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Projector Buying Guide

A comprehensive guide that will give you all the information you need on how to buy a new projector.

Getting Started

An alternative to having a large TV as the centerpiece of your home theater is to have a projector. Projectors provide incredible imagery, flexibility and the largest screen size available for in-home theaters. When shopping, there are several things to consider when finding the right one for you.

Features

Image Resolution
VGA (640 x 480)
This low resolution is really only found in older televisions and computer monitors. It isn't ideal for large screens.
SVGA (800 x 600)
This resolution is good enough for low-cost consumer electronics and small screens.
XGA (1024 x 768)
A majority of computer displays use this resolution. This is a decent resolution for movies and TV.
WXGA (1280 x 800)
This is XGA resolution in widescreen format. It works pretty well for standard-definition home theater.
SXGA (1280 x 1024)
This resolution is for high-definition TV or detail-oriented professional presentations.
UXGA (1600 x 1200) and QXGA (2048 x 1536)
These extremely high resolutions will give you a level of detail well above the capability of most Blu-ray players and other video sources.
Brightness
Projectors create their image through a source of light. From that, the brightness is measured in lumens, which are about 200 to 15,000. If you are a viewer planning on watching your programming with room lights on, you'll want a projector with a higher lumen count. Home theater projectors rated at 1,000 to 2,000 lumens are best used in a dark theater or conference room. Business or education users who have lights on during presentations will prefer projectors rated at 2,000 to 3,000 lumens. Higher numbers are needed when in very large or very brightly lit amphitheaters. Certain projectors allow you to control the brightness.
Projector Lamps
Your projector may use either incandescent bulbs or LED lamps. Many incandescent projector lamps list 2,000 hours of life or more. Some high-end models list a life of 60,000 hours. LEDs are another projector lamp option. Because LEDs have a much longer life-span than traditional incandescent projector lamps, they are the popular choice for home theater projectors and other electronics. LEDs has been clocked at working in the tens of thousands of hours.
Projector Care
As with any good electronics, good care is necessary. Wipe down the projector exterior and lens with a lint-free cloth dampened with a solution of one part isopropyl alcohol to one part water. Use canned air to blow dust out of vents and openings. When you're finished using the projector, turn the lamp off. Let the projector fan run until the projector is cool. Some projectors have automatic cool-down settings.
Aspect Ratios
4:3 Theater
Advantages: If you want to view material such as classic films, a DVD-based television series or an IMAX special in the large dramatic format, the 4:3 set-up lets you do this in a way a 16:9 system does not. Using vertical electronic masking, one can easily block off the top and bottom of the screen when one wishes to display 16:9 material, and open the screen to its full vertical height for the viewing of very large format 4:3 material.
Disadvantages: Most, if not all, high quality home theater projectors being marketed these days are in native 16:9. As such, it can be hard to find a 4:3 projector that delivers video rivaling the quality of the 16:9 home theater models. And since most 4:3 projectors are in resolutions such as 800x600, 1024x768, and 1400x1050, it means that all video content will need to be scaled to fit the projector's native resolution.
16:9 Theater
Advantages: For HDTV, widescreen DVD, and Blu-Ray, 16:9 is the logical choice. All HDTV broadcast material is in 16:9, and it will be displayed in its full glory, without black bars, on a native 16:9 projector. And there is a lot of 16:9 programming available. There are many 16:9 projectors to choose from, and many of them are designed specifically for high quality home theater.
Disadvantages: While 16:9 programming looks larger than life, 4:3 material displayed on a 16:9 projector can appear small. Typically, when doing so, the image will be centered on a 16:9 screen with black columns on each side. Alternatively, if you watch a lot of movies that are wider than 16:9, you will have black bars above and below the image. 

 

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