HomeTechnologyNewsThe worst parts of owning a projector

The worst parts of owning a projector

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Justin Duino/Review Geeks

Projectors are difficult to set up and require some maintenance. As a projector owner, you’ll spend a surprising amount of time and money keeping your home theater system up and running.

A projector will give you a cinematic viewing experience at a relatively low price. But unlike TVs, projectors can be difficult to set up and maintain. Lamps will fail, dust will collect, and you’ll have to work hard when installing your home theater.

These issues shouldn’t deter you from buying a projector – they’re very manageable annoyances and worth dealing with. With that said, this article should help you set up your home theater with a feeling of knowledge and confidence.

Projector lamps are expensive

The most annoying part of owning a projector is keeping up with the maintenance. Yes, projectors can get dusty and you’ll need to clean yours several times a year to prevent overheating. But actually I mean the lamp, the heart of the projector.

Projector lamps begin to dim as they age and eventually fail. Lamp life depends on how often you use the projector: most lamps are rated for about 2,000 hours, so if you use your projector for five hours a day, you’ll need a new lamp after 13 or 14 months of operation.

Yes, you can continue to use a projector lamp after it has exceeded its manufacturer’s rated life. But it will be extremely dim (usually half normal brightness) and will die at some point. Either way, I suggest you replace the lamp before it fails. In rare cases of extreme abuse, the lamp may burst and release mercury gas.

A photo of an Epson projector lamp.
This is what a projector lamp looks like, by the way. It’s not a light bulb. epson

Installing a new projector lamp is a simple task. Simply purchase a suitable lamp from a website like Pureland Supply, remove a few screws from your projector, pop out the old lamp, and snap in the new one. (Do not touch the glass of the lamp, as grease or dirt will create hot spots that could lead to lamp failure.)

The problem is that projector lamps are expensive. Some are $100 while others are over $200. And while there are plenty of cheap third-party lamps that will work with your projector, you’re better off buying whatever lamp the manufacturer recommends. It will shine brighter and run longer than non-branded options. (Avoid Amazon when shopping for projector lamps. There are too many counterfeit listings.)

If you don’t use your projector very often, this isn’t a major expense. But those who use a projector every day should set aside some money to replace the lamps. Please note that you can check the lamp life from your projector’s menu, accessed via the remote control or a button on the projector.

Cooldowns and warmups galore

A projector on a stand away from the screen
pkproject/shutterstock.com

Because projector lamps produce so much heat, they need to warm up and cool down slowly. In modern projectors, this process is quite fast: it takes about two minutes for a projector to warm up and reach full brightness, while it takes about 10 minutes to cool down.

For many people, this is not a serious problem. But if you plan to use a projector in a common area, such as a living room, it may be repeatedly turned on and off by family or friends. Forcing the temperature of the lamp to fluctuate without giving it time to settle is a bad idea. This will damage the lamp, reducing its life and image quality.

Interrupting the projector’s warm-up or cool-down cycle will also damage the lamp. If you unplug a projector while it’s cooling down, the fans will stop circulating air, forcing the lamp to cool down at an uneven rate. True, this issue doesn’t affect permanent installations, though it’s something to consider if you’re using your projector as a portable device (hence the photo of an outdoor projector).

Keep in mind that LED floodlights don’t produce a lot of heat, so they don’t have warm-up or cool-down periods. These issues only apply to LCD and laser projectors.

The best portable projectors


Anker Nebula Mars II Portable Home Theater Projector 300 ANSI Lumens 720p DLP Image 30-150 Inch Home Entertainment 10W Speakers Android 7.1 1 Second Auto Focus Movie Projector
Anker Nebula Mars II Portable Home Theater Projector 300 ANSI Lumens 720p DLP Image 30-150 Inch Home Entertainment 10W Speakers Android 7.1 1 Second Auto Focus Movie Projector

Anker NEBULA Capsule, Smart Wi-Fi Mini Projector, 100 ANSI Lumen Portable Projector, 360° Speaker, Movie Projector, 100 Inch Picture, 4Hr Video Playtime for Indoor and Outdoor, Watch Anywhere
Anker NEBULA Capsule, Smart Wi-Fi Mini Projector, 100 ANSI Lumen Portable Projector, 360° Speaker, Movie Projector, 100 Inch Picture, 4Hr Video Playtime for Indoor and Outdoor, Watch Anywhere

