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.

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Short-throw and ultra-short-throw projectors

Most projectors work best when they send their beam of light across the room. By contrast, short-throw and the newer ultra-short-throw projectors sit close to the screen. They’re great for small, oddly shaped rooms and those that lack a long, straight line to aim the projector’s output. There’s a big bonus for presenters: because the projector is behind them, they neither cast shadows on the material nor are blinded by the projector’s beam.

epson brightlink 1485fi short throw projector Epson

The Epson BrightLink 1485Fi short-throw projector

Typically set up on the ceiling, wall, or floor within a foot or two of the screen, a short-throw projector like Epson’s HD (1920 x 1080) BrightLink 1485Fi can create a 9-foot (2.7-meter) image when set up 17 inches (43 cm) from the screen. Meanwhile, BenQ’s ultra-short-throw LW890UST can create the same image in WXGA (1280 x 800) resolution but from only 10 inches (25 cm) away from the screen.

Some of the newest members of the short throw bunch, like the LG ProBeam 4K, feature ultrasharp 3840 x 2160 resolution that makes every pixel count. In addition to lens shifting capabilities, its zoom lens makes easy work of exactly framing the image in a screen. Without this ability to resize the image with a zoom lens, the best you can do is delicately move the projector toward or away from the screen to reduce or enlarge the image’s size. It’s not pretty, but it works.

In fact, this genre can be tricky to set up, because the beam is aimed so steeply that if the projector is mounted slightly out of level, this imperfection is multiplied as it is projected. The best bet is to use a ceiling or wall mount that allows up-down, in-out, and side-to-side adjustments. Many models, such as BenQ’s LW890UST, come with all the hardware you’ll need to mount the projector. For those that don’t, a generic mount from ChiefPeerless, or others should work fine.

As is the case with other genres, solid state lighting is replacing traditional lamps in short-throw projectors, Although laser-based projectors like BenQ’s LW890UST command a price premium up front, lamp-based models like the inexpensive ViewSonic PS700W will need several lamps over their lifetime.

lg probeam 4k short throw projector LG

The LG ProBeam 4K short-throw projector

Adding digital pens for participants to write on the screen can help with collaboration. The BrightLink 1485Fi comes with two pens, although it can accommodate up to eight at a time; extra pens cost $39 each. Think of them as the digital equivalent of a marker that can highlight a portion of an Excel sales spreadsheet, make lists, or just sketch ideas on the projection equivalent of a whiteboard. Epson’s GoBoard Collaborative Whiteboarding software lets you use different digital ink colors on the projected image, and the final product can be easily saved for posterity or a meeting report.

These projectors have plenty of room for ports. Look for two HDMI ports as well as VGA, Composite Video, or S-Video inputs. Several have video-out ports for sending the stream to another display.

With the ability to make a large image while being close to the screen, these short- and ultra-short-throw projectors do a lot with a little.

Short-throw and ultra-short-throw projectors at a glance

  • Target audience: Presenters who need to set up in small or oddly shaped rooms or don’t want to throw shadows
  • Pros: Work in small or oddly shaped spaces; don’t blind the presenter or cast shadows; many have interactive pens
  • Cons: Tricky to set up; many lack zoom lenses
  • Price range: $900 to $4,300
  • Dimensions: 12 x 9 x 5 in. to 20 x 15 x 6 in. (30.5 x 22.9 x 12.7 cm to 50.8 x 38 x 15 cm)
  • Weight: 5 to 30 lbs. (2.3 to 13.6 kg)
  • Brightness rating: 3,000 to 5,000 lumens
  • Native resolution: 1280 x 800 to 3840 x 2160
  • Projection distance: 5 to 3 ft. (45 to 91 cm)
  • Projected image size (diagonal): 5 to 13 ft. (1.5 to 4 m)
  • Ports/connectivity: HDMI; VGA or DisplayPort; composite video; audio; USB; Ethernet; Wi-Fi
  • Examples: BenQ LW890UST; Epson BrightLink 1485Fi; LG ProBeam 4K; ViewSonic PS700W

Buying advice: Get a model that includes interactive pens so your screen can become a creative workspace.

