How to choose the right home theater projector for you

To really put the “theater” in your home theater, there’s nothing quite like a projector capable of beaming a big, bright movie or big sporting event on your wall, effectively turning your living room or backyard into your own private AMC. A projector can offer an excellent cinematic experience … if you pick the right one. But when you consider all the tech and terms involved in modern projectors — from short-throw projectors to lasers to DLP to LcOS — choosing the right one can be tricky. It’s also important to choose a projector that’s going to feel at home in your theater space and not too painful to install and adjust.

Along with wrapping your head around all the techy terms, also make sure you take your viewing needs into consideration. Users who primarily depend on their projector for entertainment will require more features and have a bigger budget to spare, while occasional users might wanna stick to basic features and save some cash.

If you’re making the leap from a TV to a projector for the first time, some projector specs and requirements may feel overwhelming. Our guide will help you focus on what matters — like choosing what popcorn to buy for your movie night. Let’s jump in!

A man in a chair with a remote, and a projector on a table. Start with our guides

Don’t stop at this guide — we have other resources that will be a huge help, too. Our list of the best home theater projectors and best short-throw projectors are a great place to start looking for potential models when you are ready, and they include some FAQs to explain a few important things in more depth.

Our guide on how to set up a home projector is also an invaluable resource that will help you learn about throw distance, important projector placement decisions, and much more when you are ready. We also have some great guides on choosing the right projector screens for indoors and outdoors.

What’s your budget?

Perhaps the most important question you need to ask yourself is, “How much do I want to spend?” It’s always a good idea to start with budget parameters, especially since a home projector is a significant investment, often costing as much (or sometimes more) than a TV. Have a look online, and you’ll see everything from a budget pick for around $600 to a model packed with features for over $3,000. For a proper home theater experience, we recommend sticking to at least the $1,500 to $2,000 range, but there’s wiggle room.

Don’t forget about extra expenses like a projector screen, soundbars or sound systems, and a projector mount if you need one. Be mindful of these extra costs, though. Even if you buy a cheap projector, spending on related accessories can quickly add up and end up costing more than the projector itself! Here, you’ll have to decide how to divide your budget between the projector and other components you may want. If you’re really tight on budget, consider skipping the accessories or buying budget ones.

A couple watching an image displayed by the LG CineBeam HU915QE ultra short throw 4K laser projector.LG Standard-throw to ultra-short-throw projectors

It’s time to make choices to narrow down what kind of projector you want. A standard-throw projector, like the $1,800 Optoma UHD55, usually requires around 8 to 10 feet of space from the wall to properly cast a 100-inch image. For smaller theater spaces, that could put the projector right in the middle of your seating, which is why standard-throw projectors often offer ceiling-mount options to ensure the projector is out of the way.

A “short-throw” projector will cut down this distance by a few feet, making it easier to find a non-ceiling solution for your projector placement, which will make a huge difference.

For a real game-changer, consider an ultra-short throw (UST) projector. These projectors, such as the$3,500 Samsung LSP9T Premiere, operate from only a few inches away from a screen or wall, so they’re excellent for saving on space and time with a home theater … but they also tend to cost more.

Consider lamp versus laser

The light in a projector can come from two different possible sources — a lamp or a laser. A lightbulb-based lamp typically has a “half-life” of several thousand hours, after which the image quality starts to decline and you’ll want to replace it with a new bulb. A laser projector (and its close cousin, the LED projector) costs more, runs cooler than lamps, and can last up to 30,000 hours, so you won’t need to replace anything over time.

This is generally an easy choice. If you are using your projector in a dedicated theater room where you’ll be watching movies or shows a couple of times a week, a lamp model should suffice and save you some money. If your projector is going to be the home’s primary way to watch anything, it’s better to save up for a laser model for their longevity and improved color and contrast.

LG CineBeam HU710P 4K HDR projector.LG Find the right brightness

Another projector spec is “lumens,” a measurement of how much light a projector puts out. You may also see this listed as “ANSI lumens,” which is just a reference to the governing standards organization, the American National Standards Institute.

Brightness isn’t a huge concern unless you’ll be using the projector during the day in a room that gets lots of ambient light or using it with the lights on (like in a living room). Then you’ll want to make sure you’ve got 2,500 lumens or more. Many higher-end projectors go beyond 3,000 lumens, so this may not be a concern. But some projectors are specifically made with dim theater rooms in mind and may not have the lumens to handle a bright room well — again, this is where the room and placement becomes key. As a frame of reference, and as just a neat piece of trivia, a 100-watt lightbulb is about 1,600 lumens, while a candle is a measly 14 lumens.

Decide on a resolution

Support for 4K has become so common in projectors these days, so you should have no trouble finding  models at this resolution. 4K resolution is one of the best ways to take advantage of the larger screens that projectors support, so it’s a great spec to look for. On the other hand, budget projectors are much more likely to cap at 720p or Full HD 1080p, which can cut the cost of the projector significantly. Our advice would be to buy the highest resolution that your budget allows — you don’t want to be upgrading to a 4K down the line.

Learn about imaging chips

If you look at projector specs, you’ll start to see info about imaging chips, which is how the projector controls its light. There are three major chip options today — DLP (Digital Light Processing), LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), and LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon).

We’re going to make this step easy for you without getting bogged down in imaging technologies. If you want a great contrast ratio on a projector image that can handle a cinematic experience, look for LCoS. If you want to save as much money as possible, look for LCD. If you are interested in the sharpest picture, look for DLP. But ultimately, don’t make the chip the biggest factor in deciding on the best home projector for you.

Additional video and sound features

A home projector should support the latest viewing technologies for the best image and audio possible and can maximize the experience by allowing you to view movies and TV shows as close to the way the creators intended as possible.

Picture features such as HDR (High Dynamic Range) will make for a brighter picture with much more dynamic contrasts. There are a number of HDR formats, but they all optimize picture quality to be the best it can and function especially well with projectors that have high brightness capabilities.

When it comes to sound, Dolby Atmos is an immersive audio experience that is second to none. While some projectors have Atmos speakers built-in, you can look for projectors that have HDMI eARC ports that allow them to pass high-quality audio, including Atmos, to your surround sound system, should that be a priority.

Keep in mind, though, that your hardware, such as your TV and sound system, as well as the content you’re watching, will also nee

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