Last updated: August 5, 2021

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A projector is an easy way to turn your living room into a home cinema. There are different types of beamers that can suit a small flat but also a bright living room. However, there are a few things to consider when choosing a projector, as there are now projectors in all price categories and application areas.

With our beamer test 2021, we explain everything from the technology to the set-up that you need to make a wise choice and give you a few recommendations along the way so that the next cinema evening will be a complete success.




Summary

  • You need enough space for a beamer. The projection surface and the necessary projection distance between the surface and the projector can be calculated in simple steps before you buy.
  • You can find the right projector by considering where you want to place it and what content you want to display. There are different technologies, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
  • A projector is not just a one-time investment. It's important to keep in mind the life of the bulbs and the cost of replacement so you don't get an expensive surprise when the lights go out.

The best Beamer in the United Kingdom: Our Picks

Buying and evaluation criteria for beamers

You've probably noticed it too: Beamers are a dime a dozen. When buying a beamer, there are a lot of things to consider, which is why the most important criteria are listed here:

Area of application

Beamers can be suitable for different areas of application. Therefore, it is important that you make clear what your beamer should be able to do. This is the only way to get the projector you really need! Not only the location, such as a darkened home cinema or a bright living room, is decisive. The content displayed, such as TV programmes, action films (in 3D) or games, can also be important in the purchase decision.

Display technology

If you know a little about the display technology of a projector, you can significantly reduce both the choice and the confusion in advance. Here is a short list with the advantages and disadvantages of each technology.

LCD - Liquid Crystal Display

An LC display works by means of a membrane into which liquid crystals have been incorporated. These are movable and, depending on the voltage, either let light through or block it. In a projector, the light is split into green, blue and red by a prism and directed through the displays. This makes it possible to reproduce very true-colour and sharp images.

Advantages
  • Very good price-performance ratio
  • Compact solutions possible, ideal for presentations
  • Usually brighter than DLP projectors
  • Colour fidelity and sharpness
Disadvantages
  • More expensive to maintain as they have a shorter life
  • Poor picture quality with low resolution
  • Operating noise due to fan noise
  • Lower contrast

LED - Light Emitting Diode

We are familiar with LEDs from a wide variety of applications because they are very flexible due to their efficiency, low waste heat and long service life. In the case of beamers, they can be used to build mobile solutions so that a presentation or a film can be shown at any time.

Advantages
  • Very long service life
  • Hardly any waste heat and low operating noise
  • This makes compact design possible
  • Battery operation possible
  • Low maintenance costs
Disadvantages
  • Higher acquisition costs
  • Lower luminous intensity
  • Therefore smaller projection surface
  • Rainbow effect not excluded

DLP - Digital Light Processing

In DLP projector technology, tiny moving mirrors throw the image of the sensor onto the wall. The faster the mirrors move, the brighter the image. If the mirrors stop, no light is transmitted, which allows for a deeper black and higher contrast. A rotating colour wheel is used for the colours.

Advantages
  • Better contrast and sharpness than LCD
  • More durable than LCD chips
  • No image burn-in
  • Fast image changes, therefore suitable for movies and games
Disadvantages
  • Not as colour accurate as LCD
  • Higher operating noise
  • Possible rainbow effect with fast images(in about 3% of people)

LCos - Liquid Crystal on Silicon

This technology has different names depending on the manufacturer, such as SXRD at Sony, D-ILA at JVC and Reflective 3LCD at Epson.

Advantages
  • High resolution
  • Good colours and contrast values
  • No rain gloom or fly screen effect
  • Quiet operation
Disadvantages
  • High price
  • Not very bright
  • High weight

Brightness and contrast

The luminous intensity of projectors is expressed in a unit called ANSI lumens or lumens for short. This unit indicates how brightly a projector can shine and thus also shows the room for which it is suitable.

The brighter the room and the greater the distance from projector to screen, the higher the lumen number should be.

The lumen number or luminous intensity is an important purchase criterion. Unfortunately, many manufacturers, especially in the cheaper segment, outbid each other with high lumen numbers that do not always do justice to reality. Contrast is always given in a ratio of e.g. 10,000:1 and describes the difference in brightness between the darkest and brightest pixel.

