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An elaborate guide to buying a Projector

With the rising work hours and increased job responsibilities, one often finds oneself completely exhausted and devoid of any motivation for the next day. If such lifestyle perpetuates, it often becomes the leading cause of anxiety and other health issues. In such scenarios, one’s natural response is to find some source of entertainment so as to add colours to an otherwise mundane life. No doubt, entertainment industry is a multi-billion dollar market.

However, the major challenge one faces in pursuit of entertainment is the lack of a medium to entertain oneself. Most people resort to using mobile phones and their computers as a means to achieving relaxation. Now, no matter how high-end a mobile phone or a laptop is, the fundamental issue with these devices is the lack of a large display. One may watch entertainment shows/movies on a mobile phone or a laptop, however, there is a difference between watching entertainment shows and being actually entertained. The small form factor of these devices fails to engross us in the content that is being viewed and one often finds oneself spectating the content rather than being immersed in it.

So, what options is one left with?
Primarily, just two. A big screen television or a projector.

Now, a decent 4K television having screen size 55 inches or larger, manufactured by a reliable brand costs more than twice that of a projector setup, i.e. a projector and a white background. Also, a television, because of its glass display is an extremely fragile device and requires utmost care as even the smallest of impacts to the screen can cause the entire display to crack.

This is when a projector comes to the rescue..

Now, if you are a frequent visitor to the posts on this blog, you might be probably aware that we take each topic from the grass root level and we will do the same with this post as well. We will begin with the basics first, understand how a projector works and what are the different kinds of projectors available in the market depending upon their projection technologies. Following which, we will learn about the Pros and Cons of the each type of projection technology. Next, we will proceed to discuss how some manufacturers, in order to keep the upfront cost of the projector low, cut manufacturing costs and produce below par projectors, the components of which have very poor shelf life that fail only after a few months of use. Then, we will move onto deciding which are the best projectors available in the market that are not only efficient and long lasting but also offer the most value for money.

So without further a do, let’s begin…

THE BASICS
A projector is an electronic device that receives video signals from an input source which could be a laptop, a set-top box, a BluRay/DVD system etc. The content from the input device is played internally on a small screen. A bright light is shone through the screen and is captured and focused by multiple lenses and finally projected onto the wall/screen at the desired distance.

Projector is a versatile device and can be placed either on a table in front of the wall/screen or can be hung from the ceiling. Due to its small form factor and relatively lighter weight, a projector can be easily ported between rooms as and when needed.

Apart from being a means to consume media at home, a projector can also be used in office environments to deliver presentations and lectures, thereby making the product a multi-faceted one.
Now, having understood how a projector works, let us proceed to learn the different types of projectors available in the market depending upon the technologies used to create the projection.

THE PROJECTION TECHNOLOGIES

  • Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)
  • Light Emitting Diode (LED)
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP)

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) Technology
LCD projectors make use of a metal-halide lamp to produce a powerful beam of white light which bounces off a group of mirrors each of which are coated with a special film so as to reflect only a specific wavelength of light. These mirrors separate out the white light into three primary colours, Red, Green and Blue. The beams of each of the red, green and blue light pass through three separate LCD panels.

Following which, each of the three beams are sent to a prism known as dichronic prism where these three beams are re-combined to form a single image composed of millions of colours which is then projected on the wall/screen after passing through the projector lens. This is how the desired content is displayed on our chosen surface.

The metal-halide lamp is used as the light source because of its broad spectrum of colours and an almost ideal colour temperature.

Now, having discussed the working of an LCD projector, let us analyse the Pros and Cons of LCD technology in projectors.

PROS:-

  • Brightness. Since the light from the lamp passes directly through the three LCD panels, there is little to no loss of signal quality and the content projected is sufficiently bright. Also, the contrast ratio of a decent LCD projector can be as high as 10,000 : 1. With this contrast ratio one can easily view the projected content without needing to dim/turn off the ambient light. This quality of LCD projectors make them a great proposition to project movies on the wall/screen even when it is completely bright outside.
  • Accurate colour reproduction and sharpness. The fact that LCD projectors have three independent LCD panels to cater to each primary colour of light, upon re-combination of these three lights, the resultant picture projected on the screen is remarkably precise in terms of sharpness and colour.

