Modern workspaces are driven today by video presentation and communications technology. That’s even more true in recent times as workers practice remotely, either at home or in small office clusters, and meeting environments lean increasingly toward the virtual. Despite the growing size of flatpanel monitors in recent years, attaining images larger than 75- or 85-inches diagonal in a conference room or even a home work environment with a one-piece display remains prohibitively expensive. And in these days of Zoom meetings with a half-dozen or more attendees on screen at once, even those panels can suddenly look awfully small.
Enter the business projector and screen, which remains the most cost-effective way to achieve images of 100 inches or larger—often much larger. The good news here is that the commercial projector has undergone a revolution of its own in recent years, enjoying a rapid and now nearly complete shift from lamps to laser technology. That has meant both an elimination of pricey lamp replacements and reduction of maintenance costs over the life of the projector. More critically, today’s laser projectors can generate much higher light output in a smaller, lighter form factor to create truly engaging images in brightly lit rooms.
Whether looking for an interactive, short-throw, or networkable projector – or one that combines all three of these popular functions – several additional key features impact a projector’s overall picture quality, which tends to parallel cost.
Most projectors are based on one of two technologies: DLP projectors (digital light processing) or LCD (liquid crystal display). DLP is the most used projector technology for all types of applications, from basic to the most advanced. DLP also is generally the best value, offering an outstanding long-term TCO thanks to filter-free designs that eliminate the need to clean and replace filters. Plus, a rarity of light engine failures more common to other technologies.
Color Processing Technology of Business Projectors
Most projectors will include some type of technology designed to enhance color performance. One of the better-known, BrlliantColor™ by Texas Instruments, is integrated into many projector brands. Some individual projector manufacturers offer proprietary technology designed to expand upon the familiar benefits of BrilliantColor, including ViewSonic’s unique SuperColor™ color wheel design, which delivers higher brightness levels and a wider range of true-to-life colors for an immersive viewing experience in any lighting conditions.
Among the benefits to look in for an advanced color processing technology are:
Consistent color performance in both bright and dark environments
- Advanced color wheel design
- Expanded color range
- Dynamic lamp control capabilities
- Automatic or one-touch color/brightness adjustments
- Enhanced gray-scale accuracy
- Minimized brightness fluctuations
The term “native resolution” (typically shortened to just “resolution”) refers to the number of pixels a projector has available to create an image. The first number represents the number of pixels in each horizontal row; the second is the number of pixels in each vertical column. Multiplying the two delivers the total number of pixels the projector can display; therefore, the higher the resolution, the more pixels.
Higher resolution projectors can display a greater degree of detail and will reduce or eliminate visible pixelation, which delivers crisper viewing at a closer range; they also offer better compatibility with high-definition source content. For the most part, as resolution increases, so does cost. In general, for conference room use, a super-high resolution is not necessary for the type of material viewed; exceptions may include specialized business applications or industries with a heavy focus on media or highly detailed content.
A related spec is a projector’s “maximum resolution.” Native resolution refers to the total physical number of pixels displayed by a given resolution. Maximum resolution refers to which content signal resolutions the projector is able to display. Because content is available in many different signals, each projector is programmed to recognize and process a number of these signals. Maximum resolution is the highest signal resolution that the projector is programmed to process and display.
A projector’s resolution is the number of pixels the projector uses to create the image. The more pixels it uses, the higher the resolution and the better the rendering of detail for any given image size.
Resolution is quoted in two numbers, such as “1920×1200,” where the first number refers to the pixels horizontally across the screen, and the second number refers to the pixels vertically from top to bottom. This particular 1920×1200 resolution is also referred to as WUXGA. Each of the most common resolution formats has a name like this to shortcut the need to quote the numbers. The names don’t make much common sense but there are only a few of them in popular usage and a web search or sites like ProjectorCentral are a resource to remind you what pixel counts go with each designation .
How Much Resolution Do I Need?
High-resolution projectors are able to show more complex picture detail than low resolution projectors. In addition to giving you more acute image detail, since there are more pixels used to make the image, each individual pixel is smaller for a given image size, so the pixels themselves become less visible on the screen when viewed from close distance. Lower resolution projectors remain available at less cost, but these days, HDTV resolution projectors have gotten so affordable that unless you’re buying a large quantity of projectors and need to save money, or purchasing a mobile projector where you expect to view smaller images, there may be little need to opt for a low resolution model.
