Should You Buy a Projector for Gaming?
Projectors can make for an immersive gaming experience, but you need to choose a high-performance device with minimal input lag. You also need to make sure the screen surface is one that will handle projection well.
While large format TVs are readily available, once you go north of 70 inches the price curve goes nearly vertical. In contrast, projectors seem like a good solution if you want to experience a wall-spanning movie picture, but what about big-screen gaming?
Are Projectors Good for Gaming?
Like TVs, there are many different projectors of varying quality on the market. So asking if projection technology is a good technology for gaming as a whole may not make that much sense. It is an understandable question however, since most people have experience with outdated or low-end digital projectors—the sort of devices you’d use to project a barely legible PowerPoint presentation in a brightly-lit boardroom.
At the same time, many people have televisions that aren’t great for gaming, but it doesn’t seem to bother the majority of (for example) console gamers. So in that sense many projectors will be no worse for gaming than common low-end TVs people are happily gaming on already.
There are certainly projectors that can keep up with flat panel TVs that are genuinely good for gaming, but in general these projectors are quite expensive. If you’re happy to play on a 55-inch or 70-inch display, you can get a TV that will blow away the image quality of a projector at twice the price. However, if you’re looking for a huge image, then projectors can’t be beaten on a dollars-per-inch basis.
So the bottom line is:
- There are projectors that are great for gaming.
- These projectors only make financial sense at large screen sizes versus TVs.
- The price floor for good gaming projectors is higher than for good gaming TVs, if you don’t factor in screen size.
That being said, some inherent aspects of projection technology can make it less appealing for gaming in particular.
The Downsides of Projector Gaming
Every display technology has some downsides, and projection is no different. The biggest issue is that you need a dark environment to get the most out of the projected image. Projectors that have a bright enough picture to be clearly visible with good contrast and color in environments where TVs work well are rare and expensive. This makes them a better solution for gamers who like to make it an occasion and have a room prepared for it.
Projectors also require much space and dedicated mounting for the best image size. These days it is possible to get a “short-throw” projector which is a more direct replacement for a TV, since it goes right up against the wall where your TV would usually be. Short-throw projectors come with their own issues, such as a smaller projected image, but they’re often a good choice for gaming in particular.
An oft-overlooked issue with projectors is the projection surface. You’ll either have to use a specialized projection screen or your wall. If you do use your wall, it can cause issues with brightness, color accuracy, and contrast. The right way to approach this is to surface the wall correctly for projection and then use special projector paint for the wall in question.
Paint On Screen Projector Screen Paint
Don’t project your images onto that ugly eggshell paint from 1989. Redo that wall with paint specifically designed for digital projectors, and see the picture you’re paying for.
Keep in mind that gaming is harder on projectors than other types of media consumption. While someone might watch a movie and then turn their projector off, gaming sessions can reach brutal lengths. So you might find that you have to pay for replacement projector bulbs more often than you’d like.
Another issue is resolution. Even 4K can start to look a little pixelated if you’re blowing up the image to more than 200 inches and 1080p projectors can really look rough if you make the image too large. Of course, you can solve this by sitting further away from the image, but this starts to defeat the point of having a big picture in the first place. Perhaps upcoming 8K projectors might be the best argument for the latest insanely-detailed resolution specification.
Features to Look for in a Gaming Projector
In general, the features you need to look for in a projector for playing video games are largely the same as you’d like to see in a traditional flat-panel television. For gaming, the most important feature is input latency. That’s the length of time between the projector receiving data from your console or PC and you actually seeing it reflect on-screen.
If input lag is high, you might press the jump button and only see your character jump a fraction of a second later. Input latency doesn’t matter much when you’re watching a movie, but it can make games unplayable. So look out for a projector that has low input latency. On a TV, it’s preferable to have input latency lower than 20ms, so getting a projector that comes as close to that figure is a good idea.
Some projectors may offer a “game mode” that reduces the amount of image processing and therefore provides better response times. However, that improvement isn’t for free and can lead to an image that’s more “raw” than you’d get watching a movie.
If at all possible, finding a projector with a low noise rating is essential. Unless you only ever play with a headset on, it may not be a major issue, but we’ve just reached the console generation with silent operation. It would be a shame to ruin it with a projector cooled by a turbine.
What’s The Best Projector for Gaming?
There are two ways you can go when looking at projectors for gaming. The first is to buy a projector designed for general use, which happens to be suitable for gaming. The second option is to go for a projector that’s designed specifically for gaming.
The BenQ X3000i is a good example of a projector specifically designed for gaming, and at a price not far off what you’d pay for a high-end OLED, except for a much smaller image size.
If you don’t have much space, the BenQ TH671ST offers a short-throw 1080p gaming solution that also happens to come at a nice price. If you’re OK playing games at 1080p, it’s an excellent choice.
Then we have the Optoma HD39HDRx, which isn’t labeled as a gaming projector, but has input latency specs to rival the best of them. It may only offer 1080p resolution, but it’s HDR-enabled and even has decent built-in sound. So you can use it for both Netflix and Halo without breaking the bank.
A great all-round 1080p projector with remarkably low input latency for gamers and decent built-in sound, so you won’t necessarily have to spend more on a soundbar.
More so than with televisions, it’s important to try gaming on a projector yourself, so either go to a showroom that allows you to test it out in this way, or buy from a retailer with a generous return policy!