4 Kinds of Projectors Explained

Updated October 6, 2023

Whether you’re planning a movie night with the troop or as business presentation for your company, you want to make sure that you’re able to provide the finest quality images and sound possible.

Projectors come in a range of sizes and specifications, so it takes a little homework to find the one that’s right for your viewing environment and screen size. There are four basic types of projectors. While some are multi-purpose, others are better suited to some applications than others.

Also want to thanks Steve Scott over at Outdoor Movie HQ, who has incredibly detailed posts about various projectors currently on the market or coming out. His review of short throw projectors is a great resource for anyone looking to understand if they need a short throw unit or  regular unit.

Why Do You Need a Projector?

There’s a difference in specifications to consider when choosing a projector for home theater viewing, gaming, or professional presentation. For home viewing, you could go with a short-throw projector that works better in intimate spaces. If your audience is viewing outdoors. you may want a projector with a higher lumen rating for additional brightness.

Here are some of the technical specs to consider when choosing a projector.

Brightness: The brightness is measured in ANSI lumens, which is the amount of light emitted from a single candle from one foot away. In general, the higher the lumen count, the brighter the projected image. If you’re showing a film or other type of image in a perfectly dark room with no ambient light, you could probably get away with a lumen count of 1000. For context, a 100W bulb emits 1600 lumens.

When there is some extraneous light, such as streetlights when you’re hosting an outdoor viewing event, you’ll want to choose a projector with a lumen rating of at least 3000.

Resolution: The resolution affects picture clarity, and it’s measured in the number of pixels within a fixed area. On a projector, it will either be listed as a whole number, such as 4K, meaning 4000 pixels, or as an exact number of pixels per square inch, such as 1080p. The higher the resolution, the sharper the image.

Contrast ratio: Contrast is measured by the ratio of lights to darks within an image. Like brightness, this can be affected by the amount of ambient light in the room while viewing. Any decent projector should have a minimum contrast ratio of 1000:1, meaning that the whitest areas are 1000 times brighter than the darkest. Check out this guide on Cnet for more info.

Throw Ratio This is measured as the distance of the projector from the screen in relation to the screen size. A short-throw projector can be as close as three feet from the screen without the image bleeding over onto the wall. Most projectors are long-throw, meaning that you must have enough room to set up at least six feet away from the viewing area.

Types of Projectors

Now that you know a few technical terms, it’s time to compare different types of projectors. They’re mostly differentiated by the light source and technology used to power them.

Liquid-Crystal Display (LCD) Projectors


In general, this type of projector is more light-efficient than other models. That means that the image will appear brighter with an LCD projector than a DLP projector with the same lumen rating. They’re considered to be a middle ground between a DLP and LCoS projector. LCDs will give you a higher contrast ratio than DLPs, but not quite as vivid in the darker color ranges as an LCoS. Because they do require a filter that needs to be changed, they also require a little more maintenance.

Expected lifespan of the light source: 2000 – 4000 hours

Digital Light Processing (DLP) Projectors


These projectors present images for viewing through an interior setup of small mirrored tiles. The mirrors tilt at different angles toward or away from a spinning wheel and the light source. You can find them in either a single or three-tile build.

WHile this type of projector is known to produce sharper images overall, the contrast of darker colors like blacks tends to be a bit muddied at times and not as stark as with some other types of projectors. DLP projectors require no filters, and they can reproduce 3D images beautifully.

Expected lifespan of the light source: 2000 – 4000 hours; the image will begin to show a colored band when the light is about to burn out.

Liquid-Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) Projectors

Liquid-crystal displays project images through light reflected off of three internal panels. Of the options available, this type of projector has the best contrast ratio, exhibiting deep, true blacks and bright whites. It’s best used in an environment with a closer, smaller screen that’s no larger than 130 inches wide. Anything larger will result in blurred images during action-intense scenes.

These projectors are also not very portable. so buy one only if you’re going to be hosting events on-site rather than at different locations.

Expected lifespan of the light source: 2000 – 4000 hours

Light Emitting Diode (LED) Projectors

LED projectors throw images via a series of LED lights. This is the most energy-efficient of the four types of projector, and the colors are brighter and more vivid. If you’re looking for a lightweight, portable projector with low thermal emissions, this is a good choice. They’re also low on maintenance, but emit less brightness in terms of lumen rating than other models. That means they will work best in environments where you have complete control over the amount of ambient lighting.

Expected lifespan of the light source: Up to 20,000 hours.

Final Thoughts

Home and business electronics are an investment. Our goal is to provide you with the information you need to make smart buying decisions. With projectors, there’s no longer the need to make due with one-size fits all solutions. Technology has made possible the creation of projectors that are suited for indoors, outdoors, and enhanced for limited space or various lighting conditions without detracting from image or sound quality.

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