Buyer’s guide: How to choose the right business projector

There’s a business projector for every room, purpose, and budget. Here are the major categories, technologies, and specs you need to know, along with buying advice for different business needs.

projection lens overhead projector
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Whether it’s a sales meeting in the executive conference room, a training session for new employees, or an annual meeting for franchisees in an auditorium, nothing gets the point across like a powerful projector. It can not only focus attention and turn a pitch into a show, but the right projector can let a variety of presenters share screens from their computers, phones, or tablets from anywhere in the room. In other words, the right projector has the power to put your company in the best possible light.

The good news is that there is an extraordinary variety of projectors available today that can put a sharp and bright image onto a screen to get your company’s message across. From miniature marvels the size of a paperback book to desk-sized behemoths that can light up an auditorium’s screen, there’s a business projector for every room, purpose, and budget.

But with hundreds of products available, how do you decide which is right for your business? This buyer’s guide cuts through the marketing mumbo-jumbo and tech spec sheets to help you make sense of the options. To simplify things, we’ve broken the projector market down into five major categories:

  • Pocket projectors: Aimed at the ultramobile among us, pocket projectors turn any place into a presentation zone and have been designed for quick setup and breakdown. On the downside, they often fall short on brightness.
  • Portable projectors: A big step up in terms of brightness are portable projectors, although they are bigger, heavier, and often more expensive. With many advanced features, they can still easily travel.
  • Short-throw and ultra-short-throw projectors: Based on compact optics, short-throw and ultra-short-throw devices project the image up (or down) as much as out to create surprisingly large images with the projector close to the screen. These projectors can prevent presenter shadows and are perfect for small or oddly shaped rooms.
  • Boardroom projectors: This class of projectors is for rooms dedicated to meetings and presentations by executives. As such, they have advanced features such as interchangeable lenses, image shifting, and often the ability show two streams at once.
  • Large-venue projectors: At the top of the projector pyramid, large-venue projectors are the business world’s equivalent of theatrical projectors. Used in large multipurpose rooms or auditoriums, they have high-performance video processors and often require expensive infrastructure, such as sound systems, dedicated high-voltage power lines, and projection rooms. The payoff is a huge, bright image.

Although they are a helpful starting point for an intended purchase, these categories are nothing more than suggestions with porous borders. For example, there are high-end portable projectors that can command a boardroom, boardroom projectors with enough brightness to cover a midsized auditorium, and large-venue projectors that can be outfitted with short-throw lenses.

Chances are that you’ll be shopping in several of the categories, so keep an open mind: compare the specs, think about the room it will be used in, consider your company’s culture, and pick your ideal projector(s) based on your needs and budget. (Prices are shown in US dollars.)

After all, you only have one chance to make a good first impression in the business world. There’s no easier way to lose an audience’s attention — and likely their business — than by forcing them to sit in a dark room squinting at a dim, poorly focused or distorted image. When it comes to projecting your company’s ideas and image, get your audience to see the light.

What to look for when shopping for a business projector

There’s one thing that all projectors have in common: They are complicated devices that have dozens of characteristics to compare and consider. While brightness, resolution, and size and weight get the most attention, there’s a slew of things to look at and evaluate. Here’s a checklist of the most important items to look at when researching options.

Light source

More and more, today’s projectors are powered by solid-state components rather than lamps that contain mercury. Smaller projectors generally use LEDs, while the larger ones are based on lasers. This not only means that you’ll never have to replace a lamp — not an inconsiderable task if it’s hanging from the ceiling — but the ease of cooling means that these projectors can be set up at any angle, even straight down for projecting a welcoming message onto the floor at a sales conference.

Most solid-state light sources have lifespan ratings of between 15,000 and 30,000 hours, compared to a lamp’s estimated lifetime of 3,000 to 5,000 hours of use. There’s a gotcha, though, because that rating is based on how long it takes for the illumination components to dim to half their original brightness output. That means that if the projector is used for 8 hours a day for 200 days a year — a fairly rough duty cycle — it could last 12.5 years. On the other hand, several years down the road, the projector might dim unacceptably.

More and more, lamp-based projectors are being relegated to the inexpensive portion of the buying spectrum. While they can be priced hundreds of dollars less than solid-state models, figure on buying and installing a new lamp every two years. At $100 to $300 each, it adds up quickly.


This measure of a projector’s illumination is one of its most important characteristics but be careful when looking over spec sheets. The gold standard is ANSI lumens, which is an average of nine readings taken at different points on the screen. Other measures, including a single central measurement, are less useful, more optimistic, and should likely be taken with a grain of projection salt.

While you can get by with 400 or so ANSI lumens in a pocket projector, 5,000 lumens or more is better for a conference-room projector. For a large-venue projector, look for anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 lumens, depending on the room it will operate in.

