Office Buyers' Guide

When comparing features, it is important to remember what your own individual needs and priorities are. The more expensive the projector, the more features it will have, which may not always be desired. Only you can ultimately decide which projector is best suited for your application.

Imagine this: You were finally able to set an appointment with that ever-important client you've been chasing for months. You know that his company is looking at implementing a big project across all its offices. It is a huge project and if you get this, your company will be looking at earning about two to three hundred thousand dollars. But you also know from inside information that there are four companies - your competitors - that are also bidding for this project. You, however, feel that your solution has an edge against theirs.

If only you can get this message across...

Making a sales pitch is not as easy as it seems. You can spend hours memorising figures, or writing the wittiest anecdotes on note cards, or carefully ironing that power suit of yours but, ultimately, the effectiveness of your presentation will greatly depend on the technology that enables it. A good LCD projector can make the difference between a presentation that flies and one that falls flat.

The quality of an image is comprised of five elements: resolution, brightness, contrast, colour, uniformity and illumination.

The sharpness and clarity of the picture on the screen is determined by a projector's resolution. Resolution is simply the number of dots of light (or pixels) that appear on a screen or a projection to make up a projected image. It is usually quoted in two numbers where the first number refers to the number of pixels from side to side across the screen, and the second number refers to the number of pixels vertically from top to bottom. For example, a resolution of "800 x 600" translates to 800 pixels from side to side and 600 pixels from top to bottom for a total of 480,000 pixels.

It is also important to remember that more pixels means a higher 'pixel density' and a crisper image. On page 18 are two charts with the most common resolutions and their pixel densities.

High-resolution projectors are able to show more picture details than low-resolution projectors. Also, since there are more pixels used to make the image, each individual pixel is smaller, so the pixels themselves become less visible on the screen. However, you will pay more for higher resolution.

Lower resolution projectors are much less expensive, and they can produce images that are just bright and attractive as higher resolution machines. Unless you really have a need to display fine details, lower resolution products will be your best bet from a cost perspective.

Your basic choices for native or true resolution are the following:

  • SVGA, or "800 x 600" - This is a ve y popular projector resolution today because of their attractive prices and greater images.
  • XGA, or "1,024 x 768" - XGA projectors are generally more expensive, and are an equally popular resolution format to SVGA. They have got more popular as XGA resolution computers have become more plentiful.
  • SXGA, or "1,280 x 1,024" - SXGA products are high resolution, and notably more expensive than XGA. These products are targeted for high-end personal computer users and low-end workstation users. They are used primarily for command and control, engineering and CAD/CAM applications where acute resolution of small details is important.
  • UXGA, or "1,600 x 1,200" - UXGA is for very high resolution applications that are detail or information intensive. These are expensive projectors that support a broad range of computer equipment. Relatively few products on the market have this native resolution.
Choosing the right resolution for your projector is as easy as knowing the resolution of your computer. If you are using a laptop with SVGA resolution, you will want a projector with the same SVGA native resolution for you to get the sharpest and clearest image. Similarly, a projector with an XGA resolution would be more ideal for a notebook computer with XGA output.

The projector's process of converting a different input format to its native output format is called "scaling". Some projectors are very good at scaling, so the resulting image fuzziness is relatively minor, and the image is very adequate no matter what the source. The quality of scaling varies widely among projectors, and like all technology, it is constantly being improved. If scaling is an important consideration, be sure you see it demonstrated as you would use it.


If you plan on upgrading your computer after getting a new projector you're best off buying a projector with a fairly high resolution that will match newer computers.

However, you need not worry if your projector's resolution doesn't match that of your computer. Most projectors available in the market today are capable of projecting input signals other than their native resolutions. For example, you can hook up an XGA computer to an SVGA projector. The projector will automatically convert the incoming 1,024 x 768 signal to its native 800 x 600 output. However, a certain amount of sharpness and detail will be lost in the process and you will end up with an image that is not as crisp and clear as the image produced when the input signal is the same as your projector's native resolution.

The same result happens when you connect an SVGA computer to an XGA projector. Some fuzziness will occur once the 800 x 600 input is converted to a 1,024 x 768 output, which you may not appreciate after spending that much money on an XGA projector.

