Projectors: A Guide To Truly Cinematic Gaming

Are projectors any good for gaming? Just possibly, I’m not the right person to ask. After all, I’ve a smallish obsession with big screens. If there’s a single, consistent theme to what I hesitate to call my career as a tech hack, that’s pretty much it. Biased? Oh yes. And yet if there’s a display technology that’s truly cinematic, it’s surely the projector. At its best, nothing comes close to the sheer visual spectacle. And surely visual spectacle is a big part of modern gaming. Take a long-term view and projectors are far more cost effective than you might think, too. So, here’s why you should consider a projector and how to do it right.

Big and bloody beautiful. That’s the first thing to appreciate about projectors or rather the image they produce. It’s the sheer scale that marks them out. Even the largest TVs are puny compared to a mediocre projector setup. In that sense, it’s the only truly cinematic technology.

Then there’s the nature and quality of the image. Personally, I find LCD technology tends to introduce a certain artificiality to proceedings. Admittedly, that’s more an issue with HDTVs, which tend to have over saturated ‘VA’ type panels that major on visual zing at the cost of colour accuracy, than PC monitors.

Either way, you might think the question of what looks more ‘natural’ somewhat tangential in the context of mowing down zombies, casting spells or hyperjumping to the next quadrant.

See that puny thing bottom right? It’s a 30-inch ubertron…

I’d counter with the immersion argument. Good games ought to transport you in time and space. It’s that suspension of disbelief thing in part. So, why look upon virtual worlds through a small window when they can fill nearly your entire field of view.

Actually, that sounds a bit like virtual reality and there’s no doubt VR headsets could make the immersion-and-scale argument for projectors look a little limp in future. But for now VR is an emerging and somewhat unproven technology.

In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about projectors for games.

Projector tech: DLP versus LCD
These are the two dominant projector techs now that LCOS has proven pretty much stillborn. Really broadly, here’s how they compare. DLP uses a bunch of tiny mirrors to reflect light through a spinning colour wheel and the result has historically been the best contrast of any projector type.

LCD, meanwhile, involves shining light through a trio of primary coloured LCD panels and has typically delivered better colour accuracy and pixel definition. However, both are very mature technologies and have largely converged. Yes, DLP still has the best contrast, but its advantage is nothing like as dramatic as once is was.

1080p DLP projectors like this BenQ effort are cheaper than you might think…

As things currently stand, 1080p is where it’s at regarding resolution. 4K beamers do exist, but they are exotically expensive and will probably remain so for a few more years.

What about the ‘rainbow effect’?
The one major downside to DLP technology is the dreaded ‘rainbow effect’. It’s a consequence of the fact that DLP images are created by shining light through a fast spinning wheel made up of coloured segments.

In theory, the wheel spins fast enough for the alternating primary-coloured images to combine, as the viewer sees it, into a single full-colour display. In practice, some people can catch a glimpse of the individual images ‘separating out’ into their primary colours. If you haven’t noticed it before, try moving your eyes quickly across the image and you might just see it.

LCD vs DLP is now a finely nuanced contest. For the record, this is LCD

Long story short, your mileage will vary according both your sensitivity and the spec of the projector. DLP models with faster wheels and more colour segments will reduce the problem. For the record, this doesn’t apply to LCD projectors at all.

Room size, setup and optics
Next up, room size. The good news is that you do not need a large room to make good use of a projector. Several ‘short throw’ models are available that will allow for a very large image even in conspicuously confined spaces.

Where things get complicated are the location and installation of the projector. A permanent installation hanging from the ceiling or attached to the opposite wall is usually best but not always viable. Tables and stands are workable alternatives, but there’s a degree of planning involved depending on the room in question.

Getting on for a decade old, 1,500 hours on the lamp, still going strong

In an ideal world, if the projector isn’t mounted high on a wall or ceiling it should be situated in front of you. That way you don’t have to worry about seating positions, heads and arms blocking the beam and all that jazz. Again, a short-throw projector can help with this.

If you start to get serious about projectors, you’ll also need to learn a little about optics and features like lens shift and how they can impact on setup.

Do projectors play nicely with a mouse and keyboard?
On a related note, the keyboard and mouse thing can be tricky with projectors. It’s ye olde sitting room compatibility problem.

Console-style game pads are obviously more flexible in that setting. But mouse and keyboard can be done – especially wireless examples of the species

Screen surface
You also do not need a special screen surface or even a dedicated screen at all. Pretty much any old wall will do so long as its white.

There are actually projectors that can compensate for off-white walls, too, though I can’t say I’ve tried ’em. What I can say is that projectors are surprisingly forgiving regards surface imperfections. Using a plain wall also means you can maximise the images size and not have it limited to the size of screen you buy.

What about ambient lighting conditions?
This is the biggie, the main problem with projectors. They work best in low ambient light conditions. You can get projectors with uber powerful lamps, but the result is never as good as using a projector in low ambient light.

A space sim on the big screen is pretty much the definition of atmospheric, which is ironic…

Luckily in the UK it’s dark 20 hours a day, nine months of the year. But seriously, I suspect most of us do most of our gaming in the evening, so light conditions oughtn’t be a deal breaker.

So, an all-purpose display tech for your PC a projector obviously ain’t. But I think many would be surprised just how much use you can get out of it, espeically when you consider that…

Most of the images you see are my current makeshift kitchen install. The projector-powered gaming dungeon is nearing completion…

Projectors are fab for movies
Slightly off topic, but projectors absolutely blow every other display away when it comes to watching movies. Don’t argue, this is a double-blind, peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled fact.