The image appears sharper and more powerful with a higher value and depending on the technology used. As with luminosity, one should pay attention to whether a contrast ratio sounds realistic and whether the built-in technology is at all capable of achieving it at the desired price.

Resolution

You're sure to have come across a few specifications about resolution. The classics are called HD Ready, Full HD, UHD and 4K. These refer to the pixels in the horizontal and vertical planes. The native resolution is an important purchase criterion for a projector.

Designation resolution in pixels (width x height)
HD Ready 1280x720p
Full HD 1920x1080p
UHD 3840x2160p
4K 4096x2160p

UHD and 4K are slightly different, as televisions actually have a UHD resolution, but this is often not quite correctly marketed as 4K, as this is a term from cinema technology. The higher the pixel density, the sharper the picture. However, since some people cheat with the specifications, the native resolution (i.e. the actual number of pixels of the projector) is decisive.

An image in Full HD (1920x1080p) will not look as sharp if the projector only has a native resolution in HD Ready (1280x720p), because it is missing a few pixels.

Installation / Projection Size / Distance

Projectors can be set up or mounted on the ceiling. However, unless you have chosen a short-distance projector, the room should be large enough. If the projection surface is about 2 metres wide, the projection distance between the projector and the projection surface should be about 4 metres. This distance also depends on the built-in zoom lens as well as on a lens shift function and can therefore vary, more on this in the guide!

Lifetime & replacement lamps

What you should never underestimate is the life span of the projector lamps. The fact is that replacement lamps can be very expensive. On average, the lamp of a normal projector has a life span of approx. 2,000 - 3,500 hours. This can be further extended with the power-saving modes of the projectors.

A single lamp can cost between 50 - 300 euros, which is why you should always take maintenance costs into account when making a purchase decision. Due to their efficiency, LED lamps last around 20,000 hours, but the projectors are considerably more expensive and less bright.

Connectivity

With a modern projector, the types of connection are relatively straightforward. To connect to a laptop or tablet, HDMI, DisplayPort or DVI outputs are usually used. Note that only HDMI or DisplayPort can transmit image and sound simultaneously.

For older devices, there is usually also an analogue VGA output, but this is susceptible to interference with long cable connections. Particularly practical are the options of a WLAN connection and USB ports to be able to play media directly from an end device or storage medium. If there is no WLAN built into the projector, an additional adapter is required.

Operating volume

A simple rule applies here: the brighter the beamer, the louder the fan that has to cool the lamp. However, the noise can be reduced by switching on a power-saving mode. To enjoy a quiet film, beamers with a maximum volume of 30 decibels are recommended. For comparison: a whisper produces about 20 - 30 decibels.

Additional functions

A projector that can be used flexibly has a few very useful additional functions that can greatly simplify set-up and setup.

  • Lens Shift: If the projector cannot be pointed straight at the screen, the "lens shift" function is handy to shift the image either horizontally or vertically.
  • Keystone correction: If the image is displayed at an angle, the keystone correction helps to balance the image and make it appear square again.
  • Zoom: And if the distance to the screen is not suitable, a zoom can help. Beamers often have fixed optics, so it is worth looking for a projector with a zoom function. This can be found in the technical data and has a designation such as 1.2 - 1.6:1.

Decision: What types of projectors are there and which is the right one for you?

Depending on the purpose and location, there are different types of projectors that can meet your needs. To shed some light on this, we explain what types are available and where they can best be used. From small rooms to big screen cinemas, everything is possible depending on your budget!

Type of beamer Area of application
Mini beamer Thanks to the rechargeable battery, ideal for on the go, to briefly throw a presentation or a cinema film on the wall
Short-distance beamer Suitable for small rooms with too little distance to the projection surface or gaming
Full HD beamer The standard for every home cinema experience, for displaying any content on a wall or screen
3D projector With the appropriate shutter glasses, one of the best ways to finally experience gripping 3D content at home
4K projector Because of the high entry-level price, actually already in the professional range, because the image quality can hardly get much better with it

The following list gives you a rough overview of the projectors and their main features so that you can make the perfect purchase decision.

Mini-Beamer

Mini beamer

The mini beamer is usually so large that it fits in your pocket and can be taken anywhere. A rechargeable battery allows flexible working or watching films.

