HOW TO FIND THE BEST OUTDOOR PROJECTOR FOR YOU
Choosing the best out door theater projector can feel quite daunting. We like to keep tech speak to a minimum (thank goodness!), so we can all get clear answers to common back yard cinema questions in relation to our projectors.
All of us outdoorsy folk chose an outdoor cinema to relax and have an easy set up that can suit our lifestyle. So luckily we don't have as many restrictions that come with an indoor home cinema. However...it'd still be pretty great to get a projector that is capable of handling whatever we throw at it.
Here we will give you the low down on the top 7 key projector features that will help you avoid that technology melt down. Handy tips along the way will guide you to get the best outdoor projector for your needs that is also compatible for indoor use, so let's go!
1. Types of Projector Technology
To get the best video projector for you, it's a great idea to begin with looking at what type of technology they use. Each has it's pros and cons, offering different budget ranges and compatible environments.
Initially they can be broken down into 2 types: transmissive or reflective. Transmissive projectors pass the light through LCD panels rather than reflecting it away. Reflective DLP projectors bounce the light using mirrors. Another option are LED projectors, which are not a type of projector technology but known for its light source.
Here, we will list the advantages and disadvantages of LED, DLP and LCD projectors, and how they may best suit your intended outdoor projection environment.
HOW DO LCD PROJECTORS WORK?
Liquid Crystal Display or LCD are made up of lots of miniscule panels of different opacities. Light then passes through them much like a negative passing through light and dark areas of a photograph to then create the image. In commonly used 3 LCD technology, a white beam of light is passed through mirrors that reflect at different wavelengths, such as red, blue and green. Each beam is fed to an LCD panel which is then given signals on how to arrange the pixels into an image. Up to 16.7 million colours offering different hues are then able to create a beautiful crisp projection capable of still or moving imagery.
LCD projectors may be more suited if you have space to play with. This is because their zoom lens and longer throwing distance can make the most of the size of your space, compared to many DLP projectors which do not have these capabilities.
Great for larger spaces needing a longer projection distance and zoom capabilities
More light efficient than DLP, will produce a brighter image with the same wattage lamp
Less expensive than DLP as they have no moving parts
Can degrade over time depending on how much use it gets
Don't have as high a contrast ratio to DLP, dark colors tend to be a little lighter
General maintance is needed as dust particles can interfere with image quality
HOW DO DLP PROJECTORS WORK?
Digital Light Processing or DLP systems either use a 1 chip or 3 chip system. These are much more sophisticated than LCD or LED and offer an incredibly crisp and detailed image used in large cinematic venues. Up to 2 million microscopic mirrors reflect and place the pixels much closer together giving a higher contrast and clarified image.
Smaller venues such as home cinemas and business rooms use a 1 chip DLP system. White light passes through a color filter causing a wider array of colors than an LCD to shine in sequence onto the DLP chip. The sequence of the mirrors switching on and off create the blend of colors resulting in a full color image being projected.
The largest venues use a 3 chip system. A white beam of light passes through a prism, each chip is then dedicated to each color, red, blue and green. The micro mirrors can then reflect up to 35 trillion colors combining and creating the projected image.
Smaller and more portable than LCD projectors
Sealed optics means they are safer from dusty environments
Higher contrast ratios
May use more electricity and produce more heat
Reduced viewing angle
Can suffer from 'rainbow effect' showing flashes of colour on high contrast areas, such as bright colour on dark backgorunds
The higher contrast ratio within a DLP projectors image may be more suitable for a yard with a higher amount of ambient light. However, it is ideal that you reduce the direct light as much as possible, and alter your viewing times to avoid sunset.
How do LED projectors work?
Light Emitting Diode or LED projectors generally work exactly the same as an LCD or DLP projectors. Some DLP projectors are in fact LED with 'solid state illumination' technology, replacing the color wheel with red ,blue and green LEDs shining directly onto the chip and reducing the rainbow effect. The only real difference is that that standard lamp that is used is replaced with an LED. Some LED projectors have a 20,000 hour bulb life, meaning it should last the projectors entire life span without being replaced.
Longer life than traditional lamps
LEDs offer a truer white light that can reproduce more colors than other projectors
Energy efficient and quieter as they do not need to offer as much protection to users from a hot bulb, or require as much cooling airflow space.
Can be more expensive than DLP and LCD projectors.
Have a much lower light output rating, with a brightness ranging from 300 to 500 lumens
Although LED projectors run at similar prices to LCD and DLP, the bulbs are very expensive to replace if broken.
