One of my favorite things about building a home theater is the option to massively upgrade your viewing screen. I found a projector to be great for my needs, but it won’t suit all situations.
So, can you watch TV on a home theater projector?
There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from watching anything you like TV on a home theater projector. Considering pretty much all your watching will be done using digital devices (satellite box, games console, streaming box, etc.), these can be easily connected to a projector.
Check out my top recommendations for projectors.
However, as I mentioned, a home theater projector won’t be suitable for every situation, and TVs do mostly beat projectors on a number of different fronts.
I decided to take a more detailed look about how easy projectors are to use, and times when you might want to stick with a TV. This article covers the benefits of using a projector, but also situations when a TV wins.
How Can You Watch TV On A Home Theater Projector?
I found that actually connecting a projector to your home theater setup is surprisingly easy, particularly if you’ve done all the wiring yourself so far.
All you basically need to do is substitute your projector for your TV, and it has the same output/input connections on the back, meaning there should be very little issue.
Here is a list of devices you should have no problem connecting to a projector:
- Satellite receiver box or cable box
- Games console
- DV/Blu-Ray player
- Streaming box (Android box or Apple TV)
However, you won’t be able to watch live TV on your projector if the signal is received directly by your TV. Some TVs have HD satellite receivers built in to save you having to buy a satellite or cable subscription.
As there’s no way to connect a TV directly to the projector, you won’t be able to watch live TV this way. That said, this will probably be the least likely scenario, as it’s fair to assume someone setting up a home theater already has an extensive collection of media devices.
So providing you use one of these devices for watching TV, there should be very little problem connecting everything up. But, that doesn’t answer the question as to whether a projector is really the right choice for your home theater. Read on for more information that should hopefully help you to answer this question.
Projector Vs. TV, Which Is Better?
Projectors do make a big difference to a home theater setup, particularly if you’ve invested plenty of money in a good sound system and you want a video system to match it.
A projector really changes things from living room to home theater without too much bother. The biggest deciding factor will of course be space.
While projectors and screens themselves don’t really take up that much room, you need to have your seating the correct distance from the screen for comfortable viewing. Many people probably won’t have the room for this, but it’ll be discussed in more detail later.
Here are the biggest things to consider when deciding between a TV or a projector.
Cost shouldn’t always be the main priority when buying new equipment, but it is for many people. Generally speaking, the size to cost ratio massively favors projectors. This is simply because a TV (say 60”) requires a 60” screen and all the necessary equipment to power it.
A projector with a 60” screen is much cheaper because the screen is just made from fabric, and for the most part the same projector could service a 50” screen or a 100” screen. This gives you more freedom to splash out on a good projector, and then buy a screen to suit.
Both TVs and projectors have pretty much the same resolution capabilities. It’s up to you whether you invest in 4K technology (arguably the future of viewing) or stick with 1080p HD.
As it stands, you’d need a very big TV to truly benefit from 4K resolution, as the increase in pixels becomes almost indistinguishable when you’re using a smaller TV. This is when projectors really shine because they tend to give you a screen big enough to benefit from the increased resolution.
So, this point isn’t saying that projectors win, but it comes down to what resolution you want, and whether you want to benefit from making that upgrade. If you do, then a projector is probably the way forward.
This point is almost a no-brainer, but projectors definitely come out on top here. TVs generally stop around 80”, although there is bigger if you’re looking hard enough.
Projector screens however, can be as big as you want them to be. This gives you much more freedom if you want a massive screen in your home theater, but if you’re looking for a standard size screen, you might be better to stick with a TV. At smaller sizes (think 50” or so), they still give great quality and resolution.
Generally speaking, TVs require no maintenance, and the parts involved will usually last long enough for you to replace the TV before anything breaks down.
Projectors, on the other hand, will likely need more maintenance, but this will depend on the type you decide to buy. LED projectors won’t really need anything, whereas if you buy one with a bulb you’ll find this will need replacing reasonably regularly.
You’ll also need to clean dust out of the projector to stop it breaking down. However, these aren’t massive issues, but if maintenance is a complete deal breaker for you, then stick with a TV.
This is possibly one of the most important points, because your preference will be dependent on how dark your room is.
A projector doesn’t produce anywhere near as much light as a TV, and so requires a much darker room. However, if you’re building a home theater, then it’s likely you’ve bought blackout curtains. If that’s the case, go ahead and get a projector.
However, a TV can service pretty much any room without the need for blackout curtains. In a particularly dark environment, a projector will be better because the dimmer picture will make watching easier.
Home theater projectors are capable of amazing contrast ratios if you’re willing to spend the money. TVs are also capable of excellent contrast ratios depending on the screen technology.
The deciding factor here should again be the brightness of the room, as a dim picture makes the issue of contrast irrelevant.
If you’ve got a dark room, then go ahead and buy a projector and enjoy the contrast ratio. If not, then stick with a TV, which will still provide great contrast. I recommend you read my article on type and color of projector screens which talks about the relation between brightness and color of the screen.
I’ve found that for my personal needs, a projector is a better choice. I have the room to sit far enough away from the screen for that to not be an issue, and I’ve also invested in blackout curtains to remove the issue of brightness.
However, TVs still do a great job, but if you’re truly dedicated to building the best home theater possible, then invest in a projector.
What Size Screen Is Right For My Home Theater?
The biggest issue that limits most people when deciding on a projector is the size of screen their room can handle. This doesn’t just mean the physical size of the screen, although that can hold many people back, but it also refers to the viewing distance.