One other key factor in choosing the right resolution is the type of applications you will commonly use with your projector. Do you have a need for very accurate display of small visual details or not?

If your primary use of the system is for PowerPoint-style graphics, pie charts, graphs, and general business presentation, you don't need to pay extra for high resolution equipment. SVGA resolution is perfect for this kind of work, and the best solution for the money.

On the other hand, if you are often presenting materials like Excel spreadsheets with a lot of numeric data on the screen, you will probably be happier with XGA resolution. This format is able to produce a clearer and more legible image of small numbers and other data.

Finally, if you are projecting engineering drawings or other images of a highly detailed and technical nature, you will probably need a very high resolution SXGA projector to produce an acceptable image for your purposes.

Your presentation isn't going anywhere if your projector can't produce enough light to throw an image across a room and onto a screen. Accordingly, the brightness of your projector is surely worth investigating. The general rule of thumb is the brighter the room, the brighter the projector lamp you will need. Having said that, the brighter the projector, the more it costs as well. When it comes to optimum brightness the rule is simple: get the brightest projector you can afford.

Brightness can be listed in various units. Usually manufacturers list brightness in lumens or ANSI lumens. The difference between the two is that ANSI lumens are measured by a specific method, set down by the American National Standards Institute. If a unit has its brightness listed in just lumens, then the measurement taken to obtain that value do not follow any standardised routine. ANSI lumen listings are closer to the real value of the projector's brightness than non-ANSI lumen listings.

Ultra-portable projectors start as low as 500 ANSI lumens (best for lights-off presentations) all the way up to a stunning 2,500 or more. Low or lights-off presentations are not generally desirable, as you may be inviting a few to doze (or pass notes) during your presentation. A projector with at least 800 lumens is desirable for use in rooms where there will be some ambient light that cannot be eliminated, or in cases when you want your audience to see your winning smile.

800 lumens for lights-off, low ambient light presentations
1,000 lumens with some ambient light becoming the standard
2,000 lumens with bright ambient light

2,500 lumens for audiences of less than 100 with ambient light
3,000 lumens for audiences of 100-200 with ambient light
5,000 lumens for audiences of 100 or more under bright lights

A lumen is a unit of measurement used to measure the emission of light. A candle generates 13 lumens; a 100-watt light bulb generates 1,200 lumens.

The American National Standards Institute standardises the measurement of light (lumen) and ANSI lumen is commonly used to rate the brightness of a data projector. This rating also uses an average of several measurements taken across the face of the light source.

As a guideline, a small room requires 200 to 300 ANSI lumens while a large room may need 400 to 600. An auditorium may need 2,000 or more.


The brighter the projector, the higher the ANSI lumen rating.

A 1,000 or more lumen projector would put you ahead of the pack however, and these brighter projectors have now become the industry standard. In any case, brighter can't hurt you, but it may cost a little more for the quality.


  • Less than 1,000 lumens - These are the lowest light-output projectors available today and they are typically the least expensive. If you are on a tight budget, there are a number of products in this category that may be perfect for your needs. Keep in mind that the low light output means that you will want to make your presentations in a dark or dimly lit room so that the image on the screen is not washed out by ambient room light.
  • 1,000 to 2,000 lumens - This lumen range is a step up in performance and price.. There are many SVGA and XGA products in this class to choose from. These machines are suitable for normal business conference room and classroom use. Presentations should be done with the room lighting reduced somewhat for best screen viewing, although a totally dark or dimly lit room is usually not necessary.
  • 2,000 to 3,000 lumens - This represents the high-performance range of the portable and semi-portable projectors. Products in this class are suitable for large conference rooms and classrooms. They offer more flexibility in terms of ambient room light since the image is bright enough that a reasonable amount of room light can be tolerated without washing out the image. They also offer more flexibility in terms of audience size since they can illuminate a larger screen without much loss of image quality.
  • 3,000 lumens and up - The ultra-bright projectors are in several performance classes unto themselves, ranging from 3,000 up to 12,000 lumens or more. Prices of these products also cover a wide range depending on other performance characteristics. They are used in a variety of large venue applications, including board rooms, conference rooms, training rooms, auditoriums, concerts and so forth.

