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Today's home theatre projectors use three different technologies: Digital Light Processing (DLP), Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), and Liquid Crystal over Silicon (LCoS), all of which have certain plus and minor point over each other, depending on how you intend to use them.

DLP projectors aim light onto a chip covered in tiny little mirrors, each of which corresponds to one pixel of the projected image. The light is then reflected through the projector lens onto any white wall or theatre screen, producing deep blacks and a high contrast ratio with no screen burn whatsoever. Bulbs can last as long as 60,000 hours, and image quality stays at the same level how ever much you use it, although this type of projector gets very hot in use and needs a decent cooling source to get the longest lifespan out of it.

LCD projectors use a special screen in additional to the projector itself. Tiny crystals embedded in the screen glow red, green or blue when hit by an electrical charge from the projector. LCD images have higher colour saturation and sharper images, giving much more precise image detail than DLP machines. They don't really like being used for more than a few hours a day, however, and most LCD bulbs are only rated for about 2,000 hours of use, but proper cooling can considerably extend their life expectancy. Screen burn can be a problem if the unit is left on for extended periods of time.

Like DLP projectors, LCoS projectors beam light at a reflective surface, and then use liquid crystals to control how light is reflected to form each image pixel, in the same way that LCD projectors do. These are the most expensive type to buy, but produce a far superior, more natural image. Blacks are not as precise, though, and the bulbs, which tend not to last too long, are still prohibitively expensive as the technology is still in its infancy.

Whichever type you choose, there are three main indicators of the quality of the image you will end up with: the resolution, the brightness and the contrast ratio.

The different standards of resolution available are normally represented both by a jumble of important-sounding letters and what looks like a maths problem, but it breaks down like this: VGA (640x480), which is now only found in the very earliest of models and should be avoided; SVGA (800x600), which is just about good enough for low-cost consumer electronics; XGA (1024x768), which is by far the most popular standard, and is easily enough for most home users; WXGA (1280x800), which is XGA in widescreen format; and SXGA (1280x1024), which is best for viewing high definition TV or professional use.

The brightness, or light output of your projector determines the visibility of the image in different ambient light conditions. Projector brightness is measured in lumens, ranging from about 200 to 10,000. The higher the ambient light in the room (for example, if you like to watch films with the lights on) the higher the lumen count you'll need. Home theatre projectors rated at 1,000 to 2,000 lumens are OK for a normal darkened sitting room, but go for higher if available, and look for models with variable brightness to find the perfect picture at different times of the day.

Contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest white and darkest black of an image on the screen. LCD projectors start around 400:1; LCoS projectors about 600:1 and DLP projectors at 2,000:1, with higher contrast ratios producing more defined pictures. Contrast ratio is also a big factor in purchase price, as the higher the ratio, the more you should expect to pay for models of the same basic type (DLP, LCD or LCoS).

Remember that all projectors are only as good as the screen they project onto, so while a whitewashed wall will work just fine for a DLP projector, you'll get much better results with a purpose-built screen (which are available in just about every shape, size and configuration from free-standing models to ones that automatically scroll down from the ceiling when the projector is turned on). If you go for LCD or LCoS, it is essential to only use a screen that has been certified by your projector's manufacturer as suitable for the particular model in question.

Author R. Germain
date added Fri 14 08 2009

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