4K (4096×2160)/UHD (3840×2160). The highest resolution offered today among business projectors is 4K or UHD (Ultra High Definition). Technically, 4K is a digital cinema term that refers to the 4096×2160 pixel count used in commercial movie theaters, but the 4K label is also used to describe the nearly equal UHD resolution of 3840×2160 found today in consumer televisions and the most desirable home theater projectors.
4K projectors deliver at least four times the total pixel count of Full HD 1080p projectors. They provide an extremely high level of detail and virtually undetectable pixels at large image sizes, which is especially beneficial for viewers sitting closer to the screen, but they still carry a significant premium over the WUXGA and 1080p models that represent the next step down. This additional detail may be important if your projections will include critical scientific or engineering images, or perhaps screenings of entertainment content. But for most conventional applications such as business slide presentations or virtual meetings, 4K resolution will be overkill.
WUXGA (1920×1200). WUXGA is nearly equivalent to the 1080p Full HD (1920×1080) format used for digital broadcasts, except that the image is a little taller to coincide with a 16:10 aspect ratio as opposed to the 16:9 aspect ratio for Full HD. This format became popular in business with the advent of high resolution computer monitors and laptops. WUXGA projectors have the advantage of being able to display 1080p HD signals as well as 1920×1200. The cost advangtage for WUXGA projectors over 4K puts them in a sweet spot for business projectors today along with 1080p models, as these offer the best value proposition in terms of both high brightness and flexible resolution suitable for either business presentations or photographic and video content.
Full HD 1080p (1920×1080). As noted, this 16:9 aspect ratio format became popular among consumer home theater projectors with the introduction of digital broadcasting, which has resulted in a wide availability of 1080p models designed specifically with business and commercial use in mind. For most applications, they may be viewed interchangeably with WUXGA projectors.
WXGA (1280×800). WXGA projectors have the same widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio as WUXGA projectors, but they are lower resolution and are therefore less expensive, all other things being equal. New projector introductions in WXGA and lower resolutions like XGA are becoming more rare, but these projectors are still widely available and worth considering when budgets are a key factor—for example, as with school districts outfitting a large number K-12 classrooms. They can also be an option for large scale digital signage applications where spending more on higher brightness is the better choice and the subject matter being displayed does not demand high resolution presentation.
XGA (1024×768). XGA resolution has been around since the 1990’s, and uses the squarish 4:3 aspect ratio common to old CRT tube televisions that predated the widescreen HDTV standard. They survive today primarily for those budget-sensitive situations mentioned above, or for specific signage and other applications where the widescreen format is not desirable or appropriate and higher resolution is not necessary. You’ll also find lower resolutions like WXGA, XGA, and even SVGA in small portable pico and briefcase projectors, where lower brightness dictates smaller image sizes and less need for higher resolution—although 1080p is appearing more often now in the premium portables.
SVGA (800×600). SVGA projectors are very low resolution, and like XGA they are 4:3 aspect ratio. These are disappearing from the market, but their major attraction is high brightness at an extremely low price. At this writing, lamp-based models rated at 4,000 lumens can be had for less than $350. They may be an option for signage or other applications where large text or basic graphics are being displayed and there is no need to resolve much image detail.
The process of converting signal resolutions that differ from a projector’s native resolution is referred to as “scaling.” When a projector receives a signal that has a higher resolution than its native resolution, the image will be compressed into fewer pixels. When a signal with a lower resolution is received the projector must expand the signal in order to display a full-frame image.
When the source material is scaled there will always be a loss of signal quality, resulting in a somewhat softer image when compared to the same material displayed at its native resolution. This is particularly an issue with data projection, such as text, Internet content, or spreadsheets, which suffers the most from being scaled.
It is important to be aware that the resolution capabilities of any projector will be constrained by the native resolution of your source material. Low-quality signals will result in lower-quality images, regardless of the projector’s native resolution. The larger the screen, the more noticeable this will be. The best possible image quality will always be achieved when the projector’s native resolution is matched to the native resolution of your source material.