Brightness is important to get a good picture, but it is not only the projector's rated brightness that will impact how bright and clear the image looks. Ambient light in the room will also affect it, as will the distance between the projector and the screen. You'll need a brighter projector as the room size gets bigger, the distance between projector and screen gets bigger, and the image you project gets larger.

The quality of the screen is also a factor, as a good projector screen reflects light and helps the brightness. If you are planning to project against a wall, you need extra brightness to get good image quality. Poor brightness will make your image look flat and dull with washed-out colours.


  • How many people will typically be in the room? This determines the size of the projected image that is required for easy viewing by everyone present. As the number of people in the room increases, the image must increase and this diminishes the apparent brightness of the projector as the light is spread over a larger area.
  • How much light is in the room? A dark room will provide the best image regardless of the projector brightness; however, most meetings require some lighting for note taking and eye contact. A room where the lights cannot be turned off or dimmed from within the room or direct sunlight strikes the projected image will require a bright projector.
  • What kind of projection screen is available? This can have a profound effect on the image brightness and quality. Most projection screens today provide significant light reflection making even a relatively low brightness projector look good in the proper setting. If the room lacks a projection screen, as is sometimes common in a mobile sales presentation, you will wish you had a high brightness projector as a wall is a poor reflector of light.
  • What is your application? Applications such as training and workgroups will demand more brightness because of the need to see and read detail. These applications also require more room light for note taking and communication. Applications that use presentation graphics or video are visually less demanding and are more likely to be shown in a darkened room. If the projector will be mobile either within a building or travelling, consider your most demanding setting.
Also related to image brightness is lamp type. Lamps can be one of the hidden costs of a projector, as they're likely to burn out or break sometime over the life of your machine. The two most common types of lamps now used in projectors are metal halide lamps and UHP (Ultra High Performance) lamps. Metal halide lamps normally last between 1,000 to 4,000 hours. UHP lamps will keep you in business from 2,000 to 6,000 hours.

If you're comparing two projectors of the same brightness, ask about the wattage of their respective lamps. If there's a difference, go with the projector that has a lower-powered bulb. The low-watt lamp will last longer, stay cooler, and be more efficient than a bulb with a higher wattage.

Room light can substantially impact contrast ratios. If you intend to use your projector with the lights on, consider one that has a very high contrast ratio.
Contrast is simply the difference between the brightest and the darkest parts of the image. The usual method is to measure the contrast ratio between one completely black and one completely white image, called on/off contrast.

Contrast ratios should be high (400:1 or higher) to get the best video image or the most legible computer or graphics image. High contrast is useful when displaying high quality video. It helps define the depth of an image and lets you see what is going on in dark scenes. In rooms where light can be controlled, high contrast can create three-dimensional images with high colour impact, detail and dynamics. Contrast is not necessary when displaying simple computer data such as spreadsheets.

Most modern projectors support true colours - 16 million or more. This is fine for both data and video. Colour also gives the image depth, adding shades to the images displayed on the screen.

The richness of the colours displayed can vary between projectors and projector technologies but typically the difference won't be noticeable unless you have two projectors showing the same image side by side.


For the 'road warrior' presenters, here are some useful tips when evaluating a projector:
  • Consider a portable projector that ranges from two to eleven pounds.
  • Choose a smaller footprint for easier portability
  • You will want at least 1,000 lumens to combat ambient light
  • Select one wit a remote with mouse controls to free you from the computer
  • A wireless projector can save you set-up time
  • Invest in a case that can carry both a laptop and projector for added convenience
Another way to think about image quality is uniformity. Uniformity of colour and brightness means that the image looks the same both in the centre and in the corners. It is measured by percentage. A high uniformity rating will eliminate hot spots and distortion around the edges. A uniformity of 95% is considered very good. The best quality projectors produce such sharp pictures that you can also use these projectors for home theatre use. HDTV compatibility in your projector is something you might want to consider if you'd like to 'super-size' your home theatre in the future.

