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The Worst Parts of Owning a Projector

A BenQ projector with its remote at CES 2023.
Justin Duino / Review Geek
Projectors are difficult to set up and require some maintenance. As a projector owner, you will spend a surprising amount of time and money keeping your home theater going.

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 build up, and you’ll put in some elbow grease when setting up your home theater.

These problems shouldn’t dissuade you from buying a projector—they’re very manageable annoyances, and they’re worth dealing with. That said, this article should help you set up your home theater with a sense of knowledge and confidence.

Projector Lamps Are Expensive

The most annoying part of owning a projector is keeping up with maintenance. Yeah, projectors can get dusty, and you’ll need to clean yours off a few times a year to prevent overheating. But I’m really talking about the lamp—the heart of the projector.

Projector lamps start to dim as they age, and they 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, it’ll need a new lamp after 13 or 14 months of operation.

Yes, you can continue using a projector lamp after it exceeds the manufacturer’s rated lifespan. But it will be extremely dim (usually half the normal brightness), and it will die at some point. Either way, I suggest that you replace the lamp before it fails. In rare cases of extreme abuse, the lamp can pop and release mercury gas.

A photo of an Epson projector lamp.
This is what a projector lamp looks like, by the way. It isn’t a bulb. Epson

Installing a new projector lamp is a simple task. You just buy an appropriate lamp from a website like Pureland Supply, undo a few screws on your projector, pop out the old lamp, and stick in the new one. (Don’t touch the lamp’s glass, as grease or dirt will create hot spots that could lead to lamp failure.)

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

If you don’t use your projector too often, this isn’t a major expense. But those who use a projector every day should set aside some cash for replacement lamps. Note that you can check lamp life from your projector’s menu, which is accessed through the remote control or a button on the projector.

 

Cooldowns and Warmups Galore

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

Because projector lamps produce so much heat, they need to slowly warm up and cool down. In modern projectors, this process is pretty quick—it takes about two minutes for a projector to warm up and reach maximum brightness, while cooldown takes about 10 minutes.

For many people, this isn’t 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 lamp to fluctuate in temperature without giving it any time to settle is a bad idea. This will damage the lamp, reducing its lifespan and image quality.

Interrupting the projector’s warmup or cooldown cycle will also harm the lamp. If you unplug a projector while it’s cooling down, the fans will stop circulating air, forcing the lamp to cool at an uneven rate. Admittedly, this problem doesn’t affect permanent installations, though it’s something to keep in mind if you use your projector as a portable device (hence the photo of a projector outside).

Note that LED projectors don’t produce a lot of heat, so they don’t have warmup or cooldown periods. These problems only apply to LCD and laser projectors.

The Best Portable Projectors

Nebula, by Anker, Mars II 300 ANSI Lumen Home Theater Portable Projector with 720p 30 to 150 Inch DLP Picture, Home Entertainment, 10W Speakers, Android 7.1, 1-Second Autofocus, Movie Projector
The Best for Most People
Nebula, by Anker, Mars II 300 ANSI Lumen Home Theater Portable Projector with 720p 30 to 150 Inch DLP Picture, Home Entertainment, 10W Speakers, Android 7.1, 1-Second Autofocus, 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 Inside and Outside, Watch Anywhere
The Budget Pick
Anker NEBULA Capsule, Smart Wi-Fi Mini Projector, 100 ANSI Lumen Portable Projector, 360° Speaker, Movie Projector, 100 Inch Picture, 4Hr Video Playtime for Inside and Outside, Watch Anywhere
LG HF80LA Laser Smart Home Theater Cinebeam Projector (2019 Model - Class 1 Laser Product)
The Premium Pick
LG HF80LA Laser Smart Home Theater Cinebeam Projector (2019 Model - Class 1 Laser Product)
LG PF50KA 100” Portable Full HD (1920 x 1080) LED Smart TV Home Theater CineBeam Projector with Built-in Battery (2.5 Hours) - White
The Best Smart Projector
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 Portable Mini Projector with Speakers HDMI/MHL 6000mAh Battery up to 5 hours | Auto Keystone | Award winning design | 2 Years Warranty
The Best Pocket Projector
ASUS ZenBeam E1 Portable Mini Projector with Speakers HDMI/MHL 6000mAh Battery up to 5 hours | Auto Keystone | Award winning design | 2 Years Warranty

Installation Requires Some Critical Thinking

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

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

Projectors use specialized lenses which are intended to operate at a certain distance from a screen or wall. This is referred to as the “throw distance;” some projectors sit 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 inches or 120 inches. Sticking with a short throw ratio (with the projector relatively close to the screen) will give you a brighter and sharper image at the expense of size.

So, when shopping for and installing a projector, you need to pay close attention to the throw distance. Some projectors are “long throw,” meaning that they sit at least eight feet from the screen. In a smaller room, a “short throw” projector may be more appropriate, as it sits closer to the projection surface. (Note that some projectors have a zoom lens, which allows for an adjustable throw distance.)

You also need 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 ambient light.

Blackout curtains are your friend, although lamps and other light sources can still obstruct your projector’s image. In fact, the light from your projector can bounce around the room and reduce your projected image quality! (That’s why theaters are commonly painted black.)

Hardcore home theaters often use ALR projection screens to reduce the impact of ambient or reflected light. These screens are extremely expensive, and they’re usually overkill. I’m only mentioning ALR screens to put things in perspective—installing a projector is a complicated job!

You May Have Trouble with External Speakers

A closeup of the Sonos Beam soundbar
Kris Wouk / Review Geek

Owning 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 awful little speakers that sound terrible and distort at high volumes.

Connecting speakers to your TV is a relatively easy task. And the same is true for projectors—simply pair your projector with an A/V receiver or soundbar over an HDMI cable. If your projector has an optical output (many do not), you could also use powered speakers or a basic amplifier, although these options will be limited to stereo audio.

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

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

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

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

How to Pick a Projector

120'' Projector Screen Projection Screen Manual Pull Down
120'' Projector Screen Projection Screen Manual Pull Down
Elitech Universal Extendable Ceiling Projector Mount
Elitech Universal Extendable Ceiling Projector Mount
BenQ X1300i
BenQ X1300i
BenQ HT2050A 1080P Home Theater Projector
BenQ HT2050A 1080P Home Theater Projector
Optoma GT1080HDR Gaming Projector
Optoma GT1080HDR Gaming Projector
LG Electronics HU715QW Ultra Short Throw 4K UHD
LG Electronics HU715QW Ultra Short Throw 4K UHD
Anker Nebula Capsule Max
Anker Nebula Capsule Max
7500Lumens Mini Projector
7500Lumens Mini Projector
Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is the News Editor for Review Geek, where he covers breaking stories and manages the news team. He joined Life Savvy Media as a freelance writer in 2018 and has experience in a number of topics, including mobile hardware, audio, and IoT. Read Full Bio »