60" class flat-panel TV. See the chart below to see what's possible with front projection:

Screen Height

Screen Width

Screen Diagonal

Square Inches

Size vs. 50" Class TV

Approx. Maximum Size

25"

44"

50"

1100

1

50-inch Plasma TV

49"

87"

100"

4263

4

Projection Screen

59"

105"

120"

6195

6

Projection Screen

71"

126"

144"

8946

8

Large Projection Screen

147"

272"

300"

39984

36

Maximum Screen Size

In the home, most people opt for screens ranging from 100"–150".


What are the differences between home theater and business projectors?

As a rule, projectors are divided into two basic categories: those designed for home theater applications, and those intended for business use. Each is designed specifically with certain distinct criteria in mind, so an easy way to narrow down your choices is to think in terms of how you'll use your projector.

Business Projectors

Business projectors are used primarily for presentations in a variety of conference room settings with a lot of ambient light. Therefore, important considerations in choosing a business projector include:

  1. Brightness (measured in lumens) — Presentations are often more effective when participants can see and interact with one another, so a business projector must have enough brightness to project clearly in partially or even fully lit rooms. High brightness is also critical for presentations in large rooms, where the projector's output must travel greater distances to the screen.
  2. Ease of use — Quick setup with convenient lens zoom and focus control, power-up and takedown are critical priorities for any busy professional.
  3. Connectivity — Make sure the projector you choose has inputs that allow it to connect with the source devices you'll use most often. Business projectors often rely on VGA or USB connectivity, though some may include DVI or HDMI as well. Also, some projector manufacturers offer built-in wireless, which enables laptop and mobile device wireless presenting. Obviously, a greater variety of connection options increases your flexibility.
  4. Portability — If you plan to be on the road (or in the air) a lot with your projector, look for compact design and light weight to make your travels easier.

Shop all business projectors ›

Home Theater Projectors

Primary considerations for a home theater projector include:

  1. Resolution — 480p (minimum for standard-definition sources like DVD), 720p (minimum for HDTV) or 1080p (minimum for optimal performance from Blu-ray, PlayStation, Xbox 360 and other high-resolution devices).
  2. Contrast ratio — High contrast ratios are essential for picture detail and vibrant, accurate color.
  3. Brightness — Brightness is very important in home projectors as more people choose to use projectors in media rooms and living rooms with ambient light (partially or full lit rooms.) Projectors with 1800 lumens of brightness are well suited for various ambient light environments.
  4. Connectivity — Most importantly, you'll need at least one (and preferably several) HDMI inputs to connect high-definition sources like cable and satellite boxes, Blu-ray players and gaming consoles. Some home theater projectors will also include a variety of other inputs like component video, VGA (for PCs) and USB.

Of course, you'll also want to pay attention to brightness (especially if you want to project the image very large, which dissipates the light output). But as a rule, contrast ratio is more important than brightness to the home theater viewer since movies and games are usually viewed in a more light-controlled environment.

Shop all home theater projectors ›

How do I choose a projector?

Projectors are divided into two primary categories: home theater and business (the latter are also known as multimedia or data projectors). To help you choose the best projector for your needs, we've made it easy to search by brand, price range, brightness, contrast ratio and other features with just a click.

First, though, you'll want to gain an understanding of the various terms and specifications used to describe a projector's performance attributes:

Lumens

Lumens (or ANSI lumens, named for the standards body that defined it) is a standard for measuring image brightness: The higher the lumens, the brighter the image can be at a given distance from the projector. Generally, you'll want at least 1,000–1200 lumens for a light-controlled home theater environment (with lights off and minimal ambient light); 1,500–2000 lumens for rooms with limited ambient light; and 2,000–2500 lumens for rooms with bright ambient light (think a living room with open windows on a sunny day, or a conference room in an office).

Lumen count is one of the most important considerations for business projectors because they are often used in brighter ambient-light settings. Since movies and games are typically viewed in low-lighting conditions for full effect, high lumen counts are generally less critical for home theater projectors.

Contrast ratio

Contrast ratio represents the relative difference in light output between a projector's brightest and darkest pixels when displayed at the same time. A high contrast ratio facilitates fine picture detail and is critical for movies, TV broadcasts and gaming. For data projection, high contrast ratios are generally less important than high lumen count.