CONS:-

  • Short shelf-life of the lamp. Just like any other light source that exhausts after a few years of use, the metal-halide lamp inside the LCD projector too is susceptible to wearing out after a few thousand hours of watch time. Typically, the need to replace the lamp arises after 2000–3000 hours of watch time, which, though is adequate for majority of people, the entertainment fanatics might find themselves in a position to replace the lamp at least once in the projector’s lifetime.
  • Screen-Door effect. This is a fancy name for the phenomenon of observance of black spaces between the individual pixels. When an image is scaled so big that one can see black dots in between the pixels of the projected image, it is known as screen-door effect. However, this effect is pronounced only when one is standing very close to the surface on which the projection takes place and it might not be bothersome when content is viewed from a sufficient distance.


(Image of visible black dots between the pixels of the image)

Next, we have the LED projection technology which is widely used in home theater setup as well as in office environments all across the globe.

Light Emitting Diode (LED) Technology
The working principle of an LED projector is very similar to that of an LCD projector except for the fact that instead of the metal-halide lamp in LCD projectors, the LED projectors make use of longer lasting and more efficient LEDs as a light source to generate the beam of white light.

PROS:-

  • Cost. This is one criteria where LED projectors outshine the other two categories of projectors available in the market. As discussed, LED projectors make use of LEDs as a light source instead of the metal-halide lamp, the cost of an LED light source is significantly lesser than that of the conventional lamp. This results in overall less-expensive product in comparison to the other projection technologies.
  • Longevity of LED light source. Perhaps the greatest selling point of LED projectors is the fact that the LED light source can easily last for up to 20,000 watch hours. This means, one would never have to replace the LED light source in the entire lifetime of the projector. Additionally, because of the energy-efficient nature of LED, it requires no warm-up time and can produce the beam of white light at full efficiency right when the projector is turned on.

CONS:-

  • Low light output. Where brightness of the projected content is one of the greatest merits of an LCD projector, in case of LED projectors, the same aspect is a slight disadvantage as the content projected by an LED projector is not as bright and one might need a comparatively darker environment to enjoy the projected content.

Having learnt about the LED projectors, let us proceed to explore yet another popular projection technology that produces results which are along the lines of the video quality experienced at a cinema hall.

Digital Light Processing (DLP) Technology
In DLP projection technology, the image is created by microscopically small mirrors laid out in a matrix on a semi conductor DLP chip also known as a Digital Micromirror Device (DMD). The number of mirrors correspond to the resolution of the projected image. Higher the number of mirrors, higher will be the video resolution and hence better will be the clarity. Higher video resolution also results in minimizing the Screen-Door effect.

Each mirror on the DLP chip can be individually rotated by an angle of ± 5–15° to an ‘ON’ or an ‘OFF’ state. In the ‘ON’ position, the mirrors reflect the light towards the screen creating a light grey pixel. Whereas, in the ‘OFF’ position, mirrors are rotated away from the projection lens which prevents the light from travelling to the screen, thereby creating a dark grey pixel. At this stage, the image is in greyscale, therefore, colour needs to be added to it.

To add colour to the image, white light from a lamp is directed towards a transparent colour wheel before it reaches the DLP chip. The colour wheel separates the white light into three primary colours, i.e. Red, Green and Blue. The single DLP chip configuration can create up to 16.7 million colours from these three primary colours, whereas, a three chip architecture is capable of producing up to 35 trillion colours from the three primary ones.

After colour is added to the image, it is then sent through a lens which finally projects it onto the wall/screen.


