If you are like me, you use your family room for more than just watching movies or Netflix binges. I’m talking about countless hours spent playing video games! When I first invested in building my home theater, I failed to take my video gaming into account. This can be a costly mistake! To help you avoid making the same mistake, I have put together a list of features you need to pay particular attention to if you want a projector that supports your gaming.
So what is the difference between a gaming projector and one used for home theaters? All video gaming projectors can support home theater use. However, while projectors are fairly advanced nowadays and many of them can even receive video wirelessly (our guide), not all home theater projectors can support video game use. Depending on the brightness, contrast ratio, inputs, lag, refresh rates, and resolution – you can find a projector that satisfies both gaming, home theater, and sometimes for business use as well (more on that in our tutorial).
For a gaming projector, you will want to look for one with at least 2,000 lumens, a 5,000:1 contrast ratio, console compatible inputs, a 120hz refresh rate, and 1080p resolution. For a home theater projector, however, you will want one that has at least 2,000 lumens, a 1,000:1 contrast ratio, compatible receiver or device inputs, and 1080p or 4K resolution.
Statistics has shown that 60% of Americans play video games on a daily basis. If you are one of the 150 million Americans who play video games, having a projector that supports your hobby and doubles as a home theater device can ensure your at-home cinema is ideal for all your intended uses. Whether you want a projector that makes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind take your breath away or you want one that helps you lose yourself in the latest movie – I’ll explain the specs that can make or break either system below.
What Is a Projector?
A projector is a device that receives an image then reflects and amplifies it onto a screen. Projectors have been around for decades. While we may be used to seeing them in classrooms, offices and cinemas, projectors are now being incorporated into the home as well.
Home theater projectors can be costly. Depending on the type, as well as the included features and capabilities, a projector may cost as much as a new car! However, there are budget friendly units that provide cinema-quality images.
Gaming projectors, on the other hand, may require a more thorough review. Why? Video games, like the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto series, include high-contrast, instant real-time decisions, and cinematic resolutions that exceed the standard movie.
Comparing the Specs
There are plenty of specifications, or specs, you should review before you invest in any projector. (If you want to look at what each spec is, check out my Ultimate Projector Buyers Guide!)
While some projector specs apply equally to gaming and home theater purposes – others do not. Below, I list those specs that are most important to a gaming projector and compare them to those used for home theaters.
You should keep in mind that a multi-purpose projector, which will play movies and support video games equally well, should opt for the higher of the two specs. Doing so will only improve on quality and not detract from it.
Brightness, which is measured in lumens or ANSI lumens, is one of the most important specs for any projector. In order to determine the best projector, based on brightness, you need to consider both the environment you will project in as well as the size of the screen you are looking to project on.
For dedicated home theaters, which are spaces that intentionally attempt to eliminate ambient light, 1,500 lumens are the minimum typically required. For rooms that have some ambient light, you will want a projector that has at least 2,000 lumens. Rooms that have ample ambient light, however, should have projectors with at least 3,000 lumens.
That being said, screen size can reduce or increase the number of lumens you need. A screen that is 50 to 60 inches, for example, typically only needs 1,000 lumens. Projectors that display on screens that measure 60 to 80 inches, on the other hand, should have at least 1,500 lumens. You will need at least 2,000 lumens if the screen size is 80 to 100 inches. Beyond that size, however, you should go no lower than 2,500 lumens.
You should keep in mind, the higher the lumens, the more expensive the projector will be so you need to assess your ambient light carefully.
The Bottom Line: Brightness values for gaming and home theater projectors are the same. Based on the ambient light and screen size, you will likely want a projector that has at least 2,000 lumens, if not more.
Contrast ratio measures the difference between the purest whites and the darkest blacks. Contrast ratios can affect how crisp and vivid your images are when projected. As with your brightness spec, contrast ratios are affected by ambient light.
Brilliantcolor and sRGB features are good to have too. These features allow you to better control your projector’s color processing capabilities, helping you to adjust the contrast ratio to your environment.
You should note that contrast ratios can be skewed, which makes it hard to really rely on this spec. ANSI contrast ratios are considered the most accurate, however, so look for a projector that lists this in its specs. (ANSI contrast ratios measure this spec through a 16-block checkerboard pattern, which provides a more accurate final measurement.)
