The drama of a projected image can help convey your message. Used pragmatically, projectors can show the highest quality image detail with exact calibrated colors and convey a message to a massive — or private — audience. They can also save space and be portable. Used like digital signage, projectors can project animated and interactive graphics or logos to make your venue, message, or advertisement look polished.
There is no de facto projector that does-it-all because every install is different. Depending on your use, the model, specifications, and price will vary. Projector prices range from $250 to $250,000, so start by knowing your budget limitations. Here are some basic terms and explanations to help along the way.
Projectors use zoom or fixed lenses. Zoom Lenses have a zoom ratio that determines image size and throw distance. A fixed lens does not zoom. Instead, the projected image size is determined by the projector’s distance from the screen. The lens choice depends on the application and the distance the projector needs to be from the screen. Lenses and throw distance go hand-in-hand. Many inexpensive (below $10K) projectors ship with a lens, whereas higher-end projectors have a bevy of lenses from which to choose from, depending on your throw distance and application.
How far will the projector be from the screen? Will it hang behind the audience? Will it sit on a conference table? Will it hide in a cabinet in the corner of the room? Will it face down or hang at an angle? Find the projector and lens that will work by knowing your throw distance. Projectors project — or throw — light onto the screen, so a longer throw distance requires a brighter projector. Consider the zoom of the lens in order to get the proper image size. Lenses and projectors can be split up into long and short throw, depending on the distance the projector will be from the screen. There are several easy-to-use throw distance calculators provided by manufacturers to calculate the lens required, projector distance, and screen size.
Lumens refers to the measurement of light output from the projector, or you can think of it as the brightness of a projector. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the projector — the brighter the room, the more lumens you need. If you are in a bright, sunlit room, where you cannot control the light, you need a projector with a couple thousand lumens or more. If you are in a large auditorium where you have a long throw distance and large screen to fill, you will need a 4000+ lumen projector. A 5000+ lumen projector in a bright, small room, with a small screen may be blindingly bright. Every application varies. If you have a lower lumen projector, you can use a screen with a different gain to up the brightness, too. Lumens is sometimes stated as ANSI lumens. ANSI (which stands for the American National Standards Institute), sets the brightness standard. Also, depending on your application, a projector with less lumens may be a better fit.
The higher the contrast ratio, the better depth of color reproduction. Contrast ratio is basically the measurement of the brightest white to the darkest black. Contrast ratio is stated a couple different ways: as contrast ratio (sometimes stated dynamic contrast ratio) and as native contrast ratio. You will see a spec like “50,000:1,” Try to compare the native contrast ratios, as that is a more realistic measurement.
Being able to control the projector is important. Having Internet protocol (IP), RS-232C, or local area network (LAN) control of the unit will allow you to easily integrate the projector into your system. If you are adding a control system to the install, having these ports on the projector are imperative. Also, having a control system may help reduce your energy costs and extend the lamp life by having master control monitoring and being able to turn equipment off after hours. Some products still draw current in the standby mode, so check with your installer about the best option for you.
Cost of ownership is an important consideration when choosing a projector. Inquire about lamp life and lamp replacement cost. You should be able to determine a cost per lamp hour. A convenient lamp life is 3000 hours. Also, depending on the install, you may have a difficult time changing out the lamp. Can you do this yourself? It may behoove you to set up a lamp replacement contract with your installer. Be aware of this cost when deciding on a projector. In addition, the more hours on your lamp, the dimmer the light output. If your image is critical, you may only use the first half of the lamp life before you swap it out.
Types of Projectors
Your installer may ask you what type of projector you want to install. Usually, they will know just by the description of your room and your budget, but so you are not caught off-guard, here are some explanations to help guide you:
If the venue or auditorium is large, you need a large venue projector. Some applications will require a more expensive $40,000+ unit and will need to be brighter (6000+ lumens) because the projector will probably hang at the back of the audience. Other applications will require a simpler large venue projector. Prices can range from $2500 to $250,000, depending on application and budget, but expect to spend at least $15,000 for a reasonable large venue projector. Rear projection applications could also qualify here, but space is a consideration.
Projecting an image from behind, onto a screen. This takes up space behind the screen, but it is a very effective way to install and maintain the projector. You need a different kind of screen for this type of projection.
Using a projector as a communication or learning tool is becoming a norm. From 3D surgeries, to advertisements, to training and classrooms, to boardrooms, high quality projectors can show details and depth of colors in a critical image. In the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport, Travelers Insurance uses interactive projectors in their umbrella advertisement. Three projector screens of umbrellas are on a 40-foot wall, and when you walk in front of them, the umbrella breaks apart, drawing your attention to it. Combining the projector with a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) security camera, the image animation is triggered when people pass. It’s a very effective way of garnering attention.
Today, there are two types of 3D projectors, active and passive. Depending on source material, you may need active 3D (which uses the more expensive glasses ($50+) and delivers full HD to each eye), or passive 3D (which uses inexpensive glasses and splits the HD signal). Each 3D technology has its own positive benefits. Although in its infancy, there are also applications where dozens of projectors are used to produce an autostereoscopic (glasses-free) image.
Traditionally, IMAG (Image Magnification) is used as a large, projected backdrop for an on-stage presentation in a large venue. IMAG is perhaps the most dramatic way to use projectors, yet, if used properly, the audience doesn’t even notice them — the audience notices or hears the message.
There are several 4K projectors in the marketplace. Used for large or critical viewing installs, they have a higher price point, but project four times the resolution of high definition. For graphic applications, medical, or critical image viewing, 4K projectors can be essential. Also, for an IMAG or larger application, it may be worth the cost to buy 4K projectors for new installs. You can either produce 4K graphics or basically upconvert HD footage to 4K.
A pico projector is a small, sometimes palmed-sized category of portable projectors. These tiny, pocket projectors start at around $200; you can use a pico projector with a cell phone — either built-in or as an add-on. The pico technology is amazing: it fits the light source into a tiny box, although it is sometimes as dim as 15 lumens. Pico projectors are perfect for a portable, business, ad-hoc or odd install scenario.
Screens are an ever-changing topic today. Depending on your application, screens can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, or you can build one. The latest screen technology includes automatic or motorized, rear projection, hidden, high-end curved screens, 3D, different aspect ratios, outdoor, waterproof, inflatable, electric, manual, and portable floor screens.
There are a few screens that will help images pop in bright, sunlit rooms—even if the projector has a lower lumens spec. Depending on the projector and your application, the screen will vary. Images are also projected onto curved surfaces, walls, and floors serving as “screens.” There are also new, spray-on “screens” that do the job. For a lower-end installation, expect to spend at least $2500 on a good, fixed screen. Depending on the application, you may need a motorized, automated roll-up screen, which starts at a $3500 for a respectable one. If the job requires a $13,000+ projector and your images are critical, you need to spend the money on a better screen ($3500+). Try not to compromise on the screen just to save money, but if you are on a very tight budget, you could always frame out and paint a piece of sheetrock.
Finally, the support and safety of your projector installation is so important. Using the proper mount is imperative to any install because the full weight of the projector and lens must be supported. Each projector mount has a weight rating and the stability of the mount will keep the image from wobbling and your audience safe.
Your systems integrator or custom installer can help you find the best option for your projector install; this cannot be stressed enough. Your installer usually has decades of experience, so learn from them. They are trained and certified by manufacturers to help you find the best projector option. It is important to have a good relationship with an integrator you trust.
Since each application is different, you may not need the same model projector for each room in your facility. Each room can have a different projector to fit the room’s needs (and your budget). Integrators have access to different brands and models of projectors, lenses, screens and automation control.