Learn All About The Projector Contrast Ratio

The typical Projector Contrast Ratio is at 3000:1. It means that the white image is 3,000 times brighter than the black image. If you have a low contrast ratio, then the image ends up becoming faint and muddy. By getting a higher contrast ratio you’ll end up seeing more detail from whatever it is you’re looking at, from the number to the picture and video as well as graphs and text. However, manufacturers as of late are aware of consumer sensitivity to this spec and they might pump it to absurd levels to stay ahead of the competition.

This is a mistake since there’s such a thing as too much contrast where you’ll end up losing detail instead of seeing them because all color nuance is gone. Regardless, the contrast ratio is essential in making sure that you have a clear display and more detail from the projected image. Even if you have 1080p or 4K resolution, all that potential detail will end up muddled when you have a bad contrast ratio. It’s also intrinsically tied to how bright your projector can get. 

Learn How to Get Good Contrast Ratio

If you want to be able to see video, text, graphs, pictures, and numbers clearer from your projection or display then the contrast ratio should be quite high. Contrast is what allows you to see the subtle shades of color in a 4K Blu-Ray release of something like The Hobbit Trilogy.  One of the hallmarks of good contrast is the ability to see all the details.

  • What is Projector Contrast Ratio? Simply put, the contrast ratio is the ratio between how bright your projector’s white image is compared to its black image. It’s light versus darkness. It’s the brightness of your projector in contrast to its darkness or lack of light. Proper contrast that doesn’t go overboard makes it possible for you to see subtle color shades and intricate detail. A good amount of contrast allows you to see detail, particularly when dealing with high-resolution images and videos.


  • Contrast Ratio versus Contrast Settings: Your projector’s default contrast ratio will serve as the maximum setting by which you can get the ideal detail from whatever video you’re watching or PC user interface you’re perusing. Whatever setting you put n your projector’s contrast control will be based on whatever its main contrast ratio is. In other words, you can’t make your 3000:1 projector contrast better by fiddling with the contrast settings.


  • Contrast Ratio and The Location Itself: Even though a number of electronic techniques are used to increase or decrease your projector’s contrast, the biggest factor that affects your contrast will be the settings or locations by which you’ll be using your projector. Ambient light affects the brightness of your projector as well as its contrast ratio since a fainter projection results in muddy results. One of the major enemies of contrast is room light or sunlight as well as any light not coming from the projector itself.


  • Contrast Ratio Requires Brightness: Your projector should be bright enough to deal with ambient light so that the contrast ratio can end up visible and clear. Only a small amount of room light from fluorescent or LED lights as well as daylight from your window can render the contrast and brightness of your projector moot. Whether your projector has a ratio of 10000:1 or 1000:1 contrast, it won’t matter if you can’t see it in action due to ambient light making your projection fainter than normal.

How to Improve Contrast When Dealing with Ambient Light

How to Improve Contrast When Dealing with Ambient Light

When a light is turned on, you can hardly tell the difference between the brightness and darkness of your projector. It’s only when your device has 2,000 to 3,000 lumens of brightness versus the 1,500-lumen standard of home theater projectors can you clearly see the contrast ratio difference once again. Furthermore, there are four things in your projection location that will have a profound effect on your projector contrast.


  • Uncovered Windows or Open Doors: You don’t want daylight to enter when you’re running your projector. As much as possible, find a dark place to play your video or game. Do it in the shade and minimize room ambient light. Cover your windows with curtains or blinds. Close your door. Don’t let too much light in the room.


  • Lights in the Room: Turn off or down the lights around your projection room if you can. There’s a reason why when a movie is being shown in a commercial theater or cinema, the lights are all turned off. It’s so that you can see the resulting projection better without spending too much money on high-intensity lamps.


  • The Color of the Surroundings: The color of your room’s walls, ceiling, and floor can affect the brightness of your screen. If your walls are too white or reflective of ambient light then the resulting projection will look fainter than in a darker room like a home or commercial theater. A room with brown wooden walls or colored painted walls that aren’t as reflective of ambient light work best with home theater projectors.


  • Screen Color: Grey screens give out better contrast compared to white screens due to how much darker they make the dark parts of your projector look. A screen is also much better than a chalkboard, whiteboard, or wall when it comes to making the contrast ratio appear. They can also help a lot in letting the brightness of your projector to shine through even in situations where ambient light is unavoidable.