Best for Home Theater: At a minimum, home theater projectors should have a contrast ratio of a least 1,000:1. For those unfamiliar with contrast ratio, this means that the purest white is 1,000 times brighter than the darkest black.
Best for Gaming: For gaming purposes, you want to look for a projector that has a minimum contrast ratio of 5,000:1. For mid-grade purposes, a projector with a 40,000:1 is acceptable. However, the best projectors for gaming have a contrast ratio of 100,000:1 or better. Be careful when looking at projectors that are marketing explicitly for video game displays. These tend to sacrifice contrast ratios for higher brightness levels.
The Bottom Line: Contrast ratios will affect our projector’s image quality. If you are using your projector for gaming, opt for one with a high contrast ratio. (A high contrast ratio will only enhance your home theater projection if using it for both!)
Inputs & Lag
The types of inputs on your projector affect what devices you can connect to it. High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) and Digital Visual Interface (DVI) inputs are standards. (This is great because all most modern gaming platforms use HDMI cables to relay their images to the television or projector.)
However, if you are planning to connect your computer or other devices to your projector, you may also want to have a projector that includes component video, Universal Serial Bus (USB), Video Graphics Array (VGA) and Secure Digital (SD) card inputs as well. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth features may also be of interest. (However, most gaming consoles include their own built-in Wi-Fi connectivity.)
If you are planning to plug multiple devices into your projector, you will also want to invest in one that includes multiple input slots. A PS4, Xbox, and DVD player, for example, may all need HDMI connections.
Gaming projectors will also need to be assessed based on lag among other factors which we’ve touched on before in our comprehensive guide. Lag is the time it takes for your projector to display the image. Some lag will be inevitable, however, you want to minimize it as much as possible. Lag is not yet listed as a spec by manufacturers. However, user reviews should help you better determine how great the lag when it comes to using your projector for gaming purposes.
Best for Home Theater: A projector that includes HDMI and DVI inputs is ideal. WiFi is also a great feature as it allows you to stream Netflix and similar platforms through your projector.
Best for Gaming: You will want a projector that makes your console compatible. For example, a PS4 connection will differ from your computer’s. Additionally, you want to look at reviews of each product for lag-specific comments.
The Bottom Line: Having multiple inputs allows for your broadest connectivity. Consider your gaming platform, as well as any other devices you may want to connect to your projector, whether it’s with a Roku Stick or Fire Stick, before making a final decision.
A refresh rate refers to your projector’s ability to process the images and videos it is displaying. Unfortunately, this spec is not always reported by manufacturers. However, many modern home theater-specific projectors have high refresh rates that fully support movies and related materials.
The issue here is that gaming may require even faster refresh rates depending largely on the type of game you are playing. With rapid action and, often, instant screen changes, having high speed refresh rates is essential.
Refresh rates can be affected by several things. If you are relying on a home theater receiver, for example, this can slow your refresh rates. This makes that input spec more important as your gaming console should be connected directly to your projector to eliminate this third-party lag.
You should also scale your platform’s resolution to mate that of your projector. (We’ll talk resolution in a moment.) Having your projector do the scaling adds lag to your refresh rate and is easily avoidable when scaled down on your console itself.
Best for Home Theater: Many home theater projectors do not report this spec, however, they are typically built for movie-capable displays. Since you are playing a movie and not dependent on ever-changing, real-time game decisions – this spec is less important here.
Best for Gaming: You want a projector with a minimum 120hz refresh rate. If you make a split second decision in your game, you want that projector image to display the corresponding image as soon as possible.
The Bottom Line: Some projectors include a “gaming” or “fast” mode. This spec affects your refresh rate. If you are looking to use your projector for gaming, you will want one with this feature. Don’t worry if you intend to use the same projector for movies – this will not hurt the cinematic qualities although you can’t use it for 3D images in case you’re wondering (we’ve explained why before).
Projectors come in a wide range of resolutions. This includes VGA, SVGA and XGA resolutions. However, for home theater, you want a projector that projects 1080P or 4K resolutions.