LED projectors are best used in a very dark environment to use their full potential, so ultimately may not be the best choice for an outdoor cinema.
2. Throw Distance
Your projectors throw distance describes the distance between the lens and the screen. This determines where your projector may sit and your screen size within your space to give you the best focused screen. These can vary between models and it's important to note this before you buy as it can also effect the size screen you buy.
A zoom lens is incredibly handy when your projector isn't fixed to one spot. Because you'll be moving your projector in and out of your yard, a zoom lens will allow you more flexibility. Instead of having to physically move your projector back and forth to fit your screen, your zoom lens will do this for you. However, avoid relying on this too heavily as it can affect the quality of your image.
Short/Ultra Short Throw
A short throw projector is great if you have a small yard but don't want to compromise on a small screen. Generally, a short throw projector measures less than 1:1, for example 0.6:1. Some need as little space as 4 inches to project a screen with a 50" diameter! However, they need a very flat screen so a wall or smooth sturdy surface will be best.
Long throw projectors tend to need at least 6 feet of space to produce a 100" screen, but however can produce the largest screen sizes. These projectors are best suited to larger yards (obviously!) and have a larger array of adjustments, such as vertical and horizontal keystone. Ultimately, if you plan on moving your projector through different spaces, this is a better choice for you.
The higher your video projectors resolution, the higher the amount of pixels. This is a great thing as the more pixels you have means greater detail and clarity in your image.
The numbers in your resolution stand for the amount of pixels from top to bottom and from left to right. For example 1024 x 768. The pixel density is these two numbers multiplied, giving you the overall amount of pixels within your image. This would be 786,432. With the newest resolution of 4K on the market, you're able to get incredible cinema worthy quality at home. Here are some key terms to know when choosing your resolution.
A projectors native resolution is what was described above. It is the highest amount of pixels your projector is capable of producing.
This describes the resolution signal coming from the video you are trying to play. If this is much higher than your projectors native resolution it will not be able to process it.
This term is used when your native resolution does not match your videos resolution. In this instance most projectors have zoom capabilities to adjust the scaling and focus the image. By shrinking the image from a video with a higher resolution, this results in a softer image as some of pixels have to overlap in order to be processed correctly. When the video source has a lower resolution to your projector, the image must be blown up which causes pixelation and affects any subtitles you may have.
854 x 480 pixels
Also known as 480p
One of the smallest versions compatible with HD viewing, although quality is much lower.
800 x 600 pixels
480,000 native resolution
Intended for standard formatting screens of 4:3
Significantly low pixel density, best suited for projecting graphs and text
1024 X 768 pixels
786,432 native resolution
Intended for standard formatting screens of 4:3
High definition projection
Low to fair prices for dramatically increased quality to SVGA
1280 x 800 pixels
1,024,000 native resolution
Also known as 720p
Widescreen capabilities are highly compatible with DVDs and Blu-Ray discs
1280 x 1024 pixels
1,311,000 native resolution
One of the highest resolutions, impressive detailed quality
Must use video material with similar resolution or pixels (and ultimately your cash) will be wasted.
1920 x 1080 pixels
2,073,600 native resolution
Also known as 1080p
Incredibly high quality and detailed images.
Suitable for very large screens and venues
To summarize, it's important to get a projector with a similar resolution to your intended projected material. The higher quality this is then the further you will be able to throw your projection, a longer throw distance is suitable for larger yards and screens.
Similar to adjusting your lenses zoom functions to focus an image, other set up stages such as key stoning is crucial to get the correct proportions in your image.
Within your set up menu there are options to alter your projections aspect ratio from its native aspect ratio. However, this will result in shrinking your image adding black bars which is not making the most of your optimal screen size.
Try to match your projectors native aspect ratio to your screens aspect ratio, this will use the optimal amount of screen space and avoid any nasty black bars or blank space. You can do this by choosing a ratio that most of your viewing material is in.
Key Stone Correction
If you aren't able to face your projector at a perpendicular angle to its projection surface, key stoning comes in to fix this. This can happen if your yard is an unusual shape or your screen is much higher or lower than your projector. This feature alters your angled projection from a trapezoid shape back to its usual rectangular viewing shape.
Some projectors have digital keystone correction to cut out manually setting your screen up to its surface. This is a super handy and easy function, however, it can have its downsides. This feature uses digital scaling meaning it can reduce or cut off parts of your image in order to square it off, it also can reduce your amount of lumens as it's shrinking your image to less than its native resolution.
4. Image Position & Adjustment
The brightness of your projector is measured in lumens and allows you to easily compare them to other projectors on the market. Projectors with a high lumen rating can handle ambient light much better, however, this does not specifically mean that more is better. And generally, the more lumens, the higher the price.
