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Shopping for an inexpensive projector? Don't fall for this deceptive practice

Make absolutely sure you're getting the projector you think you're getting.

I'm always on the lookout for projector deals, but recently I've noticed an unfortunate trend in the way certain models are listed at stores like Amazon and Walmart. It's misleading at best, deceptive at worst -- and one that I think all projector sellers need to address immediately.

It's all about resolution. Take a look at this Amazon product listing for the "ViewSonic M1 Mini 1080p Portable LED Projector," which was captured on March 17:

Rick Broida/CNET

Based on that headline, anyone shopping for this projector would naturally assume that it's a 1080p model, meaning capable of 1,920x1,080 "full HD" resolution. It says so, right there.

Nope.

If you scroll down a bit, you'll see the actual, native resolution of the M1 Mini:

Important distinction here: The native resolution is only 854x480p. There's merely support for 1080p.

Rick Broida/CNET

What that means is that the maximum display resolution of this projector is 854x480. That's also known as 480p, which is obviously considerably lower than 1,920x1,080. The M1 Mini merely supports 1080p sources, things like your game console, streaming stick and laptop. It takes that 1080p input, and downscales it to the lower 854x480 resolution. That's not the same thing, not by a longshot.

Read more: Home theater projectors: 6 things to know before you buy

ViewSonic isn't the only seller guilty of this practice; I've seen it countless times with off-brand projectors from a wide variety of Amazon sellers. It happens elsewhere, too, like at Walmart:

gpx-1080p-projector-walmart

Here's another "1080p" projector, this one sold by Walmart.

Rick Broida/CNET

That GPX model "supports" 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p, but if you look closely at the specs, you'll see that the actual resolution is just 800x480 -- again, 480p.

Incidentally, ViewSonic's own product page for the Mini M1 doesn't even mention 1080p; it shows the native resolution right in the headline. I asked the company to comment on its Amazon and Walmart listings and received this reply from a spokesperson:

At ViewSonic, we strive to be upfront and transparent with our products' features and specifications. Our channel marketing and sales teams try their best to ensure that our retail/e-tail partners work under clear guidelines and advertise the product correctly. We can and [do] review product descriptions, and address any discrepancies with partners on a case-by-case basis. The link you sent us is currently under review and any discrepancies will be corrected in due course.

How (and why) to shop for a "real" 1080p projector

Not sure why all these resolution numbers are so important? Simple: The higher the resolution, the greater the number of display pixels. More pixels means a sharper image. Even with a 1080p source, the aforementioned ViewSonic and GPX projectors will produce images that look relatively fuzzy. If your goal is to create a big-screen home theater, native 1080p is essential. (Even better: 4K.)

Any projector priced $100 or less is very unlikely to offer native 1080p. At best you might be able to find something like this Vankyo V620 for $170, though a lot of native-1080p models sell for hundreds more. And once you start looking at 4K, prices start at around $1,100 and rise from there.

Speaking of 4K, beware similarly deceptive practices there. Search Amazon for "4K projector" and you'll find a lot of inexpensive models touting "4K support," but once again the reality is simply "support for 4K sources." The actual native resolution is usually 1080p.

This needs to stop. I'm calling on Amazon, Walmart and all projector manufacturers and sellers to remove 1080p (and 4K) references in their product descriptions unless that reflects the native resolution.

I, for one, will no longer share projector deals from any company that engages in this practice.

Read more: Best projector for home theater in 2021: BenQ, Epson, Optoma, Anker and more


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