Projector Purchasing 101

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

More than ever, churches are buying projectors. Projectors are finally affordable for the masses. Now, churches are not only buying projectors for the main worship center but also for the youth rooms, classrooms, boardrooms and every room in between!

There are so many questions you face when buying a projector – New or used? How bright? How big? Front or Rear? What format? What contrast ratio? Of course, this is just the start of it all!

Let’s take a look at some of the things you should consider when purchasing a projector.

New or Used?

The first question you might be asking yourself is whether you should buy new or used. There is no doubt there are many used video projectors on the market, but it is certainly ‘buyer beware’. When buying a used projector, keep in mind that a projector lumen count degrades as the projector ages. So, an original 6,000 lumen projector lamp that is rated at 2,000 hours and has been used for 800 hours is most likely closer to 4,500 lumens in brightness.

As the lamp is used, it diminishes in brightness over time. This is true with any projector. If this same projector has been used for 1400 hours, the image is going to be significantly less than the advertised 6,000 lumen intensity.

Another consideration with used projectors is the filter and overall condition of the projector. For instance, a church once had a projector mounted above the stage. During a VBS skit, a performer threw sand in the air – the fan sucked in the sand and saturated the insides of the projector. This caused the color balance to always be off – even after a thorough cleaning.

Likewise, if you are planning to put more than one projector in a room, it’s important that they match each other in brightness, color and image clarity. This is very difficult to achieve with two used projectors and especially difficult with two projectors of a different brand. If you are going to try to edge blend it’s even more crucial the projectors be of same brand and model.

With all that being said, sometimes it makes perfect sense to buy a used projector. There are some good deals out there. Sometimes people are upgrading to a brighter model, or a smaller unit. Of course, there are always people out there who believe “newer is better” and upgrade just to get the newest model. Some people have also upgraded to LCD or Plasma TV’s and no longer need the projector. So, as you can see there are a lot of reasons one might find a great deal in the used market.

How Much is the Lamp?

Regardless of whether you are purchasing new or used, one should always investigate the cost of a replacement lamp prior to buying any projector. Sometimes you will find that a projector lamp costs as much as the projector itself – usually making it less feasible to replace the lamp versus buying a new projector.

Does Size Matter?

Sometimes, the size of the projector matters and sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, if this is a projector you plan on toting around with you, you most likely want to find a small lightweight unit. However, if it’s going to be hung in the air and left in place this might be of less concern to you.

There are often compromises when buying lighter weight projectors. A smaller projector will often be less bright or more expensive – or sometimes both.

Like anything, you pay a premium for a smaller package. If size doesn’t matter to you then you are likely to save money on a larger, heavier unit.

Native Resolution and Aspect Ratio

Native resolution and aspect ratio are two important things to consider with your projector. The higher the resolution the more crisp the image and text will appear. Aspect ratio is also critical – if you plan to project on a 16:9 screen, make sure the projector you buy is native 16:9.

The native aspect ratio of the projector determines the actual size of the light projected from the projector. So, if you get a “deal” on a 4:3 projector, but plan to project 16:9 you might have some compromises with the image. For instance, if you are front-projecting you might see gray bars above and below the screen in low-light conditions. This is because the projector is literally projecting a 4:3 image, but is digitally presenting a 16:9 image (in other words – the image is cropped but the actual light path is not). Therefore, the projector (which most likely can’t project a true black) presents a lighter-than-black (gray) overspill above and below the 16:9 screen.

A true 16:9 projector has 16:9 image sensor – so the actual image is the size of the screen. Therefore, no image spill occurs. This effect is usually less noticed with rear projection since the audience doesn’t usually see above and below the screen. However, if the screen is suspended in air without any type of border around it, the overspill could become an issue in rear projection as well.

How Bright?

Everyone always wants to know – “How bright does my projector need to be – and what is a lumen anyway?”

First, know that all projectors are not created equal. Manufacturers test the brightness of their projectors in different ways. So, not all projectors will appear as bright as others that claim to have the same amount of lumens. So, the lumen is a general ballpark measurement of brightness.

You will most likely see many charts online that use broad terms such as “medium bright”, “bright”, and “very bright”. There are more specific ways of determining how many lumens you need by using a light meter and a few formulas, however these go beyond the scope of this article. However, the best way to know if the projector is right for you is to actually see the projector in your room.

Don’t underestimate brightness. A dull or faint image says a lot about your environment. From people having to strain to see the image all the way to people disengaging because the image is not helpful.

