Good choice if you want a theater-like experience at home, with the largest picture available.
Common screen sizes. The projector has a 9x12-inch or larger footprint. You need a separate screen (typically 70 to 200 inches diagonally).
Typical selling prices. $800 and up for a 1080p HD model, a bit less for a 720p projector. There are a few new 3D models that cost $1,500 and up. You'll need to budget several hundred dollars to $1,000 for a screen, depending on size and type (fixed or retractable, manual or motorized, for example).
Key points. You can get top picture quality from a projector, especially a 1080p model, and you're not locked into a specific screen size as you are with an LCD or plasma set. You can vary the picture size from about 50 to 200 inches by moving the projector closer to or farther away from a screen or wall and using the zoom control. Make sure you buy a model with a recommended placement range that will give you the size image you want. To get TV programming, you must connect an external tuner, such as a cable or satellite box, to the projector. For movies, you can hook up a Blu-ray or DVD player. You generally have to provide an amplifier or A/V receiver and speakers, because most projectors don't have built-in audio capability. 3D-capable projectors may arguably provide the most exciting 3D experience.
While projectors are great for movie night or major sporting events, they aren't the best choice for typical, everyday viewing. Any light that falls on the screen reduces contrast and washes out the picture, so your best bet is a dark room. Use blackout window shades for daytime viewing, and at night, turn off light from nearby lamps.
The need to add a screen and speakers increases the cost and complexity of set-up. If you mount the projector, be sure to place it at the distance recommended by the manufacturer, angled to prevent the rectangular shape of the image from being distorted. Projectors with a vertical and/or horizontal lens shift give you more placement flexibility; those without a lens shift have to be mounted or placed so that their image is centered on the screen to avoid using the keystone adjustment, which can distort the picture.
In our tests, we used a 110-inch screen ($400) with a matte-white viewing surface 4 1/2 feet high by 8 feet wide. Screens with reflective finishes designed to enhance brightness (called gain) might have a narrower viewing angle than a matte screen. So-called dark screens are designed to enhance contrast by improving black levels, but they take a small hit in brightness. Freestanding screens can be stored when not in use; some wall- or ceiling-mounted screens can be manually or electronically retracted.
In general, LCD projectors haven't been as good as DLP models at reproducing true black, but some new LCD models do well. LCoS projectors are becoming more common, and some are outstanding, though typically a bit more expensive than other types. With a DLP front projector, you may experience the "rainbow effect," a flash of color some viewers notice mainly when they move their eyes across bright objects on a dark background. It isn't obvious to everyone, but once noticed, it can be annoying. Many newer DLP projectors use faster-spinning color wheels, which can reduce the effect. All DLP projectors using a single chip are affected. Only the most expensive DLP units with three chips don't have this issue. A projector's bulb typically needs replacement every 2,000 to 3,000 hours or so. We have no data on reliability of front projectors.