A Brighter Projector Typically Has Good Contrast Ratio 

Once you’ve adjusted the different ambient light issues of your projector’s projection location, your last weapon of defense against lighting that makes the brightness and contrast of your projection weaker is a brighter projector. A brighter projector can also have its brightness adjusted in darker places, thus making it more versatile than projectors with fewer lumens to spare. 

  • More Lumens Make The Contrast Ratio More Visible: A business or video projector is made to minimize—not eliminate—the impact of extraneous light sources if you have no choice when it comes to turning off lamps and bulbs around the classroom or office. In such a situation, search for a projector with loads of lumens or high brightness when push comes to shove.


  • Watch Out for Meaningless Contrast Specs: Of all the specifications published for projectors, the Dynamic Full On/Off Contrast feature is one of the most misleading and meaningless one of the bunch. You can actually make use of Projection Brightness specs rendered in lumen count. Meanwhile, that feature doesn’t tell you much about what you’re seeing on the screen. It doesn’t tell you how one projection will look compared to another either when put together side-by-side.


  • What a High-Contrast Projector Should Entail: Don’t be taken for a ride by misleading contrast buzzwords. To see is to believe. Contrast, like brightness and resolution, is just one of the many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is a highly detailed quality image. You should also take into consideration where you’ll be using your projector because you’ll need fewer lumens when using it at a home theater when compared to a well-lit office space or high-ceilinged conference hall. Don’t be swayed at the mere mention of contrast.

What is the Best Way to Measure Projector Contrast Ratio?

What is the Best Way to Measure Projector Contrast Ratio?  

There are two methods to measure your projector’s contrast ratio. They’re Full On/Off and ANSI Contrast Patterns. It’s quite tough quantifying contrast and most projector makers use Full On/Off as a marketing tool rather than a legitimate contrast ratio measurement scheme.

  • The Full On/Off Contrast Pattern: Full On/Off is easy to control for customers but it’s just as easy to manipulate by manufacturers. The problem is that it produces numbers that mislead you, which is why the industry commonly uses it as smoke and mirrors to satisfy non-savvy customers. A reading from this involves 0 IRE or solid black and 100 IRE test pattern or “Full On” in order to measure the brightness of a given projector’s solid white.

It’s through this reading that you can get wildly high ratings like 10000:1 contrast ratio. This indicates that the Full On/Off meter is reading the solid white color as being 10,000 times brighter than the solid black color of the projector. This sounds like music to the ears of customers but little did they know that they’ve already been bamboozled.

  • The ANSI Projector Contrast Pattern: The numbers produced by the ANSI method of contrast measurement is much smaller than Full On/Off but they’re much more informative less blown-up numbers. This is because ANSI is more difficult to manipulate compared to its counterpart. Thusly, the industry rarely uses it aside from manufacturers who market to specialty niches, such as advertising or engineering projectors.

Instead of using 0 IRE black screens and 100 IRE white screens, ANSI has a checkerboard or chessboard pattern of 16 rectangles. There are 8 black and 8 white rectangles involved. The white rectangles’ brightness values are measured then averaged along with the black rectangles. From there, the ratio of the readings for the white blocks is measured along with the black blocks for comparison, resulting in a (conservative) ANSI contrast ratio of usually about 1000:1 or even 700:1.

  • Dynamic Iris Contrast: Dynamic Iris isn’t a testing pattern. Rather, it’s a feature built into some projectors such as Panasonic that sits between the lens and the lamp. Many times per second, the device evaluates the image’s overall brightness being projected then opens or closes the iris to allow less or more light through to improve the contrast ratio. That sounds good, right? The problem comes from testing contrast ratios for these devices.

Manufacturers will try and improve the contrast figures of their device to produce the best possible numbers by turning on the Dynamic Iris to fudge with the results. Full On/Off contrast in and of itself has already blown-up info that doesn’t tell you anything but when coupled with Dynamic Iris, you can end up with truly ridiculous contrast ratio numbers.

What is the Best Way to Measure Projector Contrast Ratio?