Point is, you’ll get more out of the thing than just gaming on a huge scale.

What kind of games work best with projectors?
Tricky question. I probably wouldn’t bother with hair-trigger online shooters on a projector. That aside, I’m tempted to say anything goes. Adventure games take on an epic scale on a projector. Driving games become so much more dramatic. And RTS’ers like Total War: Rome II gain a thoroughly atmospheric new dimension painted nine-foot large across a wall, that’s for sure.

Even strategy games take on a cinematic vibe…

One thing I haven’t tried properly is a space sim. I fired up Elite: Dangerous for a very quick raz and it suddenly struck me that it would be stunning on a projector using a head tracker. Not clear exactly how you’d set that up, but I’m pretty sure it would be worth it.

And for the record, I haven’t found input lag to be an issue with the projectors I’ve used. My ancient triple-LCD Epson is super snappy.

Stereoscopic 3D and high refresh
I’ve never been a big fan of stereoscopic 3D. But if I was going for it, a projector would be my weapon of choice. The grander scale is part of the reason. But maybe a few 3D movies has conditioned me to be a bit more accepting of wearing silly glasses in a cinematic context.

That said, one genuinely useful technological corollary that follows from 3D projectors is high refresh rates. Affordable DLP projectors (we’ll come to pricing shortly) that support 120Hz refresh are widely available. The snag is that there are usually resolution limitations at 120Hz – ie you’re limited to 720p due to the use of an HDMI connection.

I’m planning on rebooting my driving-game habit in big-screen style

As HDMI 2.0 becomes more common, this problem will fade away. But take extra care with the specifications if you’re trying to combine high refresh gaming with a projector.

How much does all this cost?
Less than you probably think. You can get a decent 1080p DLP projector for under £500 / $600. As it happens, I’ve been using the same 1080p beamer for eight years now – all on the original bulb.

Bigger is simply more beautiful…

The technology simply doesn’t date very fast and while 4K tech is coming, I reckon you could buy one today and get at least five years great service out of it. So that’s roughly £100 / $100 a year in return for truly spectacular visuals. In that context, who cares if a projector is a somewhat occasional display.

What should I buy, exactly?
This takes me a little out of my comfort zone. I haven’t regularly reviewed projectors for a few years, so I’m not super confident what the best buys are right now. But something like a BenQ W0170 for just £489 certainly looks pretty bloody tempting.

TL;DR
– Projectors look amazing
– You don’t need a big room
– You don’t need a special screen
– They’re cheaper than you might think…
– …so the fact they are a somewhat occasional display is OK

77 Comments

  1. sonofsanta says:

    I always found projectors too damned awkward for not enough return. Cables everywhere, rooms re-organised to aim at a wall, sheets hung over windows to black out all light to get some semblance of contrast involved… and for a few minutes, when you fire it up, it’s glorious. Absolutely glorious. And then you get engrossed in the game and just sort of forget about the size of it and you may as well be playing on a normal HDTV.

    Didn’t stop us booking out the projector from the Uni library every day until they told us to just keep it till the end of the year, though. I think they were intended for practicing presentations. Those poor, naive fools.

    • demicanadian says:

      Projector is cheaper than TV, and if you decide to install it permanently (I used small shelve for plants installed near the ceiling) they use less space.
      But on the other hand there are people who do watch tv…

      • demicanadian says:

        I know, I sound like a snob. I am.

        • dontnormally says:

          Hijacking top comment to say:

          LATENCY!

          It’s super important when choosing a projector (for gaming). Do not forget to check that spec.

    • Perjoss says:

      “And then you get engrossed in the game and just sort of forget about the size of it and you may as well be playing on a normal HDTV.”

      Exactly, I game on 3 different screens depending on my mood, a 55inch telly, a 30inch monitor and a 19 inch monitor. And just as you described, after a few mins you simply forget about the size.

      The only thing I will mention is games with lots of UI or menus like EVE online just play so much better at higher resolutions, so playing at 2560×1600 is a huge jump from 1920×1080.

  2. Premium User Badge

    steves says:

    I am very jealous of your projector-powered gaming dungeon.

    What about lasers?

    link to arstechnica.com

    They make everything better!

    Probably costs a bit more than £500 though…

    • Premium User Badge

      Earl-Grey says:

      “What about lasers?”
      He said with the kind of nonchalace normally recerved for the French.
      Needless to say, he had my attention.

  3. Vandelay says:

    I’ve always dreamed having a place with a basement and converting into a mini cinema. You are living my dream!

    There really is nothing quite like projection for watching films. I can only imagine what it is like playing a game with one, particular couch based multiplayer (Smash Bros. *drool*.) But I just can’t see it being anything but a real hassle setting it up as a one off thing, instead of having a dedicated room for it.

    You are right about 4k being a massive jump up in price. They seem to range from about £5000 to £20000. I would think that they would be way to go, but would need to come down to a more reasonable price before anyone but a very small niche of a niche would consider them.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      They cost so much also because their “budget range” is not as low specced as the least expensive 1080p ones, the latter can still cost a lot if you pick a high quality one.

      Projectors have many limitations if you stay on the cheap side. Their value is real estate, and if that’s what you care the most then yes, they are a good option, but there are compromises in other departments.