Boardroom projectors

Often the most important business gets accomplished in executive conference rooms, so it’s essential to equip them with the appropriate audio-video gear to get your message across. Large and permanently set up, boardroom projectors are often the centerpiece of a lavish AV center that includes built-in microphones, speakers, and video equipment for teleconferences.

sony vpl fhz85 boardroom projector Sony

The Sony VPL-FHZ85 boardroom projector

Projectors in this class are brighter, have more advanced features and cost a great deal more than their portable siblings. To light up the conference room screen, they put out between 3,000 and 10,000 lumens. The class is split between solid-state illumination (mostly laser-based in this class) and traditional lamps. Laser projectors tend to cost more but will never need a new lamp, while the lamp-based systems will need a new lamp every couple of years.

Many in this class have interchangeable lenses that let the optics fit the room. This à la carte approach is seen with the seven different lenses Panasonic sells for its PT-MZ880 projector, ranging from an ultra-short-throw one for close-up projection to one for projecting across a long room. At up to several thousand dollars each, they can cost as much as a midrange projector.

In addition to being able to fine-tune the color balance, expect to get features like horizontal and vertical keystone correction as well as lens shifting so you’re not locked into setting the projector up exactly centered on the screen. Most boardroom projectors have motorized controls for zoom and focus that allow you to adjust the image via the remote control.

While you can still get a WXGA unit in this category, HD and 4K imaging are preferred, because a sharp picture is worth a thousand words (or more) when your career is on the line. The market is split between DLP, LCD, and Liquid Crystal on Silicon, a hybrid of the two. LCOS offers the brightness of a reflective technology with the excellent color balance of a liquid crystal device, but it typically costs more. The Canon Realis 4K600STZ LCOS laser projector, for instance, offers 6,000 lumens of brightness and native 4096 x 2400 resolution — and retails for about $50,000.

This projector class often includes a dedicated video processor that can improve so-so images and make numbers and text stand out from a white background. For instance, the Detail Clarity Processor on the Panasonic PT-MZ880 boosts the color output and sharpness by analyzing video a frame at a time and optimizing its color balance, contrast, and brightness.

A cool trick that can come in handy in a boardroom is the ability to present two video streams at once for before-and-after comparisons or a complex video call. The Sony VPL-FHZ85 lets you place the two streams side by side or with a smaller one inset on the main image.

While wired networking is de rigueur for boardroom projectors, Wi-Fi is sometimes offered as an option. Look for a wide variety of connections that range from HDMI and DisplayPort to DVI and VGA. Many can also tap into networked uncompressed HDBaseT video.

It all adds up to a big projector that can be hard to hide. There are three approaches here that are popular for conference rooms: Set up the projector behind the scenes as a rear projector that shines its beam through a translucent screen, put all the AV gear in a projection room, or use a motorized platform that lowers the projector into view when needed. When it’s time to project, just tap the remote control and the projector emerges, often as the screen descends at the other end of the room.

Canon Realis 4K600STZ boardroom projector Canon

The Canon Realis 4K600STZ boardroom projector

Keep in mind that a large, high-end boardroom projector like the Canon Realis 4K600STZ consumes 665 watts of power — about what a microwave oven uses — compared to just 171 watts for Sharp/NEC’s NP-M380HL, an inexpensive projector aimed at classroom use. That said, the Realis 4K600STZ’s 6,000 lumens will blow away the NP-M380HL’s 3,800 lumens.

In this class, a two- or three-year warranty is expected, but Canon and Panasonic raise that to five years of coverage. Epson’s warranty lasts for three years in this class of projector, and the company’s ExpressCare includes overnight replacement service to minimize downtime.

Although prices start at around $3,000, they can quickly climb to $50,000 or more, particularly after you’ve gone lens shopping. Still, it’s just the start: Figure on spending as much or more on audio, cabling, behind-the-scenes video processing, and other accessories such as mounting hardware.

Boardroom projectors at a glance

  • Target audience: Executives who present a lot on their home turf and demand a sharp, bright image
  • Pros: Bright, sharp images; interchangeable lenses; powered zoom and focusing; often have a three-year or longer warranty
  • Cons: Large; expensive; use a lot of power; run hot
  • Price range: $3,000 to $50,000
  • Dimensions: 12.5 x 8.5 x 3.5 in. to 25 x 22 x 8 in. (32 x 22 x 9 cm to 64 x 56 x 20 cm)
  • Weight: 10 to 60 lbs. (4.5 to 27 kg)
  • Brightness rating: 3,000 to 10,000 lumens
  • Native resolution: 1280 x 800 to 4096 x 2400
  • Projection distance: 4 to 125 ft. (1.2 to 38 m); depends on which interchangeable lens is used
  • Projected image size (diagonal): 4 to 50 ft. (1.2 to 15 m)
  • Ports/connectivity: HDMI; VGA; DVI; DisplayPort; component video; HDBaseT; RS-232; 12-volt for screen; USB; audio; Ethernet; Wi-Fi
  • Examples: Canon Realis 4K600STZ; Optoma ZU860; Panasonic PT-MZ880; Sharp/NEC NP-M380HL; Sony VPL-FHZ85; Sony VPL-PHZ60

Buying advice: Because you may need to do two things at once, consider a boardroom projector that can project a split screen or picture-in-picture.