Resolution

Resolution is a measure of the projector's pixel count, expressed as the number of pixels counted horizontally by vertically to form a rectangular grid. The more pixels, the clearer, crisper and more detailed the image will look. Higher resolutions also allow viewers to sit closer to the screen while still experiencing a seamless image.

For best results, choose a projector whose native resolution matches the video source you will use most often — whether it be an HDTV signal, DVD or Blu-ray player, or (in the case of business users) a laptop computer or other mobile device. For example, a 720p projector will work adequately for HDTV, but you'll need a 1080p projector to enjoy Blu-ray movies at their best.

Common Projector Resolutions

The following are resolutions commonly found in projectors:

Home theater formats
  • HD 720p (1280 x 720) — recommended for home theater use where the main viewing material is 720p HDTV
  • HD 1080p (1920 x 1080) — recommended for home theater use where the main viewing material is 1080p HDTV or Blu-ray Disc

Widescreen (16:9) formats
  • WXGA (1280 x 800) — recommended for widescreen and standard-definition video, photography, graphics and widescreen laptops

Standard (4:3) formats
  • VGA (640 x 480 pixels) — suitable for basic PowerPoint presentations, but largely obsolete
  • SVGA (800 x 600 pixels) — suitable for basic PowerPoint presentations
  • XGA (1024 x 768 pixels) — suitable for spreadsheets and advanced PowerPoint presentations
  • SXGA+ (1400 x 1050 pixels) — suitable for detailed photography and data graphics

As a general rule, 4:3 projectors are primarily intended for business use (although widescreen WXGA business projectors are also available, and recommended since virtually all laptops now feature widescreen output). For home theater applications, a 16:9 widescreen projector is essentially required.

Light engine

A term commonly used to denote the technology used to create a projected image. 3LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) are the two dominant projection technologies. The links below provide video illustrations of each technology:

Play VideoVideo: 3LCD technology

Play VideoVideo: DLP technology

Keystone correction

If you have an oddly shaped room, choose to place the projector in an off-center location for aesthetic reasons, or if for any other reason your projection screen cannot be placed perfectly perpendicular to your projector, the projected image's intended rectangular form may be distorted (becoming trapezoidal). Keystone correction allows you to compensate for this. Look for projectors that have keystone correction features to ensure easy image adjustment. After all, your audience wants to look at a clear rectangular image, not a distorted image.

Lens shift

Lens shift is a mechanical adjustment on a projector that provides tremendous flexibility for projector placement and installation. With the lens shift control, a user can shift the lens to the left or to the right, or up or down, to ensure images are projected squarely on the screen with straight edges and uniform focus.

Lens shift is a superior method for correcting keystone distortion, as it retains 100% of the resolution in the projected image after correction. The lens shift adjustment may be made before or after installation.

Lens shift controls on an Epson Home Cinema 8350 projector

Throw ratio

A projector's throw ratio indicates how wide the projected image will be when the projector is positioned at a certain distance from the screen. It is typically expressed in terms of throw distance per foot of image width. For example, a throw ratio of 1.8:1 would represent 1.8 feet of throw distance per foot of screen width. Thus, to get an image 60" (or 5 feet) wide, you would need to place the projector 9 feet (5 feet x 1.8) from the screen.

Throw ratio is key to selecting the right location for a home theater projector, and it's very important that you carefully calculate your expected results before permanently mounting your projector and screen. Here's the basic formula:

(desired image width x throw ratio = required throw distance)

To make things easier, most (but not all) projectors offer a limited amount of "zoom" for a range of throw ratios. This allows you to make minor adjustments after mounting to adjust the image to fit your screen.

What projection technologies are available? How do they differ?

The two dominant technologies used in today's projectors are 3LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) and DLP (Digital Light Processing). The links below provide video illustrations of each technology:

Play VideoVideo: 3LCD technology

Play VideoVideo: DLP technology

Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages:

3LCD advantages

  • Greater overall brightness for better results in rooms with ample ambient light
  • Up to 3x greater color brightness for images and presentations that pop even in a bright room, and for accurate colors in bright or dark rooms
  • Sharper images for home and data applications (spreadsheets, architectural files)
  • Impressively bright 3D with no visible crosstalk
  • On average, 3LCD projectors are 25% more energy efficient
  • Slightly quieter than DLP due to fewer moving parts