Advantages
  • High mobility and often battery-operated
  • Long life thanks to LED lights
  • Quiet in operation
Disadvantages
  • Low resolution
  • Not very bright, usually less than 500 lumens
  • Poor image quality
Kurzdistanz-Beamer

Short-throw projector

This type of projector is also called a short-throw projector and can produce sharp images at very short distances.

Advantages
  • projectors are also possible in small rooms
  • normal projectors can also be retrofitted in some cases
Disadvantages
  • Requires a flat projection surface, as woodchip wallpaper can cast shadows
  • projection ratio (or required distance from the wall) can vary greatly
Full HD-Beamer

Full HD beamer

Do you want to have your own home cinema? Then this type of projector is ideal, because with a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, both TV, DVD and Blu-ray films can be reproduced with pin-sharp clarity. If you want to save some money and only enjoy DVD or TV content, a projector with the native HD Ready resolution is sufficient. But be careful: make sure that it is a native resolution of 1080p.

Cheaper manufacturers often advertise beamers with “Supports Full HD”, which only means that this content can be played back. However, it does not mean that you will then also get Full HD on the screen!

Advantages
  • Many models available
  • very flexible in the playback of content such as TV, DVD, Blu-ray or streaming
Disadvantages
  • Expensive if only TV and DVD content is played back, as HD Ready resolution (720p) is sufficient for these
3D-Beamer

3D projector

As fast as technology has advanced, 3D projectors are now affordable. For 3D films, in addition to the so-called “shutter glasses” (which can be included with a device), a 3D-capable display device is also required. Because of the glasses, a high luminous intensity as well as a high contrast ratio and the use of a screen are absolutely recommended.

Advantages
  • Many models available
  • Can also play 2D content
Disadvantages
  • 3D function usually costs a little more than 2D_beamers only
  • Accessories such as glasses and appropriate player are required
4K-Beamer

4K projector

If you want the best of the best, you watch your content in native 4K. This type is still very expensive to purchase, but enables by far the best picture quality, provided a suitable device is available for playback. A glimmer of hope is offered by beamers with so-called pixel shift technology. Here, the projector has a lower native resolution, but can throw a 4K image on the wall using this technology and is thus significantly cheaper!

Advantages
  • Razor-sharp images
  • The seating distance can be very small
Disadvantages
  • Very expensive to buy
  • Not much 4K content and software support available yet
  • Pixel Shift technology offers similar results for the home user, at a lower price

Guide: Frequently asked questions about beamers answered in detail

Armed with all this information, it's time to answer the really important questions before buying a beamer.

What does a beamer cost?

Budget beamers can be had for a little less than 500 euros, with native 4K beamers starting at around 5000 euros. Beamers with a lower native resolution than 4K can still conjure up great images on the wall thanks to pixel shift technology.

Beamer-1

Beamers are available in many different price categories and transform every living room into a very personal cinema experience.
(Image source: 123rf.com/ dmitrimaruta)

To choose the right beamer at the right price, it therefore helps a lot to use the information above to form an opinion about what you really need and what you do not.

How bright should my projector be?

For a darkened room, values around 1500 - 2000 lumens are often recommended. If the projector is located (or hanging) in a lit living room, it must be 3000 lumens to produce a good image. Depending on the technology used, these values may vary slightly, as LCD projectors can shine brighter than those with LED lamps.

What should be the minimum contrast?

With a contrast value of 10,000:1, the brightest point is ten thousand times brighter than the darkest point. The higher the contrast, the sharper and richer the image.

Beamer-2

If a darkened room is available for the home cinema, a contrast value of 10,000:1 is usually recommended, but at least 5,000:1.
(Image source: 123rf.com/ Jackson)

If your projector is in a room with daylight, however, the contrast value plays a subordinate role. Rich black levels mean that the projector illuminates the dark surface as little as possible. If the room is a little lit, it is not so noticeable if the dark black is displayed a little brighter by the projector.

What resolution is recommended?

Most projectors have Full HD resolution, which makes them ideal for TV, DVD, Blu-ray and streaming playback. For standard-definition TV content and DVDs, HD Ready resolution is sufficient, so you can save some money on your projector purchase. A higher resolution such as native 4K is usually not recommended because the perceived quality is hardly any different compared to projectors with pixel shift technology and projectors are still very expensive.

How far does a projector need to be from the projection surface?