Contrast ratio

For the most part, vendors tell it like it is on brightness, with a few even understating output on spec sheets. When it comes to contrast, though, they are all over the place because there are so many ways of measuring it. That said, anything over 2,000:1 should be fine for office purposes, regardless of how it’s measured. More sophisticated models let you adjust this parameter as well.


A measure of the detail the projector is capable of delivering, resolution matches the standards for desktop displays. Accept nothing less than XGA (1024 x 768). Many of the newest designs start at full HD resolution (1920 x 1080), and several large-venue projectors can display 4096 x 2160 resolution for a theater-like experience.

If you’re displaying spreadsheets and websites, HD should be just fine, but if you’ll be showing high-quality video or applications, higher resolution will pay off with better viewing.

Projection distance and projected image size

Where the projector sits depends on the room and screen, with each model having a throw ratio that calculates the image size based on its distance from the screen. Typically, throw ratios are around 1:1.2, meaning that with the projector 10 feet (3 meters) from the screen, the image will be roughly 12 feet (about 3.7 meters), measured diagonally.

To take the guesswork out of picking the right projector, most manufacturers (and many specialist projector websites) have throw-ratio calculators — you enter the distance and it displays the image size.

Size and weight

It seems obvious, but don’t forget to check that a projector’s dimensions and weight are in line with its intended use. If users will be lugging it around the office, look for one that’s less than 6 pounds (2.7 kg) and no bigger than a stack of books. Go even smaller and lighter if users will be taking it on the road. A projector that will be parked in a boardroom most of the time doesn’t have such constraints.

Power use

The good news about solid-state projectors is that they generally use less power and run cooler than lamp-based devices. This pays dividends with smaller electrical bills and quieter fans.

That said, at the top of the market are projectors that require a dedicated three-phase 220-volt electrical line. Be careful and factor in how much electricity the projector will use, because some high-end models can cost several hundred dollars a year in electricity bills.


This is an area of huge differentiation among projectors, particularly at the high end. Most business projectors include a year of coverage, but Panasonic commercial projectors up that to a five-year warranty. Keep in mind that with a short warranty period, you might be spending several hundred dollars to extend the warranty or cover repairs down the road.

A big bonus in a warranty is the inclusion of next-day replacement for a projector failure so you can quickly get running again. Epson provides this in its ExpressCare service for the company’s commercial projectors.

Remote control

It’s a truism of projectors that as the device grows in size, so does the remote control, with a host of advanced features and often backlighting. While pocket and portable projector remotes might be limited to power, source, and menu buttons, boardroom and large-venue projectors often have remotes that let you control the horizontal and vertical lens shift, zoom in and out, and focus the image.

If you’re setting up a projector in a large room, look for a remote control that can be wired to the projector using a long audio jumper cable. It’s a big help in a projection booth or sound table that’s too far for the remote’s infrared beam to reach.

Mobile apps

Many projectors can wirelessly connect with a phone or tablet through an iOS or Android app, providing another level of control over the device. The apps’ abilities vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and typically include things like adjusting the image, advancing slides, or projecting a web site.

LAN control

While Wi-Fi remains rare in projectors, most conference room and larger devices have wired networking. In addition to letting you check on the basic parameters through a browser page, many projectors let you adjust things like the input and the volume. The bigger projectors have the software and hardware to work with control programs from Creston, AMX, or JPLink.

Digital video option

In addition to HDMI ports, many newer projectors can receive HDBASET uncompressed high-resolution video over a wired video network. It uses a second RJ-45 port dedicated to streaming video.


Every good projector deserves an excellent screen that brings the image to life. They range from small ones that fold up to fit in a travel case to mammoth ones that descend from the ceiling in an auditorium, and everything in between. Da-LiteDraper, and Elite are reliable vendors that offer a full range of screens, including those with motorized opening and closing.

Extra gear and support

With pocket and portable projectors, presenters typically fly solo, but lots of hardware and help are required to pull off a boardroom or large-venue projection show. Figure you’ll need mounting hardware, microphones, speakers, video switches, and all kinds of cables.

One small thing that often gets ignored when dealing with business projectors that can be the difference between a good show and fumbling in a dark room: a power cable with a mechanical lock. Otherwise, you might suffer the indignity of having someone kick out the power cable accidentally, resulting in no shortage of embarrassment and confusion.

With all this to get and integrate, it’s a good idea to have a technician on hand to make sure it’s always ready to work when needed.