Large-venue projectors

Got a large room with a large screen ready to be filled with video and images? To get a sharp, bright image that everyone can see, you’ll need a large-venue projector. By far the most expensive devices in the projection food chain, they are the flagships that deliver huge video streams and are the business world’s equivalent of theatrical projectors.

panasonic pt rq50ku large venue projector Panasonic

The Panasonic PT-RQ50KU large-venue projector

Sometimes as big a three-drawer file cabinet, these projectors are the brightest of the bunch, with the ability to put tens of thousands of lumens onto a screen. You’ll be hard-pressed to find new lamp-based large-venue projectors these days. Laser models are now the name of the game; their brightness and longevity make lamp-based models look like look like dinosaurs.

Because of their extreme output, large-venue projectors can run hot, very hot. For instance, Panasonic’s PT-RQ50KU projector, which uses lasers to deliver 50,000 lumens in 4096 x 2160 resolution, has a heat output of 13,000 BTUs — as much as a room-sized space heater. The PT-RQ50KU, as well as more moderate large-venue projectors like the 20,000-lumen Sharp/NEC NC2003ML, use liquid cooling to keep the laser elements from burning out.

Many of these large-venue projectors have built-in edge-blending technology so that two or three projectors can be aimed at the same screen, combining their brightness or arranged side by side to create a tiled mosaic image of epic proportions. The Epson EB-PU2116 puts up to 16,000 lumens onto the screen, and its optional PixAlign camera helps create complex projector setups; it fits into a nook next to the projector’s lens.

epson eb pu2216b large venue projector Epson

The Epson EB-PU2116 large-venue projector

When you have a room full of employees or potential customers, the final image counts for everything, and HD resolution is table stakes for large-venue projectors. Right now, 4K imaging is becoming increasingly popular; for example, the Barco UDX 4K26 projector uses lasers to pump out 26,000 lumens in super-sharp 3840 x 2400 resolution. There are nine lenses available that are sold separately.

This class of projectors has the best assortment of ports, including HDMI, DisplayPort, HDBaseT, SDI, and DVI. Alongside them are ports for wired networking, audio, USB, and even the RS-232 that allows remote operation.

Often, what you don’t get is speakers. The presumption is that these projectors will be connected to a room-wide sound system so everyone can hear. Also note that in most cases you’ll pay for lenses separately.

Regardless, price is no object here, with companies spending anywhere from $10,000 at the low end to upward of $250,000 on a high-performance projector for their auditorium. When your company’s image counts for everything, get the best and the brightest.

Large-venue projectors at a glance

  • Target audience: Executives who work at organizations with an onsite auditorium or large multipurpose room
  • Pros: Bright; can fill a large auditorium screen; many have 4K or 5K imaging; some have built-in video processors and/or built-in edge-blending
  • Cons: Very expensive; often require dedicated power line, sound system, and projection booth
  • Price range: $10,000 to $250,000
  • Dimensions: 19 x 23 x 8 in. to 19 x 35 x 15 in. (48 x 58 x 20 cm to 48 x 89 x 38 cm)
  • Weight: 75 to 250 lbs. (34 to 113 kg)
  • Brightness rating: 10,000 to 100,000 lumens
  • Native resolution: 1920 x 1200 to 5120 x 3200
  • Projection distance: 5 to 240 ft. (1.5 to 73 m); depends on which interchangeable lens is used
  • Projected image size (diagonal): 6 to 120 ft. (1.8 to 37 m); can create larger image by combining the output of several projectors
  • Ports/connectivity: HDMI; HDBaseT; DisplayPort; USB; component video; DVI; SDI; audio; Ethernet; USB; RS-232
  • Examples: Barco UDX 4K26; Epson EB-PU2116; Panasonic PT-RQ50KU; Sharp/NEC NC2003ML

Buying advice: To fill a movie-theatre-sized screen and truly wow your audience, get the biggest and brightest projector you can afford, along with the sharpest lens.

Business projectors compared: Key specs and more

This article was originally published in August 2014 and most recently updated in March 2023.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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