Projectors are no longer toys for PowerPoint jockeys—they’ve moved out of boardrooms and have become ubiquitous in public spaces. And as they become more portable, more usable in small spaces and, crucially, less expensive, projectors are starting to become a viable option for use at home. Look at it this way—for not much more than the price of an LED or plasma TV, you could get an image that is five times the size.

There are a large number of projectors on the market, but before buying one you’ll need to arm yourself with knowledge about the product. You’ll also need to decide where you’ll place it, and how you intend to use it. To make the most of a projector, you’ll need a dark room with enough space between where you keep the projector and the surface you’ll use as a screen. You’ll also need to decide what your primary needs will be; for example, if you’re planning to just watch DVDs and TV, you don’t need a HD projector. However, if you want to hook your projector up to a Blu-ray player or a console with HD-output, then it is worth spending the extra money for the better image.

Finally, beware: A low-end projector that is specifically meant for boardrooms will probably be cheaper than an entry-level home theatre model, but the trade-off in image quality and functions is significant.

We’ve created different categories to make your choice easier…

Epson EH-DM3

Buy this if: You want a ready-to-go, all-in-one machine that you can just switch on and use for watching movies and sports.

Epson’s boxy DM3 isn’t necessarily the sleekest-looking projector in the market, but what it lacks in looks it makes up in functionality. It’s a great overall buy, featuring a built-in DVD player, excellent connectivity to different input sources, the ability to project surprisingly good 300-inch images and even decent 10W stereo speakers, the best we’ve seen in a projector. The DM3 is an excellent choice if you’re looking to meet everyday family entertainment needs, and its ease of use further recommends it for that segment. Obviously, at this price, the specs don’t match up to the dedicated home theatre projectors—even though there is an HDMI port, HD-resolution projection is missing. But you’ll see good results with standard-def sources such as ordinary set-top boxes and DVD players. The contrast ratio, which determines the depth of blacks, is pretty impressive at 3,000:1 and this, combined with an auto-iris and a brightness of 2,000 lumens, means that the DM3 can be used even in rooms with ambient lighting. Highly recommended as a first projector.

Price: approx. Rs49,990

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BenQ MP515ST

Buy this if: You want a projector for playing video games on consoles such as the Wii, or if you plan to use a small room.

BenQ is a relative latecomer to the projector scene, but it’s been having a pretty good run in India, largely due to its low-priced but well-equipped models, especially in the short-throw category. The aspherical lenses in short-throw projectors are specially designed to project large images from a very short distance, meaning you could keep the projector just a metre from the screen and still get a 55-inch image. The utility for those with small rooms is obvious, but the 515ST is also a great choice if you’re a Wii user—you can put the projector in front of you and avoid the shadows associated with long-throw projectors.

This little guy doesn’t project in HD but does have an HDMI port, and features a handy zoom function that lets you adjust image size without having to move the projector around. The image resolution isn’t very high, but good brightness levels (2,500 ANSI lumens) and contrast ratio (2,600:1) make the MP515ST a solid buy at a great price, especially for gamers.

Price: approx. Rs43,500

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Vivitek 1080FD

Buy this if: You want a high-def projector without all the bells and whistles (and hefty price tags) of the high-end models.

HD projectors used to cost a fortune, but prices have consistently been going down. One of the best-value products in this category is the Vivitek 1080FD. This DLP (digital light processing) projector doesn’t have the image quality of other 1,080p-capable projectors but it does a commendable job with colour and contrast handling, crucial for home theatre users. You’ll probably need to play around with the settings, especially the colour, to get the best out of the image as the presets are rather ineffectual. The user interface isn’t great, but the brightness levels (1,800 lumens) are good and the 4,000:1 contrast level delivers satisfactory, if not stunning, blacks. Overall, the Vivitek will more than service your needs if you’re a first-time projector buyer looking for a 1,080p-capable machine.

Price: approx. $1,000

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LG HS201

Buy this if: You’re the type who is constantly on the move, and need a light and handy projector.

Get your hands on the LG HS201 and you feel like you’re touching the future. Incredibly light and beautifully designed, the HS201 features an LED projection lamp that is much brighter, quieter and longer lasting than its regular DLP counterparts. Although it has impressive specs, it should be pointed out that this is a portable projector. Its features won’t match those of a regular-sized unit, although its price probably exceeds them. The HS201 comes equipped with a USB connector, and you can play DivX video simply by connecting a USB-compatible device. Picture quality and brightness are decent, though you’ll definitely need a dark space to get the most out of the image. The right machine if you want to keep your big-screen experience on the move.

Price: approx. Rs48,000

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Panasonic AE4000EA

Buy This If: You’re a true cinephile and want to enjoy your movies in colour-rich, high-defination splendour

At the higher end of the spectrum, you’ll find a number of more or less equally matched projectors with major flaws few and far between. It’s difficult picking a winner in this segment but we’re going with the Panasonic AE4000, which stands out with its exceptional performance and excellent colour reproduction. The contrast ratio of 100,000:1 ensures some of the deepest, richest blacks we’ve seen on a projected image. The projector really comes into its own with its peerless handling of 1080p HD sources, with jaw-dropping image sharpness and clarity and almost no pixilation, thanks to Panasonic’s proprietary SmoothScreen filter. The preset Cinema modes are excellent (if ever-so-slightly oversaturated) and like most Panasonic projectors, it’s pretty easy to use. This is an expensive projector, but it’s worth it if you’re a true cinephile. This is about the closest you’re going to get to a complete cinematic experience in your own house.

Price: Rs1.75 Lakh

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