3LCD disadvantages

  • Pixel separation is much more apparent; produces "screen door" effect on certain images
  • Often larger and heavier than comparably featured DLP projectors
  • Blacks may be more "washed out" than with DLP
  • Lower overall contrast

DLP advantages

  • Superior frame rates for smoother motion video
  • Picos can be more compact and lighter weight than similarly featured LCD projectors
  • More "filmlike" picture from DVD, Blu-ray and HDTV sources
  • Deeper, truer blacks than LCD
  • Higher overall contrast

DLP disadvantages

  • "Rainbow effect" is only visible to some viewers, but may be bothersome
  • More moving parts and higher energy consumption than LCD
  • Color filter wheel used in the light engine may generate a soft but audible whine
  • Inferior color saturation to LCD, especially with reds and yellows at full illumination
  • In substantial ambient light, requires approximately 30% higher lumens to achieve color richness that competes with LCD

Shop all 3LCD projectors ›

Shop all DLP projectors ›

What are some of the latest projector innovations?

Pico projectors

Pico pocket projectors take on-the-go projection to the next level. A palm-sized pico is ideal for mobile business presentations or sharing entertainment with friends. Pico projectors can be battery- or AC-powered and are easy to connect to a wide range of popular devices — laptops, mobile phones, even iPods (may require additional cables not included with the projector). They can project widescreen images up to 70" diagonal with bright colors when used in low light. The LED light source can last over 20,000 hours (five times longer than those in a typical LCD projector), so you won't have to worry about bulb replacement.

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3D projectors

Many projectors allow you to enjoy the emerging world of 3D content (which also requires a 3D-compatible source device and special glasses). 3D-ready projectors, like 3D-ready HDTVs, are typically high-end models with a bevy of other advanced features, and are thus excellent choices for viewing conventional "2D" content as well. For information about 3D, visit BestBuy.com/3D.

LED illumination

Some of the latest projectors feature illumination via red, blue and green LED lamps that replace the conventional light sources used in most projectors.

Shop all LCD projectors ›

Present wirelessly

Some business projectors come with wireless functionality included. Not only does this enable wireless presentations from a laptop, but some projector manufacturers offer apps that enable wireless presenting from mobile devices. Bring a whole new element to your presentations and deliver a dynamic presentation to your audience right from the smartphone in your pocket.

Do I need to buy a projection screen?

It's possible to project images onto a white wall or other flat surface, and many people find the results satisfactory for their needs. However, adding a projection screen to your setup will greatly enhance your experience, and we strongly recommend it — especially for dedicated home theater installations. Projection screens are designed using specialized materials with optimal reflective properties that maximize image brightness and really make colors pop.

There are four basic physical types of screens available for different needs and applications:

  • Tripod
  • Manual pull-down
  • Electric (motorized)
  • Fixed-frame

Best Buy offers an extensive selection of screen options and sizes.

Shop all projector screens ›

What else might I need?

Mounts

For home theater rooms, ceiling and wall mounts provide an excellent means of permanently positioning the projector to achieve the optimal image size and viewing angle for your screen. With a ceiling-mounted projector (as opposed to wall- or shelf-mounted projectors), the projector beam is high above and "out of the way" of viewers. Ceiling mounting can also help to maximize the perceived brightness of your projector, since light from above reflects downward off the screen toward the viewing position.

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Cables

Make sure you have the latest and best-quality cables to accommodate all the sources you'll want to connect to your projector. Best Buy carries a wide selection of premium-quality HDMI, VGA, USB, component video and other interconnects for your every projection need.

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Streaming Devices

With the ever increasing streaming services like Netflix, CinemaNow and Pandora, many people are dropping traditional Blu-Ray players and opting for streaming content via streaming sticks or boxes like Roku or Apple TV. By simply plugging directly into your projector's HDMI or MHL enabled connection, you can enjoy a wealth of content virtually anywhere you have an Internet connection.

HTiBs (Home Theater in a Box)

Home theater projectors offer an incredibly large cinematic experience with images up to 300 inches. When you connect to a Home Theater in a Box you can add immersive 5.1 or 7.1 sound and a Blu-ray player, thereby completing the movie theater experience.

What if I need more help getting set up?

Geek Squad® has you covered. Our installation professionals will assist in creating the perfect home theater experience for your unique environment. Already know what you want? Geek Squad® can take care of the installation from start to finish. We stand behind our work, offering a one-year workmanship guarantee. We're not satisfied until you are — period.

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