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CNET puts projectors through a rigorous, unbiased testing process that is the culmination of more than two decades of projector reviews. We use specialized test equipment, including a Photo Research spectroradiometer, a Minolta LS-100 luminance meter, and an AEMC CA813 illuminance meter. Data is collected and collated by CalMan Ultimate Vertical Screens software, which helps us evaluate each PJ we review. Each lamp-based projector is “burned in” for 50 hours before measurement, and all projectors are initially configured using their most accurate color temperature and color modes. Test patterns, sent from CalMan, are then used to adjust various image settings to make the projector look its best before measurement and evaluation. Contrast ratios are measured in each lamp and iris mode (when available). Once the projectors are fully set up and objectively measured, we watch a variety of content, including TV, movies, and games, both with the projector alone and in comparison to two direct competitors.

Broadly speaking, we look for three aspects of image quality: contrast ratio, overall light output and color reproduction. Contrast ratio is the most important part of any projector’s performance. It is the difference between the darkest part of the image and the brightest. While certain television technologies, such as OLED, can create black which is the actual absence of light, no projector technology can do this. Because of this, contrast ratios with projectors are much lower. It’s the difference between a faded and “flat” image and one that is more realistic and “popular.” The best projectors will have a contrast ratio measured in the thousands. Most are between 500 and 1,000:1.

Light output is the second most important factor, because it is not only about how bright the image appears on the wall, but also the size of the image you can produce. Most modern projectors are significantly brighter than projectors from even 10 years ago. We measure brightness in candela per square meter (cd/m2) and then convert it to estimated lumens for easy comparison. It’s important to note that we use the most accurate color temperature mode for our brightness comparisons, but we’ll notice when a less accurate mode is significantly brighter. Most of the projectors we tested are between 1,000 and 2,000 lumens, battery-powered models are much less, and some specialized projectors even more.

Color accuracy is the last important factor. No projector can really take advantage HDR or wide color gamut, but some can do more than others. We’re generally satisfied with the accurate colors, but adding HDR effects is a plus. Most of the home theater projectors we tested are pretty accurate. Budget models, those that prioritize brightness above all, and the pajamas of newcomers to the projector space often have wildly inaccurate colors resulting in a very unnatural image.

Other factors, such as video processing and HDR processing, are evaluated in the display tests. These are rarely a major factor in projector performance, but some models still use older chips that have problems.

The best projector will have a high contrast ratio, high brightness, and excellent color. It’s hard to do it at the same time, but as long as the balance works and it looks better than its competitors at a similar price, it’s a winner.

For more information, see how CNET tests projectors.



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