Pocket projectors

If you’ve ever wanted to convene an impromptu meeting, only to find that all the conference rooms were taken, a pocket projector is for you. Small, light, and easy to set up, it can quickly turn any space — from a cafeteria table to a cubicle wall — into a presentation place.

aaxa p8 mini smart pico projector AAXA

The AAXA P8 Mini Smart Projector

Also known as ultra-compact or pico projectors, these devices are meant to be carried. The term “pocket-sized” is only a slight exaggeration, with the smallest weighing about 6 ounces (170 grams) and able to slip into a jacket pocket. At the other extreme, the largest of these Lilliputians top out at about three and a half pounds (1.6 kilograms). In between is a world of projectors that can easily be taken just about anywhere.

Don’t worry if you see that these projectors are pitched at consumers more interested in projecting movies and streaming TV than in spreadsheets and marketing materials. Most are equally good at both.

Most pocket projectors use solid-state illumination components that rely on red, blue, and green LEDs, although the latest models use a blue diode laser that was once reserved for larger projectors. Much less delicate than traditional projector lamps, the LEDs are rugged enough for travel and have rated lifetimes of between 15,000 and 30,000 hours of use. In other words, they should outlast most other gear in the office.

The smallest are like the AAXA LED Pico Pocket Projector, which weighs in at just 6 ounces and fits easily in the palm of the hand. Its 25-lumen output, however, is on a par with a flashlight — best used for a small group viewing a 36-inch (91 cm) screen (measured diagonally) in a darkened room.

At the large end of the pico scale, the 3.5 lb. XGIMI Halo can put 800 lumens onscreen and is more than enough for a 60-inch (152-cm) image without it getting washed out. Somewhere in the middle is the Optoma ML750, which at 10 ounces is on a par with a paperback book, yet can fill a 96-inch (244-cm) screen with a 700-lumen image.

Like others in this class, these mighty mites rely on a reflective Digital Light Processing (DLP) imaging chip. Its millions of microscopic mirrors swing back and forth to create the projected image while a synchronized color wheel adds color. The digital light processing chips are popular in this class of projectors because the alternative, using a transmissive Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), would eat up too much of the limited light output to be useful.

Pocket projectors are throwbacks in terms of resolution. At the low end, expect 960 x 540-pixel imaging, which might work best for showing tabular material like a sales spreadsheet. At the other extreme, high-end projectors offer 1920 x 1080 HD resolution, fit for more demanding projection material like photos and videos. 

These projectors have keystone correction for squaring off the trapezoidal image that results from the projector being aimed up at the screen from a table. It’s quick and easy to do. One thing you won’t get with a pico projector is a zoom lens to easily frame the image within the confines of the screen. Most get by with a digital zoom system that magnifies image in the same viewing space and can be used to highlight an item on-screen. Push it too far and the image looks pixelated.

Some of the newest models, like the XGIMI Halo or ViewSonic M2, can do a cool visual trick. An innovative auto-focus routine projects an imaging target that a sensor inside the projector analyzes to move the lens in and out until it sees sharp edges. It’s fun to watch and better than the sharpest-eyed technician.

xgimi halo pico projector XGIMI

The XGIMI Halo pico projector

Because of limited space for ports, these pocket projectors generally have only an HDMI port, a USB A or C port, an audio jack, and sometimes a microSD card slot. Some of the newer models include Bluetooth for connecting to external speakers.

If you want to leave the laptop behind on your desk, the ViewSonic M2 will do the trick with a built-in Android computer and Wi-Fi. This allows it to wirelessly connect with a phone or project a website.

These are the power misers of the projector world, and as such, many can run on internal battery packs. Some, like the Halo, promise 3.5 hours of use away from an AC outlet. The gotcha is that its brightness can drop by 20% when on battery power. Still, it’s useful for projecting in a place without an AC outlet, like an outdoor company reception.  

Any of these pocket projectors can go anywhere you go, providing new presentation possibilities. They may be small and light, but pocket projectors have huge ambitions in the business world.

Pocket projectors at a glance

  • Target audience: Presenters on the go who would be slowed down by a 4-lb. projector
  • Pros: Small; light; inexpensive; use solid-state lighting elements; some have Bluetooth for audio; some can can run on battery power
  • Cons: Limited in terms of image size, brightness, resolution, and features
  • Price range: $250 to $750
  • Dimensions: 7 x 2.6 x 0.9 in. to 4.5 x 4.7 x 6.8 in. (6.9 x 6.6 x 2.3 cm to 11.4 x 11.9 x 17.3 cm)
  • Weight: 6 oz. to 3.5 lbs. (170 g to 1.6 kg)
  • Brightness rating: 100 to 700 lumens
  • Native resolution: 960 x 540 to 1920 x 1080
  • Projection distance: 8 to 15 ft. (55 cm to 4.6 m)
  • Projected image size (diagonal): 5 to 10 ft. (46 cm to 3 m)
  • Ports/connectivity: HDMI; USB; audio; some have an SD card slot
  • Examples: AAXA LED Pico Pocket Projector; AAXA P8 Mini Smart Projector; Optoma ML750; ViewSonic M2; XGIMI Halo

Buying advice: These projectors can disappoint on resolution, so if you need sharp images, get one that projects HD resolution of 1920 x 1080.

