[HOW TO] Buy a projector for the office

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When crowding around a laptop or monitor just isn’t an option, nothing beats a projector to show off your award-winning presentation.

Projectors actually share many similarities with regular TV and computer screen,  but differ in a few key areas that can greatly affect you purchase.

Resolution and aspect ratio

Many modern screens and media are made to work at either 720p (1280×720, 16:9 aspect ratio) or 1080p (1920×1080 pixels, 16:9 aspect ratio), which is also true for home projectors.

Office and business projectors, on the other hand, have an entirely different range:

  • SVGA (800×600 pixels, 4:3 aspect ratio)
  • XGA (1024×768 pixels, 4:3 aspect ratio)
  • WXGA (1280×800 pixels, 16:10 aspect ratio)
  • WUXGA (1920×1200 pixels, 16:10 aspect ratio)

SVGA and XGA are usually found in cheaper projectors and have become extremely popular because of it. Unfortunately, the 4:3 aspect ratio is terrible for most applications because very little content is natively created for it.

While WXGA and WUXGA still differ from the 16:9 norm, their 16:10 aspect ratio is far better for business use. Putting in slightly more money for one of these projectors could also save you time and hassle as you attempt to make your content viewable on the smaller ratios.

Size

Like screens, a projector will be rated to create a viewable space measured in inches from corner to corner diagonally.

Where projectors differ is the fact that they have a range. Most projectors will list their size as with a minimum and maximum, for example 39”-300”.

Measure the space you want to cover with your projection to determine your size needs.

Connections

Connecting your source to the projector can be done in a variety of ways, so you need to make sure your projector supports your preferred method.

These range from wires such as HDMI, VGA, composite and even S-video. While adapters can help if the right cable isn’t lying around, it’s good to go with what you know.

Alternatively, some projectors offer wireless connections that can communicate with a PC, tablet or phone by way of the internet or an app. These can manufacturer-specific, so they will be far less standardised.

Going wireless will only be a necessity if the projector is planned to be mounted far away from the presenter, in which case a remote control for either it or the device with the content loaded on should be considered. A great cheat for this is a wireless mouse; they’re cheap and work with most devices and can do (almost) everything speciality controllers can.

How do projectors differ from monitors?

Throw

Throw, also referred to as projection distance  or simply “distance”  is the distance between the projector and the surface you intend the projection to be shown on.

Aside from a measurement, it can also be classified as a throw ratio. This ratio describes the distance between the projector and the place it will project on and the width of the projection. When a ratio is listed instead of a distance, you’ll have to do some maths to figure it out, or use an online calculator.

Projector-Buyers-Guide
Distance and width used to calculate throw ration. Image: TheProjectorPros.com.

Lamp life

Inside of all projectors is a bulb or lamp that projects the light needed to display an image. These bulbs have a listed amount of time they can be used (referred to as “life) usually expressed in hours.

When buying a projector take note of the lamp life as well as how expensive replacements are, and how difficult they are to come by.

Contrast and brightness

Brightness, measured in lumens, will determine how visible a projection is in terms of visibility in light. Generally, a higher lumen rating is better, but will drive up the price of the projector.

Contrast is the difference between light and dark, and is measure as a ratio of the brightest white compared to the darkest black.  For example, a contrast ratio of 15 000:1 means that the white is 15 000 times brighter than the blacks. As with brightness, the higher the better.

DLP vs LCD

Digital Light Processing (DLP) and Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) are two different technologies used in projectors to create an image. Neither constitutes an incorrect choice, so let’s look at what they do.

DLP uses light reflected off of tiny mirrors to get the job done. DLP projector’s main draws are higher contrast ratios, better motion blur and smaller physical units, which is better if the projector needs to be moved around. Check the projector’s listed dimensions if this is a particular concern, though.

LCD projectors use glass panels, just like LCD screens, and is better at colour reproduction at the expense of potential pixelation.

A third option, called Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) is a kind of fusion between DLP and LCD, but is usually more expensive and used for high-end projectors.

At the end of the day, what matters most is what the projections look like in person, as manufacturer’s techniques and their projects usually matter more than the technology behind them. If you have the opportunity, ask for a demonstration if you’re buying from a store.

Conclusion

As with all technologies, once you dig deeper into the tech behind it, there is a whole new world of complicated terms and principles. If you’re a real AV fan they will interest, but for everyone else we’ve covered the core principles here.

[su_box title=”How to buy a business projector: The cheat sheet” box_color=”#f37021″]

  • Stick to your budget.
  • Steer clear of the 4:3 aspect ratio projectors if you can.
  • Measure the wall or canvas you’re going to be projecting on and look out for a model that can recreate that size.
  • Make sure the projector can be connected to your existing devices and the devices of these intended to use it. You may need to spend more money on adapters.
  • If the projector is going to be installed in a fixed location, make sure the throw distance is long enough to get the projection where it needs to be.
  • If the room isn’t sufficiently dark, try get a projector with a higher lumen rating.
  • Aim for higher brightness and contrast if it fits the budget.
  • Whether DLP, LCD or LCoS; make sure the projector meets your other needs and is affordable.
  • Check the lamp life, as well as price and availability or replacements.
  • Read online reviews to see what people think of the product.
  • If you’re buying from a physical store, ask for a demonstration.
  • Google “[projector name] problems” to see some problems others have had with specific models.
  • Check the warranty and after-sales support when purchasing.[/su_box]

[Sources – Epson & Projector Central , Image – C.C. 2.0 by Michael Porter]

Clinton Matos

Clinton Matos

Clinton has been a programmer, engineering student, project manager, asset controller and even a farrier. Now he handles the maker side of htxt.africa.

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