    • mike2R says:

      Yeah, local multiplayer is fantastic on a projector. One of my friends has a business unit with a photographer’s studio in it, who lets us borrow it occasionally for computer game and poker nights. Console hooked up to projector and displayed on an infinity wall is pretty fucking sweet.

  4. Josh Millard says:

    One of the tricky balancing factors is size; I upgraded to a Panasonic PT-AR100 a couple years back from a much dimmer, smaller budget projector that had served well enough for nighttime gaming/movies but was miserable with any ambient light. And the new one is really fantastic — bright enough to make a legitimately watchable image for anything but very dark games and shows during bright summer midday, excellent in anything from middling ambient light down — but it’s also a bit of a monster at like two feet wide and near as much deep.

    We managed to mount it on the ceiling of the living room, which has worked out well (and our gaming/TV space being a living room with lots of windows, hence wanting something a lot brighter), but it’s the sort of thing that’s going to fit fewer scenarios than smaller units despite it being a *lot* of really good, bright picture for on the order of a thousand bucks.

  5. Synesthesia says:

    Great article, my big tv in being fixed, and me and the missus have got the itch for a projector after a friend came over and we all binge played through soma. Might just get that Benq and sell the tv.

  6. Juke says:

    I am also a bit biased on this topic, so allow me to summarize… I’ve been using a projector as my primary display for all things media for nerly a decade now. I don’t have any regrets; the scale is worth the time spent planning how to best lay out the room for best effect.

    In contrast to another poster’s opinion, I have always found it makes a media-heavy room tidier, not the other way around. A small shalf mounted on the back wall of the room, display cables neatly zip-tied hang straight down the wall, and all connect to a rack/shelf of some kind sitting in the back corner of the room. Typically the couch kindly conceals any power cables and keeps it all behind the viewers. No rat’s nest of cables hanging behind your TV stand for folks to see.

    There are a couple downsides to consider. One, the “minimal light in the room” requirement is more inconvenient that you might think if, like me, you use a PC with TV tuner to essentially watch all TV/movies/games on the projector (you’re spending the time setting it up, might as well use it!) So it is indeed great in the evenings, but sooner or later you’ll want to game or watch a sporting event on a weekend afternoon, and it’s a challenge not to get a washed-out image. Depending on how agressive you want to get with your decor however (i.e. blackout curtains,) there is always an option to restore darkness. But actually seen some sunlight while indulging a hobby is occassionaly a nice option, and TVs do better than projectors in that regard.

    The other problem is that of motion-tracking game consoles. Microsoft, Nintendo, et al, did not conceived of people stashing their game consoles in the back of the room when they created the Kinect and their sensor bars. The cords are never long enough to string across a room to the back wall, much less discreetly around the room perimiter, and cable extensions for those devices basically do not exist. So it’s just not viable to use anything that needs a head-on view of you with the projector setup. Of course it could be made to work, but I suspect the result would be messy and/or makeshift, so I had to pass up on those.

    Like Jeremy, I’m also relying on an aged projector bulb with an absurdly high run-time. I’m sure replacing the bulb would improve the brightness of the picture (these bulbs are vuilt to last, after all, and do tend to grow dim before they ever flare out,) but they tend to be expensive, so it’s easy to dismiss as an unnecessary expense. If a projector bulb is half the cost of a decent TV (which they can be,) it’s tough to justify the replacement, but then you do suffer with a less-than optimal picture after the first year or two. So it’s worth budgeting for, even if you choose to wait longer to replace down the road, just because it will eventually be necessary. (That, or hold out for upgrading the whole projector…)

    TL;DR: Agree that projectors are excellent for all media consumption, including gaming, and do believe they are competitive value for the cost (moderated somewhat by accessory cost to start and maintain), and have no equal for wow-factor so are great for movie and game parties.

    Bonus Tip: Projectors are also much more convenient to move-house with than a big-screen TV. Better for students and frequent relocators than you might think!

    • iainl says:

      Kinect is indeed a pain in the backside, but the Wii sensor bar is just a pair of infrared LEDs on a stick. Wireless 3rd-party solutions exist, and at a pinch you can recreate the effect with a pair of TV remotes each with a weight tied down on a button.

      The big downside of the Wii working this way (and it’s not a problem with a projector) is that they also regard the Sun as a sensor bar light; my TV is between two windows, and even though it’s North-facing the wiimotes don’t work on a sunny day.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        You can buy battery powered Wii ‘sensor’ bars, or you can build your own with a couple of small candles the appropriate width apart.

      • amateurviking says:

        Fun fact: you can use two candles* as a wii sensor bar. This tickles me.

        *fork handles

    • Category Theory says:

      Just as a quick note: I just used a USB extender cable for my PS3’s PlayStation Move camera, and have had no issues on that front. However, it can be tricky, if the projector is behind you, to set it up in a way that you don’t cast a shadow on the screen when standing up to play. (My projector is sitting on the top of a tall shelf, unfortunately, rather than being ceiling-mounted.)

  7. Balanuir says:

    Projectors are incredible for gaming. I got an original Wii (the first) on launch day and hooked it up to my projector that day, and it has never been connected to anything else. Playing sports games that way is so incredible, I can’t even imagine doing it on a small screen.

    Hint: Do hang the projector on the ceiling. If you have some room height (I have about 3m) you can absolutely stand in front and play without being in the picture.

