Making your first venture into a true home cinema set-up can be as exciting as it is daunting. Even the best projectors are fickle beasts, and you don’t enjoy the plug-and-play luxury that you’ll find with TVs, but the delayed gratification of finally getting that big-screen cinematic experience at home is well worth the effort.
There are many potential projector pitfalls that you can easily stumble into, but luckily we are here to guide you away from those and toward becoming an enlightened home cinema expert. Each type and model of projector has its unique quirks, so be prepared to take some time getting to know how yours works, and what you need to do to get the most out of it.
Mistake 1: Not picking the right projector
Projectors come in many shapes and sizes; each providing different screen sizes, light sources, throw ratios, resolutions and features. Before jumping headfirst into the world of projectors, and to help you make an informed buying choice, it's important to consider how you’ll be using your projector, and what you want it to do.
Only use your projector for the occasional movie night and want something compact for smaller rooms? Then a short-throw projector like the BenQ W1800 that can sit comfortably on a coffee table while kicking out a crisp cinematic image is a good choice.
If, on the other hand, you want a more permanently situated projector, then perhaps a more traditional, and bulkier, home cinema projector like the Epson EH-TW7000 or the Sony VPL-XW5000ES with their sharp 4K picture quality is the way to go.
Perhaps you’re after a true TV replacement – in which case an ultra-short throw projector is the one to go for. USTs sit beneath the area you want to project onto, and so are more 'TV like' and discreet. The LG Cinebeam HU715Q is our current favourite UST projector thanks to its sleek design and punchy image.
Projector performance also varies greatly depending on the light source it's equipped with. Projectors usually come in either lamp or laser light source configurations, with the latter becoming increasingly popular thanks to their improved brightness and colours, and requiring less frequent maintenance.
In terms of display technologies, there is a choice of LCD, DLP and LCoS. LCD and DLP are the most common projectors you'll find, with the likes of the Optoma UHDZ50 being among the DLP crowd. These often dependable mid-range choices are a good place to start if don't want to splash out on the most expensive option right away. Liquid crystal on silicone (LCoS) is used in higher-end projectors, such as the JVC DLA-NZ7, and combines aspects of both LCD and DLP to create an often excellent image.
You'll find more handy advice and top recommendations in our projectors best buy guide.
Mistake 2: Rushing the set-up
OK, so you've chosen your projector and unboxed it in your home cinema room. Time to hit the lights and get movie-watching, right? Wrong. While it may be tempting to just slap the projector on a shelf and press play on that latest Marvel movie, we’d recommend taking your time during the set-up process to ensure your projector is kicking out the best image it can. Is it a fiddly and tedious process? Yes. Will you get frustrated? Undoubtedly. But especially with the likes of ultra-short throw and home cinema projectors, once it's done, it's done – and you will notice the benefits.
Most projectors have adjustable feet and lens shift for levelling out a crooked picture, and sharpening up an image with micro-adjustments to the focus wheel makes the world of difference. If you’re the impatient type, then look for a projector with motorised lens functions as it can make the set-up process much easier – however, you should still be prepared to spend some time adjusting.
We would recommend avoiding using the keystone correction function on your projector, which kind of 'forces' your image into being rectangular. This can distort the image and impact picture quality. Rather, physically move and adjust the projector as much as possible to get the image to fit the screen or wall you are projecting onto as best as it can before resorting to digital correction.
Mistake 3: Not exploring the settings
Again, before you sit back and start watching, take some time to get to know your projector, and just what it can do. Most projectors have extensive settings menus to control things like pre-set picture modes, contrast, brightness, colour temperature and more. These lists appear imposing at first glance, but taking a moment to tweak each setting will begin to give you an idea as to what each one controls, and whether or not you want to use it.
The pre-set picture modes are a good place to start, as you can get a sense of how you’d like the picture to look, as well as suit it to the room you are in. Most projectors include various presets to make the picture more vivid or natural, as well as brighten or darken the image depending on the light levels in the room you’re using it in. From there you can take steps to adjust individual settings to tweak the picture vibrancy, brightness and contrast to best suit you.
One adjustment we always recommend you look at is the motion setting. Motion can make or break a projector, and often companies include smoothing software which in most cases, gives us a case of the dreaded 'soap opera' effect. This is when motion is overly smoothed so it almost looks unrealistic. It's down to you how much judder you can handle, but we’d recommend you turn motion smoothing down to as low as possible, or ideally off – ideally your choice of projector should handle motion well to begin with.
Mistake 4: Not using the correct HDMI ports
This is a simple yet easy mistake to make – check the labels on your HDMI ports. More projectors are receiving HDMI 2.1 connectors which can provide higher refresh rates when using consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X, so for the gamers out there that want a projector-based set-up, this is a major thing to look out for. This is also important for connecting soundbars and other audio equipment, as certain HDMI ports will be designated for eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel - which, as you can imagine, is better than normal ARC).
When plugging in any external devices, take a moment to ensure you’re using the connection that will get the most out of your projector – for example, the LG CineBeam HU715Q has one HDMI 2.0 port, and one HDMI 2.1, the latter being the one you'd want to plug your games console into as it supports such features as VRR, ALLM and 4K/120Hz gaming.
Mistake 5: Not looking after your projector
Projectors have many fragile components that can degrade over time, so looking after your projector to prolong its longevity is key.
Turn your projector off when it's not in use, as leaving it running for extended periods can burn through the bulb’s lifespan (this of course is less relevant to laser projectors). Projectors are also power-hungry beasts that kick out a lot of heat and require constant cooling, so make sure you leave lots of ventilation space around it to prevent overheating.
Many projectors include an eco-mode or power-off timer which will automatically power down your projector if it's been inactive for a certain period of time, as well as ensure that it doesn’t use an excessive amount of power; however, using this can result in a dimmer and more pared back image.
Many projectors are rated for thousands of hours of use, and lamps can be replaced, but if you take the necessary precautions to care for your projector, then you should be able to squeeze the most out of it – allowing you to spend many more weeks and years in the company of your beloved home cinema projector.
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