Projectors come in all shapes and sizes, so when you first start shopping around for one, things can get very confusing very quickly. Before you select anything, though, you should know that there are two main classes of projectors: home theater projectors, and business projectors.
Home theater projectors are designed for streaming media like movies and video games, business projectors are designed to be good at projecting content in an office environment where video quality isn’t as important as brightness.
But there are always edge cases. Business projectors do bring some unique features to the table, and by contrasting them with the options you have with home theater projectors, you might find that, for the use cases you need, one or the other class of projector is right for you.
|Home Theater Projector Pros|
|With their high-quality images (typically better resolution, higher contrast ratio, etc.), home theater projectors are suited for viewing the content you're most likely interested in: movies, shows, and games.|
|This also means that home theater projectors are more flexible with what actual content is being projected.|
|Home theater projectors are designed for smaller, home-sized spaces, so are more likely to meet your needs here.|
|There are lots of universal mounting options that will fit most homes.|
|Home Theater Projector Cons|
|There will be more settings to fiddle with than you might want, but then again you should only have to fiddle with them once.|
|These projectors are usually designed for permanent install, so you may want to look elsewhere if you want the ability to take your projector with you a lot.|
|Sometimes they may take longer than a business projector to warm up and start projecting after turning on.|
|Typically there are fewer connection options than on business projectors, but they'll have the standard fare, HDMI, etc.|
|These projectors may be more expensive if you need a very bright option.|
|Business Projector Pros|
|Since business projectors are designed for portability and ease of use, setups are quick and easy and you'll be projecting in no time.|
|If you have any irregular space, especially larger spaces, business projectors can handle them easier with more flexible throw ratios.|
|Usually, business projectors will have more, and more universal, connection options, since they're designed to get up and running quickly with whatever's on hand.|
|Typically brighter at a given price point, since they have to operate in well-lit office environments.|
|Business Projector Cons|
|Less flexible in regards to content type (the manufacturers assume you’re using these projectors for practical purposes, not watching movies in 4k).|
|Typically lower image quality, and especially lower contrast ratios (usually), which can lead to washed-out images.|
|Some models may be geared toward portability so much that mounting options are non-universal.|
Beyond just the core use case (at home vs at work) these classes of projectors have a lot of different things going on when it comes to the basic elements of projecting. Here’s a quick rundown of what sets each class apart in the six most important categories:
Business projectors have a very specific niche: large conference spaces, office buildings that sometimes have glass walls, and in general, spaces that have a lot of built-in lighting that is more the fluorescent tube variety than the small bulbs you’ll find in a household. Because of this, they have to bring more lumens or brightness to the table to overcome all the ambient light and make the image on the screen pop.
Where they excel in brightness, though, business projectors often lack a little on the resolution front. They’re optimized for projecting PowerPoint slides and Excel documents, so the stakes are simply not that high when it comes to the actual content and the fidelity required.
Home theaters are almost always going to be darker than office spaces, and likely the actual space itself will be smaller, with fewer windows and less powerful lighting. For this reason, home theater projectors simply don’t have to pump out as much light (especially if a high-quality screen is in play). If you have an especially bright home theater area, though, it might pay for you to use a business projector...or maybe just blackout curtains.
And as far as the resolution, home theater projectors will almost certainly outrank business projectors at a given price point. It’s much more common to see a "4K" projector in a home theater, where the content coming from HD cable streams and maybe Blu-ray players or the equivalent can take advantage of it.
In large office conference rooms and classroom auditorium setups, the throw ratio of business projectors is usually pretty long. This ratio, which is a measurement of the distance from the screen divided by the width of the screen being projected, is usually a bit higher for business projectors because they have more room to work with.
Throw ratio will typically not be a problem for any projector being marketed as a consumer/home theater solution because they know the average living room or home theater isn’t a huge space. For that reason, you’ll find lower throw ratios than business projectors, though if you have an especially large space you might consider looking to business projectors that might meet your needs.