    What to look out for: Projectors make noise (more correctly, the cooling fan does). This should be one of your primary concerns when looking for a projector. Especially in movies or cutscenes, when everything goes quiet for effect, that noise can ruin the atmosphere.

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      I second this noise warning. Possible solutions to an otherwise great projector are to stick it behind a windowed wall or in a vented ~soundproofed box, crank up/down the AC, or (if you’re me with it half a metre over your head due to permanent fixture restrictions) settle for the reduced brightness of ECO mode when you want to really enjoy the audio part of an audio-visual thing. Or just not care at all, I suppose.

      I really enjoyed having a projector for a few years, but the noise on top of the negatives given in this article are enough to put me off getting another until I have the freedom to make a proper setup.

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        P.S.: I didn’t have the vertical freedom to play with, so yeah, that probably helps a bunch, too. Forgot about that point in Balanuir’s post. :)

      • Category Theory says:

        If noise is a concern, have a look at the Mitsubishi home cinema projectors. They are *extremely* quiet, quiet enough that the noise from a PC across the room will be more annoying than the projector near which you’re standing.

  8. SirDeimos says:

    I would second the recommendation of that BenQ W01070. My friend owns one, and my in-laws bought one that I use regularly. The projector’s performance in games and movies is excellent, even on non-optimal wall conditions, and the model is feature-rich for the price. I also agree with the sentiment that projectors are more portable and versatile than people might think.

    • Premium User Badge

      Evil Timmy says:

      I bought one (a W1070) for myself on a Black Friday sale last year, along with a 120″ screen from Amazon, and I couldn’t be happier. The color and quality beat all but the best LCDs and plasmas I’ve seen (certainly better looking than the wave of bargain 42″ TVs everyone bought), and it’s great for gaming or movie/TV watching, with far better color reproduction than similarly-priced Epson or Optoma models. On the issue of input lag and gaming:

      Input lag. Normally, 3D projectors are fairly sluggish when it comes to input lag, even when they are being used in regular 2D mode. The W1070 breaks this pattern and puts up some respectable input lag numbers: around 24ms, or 1.5 frames, in the modes we tested.

  9. pro510 says:

    Have to agree on projectors. I use a Epson Cinema projector and it’s fantastic for gaming. I play Elite Dangerous on it with head tracking. I have the older TrackIR which uses the attachment on a baseball cap. The best way I got it to work was to put the track IR behind me, put my cap on backwards and set up TrackIR in software to invert. Works really well. And as you say, nothing beats projector for Blu-Ray movies.

    Also my PC is hooked up to a 7.1 surround system, so audio on games is excellent too.

  10. po says:

    I’ve got a Benq W1080ST+ short throw projector that I’m very happy with, mainly because I have a 100″ screen with it projecting across the width of my small living room.

    For 3D glasses I got a set of 4 pairs of cheap USB charged glasses, and a USB hub that’s used only to charge them, and they work fine, provided I remember to switch the projector to synch properly (I watched a whole film with the 3D reversed before I worked that out).

    I’m using a piece of “Scuba Bodycon Stretch Jersy” for the screen, which is a lot cheaper than a purpose made screen (to the tune of several hundred pounds), which is held in place with Holdon (TM) tarp clips on the corners.

    It is limited to 720p for 3D gaming, because it only has HDMI 1.4 input, and it’s worth mentioning that you need to pay extra for the 3DTV Play software from Nvidia to game in 3D, as the drivers alone don’t output 3D unless you have an Nvidia supported projector (or TV/monitor).

    Something else that’s worth considering is the cost of a second set of speakers. My screen is against the opposite wall to my PC, so I needed a second set of surround speakers for them to be positioned correctly in relation to the screen. I also had to buy a soundcard with additional (optical) outs to drive the second set of speakers.

    As a final note, if you want to watch Blue-rays on your projector screen, save yourself some trouble, and buy a stand alone blue-ray player. You can play through a PC, but you need to buy 3rd party software from some shysters like Cyberlink to do so, and they will stop providing decryption key downloads for new titles in a few years, to force you to buy the latest version of their software. The free copy that came with my PC’s blu-ray drive only got me half way through a GoT box set.

    • iainl says:

      Dear Lord, I only wish I could second that recommendation of buying a proper Blu-ray player more strongly than the medium of text offers. PC-based Blu-ray playing is a nightmare, because the player software is uniformly awful and usually more expensive than an entire standalone player.

      Seriously, the only way to get a good experience is to use appropriate software to rip your entire Blu-ray collection to the hard drive and then set up Plex or something similar.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        Download makeMKV, it will remove all protections from the blu-ray and let you select the stuff you want, then you can rip it either in the regular format or as a lossless ( also called untouched ) MKV.

        It’s fast because no compression is involved and so only your read speed matters, but off course you’re going to be limited by your disk space. Movies might be around 20gb once you removed all the fluff and something 45 minutes long like Breaking Bad episodes around 7gb.

        This is obviously not for someone who doesn’t want to invest in extra storage, but after some ripping sessions i now have an incredible level of freedom and fast access to my stuff without discs or anything.

        You can also use handbrake ( Best free software, also beats some stuff you have to buy ) for some compression, or to turn bad quality blu-rays ( there are plenty ) into a more pedestrian 720p if needed.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          Also, MakeMKV appears to have a 30 days trial, but it keeps resetting each time because it’s free until it stays in BETA, but it’s been like this for ages so you probably have all the time you need.