Usually, it is difficult to notice the difference in brightness with slightly varying lumen measurements. As a general rule, between 2,000 and 3,000 lumens are more suited for environments with a high amount of light. And a medium amount of ambient light should use a projector of atleast 1,500 lumens. However, this suggestion is based on indoor environments so it is good to ask yourself a few questions before deciding on this.
How much ambient light is there within my projection space?
Because you are projecting outdoors, there will inevitably be a lot of ambient light. If you can reduce this is much as possible, the better quality your image will be. Co ordinate your screening to avoid sunset/sunrise and avoid direct sunlight onto your screen. If possible position your screen to have as much shade as possible.
The brighter your environment is then the higher amount of lumens you will need to get a strong image. On the other hand, combating ambient light with extreme projector brightness can cause eyestrain if in a darker environment and also cut down the lamp life much quicker.
What is my projection screens gain?
The gain of your projection screen describes how reflective the surface is. You may have a high lumen projector but your surface may reflect back less light. This means you'll be wasting money on lumens that you aren't able to use. The higher the gain, the better contrast it will have against ambient light. However, the higher the gain the narrower your viewing angle is.
How far away would the furthest audience member sit?
If your furthest audience member is a considerable distance from the screen, you should consider a higher brightness. This is because your projectors light will be travelling further to create a larger screen. Hence it will need to be more powerful to generate a bold image.
Am I using a painted wall as a screen?
A painted wall using standard paint or specialist projection paint will typically have a gain of 1:0. Meaning the light projected onto it will project back at the same brightness. Considering this within an outdoor environment, it will offer you quite a low brightness and a projector with more lumens may be more suitable for a crisper image.
Sometimes, projector manufacturers measure their lumens on data output rather than video. A videos brightness is typically not as bright, this is something to consider. Maybe choosing more lumens so that you can adjust your brightness accordingly will be more suited to you if you'd like to get the best image possible on a higher budget.
6. Contrast Ratio
Your projectors contrast ratio describes how well it can contrast the lightest colors to its darkest. Ideally, the higher the contrast ratio spec, the better it is at combating ambient light and showing a higher level of detail within your video. However, pay close attention to the two most common ways to measure this which are called 'full on/off' and 'ANSI'.
Full on/off measurements are considerably larger than ANSI measurements, and can also be inaccurate. ANSI has a much smaller and accurate measurement but unfortunately is not as commonly used in projectors specifications.
This measures the ratio of brightness between a solid white (full on) and a solid black (full off). A contrast ratio of 10,000:1 describes the white as being 10,000 brighter than the black.
This instead uses a check board pattern of 8 white rectangles and 8 black rectangles. The brightness values of the white are averaged and then the brightness of the black are averaged. This is then shown within ratio form, massively lower than a full on/off reading.
Try to look out for an ANSI measurement in your projectors specifications. This will be much more accurate at describing the projectors contrast ratio if you are shopping online and unable to physically compare your projector choices.
Lastly, what do plan on playing your movies from? A DVD player? USB stick? Laptop? An analog or VGA connection is usually standard on most projectors, but the preferred connection is HDMI. Many laptops and DVD players have this connection port and this offers the smoothest connection for video projection.
Messy cables? No thanks.
Some projectors also now offer Wi-Fi connectivity through a plug in dongle into a USB port on your projector. This would nicely remove any messy cables, but providing that you stay within close range of your Wi-Fi adapter for the best signal strength.
USB ports also offer the opportunity to plug in Fire TV Sticks and many more. Just make sure to note when buying that your projector has a full sized USB port rather than a mini, commonly used for mouse plug ins.
Alternatively, you can download your movies onto a USB stick or mini hard drive and plug this straight into your projector. However, if you're planning on streaming your movies from an online source it may be easier to use a laptop or something similar to a Sky Box.
Hopefully, we've managed to feed you bite size chunks on our 7 easy tips on buying an outdoor video projector. Buying the best outdoor projector is totally unique to your environment. And if you've managed to choose a model that can handle the harsh outdoor environment, using it indoors too will be a doddle.
Types of Resolutions
Now we will list the different types of resolutions and which scenario they are best used in. Although there are several different types of resolutions, they are not all suitable for projecting TV shows and movies. However, we will give you a varied list for comparison.
What is pixel density? How do I know my throw distance? And what is the contrast ratio anyway?
IMAGE BY HITACHI
IMAGE BY EPSON
1920 x 1080
1280 x 720
640 x 480