A resolution of 1080p, which can also be listed as having 1920 x 1080 pixels, has superseded the earlier 1080i image quality. Also known as High-Definition (HD), 1080p is the most popular resolution for television, movies, gaming consoles and more.
A 4K projector, on the other hand, is the up-and-coming resolution. Capable of projecting images up to 3840 x 2160 pixels clearly, this Ultra High-Definition (UHD) spec is best for extremely large screen sizes. Gaming platforms have not yet caught up to this resolution, so a 4K projector may not be ideal. (They are also much more expensive than one with a 1080p resolution.)
Best for Home Theater: A projector that has a 1080p or 4K resolution is ideal. While 4K is becoming more accepted, 1080P is still the reigning champion for resolution.
Best for Gaming: The majority of all gaming platforms have a 1080p resolution. Your projector should match this to help prevent refresh rate lag and provide optimal clarity while gaming.
The Bottom Line: If you want a multipurpose projector, find one that includes a 1080p resolution. This will give both movies and gaming projections the best resolution and meet each’s needs.
Video Game Worthy Projectors
To help highlight the types of projectors best used for gaming, here are a few of the best one available right now.
Optoma GT1080 Darbee Gaming Projector
Optoma built the GT1080 Darbee projector specifically for gamers. It features enhanced responses times, a deep contrast, and brilliant visuals.
Specs for the GT1080 Darbee include:
- Brightness: 3,000 lumens
- Contrast Ratio: 28,000:1
- Resolution: 1080p
- Input: 2 HDMI; USB
As a Digital Light Processing (DLP) projector, it offers sharp images. It also includes a long-lasting lamp, which can last up to 8,000 hours. The Enhanced Gaming Mode feature helps to reduce any potential lag time as well. For those with limited space, the GT1080 Darbee can project up to 100 inches from only 3.5 feet. The sRGB display profile helps you control your contrast ratio to ensure it fits your specific needs.
The Optoma GT1080p is considered to be one of the best gaming projectors. Under $1,000, this is the top of the line for many who want a projector to game with.
BenQ HT2150ST Gaming Projector
The BenQ HT2150ST is second only to the Optoma. The HT2150ST is BenQ’s gaming projector and strives to keep up with the highly regarded brand’s image, in fact, we listed it as #1 in our top 6 list of 2019.
Specs for the HT2150ST include:
- Brightness: 2,200 ANSI lumens
- Contrast Ratio: 15,000:1
- Resolution: 1080p
- Input: 2 HDMI
The HT2150ST reduces lag time with its 16.67ms low input lag and DMD response time. This means you can enjoy your game without blurring the motion or delayed signal issues. As a DLP projector, the included lamp may last up to 7,000 hours. Another short throw projector, this model is able to project up to 100 inches from less than 5 feet away.
EUG Wireless Projector
For those on a budget, the EUG Wireless Projector may be your best option if you want to use your projector for video games.
Specs for the EUG Wireless Projector include:
- Brightness: 3,900 lumens
- Contrast Ratio: 5,000:1
- Resolution: 1080p
- Input: 2 HDMI, VGA, 2 USB, VA, Wi-Fi
The EUG Wireless Projector offers a lot for a budget option. With multiple inputs, this LED projector has a lamp life of up to 50,000 hours. While it should last ages, it will die one day, so you should know how to tell (our guide). It also supports images up to 200-inches, but is a long-throw model so will need more distance between the projector and the screen.
As a projector that costs less than $400, this option is a great way to game and watch movies without breaking the bank to do so.
I am into computer games. Are there projectors that can support this? Absolutely. The EUG Wireless projector is just one example. When it comes to computer gaming, however, you will likely need to downscale your resolution to help eliminate any potential refresh rate lag. If you are playing a MMO-RPG, like World of Warcraft, however – you should be aware that the lag your computer experiences, the projector will amplify.
Is a television better for gaming? This is a matter of personal taste. Televisions are a little more advanced in certain aspects. However, if you want a truly large-scale image or want to maximize your home theater set up and integrate a projector, finding one that supports video games and movies is just a matter of weighing your options and carefully reviewing the specs.