LG HF80LA Laser Smart Home Theater Cinebeam Projector (2019 Model - Class 1 Laser Product)
LG HF80LA Laser Smart Home Theater Cinebeam Projector (2019 Model – Class 1 Laser Product)

LG PF50KA100
LG PF50KA 100″ Portable Full HD (1920 x 1080) LED Smart TV Home Theater CineBeam Projector with Built-in Battery (2.5 Hours) – White

ASUS ZenBeam E1 Mini Portable Projector with HDMI/MHL Speakers 6000 mAh Battery Up to 5 Hours |  Car key |  Award Winning Design |  2 years warranty

The best pocket projector

ASUS ZenBeam E1 Mini Portable Projector with HDMI/MHL Speakers 6000 mAh Battery Up to 5 Hours | Car key | Award Winning Design | 2 years warranty

Installation requires some critical thinking

A giant 120-inch screen 'Finding Neo'
Josh Hendrickson/Review Geek

You can’t just throw a projector into a room and expect to get a great image. Setting up or installing a projector is more difficult than you might expect, since you have to deal with things like throw distance and ambient light.

Projectors use specialized lenses that are meant to operate at a certain distance from a screen or wall. This is known as the “throw distance”; some projectors are placed directly against the wall, while others must be placed several feet away from the projection surface.

Manufacturers often list several “throw ratios” for their projectors. These are specific throw distances that accommodate different screen sizes, such as 80-inch or 120-inch. Keeping a short throw ratio (with the projector relatively close to the screen) will give you a brighter, sharper image at the expense of size.

Therefore, when you buy and install a projector, you should pay close attention to the projection distance. Some projectors are “long throw,” which means they sit at least eight feet from the screen. In a smaller room, a “short-throw” projector may be more appropriate, since it sits closer to the projection surface. (Note that some projectors have a zoom lens, which allows for adjustable throw distance.)

You also have to worry about ambient light, especially if you plan to use your projector during the day. In a bright room, projectors can look very dim. The solution is to buy an extremely bright projector (which costs a fortune) or treat your room to remove some of the ambient light.

Blackout curtains are your friend, though lamps and other light sources can still obstruct your projector’s image. In fact, the light from your projector can bounce around the room, reducing the quality of the projected image. (This is why theaters are commonly painted black.)

Demanding home theaters often use ALR projection screens to reduce the impact of ambient or reflected light. These screens are extremely expensive and are usually overkill. I’m just mentioning ALR screens to put things in perspective: installing a projector is a tricky job!

You may have problems with external speakers

A close up of the Sonos Beam soundbar
Kris Wouk/Review Geek

Having a projector gives you instant access to a cinematic viewing experience. But if you want cinematic audio, you need external speakers. While some projectors have built-in soundbars (which are surprisingly decent), the vast majority of projectors use horrible speakers that sound terrible and distort at high volumes.

Connecting speakers to your TV is a relatively easy task. And the same goes for projectors: simply pair your projector with an A/V receiver or sound bar via HDMI cable. If your projector has an optical output (many don’t), you could also use powered speakers or a basic amplifier, though these options will be limited to stereo audio.

So what is the problem? Well, unless you have an ultra-short-throw projector (that sits right up against the screen or wall), you need to run some long cables to get it working. Just think for a second; your projector sits on one side of the room, while all your speakers should be on the opposite side.

The solution is to run a long HDMI or optical cable across the room (or inside the walls and ceiling). In a large room, this is an expensive and exhausting task, especially if your family is particular about how things should look (which is almost always the case).

For example, I have a 35-foot HDMI cable stretching around the corners of my living room ceiling, hidden by cable runners (which I bolted to the wall due to weight concerns). It wasn’t a cheap investment, it was a pain to install, and when I move in, I’ll have to take everything apart and patch a bunch of holes.

I should point out that some projectors support Bluetooth audio. And of course, you can always use wireless HDMI hardware to avoid long cables. But these solutions are somewhat unreliable and can introduce audiovisual latency, so they are not ideal in a home theater environment.

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