The contrast of business projectors is usually pretty low compared to home theater projectors, and again this is driven by the use case. The contrast, which is how dark the dark colors can be compared to the light colors, is just not that important when you’re screening training videos and throwing up org. charts.
Contrast is much better on home theater projectors too, with deeper dark colors and poppier lights because of the use case demands: when you’re watching movies and shows the picture quality is more important, and so the contrast is better on these projectors (although some business class projectors can be found with good contrast as well if you need one because of the requirements of your setup).
In the office, if you need to use a projector, you need to rely on it to work with as little fuss as possible. Because of this, business projectors often have a much more robust array of input options. They’ll likely have the usual suspects: HDMI, DVI maybe. But they’ll also usually have VGA and USB input options as well. You might even find newer models that have USB-C input.
Just like with business projectors, home theater projectors will have the tried-and-true connectors like HDMI and maybe even DVI on older units, but I wouldn’t expect USB or VGA input to be standard. This is likely not an issue unless you’re coming from a computer, where you might only have USB, VGA, or DVI as options coming from the motherboard or video card. For this reason, you’ll want to plan out your setup ahead of time and make sure you know what connector you’ll be using before selecting the projector.
Time is money, and this is especially true in the workplace environment. A business projector will be designed to be super easy to use so that there’s no time fiddling with settings and optimizing. These projectors will often have all the ports you need, sure, but they may also boot up a little faster, and are more likely to have settings controls on the projector itself to speed up getting up and running. There may be fewer settings overall, though, which can minimize the amount of fine-tuning you can do.
Home theater projectors aren’t way harder to set up and get running than business projectors, but they’ll have more edge room for you to play around. There will be more settings that you can toggle, and those setting will likely have finer adjustment levels. For that reason, any projector will still be pretty easy to plug in and get something on the screen, but home theater projectors may take a little longer to adjust and get the image looking perfect.
Many business projectors are designed to be brought along on business trips. They may even come with their own carrying case. More than likely, there will be at least some attempt to make them small enough that they can fit in checked luggage, but depending on the scale of what you’re doing, these can also get big. If you see yourself taking a projector to a friends house to project the big game or to blow up a Mario Party competition, you might want a smaller and more portable projector.
Home theater projector designers are really not planning for you to be moving the projector around a lot. Sure, some of them will have adjustable feet designed to sit on a coffee table or other flat surface, implying they don’t need to be mounted and further suggesting you could take them from A to B pretty easily, but this is all going to depend on the weight and size. You can take a projector anywhere, of course, but if you’re planning to move your projector around a lot ,look for home theater projectors with features like those feet mentioned above, and make sure the keystone correction options are robust enough that you’re more than likely to find a good place to set one in any environment.
After reviewing all those similarities and differences, you might feel a little overwhelmed. After all, what should you be looking for? It’s a good question, so here are a few of the key features you should be considered as you go shopping and try to make the decision between a home theater and a business projector.
Even the highest quality projector can be crippled by a low brightness setting. Projector brightness, which is discussed in a unit of brightness called lumens, is basically the power that the image is carried to the screen at. If you’re reading this on a laptop, reach up and toggle the brightness of your screen down that reduction in light output shows the power of lumens at work. It’s clear that the image on the screen isn’t getting worse, but the darkness can make things harder to see.
A similar effect happens with projectors that have a brightness that’s too low. They can get a high-quality image to the screen just fine, but then the image has to bounce off the screen and into your eyes. Without enough brightness or lumens, pushing the image, what little light does get to the screen is scattered and washed out. Colors become faded, and overall the image is just hard to see. Dark scenes are lost, reduced to looking like vague shadows.
But how does this affect your decision when shopping for a projector? Business projectors will have high brightness, sure, because they’re made to use in office environments, and home theater projectors will assume a pretty dark room, to begin with. What range should you choose?