Uniformity can easily be checked by projecting flat, single-colour images of white, red, green and blue.

As you compare projectors, notice how the illumination fills the screen. Is it even from side to side and top to bottom? You want to avoid bright centres and dark corners, or vice versa. This criterion should be followed for both video and computer data projections

Another consideration in selecting the ideal projector is its weight. If your projector is going to be mounted in a board room or carted from office to office, how much the projector weighs isn't going to be a key consideration.

On the other hand, if you plan on bringing your projector on sales pitches or to conferences, weight will be an issue. While a pound or two many not sound significant, consider lugging a projector from the office to a taxi onto an aeroplane, back in the taxi and then over to the conference centre. And don't forget you're already responsible for your laptop, your notes, and any other extraneous materials.

Ultra-portable projectors tend to run between six and ten pounds, micro-portable projectors run between two and six pounds. If you travel some, but want a bit more performance, and are willing to carry a heavier unit to get it, take a close look at the projectors in the five to ten pounds weight range. As a class, these very portable projectors are brighter and more fully featured than the sub-five pounders.

If you don't intend to travel with the projector, but still want the ability to move it around the office, from classroom to classroom, or to take it home on weekends, there are many excellent products in the ten and pounds range that should be considered.

Finally, if you are going to use the projector in a specific place and have no need to move it around, weight is not an issue. So you should ignore it and make your selection on other cost and performance factors.

You must remember that even if the lightest weight projectors are convenient to carry, often there is a trade-off for brightness, image quality, or features. We recommend something that best suits your individual needs. Sometimes, but not always, lighter projectors are a little less durable too. However, a good sturdy hard case can help minimise that problem and is recommended for anyone who travels by air. A case with wheels is great to have if you elect to go for a heavier portable, particularly if you tote your laptop too. In some instances, a soft or hard case may be included in the original purchase.

Most of today's portable projectors are very easy to use. They come with about as much hardware as a laptop - usually just two to three cords (power, PS II mouse, and audio/video cables). They are plug-and-play, user friendly, and they can be set up in a matter of minutes.

Comparing the ease-of-use of one projector versus another doesn't have to be difficult. Just remember to look at the following items:

Is there anything more crucial than the right remote control for your projector? While the remote that comes with your projector may not be a life or death feature, it is important. A remote control offers the user the most mobility while making a presentation. It allows the user to make adjustments to the image and control projector functions from anywhere in the room. Look for a simple, yet intuitive interface on the remote. The ideal remote lets you control all the features you use during a presentation without making it too complex.

With your remote, you should be able to advance slides, control audio volume, switch between input sources, laser point and zoom. Should your remote have the ability to control a mouse, be sure that it is easy and accurate to use. It becomes considerably more difficult to rapidly position the cursor when situated before an audience. It addition it should allow you to digitally draw on a screen to highlight areas of interest.

The projector you buy is not an island unto itself. It is important to think about what you will be attaching to your projector. A well-labelled input panel can help cut down set-up time. If your application results in a ceiling mounted projector, this is not as critical.

If you want to connect multiple computers or video sources to the projector simultaneously, you will need multiple input jacks to accommodate this. For example, you may want to connect a notebook computer and a desktop computer to support two consecutive presentations, or two different presenters. If your projector only has one computer source, you'll have to unplug the notebook and plug in the desktop between speakers. Check to make sure the projector has enough connections to support your typical use.

Most importantly, make sure the projector you choose supports the computers you intend to use now and in the near future. This is a significant investment and the pace of change in the computer industry should be a consideration. PC and PC compatibles are nearly always supported with a direct connection, but Macintosh may be a separate connector or may require an adaptor. If you are using a workstation, check that the models you intend to use are supported in the manner you intend to use them.

If adaptors are needed, know whether they are included or an additional cost item.

Make sure that your projector has the necessary inputs you will need during your presentation. This can include multiple computer inputs, various types of video such as S-Video, composite or component (R, G, B, H, V) and audio channels.