          Basically the choice is between a good player or extra hard disks, the latter can be a good thing for other purposes too and with ripping software you remove other unsavory things like region blocks.

        • iainl says:

          Indeed – that’s kind of what I was hinting at with the “rip your collection and use Plex” comment, only without naming my favourite product for committing technical piracy (even if I don’t then distribute the files). Ahem.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            Eugh.

            I might have, ehr, skipped a bit the last part of your post. But hey! Ripping your own stuff for yourself is legal…

            …I think.

          • Category Theory says:

            No, actually, ripping your Blu-ray discs, even just for personal use, is illegal under the DMCA. You’re not violating any copyright laws per se, but you are violating the part of the DMCA that makes it a crime to remove or subvert technical copy protection mechanisms.

          • iainl says:

            It depends on where you are.

            For instance, in the US, it’s legal to make copies of your stuff for personal use. But illegal under the DMCA to possess any way of actually doing that when the discs have copy protection.

            Meanwhile, in the UK, it’s illegal to make copies for any reason – a specific example is that the BPI won a testcase over whether you’re allowed to put your own CD in iTunes. The current legal position is that it’s illegal to even copy the contents of a DVD into the player’s memory in order to render an image, or to pass a copy of that image down a digital cable to the television, so never let it be said that Judges don’t understand technology.

  11. aircool says:

    I did this back in the mid 90’s. My girlfriend was doing some art installation bollocks, but it meant she had three £6K projectors on loan from Newcastle Library for a month… what a month.

    It was certainly easy on the eyes when playing Championship Manager.

  12. dangermouse76 says:

    I have a Optoma HD600X-LV so only get 220″ for my viewing pleasure. Me and my wife ( Laura ) are odd , we have a TV licence but dont own a TV. We play on the projector 3-4 times a week and watch downloaded shows the rest of the time – netflix, the bay etc.
    For us the projector is great. I dont notice lag in gaming, the image is sharp and no rainbow effect. Our social lives mean we get about about 20-30 hours out of the projector a week;so around 2.5 -3 years for the bulb.

    This means of course our media hub is a server essentially in the living room. PC connects to the projector and one laptop ( wifi ) and a Hudl if necessary, plus the PC monitor.

    We spend more time off screens than on nowadays.So for us the projector is a great experience in terms of resolution and visual impact.I consider it a bargain.

    I would go so far as to say, I would nor want to live in a pre-projector universe.
    YMMV…………..

  13. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    Back in the day, I used to bring a projector home from work of a weekend, and my mates and I would spend Sundays playing Goldeneye, F-Zero X and Mario Kart on it.
    Good times.
    Apart from that time we played Mario Party and things got physical, four burly men giving each-other dead arms and swearing like troopers. We banned Mario Party after that.
    That game was the Devil’s work, designed to encourage fucking your mates over. Don’t be fooled by its outwardly cutesy appearance.

    These days though, I look around my current place and it’s got too many large windows that let in too much light. And as someone above mentioned, I seem to remember projectors being noisy buggers that kicked out a ton of heat.

    Still, one of these days I’ll try it again.

    And yes, watching movies on them was awesome. I recall the Michael Douglas “Traffic” being particularly spectacular.

  14. Raoul Duke says:

    projectors absolutely blow every other display away when it comes to watching movies

    Said the person who has clearly not seen a movie on a properly calibrated, recent model, ridiculously huge plasma. Absolutely craps all over everything else from a dizzying height in terms of movie image quality/experience, particularly by having blacks which are actually black.

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      Actually, I’ve seen lots of plasmas. Never seen a 10-foot plasma nor one that looked even half as good as a really nicely set up DLP beamer, even ignoring the scale thing.

      But please carry on!

      • Raoul Duke says:

        Well, I’ve never seen a home projector setup that comes anywhere near the clarity, fast motion or truly black blacks of a decent plasma, so we appear to be at an anecdote stalemate.

        I will concede that the biggest plasmas topped out at a measly 6 foot diagonal. But size isn’t everything… it’s how you use it.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        Professional color graders for movie production only use either Plasma or OLED ( almost 10k dollar screens ). Projectors are only used for DCI color space, but that stuff is stupidly expensive.

        Just like fake image on HDTVs has nothing to do with panel tech but image optimization technology that nobody wants, a good panel/projector is one that only cares to be accurate, and a properly calibrated, high quality plasma or OLED with no other software crap bolted on top will produce a perfect image without defects as long as it’s calibrated with proper tools ( harder to do with projectors ), but it will also have deep blacks and high contrast.

    • SingularityParadigm says:

      Recent? Plasma? I thought plasma screens had died an unfortunate early death in the marketplace? o.O

      • Raoul Duke says:

        Nope. Panasonic only stopped making them last year, which was sad because their last model was also arguably their best.

        Last time I checked, Samsung were still making them.

        • Timbrelaine says:

          Nope, Samsung ended production late 2014. All hopes rest on OLED for now.

          • Raoul Duke says:

            God dammit. I actually bought a last-gen Panny plasma even though my existing one was fine, because it was my last chance ever to get a new one.

            OLED just needs to drop massively in price.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        Plasma died because it can’t be slim, it can’t be competitive on power consumption and because it’s not as hassle free as an LCD.

        This is most of what the mass market values, and so down the drain they want.

        Did they disappear due to quality issues? This is the point, quality has never been a factor, otherwise SED would never die before it was born, Plasma would have stayed a little more until OLED became more profitable, and the latter would have been pushed a bit more firmly when it comes to investment to speed it’s mass production and lower the costs, as the need to replace the LCD would have felt more urgent.

