Shopping for Projectors: Cutting Through the BS


Welcome to the second installment of our projector buying guide; see the previous article here. In this series, we aim to assist you in making an informed choice when shopping for a new projector.

When you are looking to buy a projector, especially in lower price ranges, it is really important to have an eye for seeing through the fancy advertising tricks that companies use. Sometimes, these companies make their projectors seem much better on paper than they actually are. Such marketing can confuse or mislead buyers. In this article, we will help you see through these marketing tactics and gain a clear understanding of a projector’s actual capabilities.

Here are the most common projector specifications that one should pay extra attention to when shopping for projectors:


People often gravitate toward projectors with the highest brightness, as it is a key factor in projector performance. Brightness in projectors signifies how much light the projector can emit, directly influencing the brightness of the displayed image. However, measuring brightness can be complex with various measurement methods, some more informative than others.

What adds to the complexity is that manufacturers occasionally use unit scales that can exaggerate their product’s brightness, misleading consumers if they lack the knowledge to understand these specifications.

It is important to note that the final brightness of a projector in the room will also depend on other factors, such as the ambient light in the room and the size of the projected image. Therefore, when examining brightness specifications, it is important to keep in mind that real-world results may vary slightly due to these external factors.

For general brightness recommendations, check out this free calculator here.

ANSI Lumens

ANSI (American National Standards Institute) lumens are the internationally recognized standard for measuring the brightness of a projector’s image on a screen. It provides a reliable and consistent way to gauge brightness, as it is measured by assessing nine distinct regions on a standard screen and averaging them. When comparing projectors, it is wise to use ANSI lumens as the basis for your comparison as it is the best method for determining how bright of an image the projector is capable of producing.

ISO Lumens

Just like ANSI lumens, ISO lumens are an internationally recognized standard for measuring brightness and can be used to gauge how bright a projector will be. This measurement method is regulated, adhering to the ISO 21118 regulation, and entails specific criteria related to the measured image size and distance.

To convert ISO lumens to ANSI lumens, multiply the ISO lumen by 1.25.

LED Lumens

LED lumens, on the other hand, are not internationally recognized and are only applicable to a specific range of LED projectors from certain brands. While they might seem appealing at first glance as seeing higher numbers can be exciting, relying solely on LED lumens can be misleading when comparing projectors.

It is best to convert the value to ANSI lumens by dividing the LED lumen value by 2.4 to get the approximate ANSI lumen equivalent.

Light Source Lumens

Light source lumens measure the light source’s brightness before image processing. However, it can be misleading as the projector’s imaging process significantly reduces the actual brightness. Some brands only mention the light source’s brightness to make their projectors seem brighter as the ANSI lumen number would be much lower.

On average, the ANSI lumen value of the projector is about 30% of the light source’s lumen value. So if a projector is rated in light source lumens, multiply that number by 0.3 to get the approximate ANSI lumen equivalent.

Image comparing how the different brightness scales relate to human perception. Credit: Benq


When shopping for projectors, you may encounter lux as a unit of light measurement, usually displayed as a number like 8000L, but it is the least practical measurement. Lux measures how bright a projector appears when its light is spread over a specific area. This means that the larger the projected image, the lower the lux value will be. However, this value does not provide a practical indication of the projector’s real-world brightness; unless you know the precise testing method used for that specific model and the distance from the test surface, which is rarely disclosed in advertisements.

It is advisable to steer clear of projectors presented in this way and not base your buying decision off of their lux measurement. If you are interested in a projector with brightness rated in lux, it is best to seek third-party reviews that measure ANSI brightness for a more accurate assessment.


Another crucial specification to look closely to is the projector’s resolution. Resolution denotes the number of pixels the projector can display or process, typically measured in horizontal and vertical pixels. However, it is important to be aware that manufacturers may present this figure in ways that can be misleading, sometimes emphasizing the supported resolution rather than the projector’s actual pixel output, native resolution.

Native Resolution

The native resolution corresponds to the actual number of pixels the projector can display on the screen, aligning with a one-to-one count. For instance, for a projector that has a native resolution of 1080 x 1920, you should be able to count 1080 pixels in height and 1920 pixels in width on the screen. As a result, this native resolution sets the upper limit of the resolution, even if the projector has the capacity to accept resolutions that exceed it.

Supported Resolution

The supported resolution refers to the range of resolutions the projector can process. It may go beyond the native resolution, but in such cases, the projector downscales the image to match its native capabilities. For instance, a native 1080p projector can accept a 4K signal and then display it in 1080p.

