The first projectors for video were for television, but when projectors hit VGA resolutions, they evolved into great presentation tools used by corporations and institutions everywhere. DLP, LCD and LCOS technologies are behind these multimedia projectors, which are very similar to home theater projectors and rear-projection TVs. The beauty of these projectors is that you can greatly enlarge the source image, allowing you to share your presentation with hundreds or thousands of people at the same time. Like so many other products in our tech-centric universe, prices are in a tailspin. You can now walk into practically any consumer electronics store and spend less than a grand for an entry-level projector that is suitable for a surprising number of presentation tasks. Most are quite portable, too, and many can actually fit comfortably inside a briefcase. Theyre getting lighter all the time, as well.
Brightness is perhaps the most important characteristic of a projector for video. You can use high brightness projectors in rooms without the need to turn out the lights, although for true theater presentations, youll probably turn the lights off anyhow. The unit for brightness is ANSI Lumens (the American National Standards Institute). Projectors with high contrast are better at keeping the bright parts of the picture bright at the same time they keep the dark parts of the picture dark, which is essential for a detailed picture.If youre planning to do a lot of presentations, keep an eye on the lifespan and the cost of the bulbs. The lamps these projectors use are significantly more advanced than the lamps in slide or movie projectors, so they cost a lot more, as in hundreds of dollars more. They also arent as easy to find in stores, so youll have to order them online. A number of online and mail-order stores have sprung up that specialize in projector bulbs.
The technology behind projectors is evolving. LCD is the most common of the systems on the market. LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) takes an LCD array and puts it directly on a chip, which theoretically yields a sharper picture. Another technology is Texas Instruments’ DLP (Digital Light Processing) system that uses an array of tiny mirrors on a chip for each pixel. Youll find DLP technology in everything from consumer projectors to state of the art digital movie theaters.
The inputs commonly found on projectors include VGA, component, composite and S-Video connections. For video, an S-Video connection is often exactly what you need. For computer presentations, you might need a higher resolution VGA connection. In this case, youll have to determine the highest available resolution and match it to your computers output. For example, 800×600 is a minimum, but 1,600×1,200 is still rare and expensive. A few more pricey projectors also include DVI or HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection). HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) is similar to HDCP, but uses a different connection and also carries audio signals.
Some projectors have small speakers, which in general sound OK and get the job done, but are no match for the grandiose images that they produce. In most situations, youll want to bring your own separate sound system with you to the show or tap into the house sound.
Consult the buyers guide grid that accompanies this article for leads on the projectors that are on the market. Your new projector awaits and your audience anxiously awaits your premiere.
Charles Fulton is Videomakers Associate Editor.