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TV vs. Projector: Choose the Best Display for You in 2024

Huge TVs are cheaper than ever, but you can get an even bigger screen with a projector. Which should you buy?

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
5 min read
A woman sits in front of a projector in a bright room

A bright room is the enemy of projector picture quality.

Getty Images

Prices of big TVs continue to fall, but the largest screen sizes still offer a poor value. Not even the biggest TV models can produce an image as large as what's possible with an inexpensive projector. Modern projectors are brighter than ever, and models around $1,000 have great picture quality. 

Brett Pearce/CNET

Anything you'd watch on a TV, including movies, games and bingeable TV shows, you can watch on a projector instead. Actors on screen can be life-size, or even more, for a theater experience at home. I've used a projector as my main "TV" for over 20 years, and I'd never be able to go back to a "tiny" TV regardless of its size. Though projectors require a little more setup than a TV, it's usually not enough that you'd need to hire a professional. 

There are a few more points to think about in regard to getting a projector -- both for and against. Let's have a look.

Read more: Best TV for 2023
Read more: Best Home Theater Projector for 2023

Compare: Price vs. performance

A lot has changed in the last decade or so when it comes to price and performance between projectors and TVs. TVs have improved at an incredible rate, while getting larger and cheaper. Projectors, not so much. OLED TVs offer far better image quality than any projector, and can be had in fairly large sizes. That's not the whole story, however.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Though the price of big TVs has fallen sharply, and their performance has increased significantly, most people can't afford a 100-plus-inch screen unless it's from a projector. Sure, TVs have gotten bigger, but not that big. At least not yet. You're trading size for performance. 

Price, however, isn't as clear cut. A good projector is around the same price as a decent 75-inch TV. So if you want to spend around $1,000 for a "big screen," there are several options for large displays.

Read more: Best 75-inch TVs of 2023

Contrast: TVs win for HDR

HDR, or high dynamic range, is an issue for projectors. While many projectors can accept HDR video, almost all have difficulty displaying HDR video. The problem is twofold. The first is that even the best home projectors aren't that bright, at least compared with the average television. The second is that the more affordable projectors also don't have the contrast ratio needed to show HDR at its best. Many models aren't able to display wide color gamut at all.

Read more: Why you shouldn't expect great HDR from a projector

Enlarge Image

Two projectors, side by side. This is more an example of HDR processing. Notice how there are three individual lights in the left image, but a single blob of light on the right. 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Now, higher-end projectors can do wide color gamut and do an OK job with HDR, but at a far greater price than a large TV. Even the best and brightest projectors still boast only a fraction of the brightness of a midrange television. Brightness isn't everything (though arguably, contrast ratio is), but when it comes to HDR, light output is a much bigger deal. Some new projectors are using LEDs or lasers as their light source, and they can often do far better in terms of color and overall brightness, but contrast ratios are still far too low for reasonable HDR.

Can a projector look good without HDR? Yes, but this is another piece missing in the projector puzzle.

Watch this: How to buy the best home theater projector

A little thing called light

Forget 4K and HDR -- the biggest image-quality issue with projectors is much more practical: ambient light. A projector throws light at a screen, but any other light in the room is also getting thrown at the screen. The brightest parts of the image aren't hugely affected, but the darker parts are. Which is to say, if you're watching sports or something that's bright overall, you're fine. If you're watching a dark movie or playing a dark video game, the image is going to be hard to see.

Yes, there are ambient light-rejecting screens, but they're expensive. And physics is physics. No matter how good a fancy screen is at reducing the impact of ambient light, that same screen is still going to look worse in the day than in a dark room. If you want to watch your projector in a room with lots of windows (like the one shown at the top of this article) and enjoy the best image quality, you'll need lots of curtains.

A TV is going to create a much brighter image than any projector, one that holds up better in bright rooms. This obviously hasn't persuaded me to switch to a TV, but full disclosure: I use blackout curtains in my TV room. Most people probably aren't willing to make that sacrifice. 

Sorry, projectors, but TVs are winning

It pains me to say it, but for most people TVs are now a better option than projectors. This was somewhat true when I said the opposite a few years ago, but it's definitely true now. Unless you're willing to make sacrifices to your living situation, the slightly smaller screen of a TV is going to be easier to live with. And in the case of OLED, and many of the best-performing LCD and QLED TVs, the image quality will be significantly better too, especially with HDR. 

These days, projector ownership means sacrificing a variety of things, like image quality, livability, possibly price, all in the name of the largest possible image. Don't get me wrong, a huge image is awesome, but it's a lot harder to justify now, given how much better and cheaper truly huge TVs have gotten.

This isn't to say projectors have stagnated. They continue to get brighter, and their contrast and color capabilities keep improving. Models using lasers and LEDs, while still often behind in performance compared with their UHP-lamp siblings, keep getting better and dropping in price. 

Projectors aren't going away anytime soon. It's just that their value compared with TVs has shifted. For those of us who still aren't satisfied with 75-inch, 85-inch or even larger screens, projectors are the only way to go. At least until MicroLED drops in price.

Note: This story was originally published in 2021, but it's been updated with new info and links.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of things like cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, and also Budget Travel for Dummies. You can follow him on Instagram and YouTube.