However, what can confuse buyers is that some manufacturers emphasize the maximum supported resolution in their ads and listings, while only mentioning the native resolution in fine print. This can mislead customers unless they know to look for terms like “native” or “true resolution.”

So, when browsing listings, make sure to compare the native resolution with the supported resolution rather than solely relying on ads that claim “4K projector.”

Understanding Contrast

Contrast is an important factor to consider when evaluating projectors. It measures the difference between the brightest white and darkest black the projector can display. Arguably, contrast is one of the most important aspects of a projector’s image as our eyes are much more sensitive to changes in brightness than to color. Higher contrast in an image enhances detail visibility, realism, and immersion, which is crucial for images with fine details and realistic appearances, and helps create a sense of three dimensions when watching.

However, much like the previously discussed properties, presenting contrast specifications can lead to confusion if not presented accurately or understood well. Understanding contrast requires first talking about how contrast can be measured and then discussing the two ways it can be presented to the buyer.

Full-On and Full-Off (FOFO) Contrast

Let us begin with Full-On and Full-Off (FOFO) contrast which measures inter-scene contrast, indicating how a display manages the transition from a bright scene to a dark one. It quantifies the difference in brightness between a full white image and a full black image.

For example, if your projector has a FOFO contrast ratio of 1000:1, it signifies that the solid white image would be 1000 times brighter than a solid black image.

ANSI Contrast

Another way contrast can be measured is using ANSI Contrast, which is used to measure intra-scene contrast, a measure of the contrast within the same frame of video. This occurs when the display simultaneously shows 50% full white and 50% full black, typically assessed using a checkerboard pattern.

ANSI contrast serves as a more accurate measurement of a projector’s true capabilities because a higher ANSI contrast within a single frame has a greater impact on the perceived realism of the image compared to transitions from bright to dark scenes.

This can confuse potential buyers because manufacturers often display FOFO contrast numbers, which are typically significantly higher than ANSI contrast numbers. A higher FOFO contrast can sometimes suggest a higher ANSI contrast, but this is not always true. To avoid this confusion, thoroughly check all documentation or third-party reviews to confirm the type of contrast test method used.

Types of Contrast

To further add to the confusion, contrast numbers can be presented as either native contrast or dynamic contrast, which are two distinctly different measurements.

Native Contrast

The native contrast of a projector refers to its inherent or actual contrast ratio, which is the difference in brightness between the brightest white it can produce and the darkest black it can display without any dynamic adjustments or enhancements. In other terms, the contrast ratio of the hardware of the device. Native contrast is an important specification to consider when evaluating a projector’s image quality, as a higher native contrast ratio often results in a more realistic and impactful image.

Dynamic Contrast

Dynamic contrast is a feature found on many projectors that adaptively modifies image brightness according to displayed content. Some projectors incorporate features like dynamic irises, laser dimming, or lamp/picture modes to increase the inter-scene or inter-frame contrast. Dynamic contrast typically functions as a multiplier of the native contrast. For example, if the native contrast is 5000:1, and this projector has a dynamic iris that can increase it by a factor of 10, then the dynamic contrast would be 50000:1.

Credit: Benq

Dynamic contrast can indeed improve scene-to-scene contrast, but it cannot alter the contrast within a single scene or frame, as that relies on native contrast. Consequently, the perceived image contrast primarily relies on native contrast.

Understanding the significance of the difference between native and dynamic contrast is crucial because not all companies showcase native contrast, which is the more critical figure, even though it may appear smaller and less impressive on paper. Many find higher contrast ratios in the thousands more striking compared to figures in the hundreds. So be aware when comparing contrast values and understand which value is being presented.


Companies will always use what they can to sell more products even if that means making life a bit harder for consumers. It would be easier if these companies would stop trying to grab the attention of customers with inflated numbers and present specifications in a more straightforward manner. However, as consumers, it is our responsibility to navigate through marketing tactics and seek out the critical specifications that genuinely matter.

It is advisable to seek third-party reviews when considering the purchase of any projector you are contemplating, or better yet, try to view it in person.

In the quest for a new projector, the devil is in the details. By delving into the specifications and seeking reliable sources for accurate information, you can ensure that your purchase aligns with your expectations, providing an enjoyable and immersive viewing experience. Now the next time you encounter those flashy marketing tactics, you will be better equipped to see through them and choose the projector that truly suits your needs.

If you have any questions regarding which projector is right for you, or if you have any other home theater related questions, feel free to leave a comment or book some time with us. See more about it here, or by clicking below.

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