This is how far you can comfortably sit from the screen and viewing be acceptable. Sitting too close to a screen can lead to headaches and eye problems, therefore it’s good to get it right. Read this guide on viewing distances.
Make sure any screen you buy is going to fit on the wall you intend to use. This should be your first check, and will obviously involve doing some measurements.
Projector screens are measured in the same way as TV screens: diagonally. For the purposes of this article and any calculations, I’m going to use a 120” screen. This is one of the most popular sizes for home theaters, and just makes things a bit easier.
So, first you need a wall with a big enough area free. A typical 120”, 16 x 9 screen is 105” long and 59” high, so make sure you check the size of the space. You can find relevant measurements very easily online, although many manufacturers should have this information available in product descriptions.
With a 120” screen at 16 x 9 ratio, you should ideally sit between 13 and 16ft away from the projector screen. This will give enough room for your eyes to not work too hard, but also mean you’re close enough to enjoy the picture.
As I mentioned, these calculations are done to give you a rough idea of the kind of space you’re looking at, but you can use this viewing distance calculator for exact measurements.
The last two things you need to consider are the projector size and aspect ratio. Your standard size screen will have an aspect ratio of 16 x 9, which is the most common and easiest to work with.
There are other screen sizes available, and you should go for whatever is right for your room, but just make sure all your equipment is matched on aspect ratio.
Finally, there’s the size of the projector. As I mentioned earlier, a projector is only capable of giving out so much light, and so you should invest in bigger and more powerful projectors as you start looking at larger screens.
Projector brightness is measured in lumens, and the higher the number, the brighter the image. Make sure your projector has the right lumen rating for the screen size and aspect ratio you’re looking to install.
What Type Of Projector Is Right For A Home Theater?
Choosing the right kind of projector is another important factor to consider. There are three main types of projector available: LED, LCD, and DLP. These all have their own benefits and drawbacks, and will definitely have an impact on your buying decision. Also read my article on LED projectors vs LED TV.
Here are some useful tips about choosing the right type of projector:
- DLP stands for digital light processing, and is the only one to use a lamp. The standard lifespan of a DLP lamp is between 2000 and 5000 hours, so you might find yourself replacing this quite often if you’re using it regularly. Also, there might be some evidence of banding if used for long periods of time.
- However, DLP projectors are much quicker to respond than the other types, and produce very sharp images. This does make them better suited to brighter rooms.
- LCD stands for liquid crystal display, which is the technology used in the vast majority of modern TVs and computer screens. The technology is still effective, and is usually on the cheaper side.
- While they require little maintenance in terms of moving parts, LCD projectors need their filters cleaning regularly, and have lower contrast ratios than the other types.
- LED stands for light emitting diode, and is another standard technology. The lifespan of the LEDs is amazing, and should theoretically never give out. They’re usually much more compact, so are perfect for those with less space.
- However, LED projectors are the dimmest, and so are only really suitable for the darkest rooms. If you decide to go for an LED projector, invest in some blackout curtains.
All these types of projector are capable of the same resolutions, so don’t think about this when deciding. When I was deciding on which kind of projector to buy, I found the most important factors were brightness and maintenance.
In the end I opted for a LCD projector because cleaning the filter seemed like it was going to be the least amount of work involved. However, I’d recommend doing plenty of research into the different types to see which would be suitable for your home theater.
Where Should You Mount A Projector?
Mounting a projector is probably one of the most important parts of the whole job. Not only will it affect your future options for moving everything around, it’ll also have an impact on the overall look of your home theater.
I’ve explained the whole process, but you can watch the short video below for easy understanding.
The two main options are ceiling mounted and tabletop, and while there might not seem much in it, it’s worth considering both options. Here are some general tips for deciding on projector placement.
Ceiling Mounted Projector
Mounting your home theater projector on the ceiling will give your setup a much cleaner look, and mean that you don’t have to worry about cables running along the floor.
Your projector will need to be connected to input devices, so always factor this in when considering placement and where you plan to mount it.
Mounting a projector on the ceiling will also give you a fixed placement, meaning you don’t have to worry about getting the distance right every time you want to use it.
However, on the flipside of this is the fact that your projector’s placement will be fixed, which isn’t ideal in every situation. For example, if you change screens, or want to connect a different device or use a different aspect ratio, then you’ll have to move the projector.
Ceiling mounting is a much more permanent choice, so consider this if you might move your home theater at some point.
The other main option is standing your projector on a table. This is ideal if you want to move your projector elsewhere, such as the garden in summer, and most are very light so this shouldn’t be a problem. It also allows you to change your viewing distance whenever you want, such as if you change the size of your screen.
On the flipside of this is the fact that you’ll need to set your projector up every time you want to use it. If you’ve wheeled it out from somewhere, this may mean having to refocus. Also, your home theater won’t have the same clean look as a ceiling mounted projector, and you might also have wires running everywhere, which can be a trip hazard.
I found the best setup to be a ceiling mounted projector, but this won’t be right for everyone. Mounting it on the ceiling makes things easier if you only plan to use it in your home theater, but if you want to take your home theater elsewhere, then put your projector on a tabletop.
Final Thoughts On Using a Projector For Watching TV
Watching TV on your projector is entirely possible, and definitely the way forward if you want a proper home theater setup.
It’s really easy to connect devices to a projector, and these are really easy to set up too. However, projectors don’t cover all situations, and if you’re using a small room, you’ll probably be better sticking with a TV.
A projector is a great choice if you’ve got the room, and does everything your TV can. Whichever option you choose, just make sure it’s the best choice for your needs.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.