Contrast Ratio

Often not considered, contrast ratio is an important factor to take into account. The higher the contrast ratio the darker your blacks will be and the whiter your whites will be. This in turn affects how vivid your video images are.

For an application where you are showing videos (such as your worship center) a high contrast ratio is important. If you have a PowerPoint presentation in a small classroom, the contrast might not be as important to you.

Poor projection says something about you. A poor image (be it not bright enough, out of focus, improper color balance, or any other problem) hinders you in conveying your message.

Front or Rear Projection?

This is a question almost everyone will face at some point. Generally speaking, front projection is easier and requires less real estate. However, rear projection has a nice streamlined look and can allow you to get a slightly less-bright projector since the image is not being reflected and all the light energy is directly shining through the screen.

There are many factors to take into account with both. Perhaps the biggest downfall to rear projection is the sheer amount of space required behind the screen. Ideally, this area needs to be a complete tunnel – that means that the area from the projector lens all the way to the screen itself is encased so light cannot penetrate. You only want the light from the projector hitting the screen. Any ambient light from behind will be detrimental to the image.
Rear projection also tends to have a hot-spot in the image where the light is actually focused. This can be annoying if the problem is exaggerated.

Front projection, however means that you are most likely going to see the projector hanging from the ceiling or clinging to some sort of shelf on a side or back wall. It’s one more thing “cluttering” the area. Also, since front projection works off reflected light, the projector typically needs to be brighter than one that is being used for rear projection. With front projection also comes the question of maintenance. It can be difficult to reach a projector to clean filters, replace bulbs, or replace/repair cables.

Many Houses of Worship find they have no choice but to front project while others make the decision to dedicate the space and resources needed for the streamlined rear-projection look.


The big question – HD or SD. Clearly this is a hot topic right now, and ultimately it depends on your specific application. The strongest recommendation is to only project a 16:9 widescreen image. This way, if you are using SD now and decide to upgrade to HD later your screens are already the right format. Also, the consumer sees 16:9 and automatically assumes “High Definition”.

There are many great cameras out there that can shoot 16:9 SD and look great for IMAG (image magnification). So, if you are strictly doing IMAG with lyrics and video playback, Standard Definition Widescreen might save you a ton of dough and achieve the mission at the same time. Many events that are not being recorded are done this way and the audience is none-the-wiser.

However, if you are planning to record your content and make it available for purchase later on, making the move to HD might be the way to go. While you will still be producing HD and SD versions for sale, having your stock footage in HD format for use later on will be invaluable.

There are also hybrid solutions that allow you to integrate HD with SD. This allows you to slowly make the move from one format to the other over time.
Regardless of what you choose, gone are the days of the old 4:3 almost square looking image. Widescreen is hands down the way to go. If you agree with this advice, make sure your projectors are native widescreen resolutions as mentioned above. Also, you might want to invest in a projector that is capable of HD resolutions – that’s one less thing you’ll have to upgrade down the road as you switch from SD to HD.

The best rule of thumb when buying a projector is to TRY IT OUT whenever possible. People are always asking, “How bright should I buy”. While there are formulas that help you figure this out, most of the information you find on the internet is based off very relative terms like “medium bright”, “bright”, “very bright”. That’s only helpful to an extent.

When it comes to actually spending your ministry dollars on a projector it’s always best to see it perform in your specific application. Then there is no doubt what you are getting. If you insist on purchasing without seeing it first make sure there is a good return policy if you aren’t happy.

Final Thoughts

As with everything, think about your application. If you can save money and it doesn’t affect your overall goals, then do so. If a conference room has a lot of ambient light, and you really need a super bright projector, then get it. But if that same conference room can dim the lights and the presentations are within members of the church only, then perhaps you can get a less expensive projector and still achieve the necessary goals of the room.

Remember that every ministry dollar saved is a ministry dollar that can be spent elsewhere. But, by the same token, every ministry dollar “saved” by making an inadequate purchase is really a ministry dollar wasted that will then have to be spent again (usually with more ministry dollars) soon down the road. So, a smart buy is a good buy.

Ministry is all about relationships. Even with technology, it’s ultimately still about people. Making strong relationships with local vendors and treating them well is a great way to minister in your community. When it comes to something like a projector, having a solid relationship with a local vendor that can bring it out and let you demo the unit prior to buying goes a long way in making a smart purchase. While you might save a few bucks buying from a distant “box-seller” you might save a whole lot more than money with good solid relationships built on integrity and trust.