When it comes to scaling video images, today’s technology can produce images nearly as crisp and clear as they would be displayed in native format. For the display of data content, it is more critical to match a projector’s native resolution with the resolution of the source content.
Contrast ratio is a measure of the difference between an image’s white and black components. For example, a contrast ratio of 1000:1 indicates that the black levels will be 1000 times darker than the white. Therefore, the larger a projector’s contrast ratio, the greater the difference between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks it can display. In general, as contrast ratios increase, so does a projector’s ability to create greater depth of image.
An important specification for home theater projectors and other high-end use, a high contrast ratio is less critical to the needs of a typical conference room, since the benefits of high contrast ratios will only be noticeable in highly light-controlled, pitch-black rooms. For the typical multi-use office setting, where the projector will typically be used with some degree of ambient light, contrast ratios in the range of 4,000:1 – 10,000:1 will be more than sufficient to deliver a satisfying visual experience.
Projector brightness is measured in ANSI lumens (or simply, lumens), with brightness ranging from a lumens output of anywhere from 500 – 10,000. While it may seem counterintuitive, brighter is not always better. For one thing, brighter also means more cost. Also, most environments do not require an ultra-bright projector to achieve satisfying results. Factors to consider when determining your brightness needs include:
This is the most critical factor to consider in determining the appropriate projector brightness level for your needs. The lighter you have (or want) during viewing, the higher the brightness you’ll need to deliver a sharp, clear image.
For most conference rooms, presenters will want a moderate level of lighting during projection, to allow for eye contact, interaction and movement around the room. In these cases, a projector with a mid-range brightness level of 2,000-3,000 lumens will offer the flexibility to use the projector in a range of lighting conditions.
However, if the room will always be darkened, or always be lit, you’ll want to choose a projector on either end of the brightness spectrum. Keep in mind that a projector bright enough to shine through a great deal of ambient light will be hard on the eyes in a dark room, whereas a low level of brightness will look washed out in a room with lots of ambient light.
Audience Size/Screen Size
The larger the projected image, the lower the perceived brightness of any projector, due to the distribution of light over a larger area. The number of people in a room is a helpful guideline for determining the optimal projected image size for comfortable viewing. As a general rule, the more people in the room, the larger the ideal screen size. Typical conference room projection size ranges from around 60 to 80 inches (measured diagonally), with an average audience size of 20-30 attendees. These conditions are again ideal for projectors delivering from 2,000- 3,000 lumens. Projectors can be grouped by ANSI lumen output as follows:
While a projector’s aspect ratio doesn’t directly impact the quality of the projected image, it is an important spec that determines the image’s shape and space occupied on the screen. Defining the relationship between the width and the height of an image, aspect ratio is used to describe projection screens and content sources as well as projectors.
For example, a 16:9 projector, projection screen or content source will have 16 units of width for every 9 units of height, resulting in a rectangular shape. Projectors, screens and content sources with a 4:3 aspect ratio will have 4 units of width for every 3 units of height, for an image that more closely resembles a square.
As with resolution, challenges arise when a projector’s aspect ratio doesn’t match up with the aspect ratio of the source content. When the aspect ratio of the projector, projection surface, and content source are aligned, the image will fully cover the screen. When the viewing material does not match the native resolution of the projector, for example when watching 4:3 content on a 16:9 display, a portion of the screen will remain unused, resulting in black bars along the top and bottom or sides of the screen.
Most business projectors today offer the popular 16:9 aspect ratio, which corresponds to the familiar HDTV standard and Full HD 1080p desktop displays for computing. However, cloud-based content, movies, and other video content come in many different aspect ratio formats. For example, TV programs and videos intended for standard (non-HD) TV are developed in the legacy 4:3 format while content delivered on DVD comes in a wide range of formats.
Given the lack of a universal standard for video content, it is highly unlikely that the aspect ratio of your projector will match up with all of the content presenters will want to display. Fortunately, most projectors have the ability to scale images (as discussed above with resolution) to fill all or most of the screen. While scaling does entail an inevitable loss of detail, this is generally quite minimal and is rarely noticeable when displaying video and images. If a particular presentation relies heavily on text-based content, then matching the projector aspect ratio with that of the most commonly used source material will be of greater importance.