        It’s ironic and a little sad that we’re seeing OLED being pushed a little more now just because they are a better natural fit for curved monitor technology, if it wasn’t for that latest horrible gimmick who knows how much more we would have to wait.

        Well, i guess we’re getting near afterall. We had to wait far longer than needed, but it will happen. It will take a LOT, but LCDs will be replaced and when that happen the unwashed masses will finally start laughing about how silly it was for them to use a tech that requires backlighting and thus incapable of blacks for so many years.

    • Zenicetus says:

      The BenQ DLP projector I’m using has a trick for preserving blacks. It irises down the brightness when it senses a lot of shadow content, or just an overall dark scene. Maybe not a perfect solution, but it helps.

      When I see movies on a back-lit display panel, it’s hard for me to get away from the association with TV and computers. But throw a strong beam of light across the room onto a big screen… yeah, now it’s a movie!

      I know this isn’t very logical, probably just an emotional association from an old guy who grew up seeing movies in theaters. Even so, I’m constantly amazed that we can now recreate all this in our homes now. I just got the Netflix Blu-Ray rental of the new Mad Max, that’s up next.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        Nah, I get it, and I’m not saying I don’t see the appeal – indeed, I have often considered splurging on a projector myself for that romantic idea of a real home cinema.

        But I think the appeal is as you describe – in the end “black” on a white wall is only as black as the wall itself, which if there is any ambient light at all is more like grey, whereas black on a good plasma (or indeed, a high end LED these days) is actually black.

        • Jeremy Laird says:

          At this stage I suspect it’s you who hasn’t seen a decent recent projector setup. The black levels are really super and the overall impact is on a completely different level from a plasma. I far, far prefer the overall image at same size, and then there’s the fact you get a far larger image with a projector. It’s not really even a contest, to be honest.

          • Raoul Duke says:

            Well, that’s just like, your opinion, man.

            I believe I have, but maybe I haven’t.

            I know you mention the ambient light issue in the article, but it’s basic physics that the blacks on a projected screen can’t be any ‘blacker’ than the screen itself, so any ambient light at all really kills black levels.

            Sadly I’m in a different continent/country so we can’t do a side by side. I’m open to being convinced.

          • iainl says:

            I’m on the Plasma side, myself. The practicalities of home mean that true blackout levels for projection to come even close to the contrast levels of a plasma are out for a lot of people.

            If you can do it, then great. But many can’t. Also, I’m mainly in it for the audio, rather than the video, and just don’t seem to be able to find an affordable projector that makes an acceptable level of noise for something that’s mounted over my head during the movie.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            Projectors are now brighter, if you watch a high contrast scene your eyes will expose accordingly and the grey blacks will be seen as black.

            Watch a very dim scene, say a dark dungeon in Skyrim with darker lighting mods and you’ll see just what i mean, your eyes will adapt to the overall darkness and everything will appear flatter. Real contrast means being able to handle a complex dimly lit scene like that just as well as any other.

            There’s another thing your eyes and your brain are adapting to: the arguably extreme color temperature shift ( other than contrast drop ) your old light bulb likely experienced. Thing is, adapting is not the same as being presented with the correct output.

        • Zenicetus says:

          “in the end “black” on a white wall is only as black as the wall itself, which if there is any ambient light at all is more like grey”

          Right, but that just describes a bad environment for projection. There shouldn’t be any ambient light.

          Use it in a dark room, with a projector that auto-irises so that your own human irises aren’t assaulted too much by image gain changes in a dark room, and it’s the best thing I’ve seen.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            The projector creates ambient light.

          • Zenicetus says:

            Okay, fair point, but it doesn’t create much in a room that’s optimized for projection with dark surrounding surfaces and not too close to the screen.

            Our bedroom has medium-toned wallpaper, black carpet, and dark nonreflective furniture. The ceiling is white, but it’s 12 feet high. So yeah, we’re getting a little ambient light with the screen bouncing off the walls and ceiling and back onto the screen, but not much. Painting the ceiling black would help, but I’m not going that far. It’s good enough to look great, with deep blacks in the projection.

            If you set up a projector in a small room where the walls and ceiling are painted white and close to the screen, with a white carpet, then you’ll get different results.

  15. OmNomNom says:

    Are projectors blurry when it comes to games with fast moving stuff?

  16. Zenicetus says:

    This is a good article because it hits the two main points about projectors — the requirement to use them in basically a dedicated dark cave environment for best results, and that they rock for viewing movies (if you have that environment).

    I have a motorized drop-down screen in our bedroom, with a 1080p BenQ DLP projector mounted on the back wall above the bed. The wife and I use that exclusively for watching movies. Mainly Blu-Ray disks via Netflex, for the convenience and resolution. It’s amaaaaaazing! Haven’t gone out to see an actual movie in a theater in years.

    But we only do this at night when the room is dark, and we have blackout curtains for the Summer when it doesn’t get dark until a ridiculously late time at our latitude.

    I play games on a desktop computer in my home office, where the ambient lighting is just too variable for projection. The brightness of a good monitor lets me play games at any hour, without turning my home office into a cave.

  17. DoctorJoe says:

    Created an account to chime in;

    The ambient light/black problem can be mitigated by a quality screen. My previously mostly unusable-during-the-day setup became quite serviceable during daylight hours with the addition of a silver screen. The manufacturer also says the screen material is supposed to knock down ambient light somehow, but have no way to test or verify this claim.