Component video, the latest standard known, is offered on some of the new DVD players. You will also be able to get component video signals from some satellite systems. Televisions and projectors that are equipped to handle the component video signal will produce a superior video image than those that cannot. If you are interested in optimising video performance and you have a video source that offers component video output, check to see which projectors are capable of accepting a component video signal. The spec sheet may say component video or alternatively (Y, R-Y, B-Y) or YpbPr.

Most projectors allow the user to attach a monitor to the unit. This allows the presenter to view what is being projected without having to turn their back on the audience. Keep this in mind if you plan on using an extra monitor.

If you plan on presenting before a medium- to large-sized audience, you may want a projector with a separate audio output. Having a separate audio output allows you to connect external speakers to the projector. Usually the audio system built into most LCD projectors averages around 2 to 4 watts of power. By connecting to external speakers, you can carry your message across with whatever power level you want. This is important in environments with lots of ambient noise.

Power zoom and power focus lenses provide quick and easy adjustment of your image. This is another plus if you intend to be moving about during the presentation. If you plan on permanently mounting your projector, this feature is not as important.

Without a zoom lens the only way to adjust the picture size is to move the projector forward or backward. A note of caution, though: many of the micro-portables have zoom lenses with limited range. A unit with a zoom factor of 1.2x will only let you adjust picture size by 20%. You can often move the projector a foot or two either way and accomplish the same adjustment. Nevertheless, if you have a fixed screen size you are trying to fill, even a limited range zoom will make it easier to fine-tune the image size to the screen.

If you want to set up your projector to shoot from behind a screen, it needs to have the ability to reverse the image so that it looks right on the screen. This is also necessary for permanent installations if you want to inverse the projection to make the projector less intrusive.

Rear projection flips the image so the projector can be positioned behind the screen, while inverse projection turns the image upside down for projectors that are mounted on a ceiling.

Most projectors have this feature today, but if you need it, you can eliminate any projector that doesn't have this capability from your short list.

If you plan on giving the same presentation to different audiences, you might want to look into projector memory capabilities. Memory presentation allows you to run a previously stored presentation without a computer. Simply insert a disc into the machine or a PC card into a PCMCIA slot, and present away. This can make for substantially less luggage, but is useful if you don't anticipate having to make changes to the presentation on the fly.

Universal power supply means the projector will automatically detect different voltage - such as 110 or 220 volts - and adapt easily to them both. If you plan to travel with your projector in countries with different power systems, this is a must.

If you were buying a camera you wouldn't put down your cash without learning about what type of lens come with it. The same rule applies to projectors.

With zoom lenses being nearly standard on today's projectors, the important question is how much a lens' f-number (the smaller the number, the more light) changes at different zoom settings. If the change is minimal your image will remain uniformly bright regardless of lens position.

Some lenses are now manufactured using lightweight plastics. If weight is not an issue, try to find a machine with an all-glass lens. Glass is the optimal filter for projecting images and will give you a clearer picture. However, glass lenses do make a projector heavier, so pick plastic if you are going to be on the road a lot. Optional lenses are also available through some manufacturers and resellers. If your conference room machine will be called upon to project at different positions and brightness, you should ask about interchangeable lenses.

Projector warranties range from one to three years on parts and labour depending on the manufacturer. When offered, standard bulb coverage tends to be for 90 days.

If you travel frequently, you'll want to check into warranties that cover 24-hour projector replacement in the event that shipping the projector back to the manufacturer will take too long. If you're considering a projector whose warranty does not offer overnight replacements, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're out of luck. Some manufacturers work informally with their resellers to offer such services. Talk to potential dealers to find out if they would be willing to offer such a service.

Projector prices vary dramatically, ranging from just under $2,000 at the low end to well over $40,000 at the high end. Keep in mind the market is extremely competitive and prices continue to drop each year. A general and obvious rule to follow is the more features you want, the more expensive the projector. That said, often the same model (with only a slight variation in features) may be sold by as many as four different manufacturers under different names.

Keep in mind that prices do vary among dealers, so it usually pays to shop around. Additionally, some manufacturers may give special pricing to their top dealers, which can translate to larger discounts for you.

After considering all of the features above against what your needs are, making a decision on a projector becomes much easier. Following this guide will help you make an informed buy that you can feel confident about.

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