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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 whether you want a TV or projector for your home? We’ve compared the pros and cons of both so you can choose the best device for your living room or home cinema.

In the past, we recommended TVs for a bright, clear picture and better built-in speakers. But lately, you can find projectors with true 4K ultra-high definition, HDR, more powerful speakers, and even integrated soundbars for the same price—or cheaper.

Ultimately, TVs still win because they’re familiar and simple—but projectors are catching up, and totally worth a little extra effort in terms of setup.

Best TV projectors

Price: $3,299.00

Brightness: 3,000 lumens

Screen size: 120”

Resolution: 4K w/ HDR

View on Amazon

Price: $899.99

Brightness: 1,000 lumens

Screen size: 30″–150”

Resolution: 1080p w/ HDR

View on Amazon

Price: $84.98

Brightness: 5,500 lumens

Screen size: 40”–200″

Resolution: 1080p w/ HDR

View on Amazon

* Amazon.com Price; $3,299.00 (as of 6/7/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.
† Amazon.com Price; $899.00 (as of 6/7/21 12:10 MST). Note: item goes in and out of stock. Read full disclaimer.
‡ Amazon.com Price; $84.98 (as of 6/7/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

If you’re curious about projectors, but hesitant to spend too much money, you can try the DBPOWER RD-820 for $84.98. It has up to a 200-inch screen, 720p resolution, and is best for brighter rooms. It’s basic, but it’s a decent intro to projection TV.

The Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 ($899.99 on Amazon) isn’t very bright, but it has up to a 150” screen, 1080p resolution with HDR, Yamaha-designed speakers, and built-in Android TV so you can use your favorite streaming apps. Note: this projector is frequently out of stock on Amazon, so it sells fast.

If you’re ready to pull the trigger on a sweet laser projector, the Optoma Cinemax P2 ($3,299.00 on Amazon) has an ultra-short throw distance, meaning you can place it inches away from the screen and get a brilliant 120” image. It also has a built-in soundbar with Dolby Digital 2.0.

View best projectors

Best smart TVs

Best overall

SAMSUNG Q90T Series

samsung-qled-smart-tv

Price (65″): $1,797.99

Screen sizes: 4

Display type: QlED

Resolution: 4K w/ HDR

View on Amazon

Best under $1,000

SAMSUNG Q60T Series

samsung-qled-quantum

Price: $899.99†

Screen sizes: 7

Display type: QLED

Resolution: 4K w/ HDR

View on Amazon

Best under $500

TCL 5-Series ROKU Smart TV

Price: $498.00

Screen sizes: 4

Display type: QLED

Resolution: 4K w/ HDR

View on Amazon

* Amazon.com Price; $1,797.99 (as of 6/7/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.
† Amazon.com Price; $849.99 (as of 6/7/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.
‡ Amazon.com Price; $498.00 (as of 6/7/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

Our pick for the best smart TV under $500 is the 50” version of the TCL 5-Series ROKU Smart TV. It delivers a brilliant QLED picture with 4K resolution and HDR, an excellent user interface, and integrated Roku, Google Assistant, and Alexa.

If your budget permits something a bit nicer, the SAMSUNG Q60T Series ($674.95 for the 55” version) has a QLED screen, 4K resolution, Quantum HDR, 60Hz refresh rate, and built-in Alexa.

And if you can afford something even fancier, you can jump up to the Samsung Q90T Series Smart TV ($1,597.99), which has all of the same features as the Q60T Series plus double the refresh rate (120Hz) and object-tracking sound, with two top and two bottom built-in speakers—perfect for gaming or watching sports.

Now let’s compare TVs and projectors based on some key factors: cost, maintenance, resolution, screen size, brightness, contrast, space requirements, and sound quality.

View best smart TVs

TVs vs. projectors: price

TV projectors are much more cost-effective, at least in terms of screen size for your dollar. You can get a sweet HD projector for under $1,000 and a 100”–120” screen for $100, whereas a 75–85” TV could cost $1,800 or 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 50” 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. If replacing bulbs turns you off, but you really want a projector, get one with a laser light source—they cost more but last much longer.

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 TVs, it can be hard to notice the difference it makes unless you’re watching on a huge screen. So 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 a projector gives you large screen sizes for less money. So, if you’re watching 4K content, you’ll probably want to go with a projector.

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

TVs vs. projectors: screen size

This is an easy win for projectors, which can have screen sizes up to 300 inches, although, as noted above, the gap is closing. Modern TVs tend to max out around 80 inches, but there are some that exceed 100 inches.