Many manufacturers already specify the optimal projection distance in the operating instructions. If not, you can find some practical calculators on the Internet in which the values of the room can be entered and the dimensions of the projection distance and the projection surface required can be determined. Many beamers are equipped with fixed optics.

If you find a zoom value in the technical specifications, such as 1.25 - 1.68:1, then a corresponding lens is installed. This means that for every 1.25 - 1.68 metres of projection distance, a projection surface of 1 metre in width is obtained, depending on how high the zoom factor is set.

An example Let's assume we have a screen with a width of 2 metres. If we now use a projector with a zoom value of 1.25 - 1.68:1, then we calculate 2 x 1.25 = 2.5 and 2 x 1.68 = 3.36. This means that the minimum distance is approx. 2.5 metres and the maximum distance approx. 3.36 metres to obtain an image width of 2 metres.

Also important is the optimum seating distance from the screen, which varies depending on the resolution. The higher the resolution of the image, the shorter the seating distance should be, as the pixels are no longer perceptible above a certain distance.

How long does the lamp of a projector last?

This depends on the technology used in a projector. With LCD and DLP lamps, you can assume a service life of about 3,000 operating hours. With LED lamps, this can even be up to 20,000 operating hours due to their efficiency and low heat generation.

The life of a lamp can also be extended by switching on energy-saving modes (e.g. Eco mode). This is important because a new lamp can cost between 80 and 300 euros, depending on the model.

Compressed air should not be used for cleaning, as the dust can damage the optics.

The maintenance and operating costs should therefore definitely be included in the price of the beamer! With LCD and DLP lamps, it is normal for the brightness to decrease even before they are replaced. Therefore, they can already be replaced when the brightness decreases and is no longer sufficient.

Important: After switching off the projector, it should not be disconnected from the power supply immediately, as the fans will speed up again and cool down the lamp. You should also make sure that your projector stays clean and that dust or other objects never block the ventilation slots, otherwise heat can build up.

What connections should a beamer have?

Depending on the equipment, a projector offers a variety of possible connections, which is why the most important ones are listed here.
Connection type Use
HDMI The most common standard for high-resolution image and sound transmission. With the new HDMI 1.4, even 3D content in full HD is possible
DisplayPort Similar to the HDMI standard, but can be installed without a licence. Has a snap-in function to prevent accidental disconnection.
USB Type C Also called Thunderbolt 3 and already used as a standard connection on many modern devices. With it, power, data and image transfers are possible at the same time and even faster than with USB 3.0.
USB Type A Usually used with beamers for external hard drives to play back images in JPEG format or, depending on the device, MS Office files.
Wireless Lan Via WLAN, a device can be connected wirelessly to the projector and thus play back images, presentations or videos, for example. If the projector supports the MHL function (Mobile High Definition Link) via a Miracast adapter, HD content can also be played back.
VGA The VGA connection is an analogue connection that can still be found on older devices such as TVs, PCs or laptops. It cannot transmit sound and video at the same time.

Where can I mount my beamer?

Beamers can either be set up normally or mounted on the ceiling. It is important to note which ceiling mounts are compatible. Ceiling mounting offers many advantages:

  • The projector only needs to be adjusted once and will most likely not be adjusted again. It can then be operated simply by remote control.
  • It saves a lot of space because the beamer no longer needs a fixed place on the floor and there is no longer a tangle of cables.
  • The noise of the fans is further away from the viewers, which makes enjoying a film much more pleasant.

The following options are available for mounting a beamer:

  • Universal mounts: These can be used on just about all beamers. What is important is the maximum weight that the projector is allowed to have.
  • Height-adjustable mounts: If your room only has fairly high ceilings, you can consider an adjustable mount to achieve the optimum height.
  • Electric mounts: If you want the room to look as clean as possible, a retractable mount is the best alternative, although by far the most expensive. This usually requires a professional to install the bracket in the ceiling.

What are the alternatives?

If you want to buy a beamer and create a real cinema experience, you need sufficient space for the screen and the necessary projection distance. If this is not available, there is always the alternative of a short-distance projector, which requires a screen for optimal reproduction.

If the homeowner does not allow the installation of a screen, or if the installation and maintenance costs are simply too great, then you should really consider a TV in a suitable size. TVs are usually cheaper to buy, require little maintenance and are less sensitive to ambient light.

Image source: Meprajum/ 123rf.com

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