(The RGB colour wheel)

PROS:-

  • Sealed DLP chip. DLP projectors have sealed DLP chip that eliminates the possibility of dust particles settling on it, which could otherwise have created a dust spot on the projected image. Therefore, one can expect maintenance free operation from the DLP projectors. LCD projectors do not have sealed panels, and the possibility of getting a dust spot exists, though nowadays, most LCD projectors are quite efficient in restraining the entry of dust by deploying air filters in the projector case to trap the dust.
  • Deeper blacks and true-to-life colours. One of the greatest reasons of high demand of DLP projectors comes down to the fact that the quality of the projected image is absolutely phenomenal and is very similar to the image quality produced by LCD projectors. With contrast ratios as high as 50,000 : 1, the blacks and the colours produced provide a truly immersive viewing experience.
  • Reliable performance. Performance of a projector is mapped by the number of hours it is capable of projecting content at high resolution. Over a period of several years, the picture quality produced by projectors degrades and one might observe an unusual amount of yellowish or greenish hues in the images produced by it. This phenomenon is known as Colour Decay. However, projectors that use DLP technology are designed to be virtually immune to Color Decay and would give consistent performance throughout the course of time.

CONS:-

  • Viewing Angle. Final projection produced by DLP projectors look best in smaller environments where most of the people are viewing the wall/screen directly from the front, making an angle of 0–45° with the screen. Therefore, DLP projectors would produce best results in a home setup and in a smaller office environment.
  • Mirrors stuck at one position. In rare cases, the mirrors on the DLP chip may get stuck at either the ON or the OFF position causing white and black dots in the final projected image. Poor handling may also cause the mirrors to get misaligned and remain stuck at one position.  Misaligned mirrors are very hard to find and rectify and in most cases, the entire DLP chip needs to be replaced. Therefore, it is advised to handle DLP projectors gently while porting them from one place to the other.

Now, having examined the three types of projector types along with their Pros and Cons, let us proceed to analyze which among the three projection technologies would best suit your needs depending upon your requirements.

  • For movie/TV series enthusiasts and sports lovers, choosing between a DLP and an LCD projector would be a wise choice because of the remarkable and cinema-hall like picture quality that these two technologies have on offer. Among these two technologies, one should preferably go with LCD projectors if one would be consuming media with a little ambient light or in brighter environments.
  • If one considers oneself as a heavy media consumer and believes one would definitely want a projector that offers more watch hours above anything else and at the same time offer decent picture quality at a competitive price, LED projectors would suit one’s needs the best.
  • For delivering presentations to board members or presenting lectures in a college/school environment, choosing DLP or LED projectors would best serve the purpose due to their long light source life.

Related image
(Image of a ceiling mounted projector setup)

Now, after discussing which projection technology would prove to be the most favourable depending upon one’s requirements, let us proceed to discuss the ways in which some manufacturers (names not taken) try to cut manufacturing costs to maximize their own profits and in turn deliver a sub-standard product to the customers which have a very short shelf life and often develop heating issues which lead the projector to shut down unexpectedly only after a few months of use.

COST CUTTING TECHNIQUES

  • Poor quality heat sink. Projector lamps, just like any other lamp generate heat when turned on. Therefore, in order to keep the projector running at optimal temperatures for long duration, heat sink is fitted inside the projector case which keeps the entire assembly cool and under permissible temperature range. However, heat sinks are costly in nature and therefore is one of the favourite areas for some manufacturers to cut costs so as to increase their profit margins. They resort to using heat sinks that are very inefficient in keeping the temperatures under the optimal range and thus after a few months of use, projectors start developing heating issues leading to unexpected thermal shutdowns.
  • Low grade light source (lamp). The most important component of any projector is its light source and accounts to almost 40 per cent of the entire cost of the projector, which makes it one of the key areas for the manufacturers to gain maximum profits from. Some manufacturers tend to use poor grade light source which is neither as bright nor as long-lasting as claimed. Upon approximate calculations, those manufacturers tend to find the estimate watch hours a person would consume while the product is covered under warranty and repairs/replacements of parts are to be done for no charge. Going by the calculations, they fit the appropriate light source that would last almost as long as the product is covered under warranty. Once the product goes out of warranty, all the charges of repairs/replacement of parts are to be borne by the customer thus giving recurring profits to those manufacturers.


Now, having learnt how some projector manufacturers cut costs, let us proceed to zero down on some of the best projectors available in the market that not only offer great picture quality but are also long-lasting and thus offer the most value for the money spent.

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