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Front vs. Rear Projection: Which is Better for You?

In the world of projection, there are two main types: front and rear. Each one can be perfect for certain situations, but is one better than the other? You might be facing a choice between the two and are trying to come to a decision on which is best. So how do you know which is the right choice?

In most situations, the front projection will be clearer, easier to set up, and better on space. There are cases when rear projection will be better, like in professional circumstances or in situations where you need a permanent setup, however, there are a few other factors you should consider.

Before you start making any purchases, there’s some information you should know. We’ll walk you through each projection type so you can make a more informed decision. Ready to learn about the different projection types and which one is best for you? Read on!

Rear Projection and Front Projection Compared

When it comes to projection types, it comes down to the front and rear projection. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, many of which we’ve listed in our dedicated guide, but what is the main difference between them? Rear projection is the type of projection that comes from the back of the screen. 

Front projection – which you’ve probably dealt with before – these are the most common type of projector and project from the front of the screen. While these definitions seem, well, obvious, there is more to the story than just the name and style. Let’s take a look at both projection types and explore what makes each type good and bad.

Front Projection Pros and Cons

When you are using front projection, you place the projector away from the screen somewhere in a central position so the light hits the screen and reflects back to the viewer’s eyes. Usually, this will be behind the audience. The light that comes from the projector isn’t direct as it reflects off the screen.

This is an important distinction as front projection usually provides a crisper image than rear projection. Why? Because less light is absorbed into the screen and more light is reflected toward the viewer. It also means you don’t need the most powerful projector to produce a clean image.

Front projection also allows for the most viewing angles of the screen. Because the screen reflects the image, it has a better chance of hitting viewers’ eyes regardless of what angle they are viewing the screen. But before you opt for front projection, some downsides exist.

The first thing to note is projector placement. If you are working in a tight or cramped space, it could mean that your projector is in a less than perfect spot. This might mean your projector is in the middle of the crowd. It can also mean you might need to mount your projector on the ceiling, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

Front projection in tight spaces means not everyone is going to get the best image. If you block the projector lens in any way, this could mean that parts of the image are missing completely. You might opt to put the projector even further back, but again this is at a cost.

The farther back from the optimal throw distance the projector is, the higher the chance or image degradation. Additionally, you will have to worry about ambient lighting with front projection. Any light that hits the screen reflects back, even ambient light. Because of this, a room with lots of ambient light can be a problem for front projection.

Rear Projection Pros and Cons

With rear projection, the image casts onto the backside of a screen. This means that the projector itself is out of view, which can be great in certain situations. Since the screen absorbs the reflected light, ambient light on the front side of the screen is not as much of an issue. If you are in an area where ambient light is a problem, rear projection might be a better option in the long run.

But this comes at a cost. You see, since the screen is still reflecting light — albeit on the backside of the screen — the projector itself needs to be powerful enough to cast an image clearly. All the reflected light goes back to the projector. In this scenario, it doesn’t hit the viewer’s eyes and is essentially useless. For rear projection, you need a powerful projector.

Another downside to rear projection is the sheer amount of space needed to project an image properly. This is often much larger than front projection. While short-throw lenses can help, you’ll still need a good bit of space. Rear projection also offers limited viewing angles. This means that not everyone is going to get a clean and clear image. Since the rear projection is not as bright as well, you’ll need to offset with a higher gain material for the screen. 

Is Front or Rear Projection Better?

In the battle of projection, there are quite a few factors that will dictate which type is best for you and your use. Since both offer potential benefits and challenges, the best strategy for finding the right style is to access your environment.

Ask yourself the following questions: how much room do I have for projection? How much ambient light is in the room? Will the sound of the projector be an issue? These basic questions can help guide your decision. Remember that you should also think about the space, the audience, what it takes to maintain it (our guide), as well as the images you intend to project.

In most situations, the front projection will be easier. It also has the benefit of being clearer. So if you are displaying text or something in high detail, like an HD movie, it might be a better choice. That’s not to say that rear projection does not have its day in the sun.

In fact, for a more professional situation, it might be the preferred choice. It can also do wonders if the noise of a projector is an issue. Places like museums and newsrooms will usually opt for rear projection for these reasons.  Since the rear projection is also great in high ambient light situations, you might consider this type if you are in an area with lots of distracting lights. There are also options like using an ambient light rejecting projector screen.

These will allow for front projectors to not take in as much ambient light. This will help improve the image. Screens like this one (on Amazon) are a great choice if you want to use front projection in an ambient light situation. You can also purchase short-throw projectors if space is an issue with front projection. Projectors like this Optoma GT1080HDR (see on Amazon) are perfect for environments where space is at a premium.

How To Decide Between Front and Rear Projection

Okay, so we’ve explored what makes rear and front projection different. We also looked at which scenarios are better for each use. But how do you know which one is right for you? Well, this is going to depend on a few factors we talked about earlier. Things like room size, audience, what your projecting, and lighting environment are all going to play into your decision. But, let’s start with room size.

While you might think that the rear projection is right out for small spaces, it is going to depend on how much room you have behind the screen. In most cases, the front projection will be a better option, but if you have enough space behind the screen, even if it’s not habitable by people, it might be enough for the rear projection. So if you have the room, you can go either way, but front projection will probably be easier.

This brings us to our next point: ease of use. With rear projection, you’ll need a special screen and plenty of space. Rear projection is not the most friendly for non-technologically savvy users. Here, again, the front projection takes the lead.

But what about the audience? Well, if you have more people, you might want to go for front projection again. This is because the viewing angles are more suited for larger audiences. If, however, this is not an issue, rear projection can offer a cleaner look since you tuck all the components away from view. Now let’s touch on the environment.

If there is a lot of light, you’ll want to opt for rear projection. While you won’t get as clear of an image as the front projection, the rear projection screen will absorb more light. This means the colors won’t appear as washed out and muddied. As you can probably see by now, 90% of projection situations favor front projection. But certainly not all. Assessing your space and your needs can lead you in the right direction when it comes time to make a decision.

Can Any Projector do Rear Projection?

One of the best things about both rear and front projection is that almost any projector can handle both tasks. That’s right, you won’t need to make any additional purchases, although maybe for a screen, to switch from one style to another.

This is because almost all projectors are able to flip and reverse the image. This is essentially all you need to move from front to rear projection. All you’ll need to do is adjust the setting on the projector itself. Keep in mind that if space is limited, you might need a short-throw lens. There are also more complicated mirror systems that can allow for rear projection in tight spaces.

What’s the Best Material for a Rear Projection Screen?

One of the main differences between the front and rear projection is the type of screen material needed. With front projection, you don’t need a semi-translucent fabric since the goal is to reflect as much light as you can. Often, front projection screens will have another layer that helps the screen reflect light rather than let it pass through.

This is not the case for rear projection. You need to find a fabric with sufficient light transmission for use with rear projection. Since the rear projection is popular for large events and professional situations, there are plenty of manufacturers that offer fabrics that are suited for rear projection.

Often they are made of a grey or off-white material that allows for some light to pass through. Keep in mind, most of the light will still reflect back toward the projector. This is just a part of the rear projection. Even with the right screen type, you’ll need a powerful projector to make up for the loss of light.

Additionally, rear projection screen quality is going to depend on the specific situation. Things like brightness, projector size, size of an image, and even personal subjective perspective are going to play a role in how well a fabric works.