I've been thinking about getting a projector. The thought of curling up on my couch and recreating the movie theater experience in my own home is very appealing. But I don't know where to start. I don't know what to buy. And I sure as heck don't know how to get the most bang for my buck. Thankfully, three real people in real homes were more than happy to share why they're #teamprojector for life—and it just might inspire you to make the switch.
The real-world projector experts sharing their advice below are:
Nikolai of a Dreamy Dutch Home for Minimalists
"For us, it's definitely been worth the investment."
Ellen of Adam & Ellen's Inspired Brooklyn Brownstone
"I will switch to a TV set when they become as thin as wallpaper and as vibrant as life itself."
James of a Beautifully Handcrafted Apartment in Clinton Hill
"I think the only thing that would ever take me away from projected image is some sort of brain/eye computer implant that can be networked with other people sitting on my sofa so we can all watch a VR screen that hovers in front of my living room wall and enjoy a film together. But… it's probably cheaper and less invasive to just keep buying projectors."
What equipment do you have and why did you choose it?
Ellen: We have a Panasonic PT-AR100U. It cost us around $1500 in March 2013. We bought it nearly four years ago based on excellent reviews, and it's served us well and without incident. But if we went out today for a projector, we might get a high-end 3D projector. I would also look for a model that has been reviewed as quiet. Projectors heat up quite a bit, and the fan can interfere with quiet movie scenes — but maybe that's part of their charm.
"I think TVs are expensive, ugly and ungainly. When they're off, they aren't nice to look at aesthetically."
Nikolai: Epson EH-TW6600W (similar) for around $1700 back in 2015. We read good reviews and wanted a model which would support wireless image transmission as we didn't want to have any cables lying around. We did some research and this seemed to be the best choice for a high-quality projector for a somewhat affordable price. Last but not least, this is our second projector, our first was cheap ($150 or so) and it performed badly when the room wasn't fully dark — we wanted a projector that still would have a good picture during the summer when not all curtains are closed.
James: [In James' Brooklyn home, he had a ViewSonic Pro 8300 he bought on Amazon four years ago for just under $1000. But he also recently moved to LA where he's renting.] In LA I have a Benq HT2050 and it was purchased from the inimitable Fry's Electronics for around $800. For both projectors (and for past projectors), I always look for the best projector that fits the needs of the room and screen size that's under $1000. You can literally google "Best projectors under $1000" and great info and reviews come up. There are a lot of projectors that are worthwhile under $1000, but it's all pretty much just a better sales pitch until you reach professional level projectors (like you would see in a gallery, concert, or movie theater) in the $5000-$10,000 range.
What else makes your setup possible?
Ellen: We painted a white screen onto a light gray wall for contrast. You can use pricey projector painting kits or follow cheaper DIY directions. We went with the cheap route, with good results. But I would be interested in hearing from people who swear by pull-down screens or specialty paint kits. If I were to redo my setup today, I would sand down my wall until it is nearly perfectly smooth with an electric sander. We also use and love Apple TV. And a wireless HDMI transmitter is key for cutting down on cords. Plastic zip-ties behind a pretty credenza also help with wires. Our only secret is to hide the ugly behind the pretty.
"The experience of watching a movie on a projected screen is really wonderful and makes watching something a special experience every time."
Nikolai: We built a custom wooden cabinet and bought a similar screen to this one. There are no cords as the projector operates wirelessly. We have an Apple TV we use to stream movies from (Netflix, etc.). We unfortunately haven't found a way to disguise the projector; it's pretty massive and we haven't found a nice furniture piece yet.
James: In LA, my projector is paired with a manual screen that isn't hidden at all because I am renting. But it is white like the wall... so, chameleon-like? The projector is right above my sofa, so I came up with a pretty stupid but awesome plan to hand wrap the HDMI and power cable with twine, and then drape it into the corner where I have a hanging plant and a small potted palm. It just dangles down with the plants and looks like part of the decorations. I also run an HDMI cable from the projector to the sound system and patch my media devices through that; cuts down on the number of cables you have to get to the ceiling. And I am a Roku guy, mostly just because I have had one since it was simply called "The Netflix Box." In theory I could JUST use my Playstation 4, because you can get all of the same channels, but the Roku is so dead simple and low power that I have trouble being convinced to make a change.
Don't forget the remote
James shares his recommendation for the remote that might just change your life: The other thing I have recently added to is a Logitech Harmony Remote. To call this a Universal Remote is a sad understatement. It's an expensive addition at $300, but it is a very powerful and versatile device. It can control anything in your home that is a smart device, and anything that uses a WIFI, bluetooth, or dumb old IR remotes. So you can set activities like "Watch Movies" and it will automatically turn on the right devices, roll down your electric blinds, turn off your Philips Hue bulbs, and set your Roku to Amazon New Releases. It's AMAZING.
What made you make the switch?
Ellen: I think TVs are expensive, ugly and ungainly. When they're off, they aren't nice to look at aesthetically. They often dictate the design of the rest of the space, turning every room they are in a "TV room."
Nikolai: We really don't like how TVs often are the centerpiece of a living room — they are really quite ugly. The experience of watching a movie on a projected screen is really wonderful and makes watching something a special experience every time.
"I love the film quality of projected image; it's a little softer than a television, and it's easier on your eyes."
James: I really made the switch for the most part when I got my first apartment as an adult after college. I didn't want to have a living room with a big black mirror in it. So many living rooms are focused around a television, and so often that television is off. So it's just a big dumb empty frame on your wall, looming there. So, really, a gigantic movie theater-like experience in my living room was a bonus side effect of my disdain for televisions.
What are the pros to using a projector for your entertainment needs?
Ellen: A projected screen is larger than most TVs, so it feels like you're going out to the movies anytime you use it.
Nikolai: Its a lot more fun to watch movies or TV shows. You can have friends over for cinema nights or watch a movie with the kids. Once we are done, we close the screen and you don't see anything (but the projector itself). I don't think a TV of this size would be affordable either.
James: Discretion. (If you mount your projector and screen right.) You can arrange your living room however you want, and put art on your walls instead of a black mirror. I love the film quality of projected image; it's a little softer than a television, and it's easier on your eyes. I predominantly watch films and high-quality television, so this is ideal for me.
Are there any cons?
Ellen: You will need dense drapes or blinds if you want to do any daytime watching. And finding a spot for the projector and screen can be problematic in some tight spaces.
Nikolai: The bulbs are fairly expensive—though we haven't had to change it since we bought it.
James: You are somewhat limited for daytime viewing. Though projectors now are pretty bright and contrast-y, unless you have blackout shades, you're going to have some image loss in the daytime, especially in dark scenes. Also, creative cable hiding is required and can be a real pain.
What do you wish you had known before buying your projector?
Ellen: I'm still researching how to improve our setup. I'm always looking for methods to reduce the footprint of tech in my house. I would especially love to see different methods for mounting the projector.
Nikolai: This was our second projector — I would probably start cheap and then get a good one based on your experience. The projector is a bit bigger than we hoped for but we stopped noticing by now.
James: The most important thing to look for when purchasing for smaller rooms like you have in a typical apartment is the Throw. It determines where you can place the projector in your room; the number is a multiplier on your ideal screen width. So say you can fit a 10-foot wide screen on your wall, if you have a projector with a 1.5 throw, that projector needs to be exactly 15 feet away from your screen (10ft x 1.5 throw). Though most have the range now so you can adjust the dial and not have to be so strict on exact placement within the room.*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.