Home Cinema Guide
Setting up your own home cinema has never been as easy or affordable as it is now.
However, projectors tend to be optimised either for PC use or for home cinema, and very few truly excel at both. So if youre considering investing, its worth knowing what to look out for in a brilliant home cinema projector and not trying to make a seemingly Decently-specced professional projector do the job.
In this guide we've discussed the most important factors you need to consider when making your choice.
The most common resolution for home cinema projectors at present is 1080p (1920 horizontal pixels x 1080 vertical pixels) but you can go higher.
Why would you want to? Well, the higher the resolution, the higher the number of pixels that are displayed and therefore the sharper the image. This is very important as the screen size gets larger and you compare pixels per inch. HD projectors are those that deliver 1080p, but the pinnacle of home cinema quality is 4K, where on most screen sizes the image will be smooth and you won’t see the individual pixels at all.
A higher resolution will also result in better picture quality from high definition sources such as Blu-Ray, Xbox One, PS4 and Sky HD and 4K UHD sources such as SKY Q. But is 4K resolution that much better than standard resolution? The simple answer is yes.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that what you are watching (your source material) will make a big difference to the quality of your projected image.
High quality sources are best viewed on projectors that do justice to high definition source material. Basically, if you’re investing in 4K content such as Blu-Ray or some streamed television content, then it’s worth considering an investment in a 4K Projector to get the most out of what you’re paying for.
There a number of other factors to consider here, such as compression and upscaling.
So, resolution is the big one. But what else do you need to factor into your purchase decision?
How about contrast ratio? This is the ratio between the white and black areas in an image. The larger the contrast ratio of a projector, the greater the difference between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks a projector can deliver. In practice, higher contrast ratios mean a better image with a greater degree of perceptible depth.
A contrast ratio of 1,000:1 would imply that the black level is 1,000 times darker than the white. You might wonder why black has any brightness at all. The answer lies in the fact that blacks from projectors are the absence of projected light, so they can only ever be as dark as the ambient room they’re in. Then there’s the added factor of light "leakage", which all projectors emit to some degree. A higher contrast ratio implies that there is less light leakage and a higher level of projected brightness, which means your image, appears less faded.
Increasing standards and rapid evolutions in technology in recent years have seen home cinema projectors easily reach contrast ratios of over 200,000:1. Some of the best home cinema projectors even reach contrast ratios of an incredible 1,000,000:1, such as the native 4K resolution.
The one thing that really kills contrast ratio is ambient light. The ideal room for a home cinema is absolute pitch black with non-reflective fabrics. This is unlikely to be the scenario, which does bring into question the validity of contrast ratios as a spec point, which is measured in lab conditions.
Projector Brightness is not a huge issue for home cinema fans with a dedicated dark room, but its worth a mention for those scenarios where the room may be multi-purpose or suffer from ambient light leakage. Brightness is measured in lumens and for dedicated home cinema projectors it typically ranges from 1,000 – 2,500 lumens, with most products sitting between 1,800 and 2,400 lumens.
The important thing to remember here is that brightness is not king when it comes to home cinema - to get a real ‘cinema feel’ you should focus on how you can reduce the amount of ambient light hitting the screen before you consider brightness as a criteria in your projector purchase.
If there is a high level of ambient light in your home cinema room or you do not plan to have controlled lighting then you will need a higher lumen projector, while for low-level ambient light, up to 2,000 lumens should be more than sufficient. In a controlled environment (blackout blinds or heavy lined curtains and controlled lighting pointed away from the screen) anything from 1,000 lumens upwards will be more than adequate.
Sometimes, higher brightness projectors, with lower contrast ratios may produce a better picture in certain ambient conditions. If the room is bright, the projector is not determining the black level, so the brighter the image is then the bigger the perceived contrast.
Projector & Projection Screen Format
Where you can make a real difference in your home cinema is with the addition of a projector screen. The best projector screen for your setup will be determined by the format and aspect ratio of the image your projector displays.
When we talk about 16:9 or 16:10 projectors or projection screen formats, we're talking about the rectangular shape of the image or screen, or what's more commonly known as its aspect ratio. The “standard" signal that's been around since the 1950s has an aspect ratio of 4:3, which in layman's terms means the picture is four units wide for every three units of height. Meanwhile, the new HDTV standard is 16:9, which equates to 16 units of width for every nine units of height.
Typically the native aspect ratio of the home cinema projectors we sell is 16:9 or 16:10, so when buying a projection screen you will want to match it to a 16:9 or 16:10 format. However, it is worth noting that you can still watch 4:3 content on 16:9 or 16:10 home cinema projector screen, all that happens is you will see some small black bars alongside the image as a consequence.
Projector Screen Size
So you know which format projector screen you want but what about the size? Keep in mind that bigger does not necessarily mean better. If you have ever sat in the front row of a cinema and walked out with a stiff neck, you'll know what we mean. Large screens and over-bright projectors can also cause eye strain.