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Projectors vs. TVs

We pit TVs and projectors against each other to help you find the best entertainment setup for your home.

Wondering about the pros and cons of a TV vs. projector for home entertainment? We’ve compared the features of the two so you can find the best technology for your living room or home cinema.

Overall, we like TVs best for a bright and clear picture that doesn’t require too much space, but projectors can give you a huge screen for less cash.

TVs vs. projectors: cost

TV projectors are much more cost-effective, at least in terms of screen size for your dollar. You can get a decent HD projector and 100-inch screen for under $1,000, whereas an 80-inch TV is going to cost you at least $1,500, if not much more.

While screen size tends to be the starting point for most shoppers, other features quickly drive up the cost, like OLED technology in TVs and lasers in HD projectors.

Winner: Projectors are generally a better bang for your buck than smart TVs.

Not convinced that a projector is right for you? We think that the TCL 5-Series ROKU Smart TV is the best TV under $500. Read our editorial picks for Best Smart TVs, or check out the TCL 5-Series on Amazon for more information.

TVs vs. projectors: maintenance

For the most part, modern TVs are maintenance-free—the LEDs that power them have such a long lifespan that you’re more likely to replace the entire TV before having to worry about the backlights.

Projectors, on the other hand, tend to use lamps that eventually burn out. You also need to worry about dust getting inside the projector. For some, any maintenance requirement at all will be a total deal breaker, but if you’re willing to put in the work, you can find tons of replacement bulbs for projectors online.

Winner: Modern smart TVs require a lot less maintenance than projectors.

TVs vs. projectors: resolution

4K is all the rage these days, and both large-screen TVs and projectors can handle it wonderfully. There’s more to the resolution story than just a number, though. With 4K, it can be hard to notice the difference it makes unless you’re watching on a huge screen. Cramming that many pixels into a regular TV size makes them inherently small and hard to distinguish.

HD projectors really shine here, since the screen is large enough to show the tremendous amount of detail that comes with 4K. With TVs getting bigger every year, this gap is closing, but you’re more likely to have a huge screen with a projector. So, if you’re watching 4K content, you’ll probably want to go that route to enjoy all 4K has to offer.

Winner: Projectors make it easier to enjoy 4K resolution on the big screen.

TVs will still get you 4K shows and movies. We think the LG CX 4K Smart TV is the best smart TV out there for picture quality. Read more about it in our Best Smart TVs guide, or check it out on Amazon.

TVs vs. projectors: screen size

This is an easy win for projectors, although as noted above, the gap is closing. Modern TVs tend to max out around 80 inches, although there are some that exceed 100 inches.

While we’re expecting that number to continue to rise, there’s a practical limit to how big TVs can go, since generally someone has to get the thing to your home and mount it. Plus, jumbo-size TVs cost a fortune, which excludes all but the most serious home-cinema buffs.

Winner: Projectors can give you that box-office feel at home.

Don’t forget about your TV projector screen

A projector is only half the story—you need a screen to capture and display the projection. When shopping for a screen for your projector, look for size, material (generally vinyl or a woven material), and a property known as gain.

Gain is a measure of how much brighter the screen will make the projection, with a gain of 1.0 being no increase and 2.0 being not quite double. Our favorite projector screen overall is the 100-inch Silver Ticket STR-169100, which combines a great picture with a great price.

TVs vs. projectors: brightness

Brightness matters because the dimmer a screen is, the darker the room needs to be for the picture to stay clear. Most projectors require a dim room to produce a crisp picture—think a dedicated media room or home cinema. Projectors just don’t put out enough light to compete with a sunny, open living room—at least not while remaining affordable.

TVs, on the other hand, easily put out plenty of brightness, especially with more modern LED TVs. Now, brighter isn’t always better. If you’re watching in a dark room (like a dedicated home theater), the lower light of a projector might actually be easier on the eyes. But for general use, the convenience and multifunctionality of a TV is tough to beat.

Winner: TVs keep your shows and movies brighter in light-filled and darker rooms.

Brightness can be a deal breaker if you’re looking for an outdoor TV. Read our Guide to Outdoor TV to find out more.

TVs vs. projectors: contrast

Projectors are capable of very high contrast ratios. The issue is that contrast is also a function of brightness. As mentioned above, unless you’re in a dark room, a projector is likely to wash out, ruining the contrast.

TVs are bright enough to compete with the environment, and if you spring for an OLED model, you get an essentially infinite contrast ratio because of how the screen technology works. If contrast is important or if you’ll be watching anywhere but a dark home theater, TVs are the way to go.

Winner: Smart TVs give you more contrast than projectors.

TVs vs. projectors: space

Projectors themselves take up very little space. The screens can be stowed away, and the actual projection unit is relatively small. What requires space is having enough distance from the screen to make viewing comfortable.

If you try to cram an oversized screen into a room that’s too small, you’ll be forced to sit too close, making it hard to take in all the details of the content. Since the main appeal of a projector is for the giant screen, we give the nod in this category to TVs.

Winner: TVs can fit in pretty much any room.

TVs vs. projectors: sound quality

Nearly every TV comes with built-in speakers, and many projectors do too—but they’re rarely any good. For a true home theater experience, you’ll want to invest in a dedicated speaker system. That said, projectors don’t always come with built-in speakers, and when they do, they’re even worse than what you’ll find in TVs.

Winner: Built-in TV speakers are waaaaay better than projector speakers.

For projectors, we recommend getting a sound bar or surround sound system. Find out more about the top TV sound systems by flipping through our Best TV Sound Systems review.

So, should you get a TV or a projector?

While TVs take a few more categories than projectors (five vs. three), this is still a close race.

In the end, the one that’s better for you really comes down to personal preference and how you plan to use it.

Best projectors and TVs

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