Look for a lumens rating of at least 1,000. That’s about the point that, for a normal room, you won’t have any problems. If you have a lot of windows, skylights, that sort of thing, you should look for a projector with more brightness, and don’t be afraid to consider one with "3,000+" lumens.
Also, when you start to narrow down your selection, look at the product reviews and find people commenting on the brightness of the projector. This should help you fact-check if a projector will work for you before you pull the trigger on a purchase. If you think ambient light will be a major issue, you should consider a business projector over a home theater projector.
Regardless of which class of projector you think you want, the ultimate decision should start at thinking about what content you want to project. All content is not created equal; if you’re planning to stream 4K videos or watch Blu-Ray discs, you need to make sure your projector can handle it. There are plenty of projectors that do go up to 4K resolution. Typically, they’ll say it right in the name. However, you should be cautious with buying a very cheap "4K" projector because it's likely that it can't actually output 4K as a resolution, so again, always check the reviews!
More common, however, are “HD” projectors that list their resolution at 1080p. To be certain, these are not bad projectors, but if you are trying to stream 4K content, it will immediately get downgraded to 1080p. It’s not going to look bad, but it’s not what you paid for. On the other side of that coin: if you simply don’t care for a higher resolution, you’re just streaming HD content from a computer or streaming stick, then you have the luxury of shopping at this lower tier of projectors. Most business projectors will have a resolution of 1080p because more business content simply doesn’t require that much fidelity.
Lastly, there is one edge case where you should consider the refresh rate. Since most movies and shows are shot in and designed to be consumed at 30fps, you won’t need to think about this spec because almost no decent projector will have a refresh rate below that. However, if you’re planning to stream competitive games off of beefy hardware that is designed to deliver content at 60fps, you’ll need a projector that matches this refresh rate. If you use a 30fps projector, it won’t look bad, but, again, it won’t be what you paid for on the content side. These projectors are more expensive, and almost always are of the home theater variety.
The aspect ratio, which is a measure of the length of the image to its height, is at first an intimidating topic to understand. When you realize there are only a few main conventions here, though, the conversation becomes much easier. Although there are all kinds of aspect ratios used for all kinds of applications, for our purposes the only ones worth talking about are 16:9 and 4:3.
This is a measure of the shape of the rectangle that the projector projects. 16:9 is wider, referred to as “wide-screen”, and 4:3 is a little more squarish and compact. 4:3 is referred to as “full-screen,” but that name is a bit of a misnomer for the following reason: if you’re content aspect ratio does not match your projector aspect ratio, you will have black bars on either the sides or top/bottom of the screen where there is extra space not being used by the content. This is called “letterboxing.”
So how do you avoid this letterboxing? Maybe you don’t care about it at all. Again, the content you’re projecting will set the right answer here. If you want to watch movies at the highest fidelity, then you want to match what the movie was shot in and designed for: 16:9 widescreen. If you’re going to be gaming or doing other tactical things like reviewing documents or simply displaying your computer screen to the projector, you may want a 4:3 aspect ratio. Your projector will put the image on the screen no matter what, but the letterboxing, where it is and how much of it, is set by the aspect ratio of the content matching the projector.
Last, but maybe most important, you’ll want to consider how easy it is to install the projector you’re considering. Based on the combination of the room or area it will be used, the location of the projector, and the throw ratio/correction ability, you may need to mount the unit on the ceiling or on an elevated platform in the middle or back of the room. I know this sounds a little complicated, but keep reading.
The good news here is that a typical projector will have a lot of edge room when it comes to the corrections you can do. Zoom, keystone correction, and throw ratio are all usually meant to allow for lots of mixing and matching when it comes to making a projector fit your space. If you don’t have any unique situations in the space, like an especially long room, or a requirement to mount the projector from a lateral wall instead of the ceiling, you don’t need to worry about this.
Maybe at this point, you know enough to make a decision about which projector works for you. Use this quick review as a reference as you consider different projectors: