Large TV vs. Projector: Pros and Cons of Large Home Theater Screens

A bright room is the enemy of the projector’s image quality.


For almost 20 years, I have been using a projector as my main “TV”. Watching some of the best shows in history on a 100-inch screen has been a joy. Movies on a 10-foot-wide screen are the ultimate in immersion. All televisions are postage stamped on this. For years I have recommended to get a projector on a large TV, because the images they created were significantly larger, and yet much cheaper, than huge TVs.

However, over the past few years there have been some major changes that have changed the equation a lot. So if you are planning to upgrade to a really big screen, is a projector still the way to go in 2021? Let’s break it down.

Read more: Best TV for 2021

Compare: Price vs performance

When I originally wrote the words “don’t buy a jumbo lcd tv, buy a projector“Nine years ago, the landscape of televisions and pajamas (ie projectors, not pajamas) was very different. extraordinarily expensive. For about what you would pay for a 50-inch TV, you could get a projector and screen that had four times the screen space. A 100-inch TV makes watching everything an event. The better projectors also had much better contrast ratios, and therefore better picture quality, than most televisions of the day.


Short throw projectors can help set up a spotlight in just about any room, but they can still look washed out in brighter lighting.

Sarah Tew / CNET


Brett Pearce / CNET

Life goes pretty fast. Technology even more. These days you can get CNET Editors’ Choice Winner 75-inch TVs for under $ 1,400 or a 77-inch OLED (OLED!) for less than $ 3,000. It’s still not 100 inches, but they’re really big, bright, and unlike many projectors, able to do HDR and wide range of colors very good. Ultra HD resolution looks fantastic on larger screens, but many 4K projectors have their own problems.

To put it simply, the price of large televisions has fallen sharply and their performance has increased dramatically, both at rates much faster than projectors. Yes, you can get inexpensive, bright projectors, but their overall picture quality is inferior to most TVs.

Read more: Best 75-inch TVs of 2021

Contrast: TVs win for HDR

HDR, or high dynamic range is a problem for projectors. While many projectors can accept HDR video, almost all have issues pin up HDR video. The problem is twofold. The first is that even the best home projectors aren’t as bright, at least compared to the average TV. The second is that more affordable pajamas also don’t have the Contrast ratio necessary to show HDR at its best. Many models can not display wide range of colors at all.

Read more: Why you shouldn’t expect great HDR from a projector

sony side by side

Two projectors, side by side, performing the same content. This is an example of good and bad HDR processing. Notice that there are three individual lights in the image on the left, but only one drop of light on the right.

Geoffrey Morrison / CNET

Now, high-end projectors can do WCG and do a decent job with HDR, but at a much higher price than a large TV. Even the best and brightest projectors are still one fraction of the brightness of a mid-range television. Brightness is not everything (although one can argue, the contrast ratio is), but when it comes to HDR light output it is much more important.

Can a projector be beautiful without HDR? Yes, but that’s another missing piece in the PJ puzzle.

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A little thing called light

Forget 4K and HDR, the biggest image quality problem with projectors is way more convenient: ambient light. A projector projects light onto a screen, but any other light in the room is also projected onto the screen. The brighter parts of the image are not greatly affected, but the darker parts are. That is, if you watch sports or something shiny overall, you are fine. If you are watching a dark movie or playing a dark video game, it will be hard to see.

Yes, there are ambient light shields out there, but they are expensive. And physics is physics. No matter how much a fancy screen reduces the impact of ambient light, it will always look worse than the same screen in a dark room. If you want to watch your projector during the day in a room with a lot of windows (like the one at the top of this article) and enjoy the best picture quality, you’ll need a lot of curtains.

A television will create a much brighter image than any projector, an image that resists better in bright rooms. That obviously didn’t convince me to switch to a TV, but a complete revelation: I use blackout curtains in my TV room. Most people are probably not ready to make this sacrifice.

Sorry, projectors, but televisions win

It pains me to say this, but for most people, televisions are now a better option than projectors. It was kind of true when I said the opposite a few years ago, but it’s definitely true now. Unless you’re willing to make some sacrifices for your living situation, a TV’s slightly smaller screen will be easier to live with. And in the case of OLED and many of the top performers LCD and QLED TVs, the picture quality will also be significantly better, especially with HDR.

Owning a projector these days means sacrificing a variety of things like picture quality, roominess, possibly price, all in the name of the biggest picture possible. Don’t get me wrong, a huge picture is great, but it’s a lot harder to justify now, given how better and cheaper really huge TVs are.

That’s not to say the spotlight has stalled. They keep getting brighter and their contrast and color abilities keep improving. Models using lasers and LEDs, while often lagging behind in performance compared to their UHP tube siblings, keep getting better and lower in price.

The spotlight isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s just that their value compared to televisions has changed. For those of us who are still not happy with 75-, 85- or even 98 inch screens, projectors are the only solution. At least until MicroLED price drop.

In addition to covering television and other display technology, Geoff organizes photographic tours of museums and cool places around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, voyages epics on the 10,000 mile route, and more. Discover Tech Treks for all its tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling science fiction novel about city-sized submarines, as well as a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.

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