While we expect TV screen sizes to continue growing, there’s a practical limit to how big TVs can go, since you have to actually get it inside 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 movie-theater feel at home.

Projectors needs screens

While you can project onto a wall, you should really buy a screen. For the best picture, you need a perfectly smooth projection surface that’s either white or gray and made of white blackout cloth, polyester, plastic, or PVC.

The screen should also have a property known as gain. Gain is a measure of how much brighter the screen will make the projection. For example, a gain of 1.0 has no increase while a gain of 2.0 is almost doubly bright.

Fortunately, you have choices when it comes to projectors screens—so it’ll be easy to find one that fits your home theater room and your budget.

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TVs vs. projectors: brightness

TVs, especially more modern LED TVs, are plenty bright—and you can adjust the brightness to your taste. So, for general use, the convenience and multifunctionality of a TV is tough to beat.

Projectors have a fixed brightness measured in lumens. A projector with a brightness rating of 2,000 or lower is best for darker rooms (dedicated home theaters). Projectors with higher brightness are best for rooms with more ambient lighting (like living rooms).

Now, it’s important to note that brighter isn’t always better. Don’t buy a high-brightness projector thinking it’ll work in any situation. If you use it in a darker room, the image will be washed out—and you’ll probably get a headache.

Winner: TVs have more adaptable lighting and are easier to view in either light or dark rooms.

Brightness can be a dealbreaker 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 better 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. But throw distance is what actually determines how much space projectors require.

Throw distance is how far a projector needs to be from the projection surface in order to get the best and biggest picture.

Many projectors, especially the cheaper ones, have to be quite far away, like 10–16 feet. If you don’t have that kind of room in your home theater, look for short-throw and ultra-short throw projectors that can be much closer to the screen.

Viewing distance is another concern. Cramming an oversized screen into a small room will force you to sit too close, which affects how you see the image details. For a 65-inch TV or projector screen, you should sit about nine feet away from your screen.

Check out our TV Viewing Distance Calculator to see how big a screen your home theater room can fit comfortably.

Winner: TVs can fit in pretty much any room.

TVs vs. projectors: audio

Nearly every TV comes with built-in speakers, and they’re often all you need, unless you want to level up your home theater with a surround sound system or soundbar.

Many projectors also have internal speakers. Usually, they’re not great—but they’re getting better. You can even find projectors with specially designed audio or integrated soundbars. In these cases, the projector audio matches or beats TV speakers.

But generally speaking, for a true home-theater experience, you’ll want a TV.

Winner: Projector audio is getting better, but built-in TV speakers are almost always best.

Final take

While TVs and projectors each win four categories, and projector technology is catching up to TV tech, we won’t call it a tie yet. TV is simpler because it’s familiar; you know how it works. And, while a projector isn’t terribly complicated, if it’s new to you, you should expect some trial and error—but probably less than you imagine.

Projectors vs. TV FAQ

How does a projector work?

The basic technical answer is that a projector shines a light source through a spinning color wheel in order to produce an image. The image is generated through a connected device, like a laptop, smartphone, or USB drive.

Projectors can be placed on a flat surface or mounted on ceilings or walls—and, of course, aimed at a projection surface, ideally a screen.

How much is a projector?

A basic lamp-or-LED projector like the DBPOWER RD-820 goes for $84.98 on Amazon‡.

Many solid, reliable, longer-lasting projectors with more features run $450–$1,500, like the Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 ($899.99 on Amazon†).

And an awesome, tricked-out laser projector will cost you $2,000–$6,000. We recommend the Optoma Cinemax P2 ($3,299.00* on Amazon).

‡ Amazon.com Price; $84.98 (as of 6/7/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.
† Amazon.com Price; $899.00 (as of 6/7/21 12:10 MST). Note: item frequently goes out of stock. Read full disclaimer.
* Amazon.com Price; $3,299.00 (as of 6/7/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

How long do projector bulbs last?

Bulb life varies depending on the type of light source your projector uses.

  • Lamp projectors use light bulbs that can last 1,000–5,000 hours (the average life span is 3,000 hours).
  • LED projectors last much longer than lamps, like 20,000–60,000 hours, and they use less power, but they’re not as bright as lamps or lasers.
  • Laser projectors are brighter, very energy-efficient, and can last 20,000–30,000 hours. They’re also expensive but worth the extra cash.

Disclaimer

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