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Projector Buying Guide for Your Business and Home | Staples | Business Hub |®

Buyer’s Guide to Projectors for Business, Mobile or Home Theater Use

Published January 29, 2016

Projectors transform the viewing experience, whether in a home theater setup, a big screen gaming experience or a straight business application.

There are a lot of exciting options on the market, and Austin, TX-based home theater consultant Jamie Duplichan sees clients get excited about a fancy projector outside their price range “that they don't necessarily need or that are have features they will never use.”

His advice for making the right choice: “Do a little homework.”

Start with this FAQ, which provides the information, insights and items you need to meet your specific requirements. Then read product reviews and create a short list of brands and features to research more carefully. 

What technology is available?

There are three predominant projector technologies: DLP (digital light processing) technology, LCD (liquid crystal display) and LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon). All these technologies provide excellent resolution and image quality, so choose the one that appeals most to you and your budget. Learn more about projector technologies.

How will you use the projector?

Projectors are used to display four kinds of content: still images (photos, illustrations), video (entertainment, informational), data (spreadsheets, PDFs, slide decks) and games. All projectors display any content type, but look for models that are known for outstanding performance in the category you use most. Here are some criteria based on types of use:

  • Small Office Projectors: Used most often for meetings, these projectors display slide decks, graphics and video, and Excel® and Word documents. They may also project drafting and engineering software applications. The typical screen size is 70” to 110” diagonal, perfect for audiences of 5 to 15 viewers. For the best results, choose among short-throw and ultra-short-throw projectors, which project images from 1’ to 6’ from the screen. Look for brightness between 500 and 4,000 lumens. Depending on your needs, select a portable model (that can be moved around the office or taken on the road) or a permanent wall, ceiling or tabletop mount. Investigate projectors made specifically for use in tighter spaces: up to 12’ x 18’ and up to 8’ x 10’. Check out small office projectors. 
  • Conference Room Projectors: Projectors used in conference rooms, training rooms and smaller auditoriums have to do a lot of work. These units are usually used with a rear-projection screen or permanently installed on a ceiling. Look for screen sizes 96” to 170” (to reach audiences of 15 to 100 people) and brightness between 1,000 and 6,000 lumens. A high-lumens projector produces clear and bright images even in areas with ambient light. Because these projectors are frequently used with laptops, match projector resolution to commonly used computers. Laptops usually have 1024 x 768 (XGA resolution) or 1280 x 1024 (SXGA resolution). Planning to mount your projector to the ceiling? You’ll need a model with an inverted lens so the image projects right-side up. Check out conference room projectors. 
  • Home Theater Projectors: These units create a viewing experience, whether you’re watching shows, movies or sporting events. They’re also perfect for gaming and sharing photos and home videos. Home theater projectors can be mounted to a tabletop, a wall or the ceiling. Regardless of the mount, you want the biggest images, most vibrant colors and highest picture quality. Multimedia projectors offer high color saturation and contrast, and a lot of adjustability. If you prefer the wide-screen format, go with WUXGA (1920 x 1200), the best wide-screen resolution on the market; 1080p projectors deliver the best image quality, especially from Blu-ray, upscaling DVD or 1080p devices. If you watch or play in 3D, be sure the models you evaluate accommodate that (not all do). Because most home theater projectors are intentionally installed in darker or light-controlled rooms, lower brightness (1,000 to 4,000 lumens) is often preferable. If the image is too bright, the images can be too intense. Check out home theater projectors.
  • Mobile Projectors: These units are smaller and lighter than projectors used in permanent applications like conference rooms or home theaters. Mobile projectors are ideal for presentations by people on the go, like sales and business development professionals, or professionals working off-site, like architects and engineers. These units can also be used for family entertainment. Key considerations are form factor (compact) and low weight (portable units can be as light as a few ounces). Lighter units tend to have lower brightness (500 lumens) than their slightly heavier counterparts. Portable projectors can support screen sizes up to 100” diagonal. Other important factors include ease of use and setup, wireless connectivity, and the ability to project from mobile devices like a smartphone, tablet or USB thumb drive. Check out mobile projectors.

What other factors are important?

Figuring out your “user story” before researching and shopping speeds the process and ensures you get the model that’s ideal for your specific application.

Room size is a critical consideration. Be certain of the distance to the screen so the projected image fills the space correctly. There are many online room-size calculators to help you determine your space and projector requirements. Also look for your room size in manufacturers’ product specifications to find the product that best suits your room.

Other considerations include: 

  • What size screen will you project onto?
  • What aspect ratio do you require?
  • How much ambient light is present?
  • Does the projector need to be portable or connectible?
  • Will the projector be used for 3D content?

What about resolution and brightness?

Native resolution is the number of pixels in the display, which affects image quality, so buy the highest resolution you can afford. If you use the projector primarily for watching sports and entertainment, choose a high-definition, high-resolution wide-screen model (WUXGA or WXGA). For data or business presentations, choose a more basic model with lower native resolution. Get more details on and recommendations for native resolution here

Choose a projector with auto-keystoning. This function enables the projector to automatically detect the dimensions of the screen and adjust the image to fit properly and to fix distortions that commonly occur during set up.

Brightness is also critical to the viewing experience. Measured in lumens, brightness impacts image quality and visibility. Most projectors used at home and in business range from 1,000 to 5,000 lumens. Find out more about brightness here.

Can I connect to other devices?

Many projectors are now wireless and support multiple device ports; some even enable wireless streaming from smartphones, laptops and tablets. Determine your connectivity requirements before shopping, then assess port accessibility, especially for larger units that are difficult to move or reach, or are permanently mounted. 

“Make sure [it] can handle the same level of view as the laptop has,” cautions Guy Baroan, owner of Baroan Technologies in Elmwood Park, NJ. “Otherwise, it will be more difficult to see … with the external display.”

VGA connectivity enables projection from your laptop, but doesn’t support HD video; some projectors also enable projection via a thumb drive. Wi-Fi access is enabled with a wireless dongle (often included) or built in. HDMI cables provide an all-digital rendering of video and audio, offering uncompressed digital video and audio quality. USB plug-and-play lets you quickly project from a Windows® PC, ensuring easy setup and making VGA cables and toggling unnecessary. If you’re an Android™ user, look for mobile high-definition link (MHL) technology to project from your device.   

Can projectors handle 3D content?

Yes, but not all 3D-compatible projectors work with every 3D source. “You need to have a high-end graphics card,” Baroan says, so make sure the models you evaluate are compatible with the 3D format you’re using, such as Blu-ray, set-top boxes, Open GL or other image source. You also need to purchase compatible 3D glasses. 

What other accessories and equipment do I need?

There are plenty of projector accessories available, but the four most important are:

  1. Screen. “Screens can make as much difference in picture quality as a projector,” Duplichan notes. “Your screen will still be giving great service for over a decade,” so select the best one within your budget.
  2. Audio. Check out the built-in audio capabilities and if they don’t meet your quality standards, evaluate a separate business or home theater audio system.
  3. Lamps. Projector bulbs are called lamps. Investigate lamp life thoroughly; a reasonable timeframe is 5,000 hours, or about three hours of use every day for 5 years. Lamp life is extended in units with an eco mode. Access the lamp when evaluating projectors to make sure replacing it is easy. Then compare prices on replacement lamps to determine total cost of ownership.
  4. Remote. A feature-rich remote control allows you to access features and make adjustments from anywhere in the room. This is especially important for home theater projectors so you don’t have to leave your chair, and for business projectors so presenters can set up fast.

Learn more in the Staples Projector Research Center.