    The screen isn’t as necessary now that I have a proper media cave, but it does enhance the picture over the bare wall by a noticeable amount. They are not cheap, limit your screen size, and require more effort to set up well, so it’s certainly not all upside either.

  18. that_guy_strife says:

    So it’s now possible to have beautifully vibrant colors in 1080p using a sub-1k projector on a drywall that hasn’t been sanded and polished for hours ? But you still need blackout curtains to get those colors if there’s daylight ?

  19. xGryfter says:

    For me I find that good audio is a bit more important than screen size for immersion but screen size is a close second. I do most of my gaming in my living room on a 110″ screen using a BenQ W1070 (I have a gaming focused HTPC I built for myself last year so it fits right in with my receiver and game consoles) and it’s pretty awesome. It’s a permanent setup so the projector is mounted and all my cables are properly run under the house so there is no mess and I have good blinds to keep a large majority of the light out of my living room if I happen to be using it during the day. I’ve never had an issue with input lag that I’ve noticed and the picture is generally pretty crisp. My TV still has better picture quality but at half the size I still prefer the projector.

  20. Kefren says:

    I haven’t owned a tv for 20 years – but for the last 10 I have had a projector permanently set up behind the sofa. Not for my PC – that’s upstairs – but for other gadgets. Usually an Xbox 360 for watching DVDs. I used to play games on it but just don’t like console games really, apart from party ones where we can all sit on the sofa and see the game easily in the massive image. Also for Rock Band games – we can all see what notes to play. I have it set up so I can attach a laptop to the projector and hifi in seconds which is handy. Ditto with my android tablet via mini hdmi. Good for showing family pics etc.

    Bulbs – normally last me years in normal use.
    Wall – ours is off-white (mushroom) and it’s never been a problem. I may repaint that wall pure white and see the difference.
    Brightness – my old projector required pitch black, the new one doesn’t.
    Room – permanent bracket on the wall to minimise distortion. We have big red ceiling-to-floor curtains to the left and right of the sofa like a cinema. Keep warmth in too when they’re pulled over for Friday Night Film Night.
    Noise – our new one is quiter but do check the db in normal use. I find 32 db too loud. 27 is fine. Especially if the projector is just behind your head. You don’t notice it in loud bits, but all games and films have quiet bits too.
    Tech – our projector (and whatever it is displaying) is plugged into the hifi too. Sound is almost as important as the image – projector speakers alone would be crap. Believe me, I hear the difference when I turn the hifi on! It’s only stereo but suddenly the sound is deep, rich, loud, and from 3 points (the projector acts as a middle speaker).
    Rainbow – I was very aware of the DLP rainbow effect. I sent back my first dlp projector, got lcd instead, preferred that. My new one is dlp though. It really bugged me at first but I am used to it now. If I consciously sweep ny eyes across the screen I see it, especially against pure white or black.
    Caveat – I have one issue with screen size, and that’s to do with distance. Cinemas have huge screens but I have to sit far away to take it in, so it appears no bigger in terms of % eyespace than a monitor close by. Projectors are in the same scale, you sit further than a monitor, nearer than a cinema. It partly counteracts itself. Hence vr working (teeny screens, but very close).
    Another annoyance is with films in general. When I moved to 16:9 for monitor and projector I thought ‘Yay, all films will now work well in widescreen!’ No. Turns out there are tons of widescreen formats and you still get black bands. It’s even more annoying on a projector because it shrinks your precious ‘cinema screen’ noticeably, and the ‘black’ bands tend to be grey due to light, so they stand out against the surrounding wall. Grr.
    Last caveat – turn them off properly so you don’t damage it. My new one only takes a few seconds, but my old one took a minute to cool down the lamp, you had to wait before turning it off at the plug.

    Anyway, great article, I’m always surprised projectors don’t get more mention, I’ve been using them for so long! Ideal is if you can borrow one from a friend, or work, or university, try it out and get an idea if it is for you, and if your room is right. I did that many years ago – our first trial was just before going out, it blew us away and we kept watching the start of Blade – until my girlfriend got annoyed and turned it off, made us leave for the gig (Electric Six).

  21. Mr Ogs says:

    I use an older Toshiba model designed for interactive whiteboards. It is ultrashort throw so I can get a 12′ screen from only 50cm or so from the wall. As I am renting this is great because I can’t do the permanent mounting thing.
    It really is the best way to play games, and using an IP re-director like Hola, you can use your PC to watch pretty much anything on the world’s different Netflix’s.
    Only drawback is having to keep the curtains closed, but who really cares about the outside world when you are playing games?

  22. SuicideKing says:

    Thanks for this, I’m completely clueless about projectors.

    BTW are there any screen tearing/vsync stuttering issues and stuff with projectors? I would assume “no” since the tech is different from monitor LCDs (from what I can tell) – and the refresh rate issue isn’t native to LCDs but a remnant from the CRT days.

  23. TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

    “Then there’s the nature and quality of the image. Personally, I find LCD technology tends to introduce a certain artificiality to proceedings. Admittedly, that’s more an issue with HDTVs, which tend to have over saturated ‘VA’ type panels that major on visual zing at the cost of colour accuracy, than PC monitors.”

