When I was looking for the perfect projector for my home theater system, I dove right in. As with all my electronics, I knew to compare the specs. However, I found myself constantly questioning what these specifications actually meant to me. One of the most baffling specs, however, was the lumen or ANSI lumen measurement. If you are like me, you may find yourself wondering the same thing.
So what are projector lumens and what do they mean for your home theater set up? Lumens measure the brightness of the picture produced by your projector. ANSI lumens provide a more realistic brightness measurement, although is not always provided.
For most home theater projectors, lumens should measure between 2000 and 3500 lumens when moderate ambient light is present. However, if you are in a room filled with ambient light, you should look for a projector with at least 4000 lumens.
For a truly custom approach, understanding lumens and what factors affect the amount you need is vital. Depending on your content, resolution and ambient light – the lumens you need may fluctuate. Which is best for you? Keep reading to find out.
There are a lot of features and specifications you will want to evaluate prior to investing in a home theater projector. Contrast, throw ratio, light technology, and input capabilities are often listed in the specifications for all projectors. (I will briefly go over the some of the other specs that affect image quality below, but you can find my in-depth explanations on my Ultimate Projector Buyer’s Guide.) However, one of the most commonly misunderstood specifications is actually one of the most important. This is the lumens quantity.
When you see a projector lumen listed, this refers to the level of brightness your device can produce. The brightness levels produced by your projector actually affect the quality of the images displayed by your device similar to how the digital zoom can affect the image quality as well which we explained in more detail in our guide.
Check out our recommended projectors to ease your worries about lumens and other projector specs.
Some projectors list ANSI lumens instead of just lumens. To some, this may be a bit confusing. So let us start at the beginning. Lumens measure what is known as the “luminous flux”. This is the strength of light as observed by a viewer. A lumen observation is generic and somewhat subjective.
ANSI lumens, however, tend to be more accurate. This is because, in 1992, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standardized the way lumens are measured. (Projectors did not begin using the ANSI lumen measurements until much more recently.)
ANSI lumens are measured through more scrupulous methods that involve several variables. This includes measuring the white contrasts fields at specific spots located on the screen or medium you project onto. These measurements are then averaged and multiplied to account for the total projected area. While the measurements are actually more complex than that, you can see that the ANSI lumens measurement method involves several components that help provide a more accurate total.
Older projectors typically include a lumen measurement. Unfortunately, they often reflect inaccurate measurements. The majority of newer home theater projectors, however, typically provide an ANSI lumen measurement. This reflects a more realistic and quantifiable lumen measurement that you can rely on.
Lumens and ANSI lumens for that matter are not the only specifications you should consider. This is because the lumens alone cannot account for screen materials, ambient light influence, or other issues that may affect the final image. Other specifications that may affect the projector’s image include:
There are three things you need to consider when determining how many ANSI lumens you need. These are content, resolution and ambient light.
The number of lumens you need should be a cumulative assessment of these three factors. Why? Certain content, resolutions and ambient lighting can provide you with a range of required lumens.
What you plan on projecting impacts the level of lumens you need. While it is unlikely you are purchasing your home theater projector to display presentations and business briefs, your content may still range.
The Bottom Line: Most home theater projectors should start at 2000 lumens at a minimum, regardless of other factors.
I already briefly touched on resolutions. However, it warrants another mentioning here as it directly impacts the lumens you need. After you understand the type of content you want to primarily use your projector for, you should consider the resolution you will need to accurately project the images.
The Bottom Line: While your content, screen size and ambient light will likely push your lumens up, keeping your resolution in mind will ensure your image provides a clear image suited to your needs.
Ambient light is actually one of the biggest factors when you are looking to invest in a projector. Ambient light refers to the level of natural light that filters into the room where you intend to use your projector. Ambient light directly affects the brightness and, therefore, should be carefully considered when reviewing lumen specifications.
In order to determine the proper lumens as they relate to ambient light, you also need to consider the intended screen size. (Screen size is measured diagonally from the lower left corner to the upper right corner.)
The Bottom Line: Carefully evaluate the level of light coming into the area where you intend to use your projector. Buying a projector that does not take into account the ambient light and screen size can seriously affect your image quality.
What happens if I buy a projector with “too many” lumens? It is best that you invest in a projector that, at a minimum, meets with the highest estimated lumen need. In fact, having “too many” lumens is much better than having too few. This is because having more than you need will not affect the image. But having too few? That will greatly reduce your image quality.