When should you buy a projector rather than a cable TV?


Having a big room in the house suitable to be made over into a home theater, with a 100″ screen or even larger, and tens of thousands of dollars available to spend to turn it into an excellent one.

When I first became interested in home theater in the late 1990s, if you wanted an excellent screen bigger than about 36″, you pretty much needed a projector. Yes you could get CRT rear projectors bigger than that but I don’t recall anyone calling them excellent compared to projectors.

And having a projector meant having a room about as dark for viewing as a movie theater. Which meant that for regular viewing, such as for news, talk shows, sitcoms, etc., you probably also wanted a good non-projector TV because it’s weird to have to sit in a darkened room for all that.

Today, TVs have gone a long way toward narrowing the gap on projectors. You can get an excellent one up to about 85″, and view it in normal lighting. Is a projector better? Maybe, but it’s a fine distinction compared to the late 1990s. And projectors still need dark rooms.

Today, the principle of diminishing returns applies in spades to the purchase of a projector. For those who have gobs of money to spend and want the very best, it’s the way to go. But they’re spending a lot of money for a relatively small improvement, unless they’re going much larger than 85″.

So if you want a screen bigger than about 85″, and have a lot of money to put into a projector, go for it. Just remember that that expensive projector’s market value is going to plummet when some new technology comes out that it doesn’t do. Are you going to keep buying state-of-the-art projectors every few years? Don’t make the mistaking of thinking of an expensive projector as a long-term investment.

Getting a little off-topic but … same goes for home theater receivers. Their market value plummets when some cool new technology comes out that they don’t have. You may think now that you won’t need those cool new future technologies, but I promise many of them will be very cool and desirable. So look to a price level that you can comfortably replace every few years; don’t plan on using it for decades.

Same goes for most home theater equipment; look to the price points you’re comfortable with for short term purchases that you may only use for a few years. Except home theater speakers. My 20yo home theater speakers are still just as good today.


Having a big room or not might not be the most important thing to consider if you are willing to get a projector, there are so many choices now, you can get a perfect screen without too much space.