    That’s only because HDTVs have a lot of “Image optimizations” that in some cases can’t even be disabled, you won’t get “artificiality” on a professional monitor that has the only job of being accurate.

    Eitherway the panel has nothing to do with it and many modern HDTVs have IPS written all over them as it was magic and yet they still look fake. I mean, if you have any doubts just look at how TVs are marketed compared to monitors: fake contrast number compared to real world ones, interpolated refresh rates passed as native, and all kinds of “magic color” and shit. Just toys for the masses.

    Projectors are good for the sheer scale, but cheap ones ( and even 1500£ is included ) are a little limited still, even though they made great strides.

  24. Bremze says:

    Another downside of using projectors for gaming is that the display latency tends to be around 40-60+ ms long which is fine for single player games but absolutely terrible for competitive multiplayer.

  25. Xantonze says:

    Hi there,

    I’ve been using projectors for movies and gaming for the past 15 years.
    I had the BenQ you reference: good and cheap projector, but not very subtle with the lightning, and it’s a real nightmare if you’re prone to rainbows.

    I switched to Panasonic RZ370: full HD, DLP+laser. Same visual quality, almost no rainbows.

    I think that currently, the best laser projector is the Epson EH-LS9600 /10000, but it’s very expensive.

    I stopped using LCD projectors as the picture feels slightly more “artificial” than the DLPs imho.

    As for gaming, I have to say I don’t often game on the projector, for the following reasons:
    -not suited for Keyboard and mouse: you “need” to be on the couch unless you have a very specific setup.
    -gotta play in pitch dark unless the “wow factor” gets -50%.
    -the picture doesn’t look as sharp as on PC, because the pixels are bigger, and even the strongest projector can’t match the brightness/contrast of a screen.

    Therefore, I mostly use the VP for movies and PS4 (since it’s pad-centered and the visual “loss” isn’t as strong as on PC).

  26. goettel says:

    Bought a BenQ W1070+ three months ago, and it’s stunningly good, even on a bumpy, yellowish wall. 800 euro is a pittance compared to any good 70″ screen, and this one throws neigh on 100″. It actually replaced my 40″ TV, so I’m using it daily, for hours. Let’s see how long the lamp can stand an average of five days a week of around five or six hours of use.

    Biggest drawback: knowing that a TV will never, ever be sufficient again.

  27. racccoon says:

    I only buy the 40 buck one for the kids to watch thumb tubes..
    I’ve also looked into the idea but am happy with my 1k wide flat screen t.v. :) over a 2-3grand projector!
    the flaw is they show details of your wall & that tells you, you need to paint it again. ;(
    So my smart(which i’ve unsmarted as I do like the smart) t.v., its superb picture quality makes me very happy thanks.

  28. Arthur ASCII says:

    Excellent article Sir Jeremy Irons! Glad to see your dungeon coming along nicely, every home should have one! We’ve used projectors off and on for a few years too and oh, how I wish every home had one; it really needs to happen. Why? Because it would be the BBC’s denouement. They wouldn’t be quite as legally able to continue with TV Licensing, since anyone buying a projector wouldn’t have a tuner built-in (and automatically flagged as a target for TV Licensing harassment, as is the case with current new television purchases). So if for no other reason, every +1 projector sale versus a -1 television loss is the BBC’s Damocles; another step closer toward BBC Oblivion; the inevitability of Death Star BBC casually pulling into the Yavin Little Chef…

    • Category Theory says:

      I had thought that you’re liable for the licence fee even if you don’t have a tuner at all, but just use BBC iPlayer. Isn’t that the case?

      If so, while it makes detection of those who should be paying but are not rather more difficult, I doubt it’s going to bring down the BBC. (And why would you want to bring it down, anyway? It’s one of the best media companies in the world.)

  29. KastaRules says:

    Screw projectors… Triple Screener for Life !!!

  30. snikolenko says:

    I have a very economical installation with absolutely stunning picture.

    One piece of advice: do not project on walls! Always use a dedicated screen, but don’t splash out for expensive screens, they’re not worth it. I bought a 10′ diagonal projector screen for maybe $100 (four years ago), it was the cheapest available option but works great to this time and shows no signs of aging (also, it’s been always unrolled on the wall for four years but somehow it’s not dirty at all, I don’t know how they do it :) ). The 1.5×2 meter picture at the range of my living room (which is rather small) is excellent.

    As for darkening, not a big problem too: just install roller shades on the windows; there are local people who install these kinds of things usually. It costs maybe $50 per window or even less and blocks out sunlight almost perfectly. Again, you can use the cheapest you can find, it doesn’t matter, only the installation quality matters (so that there are no holes for the sunlight).

  31. BuckoA51 says:

    Good article but for one point, where you say “And for the record, I haven’t found input lag to be an issue with the projectors I’ve used. ”

    Accurate input lag testers have been available for some time now, google “leo bodnar lag tester”. I wish sites like this would start using that rather than just saying “nope, I can’t feel any lag”.

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      I’ve done plenty of input lag testing over the years using high speed cameras and CRT monitors and all that nonsense. It’s interesting to see hard numbers from time to time to maintain context and keep us all calibrated, so to speak. There are sites you can go to if you want to scroll through a thousand tables and graphs of results.

      But the thing is, input lag is also something you get a good subjective feel for.

      Outside the context of pro FPS gaming, if a display has genuinely problematic input lag, you can detect it very quickly with ye olde mark 1 eyeball. Ultimately, if you can’t sense it, it’s not an issue.