Full HD or 4K? DLP or LCD? Buying a projector can be overwhelming for beginners. But if you know the right resolution for your future projector, you have already overcome the biggest hurdle. However, “the more the better” is the wrong approach. We tell you why and how to find the perfect projector for you:
Currently relevant resolutions for projectors
For a long time, resolutions like SVGA (800 x 600 pixels, 4:3 format) and later XGA (1024 x 768 pixels, 4:3 format) were considered sufficient. Projectors with these pixel specifications now only fall into the absolute entry-level class and are not really suitable for a pleasant, contemporary display of content.
WXGA (1280×800 pixels, 16:9 format) and HD Ready (120×720 pixels, 16:9 format) can also be considered obsolete. But: Devices with these resolutions can be suitable for business applications such as presentations in the office and for beginners who rarely want to project anything on the wall.
For more frequent use and certain requirement, you should use projectors with higher resolutions. Recommended are:
|Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels, 16:9 format)||Home theater (Full HD streaming, Blu-ray), game consoles up to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch|
|WUXGA (1920 x 1200 pixels, 16:10 format)||Professional business applications|
|4K/UHD (2840 x 2160 pixels, 16:9 format)||High-end home theater (4K streaming, UHD Blu-ray player) and current consoles such as Xbox One Series X, PlayStation 5|
The scope of application determines the resolution of the projector
Of course, it’s tempting to jump straight into a 4K projector to have the latest and possibly the best. If you only watch your DVD collection through your old DVD player, you may not be happy with the result. Something similar happens when you want to hang your retro 90s game consoles on the living room wall.
Tip: Pay attention to the maximum resolution of your sources, i.e. the devices you want to connect to the projector. Ideally, the correct resolution of your player is the same as the resolution of the projector.
Some examples for orientation:
|Nintendo SNES||Up to 512 x 480 pixels|
|DVD||576i (1024 x 576 pixels)|
|Sony Playstation 2||576i (1024 x 576 pixels, interpolated) or 480p (640 x 480 pixels, native)|
|Microsoft Xbox 360||1080p (1980×1080 pixels)|
|Nintendo Wii U||1080p (1980×1080 pixels)|
|Nintendo Switch||1080p (1980 x 1080 pixels, docking station)|
|Sony Playstation 4||1080p (1980×1080 pixels)|
|Blu-ray player||1080p (1980×1080 pixels)|
|Microsoft Xbox One X||4K (3840 x 2160 pixels)|
|Sony PlayStation 4 Pro||4K (3840 x 2160 pixels)|
|Microsoft Xbox Series S||1440p (2560×1440 pixels)|
|Sony Playstation 5||4K (3840 x 2160 pixels)|
|Microsoft Xbox Series X||4K (3840 x 2160 pixels)|
|Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max||4K (4840 x 2160 pixels)|
|Chromecast with Google TV||4K (3840 x 2160 pixels)|
|UHD Blu-ray Player||4K (3840 x 2160 pixels)|
If you want to connect multiple sources to your new projector, choose a resolution that most devices offer. Multi-player supported, as well as 4K, it also runs with Full HD. “Down” is usually a better choice than connecting low output resolution devices to high resolution projectors.
Scaling and Pixel Shift
Today’s game consoles and UHD Blu-ray players, as well as streaming players, AV receivers, and projectors can properly scale a low-resolution image. For example, 1080p signals are recalculated via AI and algorithms to boost them to 4K.
This often works quite well if the jump is not too high. A so-called upscaler from 576i to 4K, on the other hand, cannot work miracles; after all, there are too many missing pixels for a satisfactory result. Loss of quality is almost always noticeable. A scaled image is always worse than a native image, ie the resolution for which players and projectors are designed.
And then there’s the pixel-shifting technology advertised by many manufacturers. With it, a 4K projector displays such a resolution, internally tricks the device with clever mechanisms. Rather than bringing native 4K resolution to the wall, these are usually 4K images generated by various Full HD or 2K pixel grids and moving glasses. In this way, manufacturers can save costs for very complex and expensive 4K chips.
