August 26, 2014

Buyers’ Guide for projectors — How to find the best energy-efficient projector

We put together the most important questions to ask to make sure you find a projector that fits your needs while being energy efficient.

Written by
Toby Welch

If a big TV is not enough for your home entertainment system, you’re probably looking for a projector that allows you to project your movies on a big screen (in a size that would be unaffordable with a TV). For people that are less tech-savvy, the variety of projectors, the many different technical terms and the numbers found in descriptions can seem overwhelming and finding the right one is not easy. We put together the most important questions to ask to make sure you find a projector that fits your needs while being energy efficient.

Type

There are two main types of projectors: projectors that are mostly used to display data are usually called “business projectors” or “data projectors”; projectors for video projecting are sold under the names “home entertainment”, “video projector” or “home theater”. For your home, you are probably looking for the second type — it’s better suited for projecting movies, TV shows, and games.

Aspect Ratio

Most newer projectors you’ll find today will have a 16:9 ratio. Whichever ratio you choose — there will always be content with a native aspect ratio other than the one your projector has. Older movies and TV shows often have a 4:3 ratio, so if you are mostly watching older content, you might want to consider finding a projector with a 4:3 ratio. For HDTV, wide-screen DVD and Bluray content, 16:9 is the best aspect ratio. 4:3-optimized content will appear very small when projected with a 16:9 projector, and movies that are wider than 16:9 will have black bars on the top and bottom. Since 16:9 is the most common aspect ratio with modern technology, there is a wide variety of projectors with this ratio, giving you many devices to choose from.

Resolution

The resolution indicates how many pixels your projectors is using for the projected images. Generally, the higher the resolution, the better the picture quality will be (and the higher the price of the projector). Similarly to the aspect ratio, the ideal resolution depends on the content you’ll be watching. If the content has the same resolution as your projector, you’ll have the best picture quality. That doesn’t mean that you can’t watch movies with a different native resolution though; it just means that content with a different resolution will be scaled and won’t look as good as content with the same resolution that your projector has.

Most common is a resolution of 1920x1080 (1080p). It is ideal for HDTV and Bluray content and provides great picture quality. Also widely used and less expensive is the 1280x720 (720p) resolution; the picture quality is lower than with 1080p, but you’ll still have an enjoyable movie experience.

Fairly new but also available now is a resolution of 4096x2160 or 3840x2160 — it’s called 4K or Ultra HD and provides by far the best picture quality with 4 times the pixels of a 1080p resolution. There isn’t much native 4K content yet and the projectors with this high resolution are still very pricey. If money isn’t an issue and you’re looking for a high-end device, you should definitely go for 4K though — the picture quality is amazing!

Brightness

When it comes to brightness, there is a general misconception that brighter is better — that’s definitely not the case! In a dark room, a very bright projector can be uncomfortable for the eyes while the same projector gives you a great image in a well lit room.

Generally speaking, when the room you’re projecting in is rather dark (no windows, little ambient light), choose a projector with a minimum of 1500 lumens. For a brighter room with windows, you’ll need at least 2500 lumens. That being said, the brightness depends on the specific room, so make sure to consult an expert before buying. Also note that small differences in lumens are often not noticeable — so if you’re deciding between two models, don’t let the lumens be the decisive factor if the difference isn’t big.

Contrast Ratio

The contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest and the darkest part of the projected picture. The higher the contrast ratio, the clearer your picture will be. Be careful with marketing promises about contrast ratio though — manufacturers often measure under perfect conditions in very dark rooms with ideal screens; in normal rooms, you might not even be able to tell the difference between a higher and a lower contrast ratio.

Connections

There are many different ways of connecting your projector with other devices and what you need really depends of the devices you have. But even if you buy devices with different connections later — there are adapters for most connections.

HMDI is one of the most common connection that allows you to connect most newer laptops, Bluray players, gaming consoles and more.

Older but still very common is VGA — you’ll find it in many older laptops and other devices. The quality is not as good as with HDMI. Similar is DVI — it has a higher quality than VGA, but since it was introduced shortly before HDMI, it is not very common.

Component cables were commonly used before HDMI and can still be found in consoles, TVs, DVRs and set top boxes.

Imaging Technology

The four main imaging technologies are DLP, LCD and LCOS.

DLP projectors often use sequential color projecting which can cause a rainbow effect. That can be uncomfortable for some people, especially in longer viewing sessions. DLP projectors have a lower contrast ratio than LCDs and LCOSs, but the picture tend to look sharper.

LCD projectors tend to be heavier than others. They have good brightness and contrast ratio and excellent picture quality.

LCOS projectors have the best contrast ratio and overall picture quality, but they are also more expensive.

Energy Efficiency

Generally, the more lumens a projector has, the more energy it is consuming. Which of the different imaging technologies provides the most energy-efficient projector?

We compare the highest rating projector from each category with similar brightness and the same resolution of 1024x768: For the DLP category, highest rating is the with 4000 lumens; the is the LCD projector with the highest rating with 4000 lumens.

Projector

Winner here with an Enervee Score 99 of 100 if the DLP projector. Even with 500 lumens more than the LCOS devise, it is clearly more energy-efficient. The LCD projector is right in between the other two devices with an Enervee Score of 88. In general it can be said that the more lumens per watt a projector has, the more energy-efficient it is. The Optoma model in our comparison has an operating wattage of 250W with 4000 lumens. That makes 4000 lumens/250W = 16 lumens per watt. The Hitachi projector’s operating wattage is 300W with also 4000 lumens, which means it comes out with 13 lumens per watt. This is also reflected in the Enervee Score — the Optoma projector has a higher score than the Hitachi model. That being said, LCD projectors tend to be more energy-efficient. LCOS projectors have a superior picture quality, but that comes at a price: both the initial cost when purchasing the projector and the cost to run it are higher. Over 5 years with 5 hours running time per day, the highly energy efficient DLP projector can save you over $100. If all 5 million projectors sold in the US this year were the highly efficient Optoma DLP projector versus the average projector, we’d save a total of 2.7 billion tons of CO2, $212.7 Million in electricity cost and 151,296 homes’ electricity use.

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