Should you buy a gaming projector?

Kevin Bonnett / Instruction Geek

Projectors can provide an immersive gaming experience, but you should choose a high-performance device with minimal input lag. You also need to make sure that the screen surface is suitable for projection.

While large format TVs are readily available, once you go over 70 inches the price curve becomes almost vertical. Conversely, projectors seem like a good solution if you want to experience a wall-spanning movie image, but what about big-screen gaming?

Are projectors good for gaming?

Just like televisions, there are many different projectors of varying quality on the market. So asking if projection technology is a good technology for gaming in general may not make much sense. It’s an understandable question, though, since most people have experience with low-end or outdated digital projectors, the kind of devices you’d use to project a barely readable PowerPoint presentation in a well-lit boardroom.

At the same time, many people have TVs that aren’t good for gaming, but it doesn’t seem to bother most console gamers (for example). So in that sense, many projectors will be no worse for gaming than the common low-end TVs that people already happily game on.

Certainly there are projectors that can keep up with flat screen TVs that are really good for gaming, but in general, these projectors are quite expensive. If you’re happy to game on a 55-inch or 70-inch screen, you can get a TV that’ll beat the picture quality of a projector at twice the price. However, if you’re looking for a huge image, then projectors can’t be beat in terms of dollars per inch.

So the bottom line is:

  • There are projectors that are great for gaming.
  • These projectors only make financial sense on large screens compared to TVs.
  • The price floor for good gaming projectors is higher than for good gaming TVs, if screen size is not taken into account.

That being said, some inherent aspects of projection technology can make it less attractive for gaming in particular.

The disadvantages of projector games

Each display technology has some drawbacks, and projection is no different. The biggest problem is that you need a dark environment to get the most out of the projected image. Projectors that have an image bright enough to be clearly viewable with good contrast and color in environments where TVs work well are rare and expensive. This makes them a better solution for players who like to seize the occasion and have a room set up for it.

Projectors also require a lot of space and dedicated mounting to get the best image size. These days it’s 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 normally be. Short-throw projectors have their own problems, such as a smaller projected image, but are often a good choice for gaming in particular.

An often overlooked problem with projectors is the projection surface. You will have to use a specialized projection screen or your wall. If you use your wall, it can cause issues with brightness, color accuracy, and contrast. The correct way to approach this is to position the wall surface correctly for the projection and then use special projector paint for the wall in question.

Screen Painting Projector Screen Painting

Don’t project your images onto that ugly 1989 eggshell paint. Refresh that wall with paint designed specifically 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 off their projector, gaming sessions can reach brutal lengths. So you may find yourself paying for replacement projector bulbs more often than you’d like.

Another issue is resolution. Even 4K can start to look a bit pixelated if you stretch the image beyond 200 inches and 1080p projectors can look really clunky if you make the image too big. You can of course solve this by sitting further away from the image, but this starts to defeat the point of having a big image in the first place. Perhaps the upcoming 8K projectors make the best argument for the latest incredibly detailed resolution specification.

Features to look for in a gaming projector

In general, the features to look for in a projector for playing video games are largely the same as what you’d like to see on a traditional flat-panel TV. For gaming, the most important feature is input latency. That’s the time between when the projector receives data from your console or PC and you see it reflected on the screen.

If the input lag is high, you can hit 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 for a projector that has low input latency. On a TV, it’s preferable to have an input latency of less than 20ms, so it’s a good idea to get a projector that’s as close to that figure as possible.

Some projectors may offer a “game mode” which reduces the amount of image processing and therefore provides better response times. However, that enhancement is not free and can lead to an image that is more “raw” than what you would get from watching a movie.

If possible, finding a projector with a low noise index is essential. Unless you’re just playing with headphones on, it might not be a major issue, but we’ve just made it to the console generation with quiet operation. It would be a shame to screw it up with a turbine-cooled projector.

What is the best projector for games?

There are two paths you can go when looking for gaming projectors. 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 specifically designed for gaming.

The BenQ X3000i is a good example of a projector designed specifically for gaming, and priced not too far from what you’d pay for a higher-end OLED, except for a much smaller image size.

If you’re short on space, the BenQ TH671ST offers a short-range 1080p gaming solution that’s also well priced. If you’re fine with gaming at 1080p, it’s an excellent choice.

Then we have the Optoma HD39HDRx, which isn’t labeled a gaming projector, but does have input latency specs to rival the best. 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 aura without breaking the bank.

Optoma HD39HDRx

A great full 1080p projector with remarkably low input latency for gamers and decent onboard sound, so you won’t necessarily have to spend more for a soundbar.

More than with TVs, it’s important to try gaming on a projector yourself, so go to a showroom that lets you try it this way, or buy from a retailer with a generous return policy!

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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