Choosing the right projector for a mind-blowing home cinema

This idea certainly sounds like a luxury, so you might be surprised how affordable and easy it can be to set up a truly immersive home cinema experience.

The projector is the centerpiece and key component of any good home theater. Choosing the right one is the first step in creating your ideal home theater, but since most people haven’t shopped for projectors before, it can be hard to tell what you’re looking for. Read on to hear some of our best tips for finding your perfect projector.

1) Get the highest resolution you can afford

You want your home cinema to be something you can enjoy for years to come. Buying the highest degree of resolution you can find within your price range will not only mean that you will get a better picture. A higher resolution usually also means the entire projector’s system is more advanced, which means you’ll be able to use it for longer before it becomes obsolete.

You should get a projector with at least 1080p HD resolution. You can find quite a few options with this level of resolution for less than $500—comparable to what you’d spend for a television of the same image quality, and you’ll get a much larger screen for the price. If you can swing it, you can also find projectors with 4K HD capability, though if you want that option you should expect to spend about twice as much.

2) Match your projector with your other equipment

A projector that won’t work with your other devices is useless. Make a list of all the devices that you plan to use with your projector, including cable boxes, Blu-Ray players, gaming systems, and streaming sticks. Figure out each device’s needs, both in terms of logistics and performance. How many HDMI ports will you need? What about A/V or cable inputs? Double-checking these basic features will save you a lot of frustration in the long run. You also want to make sure the projector is giving you the best picture quality. A good rule of thumb is to match your projector’s resolution with the highest native resolution of your devices. If you’re looking for the best home theater projector, click here.

3) Pay attention to the brightness and contrast

Light has a much bigger impact on your ability to view a projected image than it does on the image from a TV screen. If your home theater is in a completely dark room, you can get away with using a slightly dimmer projector, but if the room has windows or you like to watch TV with the lights fully on around you, you’ll want to go with a brighter model.

The brightness of projectors is measured in lumens. For a home theater, you’ll need a projector that puts out at least 1,000 lumens, and a minimum of 1,500 lumens is recommended for rooms with ambient light. Pay attention to the contrast ratio, too. This is a measure of how much variance there is between the blackest black and the whitest white. Images with a low contrast ratio will be harder to make out even with a brighter bulb.

4) Don’t forget to budget for speakers

One place that projectors consistently underperform compared to televisions is in the quality of the onboard sound. The speakers on most TVs these days will at least get loud enough for casual listening and have a high enough sound quality to satisfy most listeners. Projectors, though, are another story. Not only is the on-board speaker rarely up to snuff, the cooling fan for the projector adds quite a bit of white noise that can make it even harder to hear your program.

If you don’t already have external speakers, you’ll need to buy some if you want a truly immersive, theater-like home viewing experience. You should plan to spend somewhere in the market of $50 to $100 on external speakers, so keep that in mind when you’re deciding how much you can afford to spend on a projector.

In summary

Finding the ideal projector for your home cinema is really a two-step process. The first step is to figure out your unique needs. Determine what media sources you’ll be viewing through it, then scope out your space’s light level and layout. Finally, get a rough idea of your budget, and think about what accessories you’ll need to buy to complement your new projector. Most projectors don’t come with a screen ( >>> Check our gray vs white screens comparison )for example, and if your ideal set-up calls for the projector to be mounted or suspended, this is another expense you’ll need to plan for. You can find decent 1080p projectors for as little as $200 on Amazon, putting a true home cinema well within reach.