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Resolution - How Much is Needed?

Choosing the right resolution for your projector is essential to getting the most of your purchase. But before we begin you might want to know, what is projector resolution?

The answer to this is a little more complicated than you may think because projector resolution is made up of multiple things. For example, what's the resolution of the image sensor inside the projector? What's the displayed resolution of the image on the screen?  A lot of sensors use processes like wobulation in DLP or Pixel Shifting in LCD to increase the projected resolution that's shown on screen. They do this by simply using one pixel to produce multiple parts of the image faster than the human eye can see. For the sake of this discussion I'm going to use “displayed” or screen resolution to define the projectors resolution. 

The typical size of a projected image ranges from 80” to 120’ and in some cases up to 300” in size. This is much larger than what you would get from a monitor which is typically 20” to 36” in size. However, if both images on the monitor and the projector have a resolution of 1024×768 pixels, the projected image will obviously have to display the same image on a much larger space. In doing so, the viewer might be able to see the individual pixels from the projected image. If that happens, the image could look a bit blurry. Therefore, the higher the number of pixels, the better the quality. The more pixels, the smaller the piece of the image is needed to be displayed by each one, resulting in a much clearer picture.

Take note that projectors have fixed resolutions, and display pictures only in their native resolutions no matter what resolution is being broadcast. What happens is the projector will take the content and downscale it to its resolution, which can also make an image appear a bit blurry. 

Common Projector Resolutions

Let’s discuss the different resolution terms and what they mean for projection.

SVGA which stands for Super Video Graphics Array - one of the first resolution standards at 800 X 600 pixels with a 4:3 aspect ratio. 

XGA stands for Extended Graphics Array - the next generation after SVGA which has the same 4:3 aspect ratio but the resolution is better at 1024 X 768.

WXGA which stands for Wide Extended Graphics Array -- the next generation after XGA, and one of the most common resolutions especially on entry level projectors, with a 16:10 aspect ratio and 1280 X 800 pixels. This ratio is used on widescreen images since there are almost twice as many horizontal pixels than vertical pixels. 

FHD which stands for short Full High Definition or it is sometimes called 1080p resolution. It offers an aspect ratio of 16:9 and 1920 X 1080 pixels.

WUXGA - stands for Widescreen Ultra Extended Graphics Array -- offers an aspect ratio of 16:10 and 1920 X 1200 pixels.

UHD stands for Ultra High Definition. It is often referred to as 4K in consumer applications but this is different from the 4K production standard. This is two times the width and height of the previous Full HD consumer standard which was defined as 1920 x 1080 pixels. UHD has an aspect ratio of 16:9 and the resolution is 3840 X 2160 pixels. 

4K is the professional production standard defined by the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI). It has more horizontal resolution along with a slightly wider aspect than UHD (consumer 4K) used in consumer flat-panels. This is two times the width and height of the previous 2K professional standard which was defined as 2048 x 1080 pixels. The aspect ratio of 4K is 1.9:1 and its resolution is 4096 X 2160 pixels. Most LCoS based native 4K projector use imagers based on professional versions so they can reproduce true cinematic 4K.

What about 8K?

I'd be remiss not to tell you that 8K projectors will probably be introduced in the next few years. Consumer “8K UHD” twice the width and height of "4K UHD" with a resolution of 7680 x 4320 pixels.

Just like the question of native resolution, there's going to be a lot of questioning about whether an 8K projector needs to exist. I think there is a use case for 8K, especially in markets that may want to project onto large surfaces where the higher resolution will be most beneficial.

In September 2021, JVC announced a new series of 8K e-shift equipped D-ILA home theater projectors. While the units still utilize native 4K DILA panels they employ an improved version of JVC's pixel-shifting technology called 8K e-shiftX to deliver 8K onscreen resolution. Unlike the previous 8K e-shift model, the RS3000, also includes 48Gbps HDMI 2.1 inputs so the new models can accept and display 8K/60p and 4K/120p material.

Check Out Our Article on the Lastest JVC 8K E-Shift DILA Laser Projectors

Maximum Input Resolution

In the previous section, we discussed how projectors convert pixel counts to their native resolution, now let’s talk about maximum input resolution.  Maximum input resolution is the highest signal resolution that a projector can process and display. When the resolution is different than the native resolution of the projector it is being displayed on, the projector will often “scale” the image to match the native resolution. So, for example, if a standard definition video is being played on a HD projector, it will have to enlarge the signal to show the image. Conversely, if HD content is being streamed through a XGA projector, then it will need to compress the image to display it. 

Because scaling requires a projector to estimate how the image would look if it was being shown in its native resolution, it may reduce the image quality. The projector has to approximate the original signal to project how it “thinks” the image should look.

However, scaling and the engines that provide the scaling have gotten much more precise and often scaled content looks just as good as it would if it was being shown in its native resolution. If it is possible to adjust your output content settings to match your projectors native resolution to ensure the best quality. 

Choosing a Projector’s Resolution

What considerations do you need to take into account when choosing the right projector for a home or business installation?

First, how much detail do you need in the images that are being displayed?

After determining the answer to that, next, what is the aspect ratio needed for the content that will be viewed (i.e. movies, sports, PowerPoint presentations, etc.). For business and education setups, you may have to consider a variety of possible scenarios from movie viewing to PowerPoint presentations, so you might need a more versatile projector. Whereas a home installation might be primarily for movie viewing, which could be more straightforward.

Multimedia content typically uses a 16:9 aspect ratio and typical PowerPoint slides are often in a 4:3 t0 16:9 format. So, for a business/education space you might want to consider using SVGA, XGA, WXGA, WUXGA, 1080p and 4K.

Panasonic at Hiroshima U
Hiroshima City University – Large screen up front, additional screens half way back.

You’ll also want to consider the viewing setup. How close will the viewer be to the image and how large will the image be? Viewing distance and screen size have a significant factor in resolution.

For example, when you sit closer or enlarge a Full HD image, you can see the pixels that make up the picture. Since 4K Ultra HD has four times more resolution than Full HD it would be nearly impossible to see the pixels at the same viewing distance.

Due to the fact the 4K UHD has 4x the resolution of Full HD, you can sit twice as clos to the same size image without seeing the pixels

A person with 20/20 vision who is sitting closer than 3.2x the height of a full HD image will be able to see the pixels while they would have to sit closer than 1.5x picture height of a 4K image to see pixels.

If the viewer is too close to a larger low-resolution image, they will be able to see the individual pixels that make up the picture. If the viewer is sitting too far away from a smaller high-resolution image, there will be no visual benefit.

Panasonic at Hiroshima U 250 inch screen
A large lecture hall at Hiroshima City University with a long-throw laser projector.

Bottom line – there will be variations (some significant), between different projectors in how they work with lower resolution sources or downscaling higher resolution sources. As a result, it is likely possible that one projector may actually do a better job than another, depending on the resolution of the content and the size of the screen that it's being projected on. advantage.

Of all the components that go into choosing a projector for home or business settings, one of your top considerations should be projector resolution. This is the number of pixels (individual points of color) that are used to create an image. It’s expressed as the number of pixels on the horizontal axis, by the number of pixels on the vertical axis.

While there are a variety of standards associated with projector resolutions, the ones you’ll want to keep an eye out for include WXGA, FHD, WUXGA, and 4K UHD. In order to choose the right standard for your needs, you need to consider the type of media you will be showing with the projector (videos, PowerPoint presentations, etc.), and also the general size of the images and picture quality.

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