Portable projectors

Whether it’s pitching to a potential customer, showing off your company’s wares, or training fellow employees, the portable projector rules the business world by offering a bright, sharp image from a device that can be carried from room to room or city to city. With 1,500 lumens or more of brightness at their disposal, these devices blow away pocket projectors and mean that the lights can stay on and the shades up.

infocus lightpro advanced 3lcd series in1026 portable projector InFocus

The InFocus LightPro Advanced 3LCD Series IN1026 portable projector

That said, they are typically much bigger and heavier than their pocketable brethren, although the latest generation of portable projectors place a premium being slim and light. For example, at 1.7 inches (4 cm) tall and 4 lbs. (1.8 kg), the Epson PowerLite 1795F can slide into most notebook bags. At the other extreme, Optoma’s ZW350 pushes the definition of portability at four times the size and more than double the weight; it will likely need its own bag.

In this group, imaging technology is evenly split between LCD and DLP, with the latter having a big advantage on the road. While LCD projector designs often offer a superior color balance, they require an air filter to make sure no dust gets into the sensitive optical elements. DLPs generally have sealed optics, so there’s no need to worry about being slowed down in Cleveland with a clogged filter.

Portables at the low end typically stick with XGA (1024 x 768) or WXGA (1280 x 800) resolution, but HD (1920 x 1080) and UHD (3840 x 2160) resolution are becoming the norm for the midrange and up. In fact, some projectors are available in families that offer a variety of attributes at a range of prices, letting you choose what’s important. While the economical InFocus LightPro Advanced 3LCD Series IN1004 projector puts out 3,100 lumens in XGA resolution, its midrange cousin, the IN1026, offers WXGA resolution and 4,200 lumens for sharper, brighter images. The flagship IN1059 model combines 5,000 lumens of light with WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution.

Sharper still is the Anker Nebula Cosmos Max, which puts out 3840 x 2160 resolution with 1,500 lumens of light. Because it’s LED-based, you can forget about buying or installing a lamp ever again.

anker nebula cosmos max portable projector Anker

The Anker Nebula Cosmos Max portable projector

Most projectors in this class offer horizontal and vertical keystone correction, and many include an optical zoom lens to adjust the image to exactly fill the screen. For instance, the Optoma ZW350’s lens can increase or decrease the image’s size by 30%. That said, many of these projectors have a maximum image size of 25 feet (7.6 meters), although they’ll more typically be used with screens no bigger than 10 feet (3 meters).

Expect a good assortment of ports, including HDMI (sometimes two), VGA, audio, USB A or C, and often an SD card slot. For those who want to travel ultralight, many in this class will let you lift images, video, and often PDFs from an SD card or USB flash drive without a laptop in sight. Some, like the Nebula Cosmos Max, add Wi-Fi, an Android computer, a web browser, and the ability to mirror what’s on a phone or tablet for ultimate flexibility.

The bottom line for nomads is that despite being heavier than pocket projectors, portables might actually lighten your load by letting you leave the laptop behind.

Portable projectors at a glance

  • Target audience: Salespeople and execs on the go who need to present a bright, sharp image and then move on to the next appointment
  • Pros: Bright; inexpensive; transportable; optical zoom; good assortment of ports; many can grab items from a USB flash drive or wirelessly from a phone or tablet
  • Cons: Many are bulky and heavy; some use traditional lamps that must be periodically replaced
  • Price range: $500 to $1,700
  • Dimensions: 11.5 x 8.5 x 1.5 in. to 13.5 x 10.5 x 5 in. (29 x 22 x 4 cm to 34 x 27 x 13 cm)
  • Weight: 5 to 9.0 lbs. (1.6 to 4.1 kg)
  • Brightness rating: 1,500 to 4,500 lumens
  • Native resolution: 1024 x 768 to 3840 x 2160
  • Projection distance: 5 to 30 ft. (76 cm to 9.1 m)
  • Projected image size (diagonal): 3 to 25 ft. (91 cm to 7.6 m)
  • Ports/connectivity: HDMI; VGA; USB; SD card; audio; Wi-Fi
  • Examples: Anker Nebula Cosmos Max; Epson PowerLite 1795F; InFocus LightPro Advanced 3LCD Series IN1026; Optoma ZW350

Buying advice: You’ll be carrying this projector around, so make every ounce count by looking for the best combination of brightness and portability.

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