Screen Gain and Materials
Two things determine the brightness of the picture on the screen. One is the amount of light coming from the projector. The other is the reflectivity of the screen, which is typically quantified in “gain.” A screen with a gain of 1.0 will reflect back to the center viewing position the same amount of light that strikes it. A screen with gain greater than 1.0 will focus more of the light energy back toward the center viewing position and less toward the sides, making the picture look brighter when viewed from the center position. If a screen has a gain of 1.3, it will looks 30% brighter at the center viewing position than it would with a 1.0 gain screen. If the screen has a gain of 2.0, it is twice as bright, etc.
The big downside to high gain screens is that, since they focus more of the light energy back toward the center viewing position they reflect less light toward the sides. That means the picture gets dim in a hurry when you move toward the side and off the center viewing axis. So if you have people seated at various angles to the screen it is best to have a low gain screen so that everyone can see a reasonably bright image. On the other hand, if your seats are all very close to the center viewing axis, a high gain screen can give your viewers a brighter image without you having to buy a brighter projector.
Another factor to consider with screens is the color and formulation of the material. Classic matte white screens are a good choice for viewing in a darkened room, but there are many ambient light-rejecting (ALR) materials today that either use a gray contrast-boosting surface or layers with optical elements to preserve contrast and black level in bright business or home environments.
Additional Features of Business Projectors
Beyond these basic specs are the added features that make installing and operating a projector easier and more efficient. Among the things to look for are:
Not all projectors include audio and often those that do deliver a sub-optimal quality that’s difficult to hear throughout a conference room. Projector manufacturers often cite high wattage levels as an indication of sound quality. This, however, can be quite misleading, as wattage alone isn’t a reliable measure of speaker performance. Business Projectors that deliver great sound quality in addition to high-quality images will be designed and manufactured with both of these attributes in mind.
While one HDMI port is a must for enabling source content connectivity, dual HDMI inputs offer added flexibility for easy setup and installation, with fewer cabling concerns. Enabling the simultaneous connection of two HDMI-enabled video sources, such as digital cameras, smartphones, laptops, satellite boxes, and Blu-ray/DVD players, projectors with dual HDMI inputs minimize time spent switching between inputs.
Most projectors offer at a minimum a VGA (analog) connector for a computer and a composite video connector for video equipment. If your computer has a digital output (typically an HDMI connector) you might want a digital connection on the projector as well, since it will eliminate any chance of problems like jittering pixels caused by poor signal synchronization. For video sources, the preferred connection choice is HDMI (assuming your video equipment has HDMI connectors), with component video a close second. Some projectors are now adding Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL)-enabled HDMI ports, which let you project from Android devices.
USB Power Port
The inclusion of a USB power port lets presenters use wireless HDMI dongles like Google Chromecast to easily stream multimedia content to supplement their presentations. Offering a new level of sharing and interactivity, streamed multimedia lets presenters display an endless array of material from their mobile devices while moving easily around the room for increased participation and interaction with attendees. Added features such as an integrated dongle compartment add to the ease of wireless multimedia streaming by keeping media dongles securely out of sight.
3D Blu-ray Ready
While still uncommon in most office environments, 3D can be used to enhance specialized presentation content. Projectors with the latest HDMI technology deliver the highest picture and sound quality without degradation and can display 3D images directly from 3D Blu-ray players.
Remote Control Features
Look for options like single-button controls that enable preset preferences for brightness and other settings. One-button controls that dim screen brightness when your content is paused (along with automatic dimming when the projector is idle) will reduce power consumption and extend the life of the projector’s lamp – for energy- and cost-saving enhancement that’s good for the environment as well as your budget.
Smart design features can make using and maintaining a projector easier and more enjoyable. Features including cable management hoods to reduce cord clutter (and tripping hazards) and easy-access lamp doors can save time, reduce frustration increase maintenance efficiency.
Long Lamp Life
The longer the lamp life, the lower a projector’s TCO, which can be an important factor in a heavy-use environment like a conference room.
Final Thoughts on Choosing the Right Business Projector
There are a wide range of solutions on offer to match the varying needs you may have for your business. If you’d like to better understand some of the considerations you want to keep in mind, read our post on choosing the right projector resolution for your needs. If you’re ready to take the next step, check out ViewSonic’s range of professional business projectors, here.