Why Contrast Specs are Terrible Measuring Sticks of Quality

It sort of helps to know that your projector is at least average enough to have a 3000:1 contrast ratio. However, for the most part, it’s more helpful to know how detailed the images it produces in light of its native resolution capabilities or how much lumens it has in terms of white brightness and color brightness. To wit: 

  • Radically Different Numbers: The two means of measuring contrast ratio—Full On/Off and ANSI—tend to yield different numbers. ANSI readings are substantially conservative than Full On/Off, so many manufacturers use Full On/Off to get a leg-up on the more conservative and less exaggerated ANSI contrast ratio readings since most customers are simply impressed with big numbers without researching any further about it. When comparing the same model of a projector to itself with one using ANS and the other using Full On/Off, the latter will naturally have the more impressive 5000:1 or 10000:1 contrast ratio despite both displaying the same spec.


  • Light Scatter Is The Reason for The Discrepancy: There’s a reason why there’s a discrepancy between the white 100 IRE test pattern and the checkerboard pattern of ANSI. The black readings from the ANSI method are always higher compared to the black readings of a Full On/Off solid black 0 IRE test pattern. Why is this possible? First off, there’s light scatter to take into consideration. The projector’s lamp or light engine and lens will scatter light when anything black is projected. There’s no light to scatter on a 0 IRE test pattern since it could compromise the black level.


  • 50 Percent White on Checkerboard Pattern: When the chessboard pattern of ANSI has displayed the picture is half-white or 50 percent white. There’s a lot of white being projected, so a little portion of the light is bounced around and reflected inside the zoom lens or light engine. ANSI, therefore, compromises the black triangles in the projected pattern, resulting in more conservative results when all is said and done. Additionally, any dust that’s floating in the path while testing is done will cause light scatter as well. This explains the 4800:1 versus 250:1 discrepancy between ANSI and (Dynamic Iris) Full On/Off contrast ratio readings for even the same device!


The Bigness of Difference Between ANSI and Full On/Off 

Full On/Off with Dynamic Iris contrast settings produce the biggest numbers, followed by Full On/Off without Dynamic Iris. ANSI produces the tiniest contrast numbers in light of the light scatter that makes the black image of the projector more anemic than normal. Consumers who don’t know better might end up buying the projector with the highest contrast ratio numbers without first taking the time to see if the device uses Full On/Off with Dynamic Iris, Full On/Off alone, or ANSI checkerboard to get their ratings.


  • ANSI Is Inaccurate Yet Accurate: You’d think that all that light scatter present makes ANSI the less accurate measurement while Full On/Off is the more accurate one, but most savvy consumers go for the former instead of the latter. In the home theater world where contrast is more important than lumens, the 300:1 ANSI rating would be average, 700:1 is quite good, and 1000:1 is interstellar in its goodness. The lack of number inflation makes all the difference despite the light scatter issues.


  • Ignorant Consumers Want to Go Big or Go Home: Many projector consumers don’t know any better about contrast ratio and believe that bigger numbers equal better contrast, hence them buying 3000:1 or even 10000:1 contrast projectors even though they use Full On/Off with Dynamic Iris turned on. The same projector could instead have a 300:1 contrast rating in ANSI and consumers will prefer the 3000:1 even though it’s referring to the same projector! Ratings are king in the world of projectors.


  • Which Is Better? ANSI or Full On/Off? Unless projector manufacturers have taken the gamble and published conservative ANSI specs compared to the misleadingly enormous numbers of Full On/Off, it is best that you ignore contrast specs and simply watch the picture quality itself for reference. Does it remain fully detailed and nuanced? Are you seeing the details you want from the display device? Ideally, get a projector that has all three ratings published. For example, the Christie DHD600-G is rated at 4800:1 Dynamic Contrast, 1200:1 Full On/Off, and 250:1 ANSI.

The Bottom Line When It Comes to Contrast 

Brightness is intrinsically linked to the contrast ratio since the latter is all about how much brighter the white image of a given projector is compared to its black image. Thusly, your contrast ratio also becomes moot when faced with ambient lighting or the presence of daylight that could make the projection fainter or more blurry than normal.

Meanwhile, the Full On/Off contrast specs—especially with Dynamic Iris features turned on—are notoriously misleading compared to the more realistic and conservative estimates of the less accurate ANSI specs. Full On/Off specs are typically used to spout out huge contrast ratio numbers that aren’t indicative of actual contrast ratio quality. Too bad few manufacturers use the ANSI standard because they don’t want to have such small numbers compared to the huge ones you can get from Full On/Off.

Image Credit: www.flickr.com

James Core

I love my projector system and I am here to help you find the right projector for your needs.

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