A full-fledged 4K projector, where 4K goes in and out, as it were, does without pixel shift. However, compared to Full HD projectors, pixel shift can largely avoid the familiar pixel grid and provide better contrasts. This again speaks for this technology, especially in the mid-price segment.
The ideal distance between the projector and the screen
You might be surprised: the higher the resolution of your projector, the closer you can sit in front of the screen. Roughly speaking, the following information has been found to be useful for calculating the ideal seat spacing:
|projector resolution||seat distance|
|Up to HD Ready (720p)||1.8 to 2 x screen width|
|Full HD (1080p)||1.5 x canvas width|
|4K||1 x canvas width|
Example: With a projector with a maximum resolution of 1080p and a screen width of two meters, the distance between the seats should be about 2.5 meters.
It should be emphasized that these are recommendations. Your subjective impression is decisive. But – and this is elementary when choosing the projector and the right resolution – the spatial possibilities play a role. Because you can’t sit two, three or four meters from the screen, especially in small spaces. A projector with a higher resolution and a smaller screen can help with this.
Projection Area Size
Seating distance and the projection surface inevitably belong together. Depending on the available space on the wall, you can estimate which seat distance is useful or possible.
Pay special attention to the manufacturer’s information about possible projection surfaces and the projection ratio of the projector. This tells you how far the screen must be minimum or maximum to get the full image area. Because otherwise, in the worst case, image edges cannot be displayed correctly.
The size of the projection surface is not only a result of the technical possibilities of the projector, but also of the spatial conditions. Do you want to place a beamer in the garden or better in the cinema basement? Both are possible if you take this into account and know what options the projector has.
What to look for when choosing a projector
Other aspects play a role in the choice of projector. When it comes to whether Full HD or 4K doesn’t pass you by:
Maximum brightness: Depending on the projector technology used (LCD, DLP…) you get high or low lumen values. The more, the better the light output. If you value high contrast and bright colours, a Full HD projector with LCD can be superior to a 4K projector with DLP which can be just as expensive.
Volume: A projector should not be louder than 30 dB – regardless of the maximum resolution it has.
Acquisition and operating costs: Check how long the installed lamps last and whether you regularly need extra accessories. For example filters. A projector that looks cheaper at first glance can become an expensive affair over the years. Although LCD/LED projectors are sometimes significantly more expensive to purchase, they only require a new lamp after approximately 20,000 hours. Classic DLP projectors last less than 5000 hours before lamp replacement.
Functions: Optical zoom functions (for setting the correct distance between the seats), lens shift (adjusting the tilt if you can’t place a projector in the middle) and keystone correction provide flexibility. Also known as keystone correction, this feature eliminates unwanted distortion at certain tilt angles. HDR, low latency and other home theater standards are recommended for discerning movie buffs and gamers.
Connections: If you mainly want to connect current devices such as PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Blu-ray players and streaming devices, then you need HDMI and possibly DisplayPort connections. If necessary, they also pass the sound to AV receivers. Older consoles, analog video cameras, VHS recorders, and similar legacy sources require analog connections such as S-Video, composite video, component ports, or even VGA. However, these are no longer standard on current projectors.
Conclusion: Beamer with 4K or Full HD?
While 4K has long been established in home cinema and game consoles, it doesn’t always have to be such a high resolution when it comes to projectors. Full HD is recommended if you can get more powerful technology (LED or laser light projector with high lumen values) for the same price with low follow-up costs.
For optimal enjoyment of 4K content, you naturally also need a 4K projector with native resolution. But that can be very expensive. A compromise are strong full HD projectors or pixel shift systems. In the end, however, many aspects are decisive: you should definitely keep an eye on the distance between the seats, the desired projection surface and the players to be connected with their resolutions before you buy. As mentioned at the beginning: Sometimes Full HD can be more practical (and cheaper). Namely when you simply no longer need for your wishes.