For optimal performance, choose a projector with the right amount of lumens (a way of measuring light output). The brighter the room, the more lumens you'll need. Approximately 1,000 lumens should give you a bright image in a darker room, but you'll probably need at least double that number if you'll be projecting in a well-lit room.
You'll also want to purchase a high-quality screen, as they contain specialized materials for optimum reflection, which maximizes image brightness. You'll also want to consider a ceiling or wall mount for optimal placement of your 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 (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 theatre 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 theatre projectors.
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 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 theatre applications, a 16:9 widescreen projector is essentially required.