Trying to decide between a projector and a big screen TV is tough. For a lot of people, TVs are the default when it comes to watching their favorite movies and shows, while projectors are reserved for movie theaters (if they’re considered at all).

That’s a shame because good projectors are both affordable and accessible, and they really give TVs a run for their money. But which is better for your living room, home cinema, or media room? Let’s run through the features and compare the two so you can find the best technology for your entertainment.

Cost of TVs vs Projectors

TVs vs. Projectors: Cost

Winner: Projectors

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.

Projector + Screen80-inch TV
Under $1,000At least $1,500
Maintenance of TVs vs Projectors

TVs vs. Projectors: Maintenance

Winner: TVs

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.

Resolution of TVs vs Projectors

TVs vs. Projectors: Resolution

Winner: Projectors

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.

Screen Size of TVs vs Projectors

TVs vs. Projectors: Screen Size

Winner: Projectors

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.

Projector Screens: What to Look For

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.

Brightness of TVs vs Projectors

TVs vs. Projectors: Brightness

Winner: TVs

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.

Contrast of TVs vs Projectors

TVs vs. Projectors: Contrast

Winner: TVs

Projectors are capable of very high contrast ratios (this Optoma UHD60 has a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, for example). 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.

Space TVs vs Projectors

TVs vs. Projectors: Space

Winner: TVs

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.

Sound Quality TVs vs Projectors

TVs vs. Projectors: Sound Quality

Winner: TVs

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.

So, which one should you get?

Projectors-vs-TVs-Infographic

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.

Our TV Recommendations

Our Projector Recommendations

Do you have any experience using a projector in your home? Did you miss your TV? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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