Projector Resolution Explained (Clear, Detailed Images)

A video projector is a device commonly used to view videos with like a TV but on a much bigger screen than even the biggest available flatscreen HDTV could muster because the projection could be resized as big as you need it to be. As far as Projector Resolution is concerned, it’s all about how many pixels a given video or image is using. Like many a megapixel camera will attest, the more pixels are used the higher the resolution will be, which also means the more detailed and sharper the resulting picture can get.

You want more resolution capabilities from your video projector so that it’s capable of projecting 4K or 8K resolution Blu-Ray discs or at least 1080p or 720p HD DVDs. What’s more, a video projector is even better than a TV when it comes to projecting 4K video because the bigger projector screen can fit in more pixels than a smaller TV screen. 

Let’s Talk Home Theater Projectors and Resolution

The fewer pixels are used for the resolution of a given video, the more your resulting picture will look blurry or even pixilated when projected on an HD projector. They’ll only look sharp or correct if you put them in proper resolution, like in the case of 480p video where it looks sharpest on a 640 x 480 frame. With that said, let’s delve into what resolution is supposed to be and how it affects picture quality.

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  • What Is Resolution Anyway? The resolution simply means the number of horizontal pixels on a screen multiplied by the number of vertical pixels. A 1080p or 1080i resolution usually offers about 1920 by 1080 pixels of resolution, with 1080 referring to vertical height and 1920 referring to horizontal width. As mentioned earlier, the greater your resolution the better your picture quality will end up being when push comes to shove. The lower resolution your picture, the blurrier it gets when blown up on a widescreen TV or monitor.

 

  • Screen Resolution versus Native Resolution: While resolution refers to the maximum pixel height and width that a media display device can reproduce, native resolution refers to the pixel number contained on the DLP or LCD chip of a given HD projector. Whatever is the resolution of the projection on the screen is the normal projection and native projection refers to the real resolution the projector is capable of showcasing. For instance, it’s possible for a 1080p projector to produce a blown-up 3840 x 2160 projection but its native resolution remains 1080p.

 

  • Projectors Are Better at Projecting 4K HD Than HDTV: On that note, a TV screen with dimensions of 1024 x 768 pixels will not be able to fully render a 4K Blu-Ray movie that’s instead of at 4096 x 2160 resolution. The TV will shrink the video back to 1024 x 768 so you can’t tell the difference between 4K and simple HD. However, if you were to use a projector to project full 4K resolution, you’ll be able to see the 4K video in its full 3840 x 2160 or 4096 x 2160 pixel glory. When it comes to the highest resolutions, a projector is better than a TV until TV makers can make true 4K screens.

 

  • Fixed Resolutions: Projectors typically come with fixed resolutions included as part of their specs. This means regardless of signal quality they get, their only output is one resolution. This means that even if the signal is 480p or XGA it will still be blown up to HD or 1920 x 1080. Ditto with 4K being shrunk down to HD. Their native resolution might differ from their fixed resolution but usually, it’s one and the same. This means if they have an HD resolution their native maximum resolution is at 1920 x 1080.

 

  • The Most Common Video Projector Resolutions Available: Today’s current video projectors for home cinemas come in different fixed resolutions. They’re fixed in order to follow some sort of incremental standard so that resolution choices won’t be as messy as the A/V connector choices of the 20th Century before HDMI became a thing. You have XGA, WXGA, HD, and 4K. HD is currently the most popular and available format.
    • SVGA: This resolution is at 800 x 600 pixels.
    • XGA: This resolution is at 1024 x 768 pixels.
    • HD 720p: This resolution is at 1280 x 720 pixels.
    • WXGA: This resolution is at 1280 x 800 pixels.
    • SXGA: This resolution is at 1280 x 1024 pixels.
    • HD 1080p: This resolution is at 1920 x 1080 pixels.
    • WUXGA: This resolution is at 1980 x 1200 pixels.
    • 4K: This resolution is at 4096 x 2160 pixels.
    • 8K: This resolution is at 7680 × 4320 pixels.

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The 8K resolution isn’t available for projectors yet even though it’s already available for many PCs and HDTVs with screens so small you won’t be able to tell the difference between 8K and 4K or even HD. These fixed resolution standards shouldn’t be confused with the computer monitor resolutions available on your laptop or desktop, which ranged from 640 x 480 and 800 x 600 in the 1990s then moved on to higher ones like 1366 x 768 or 3840 x 2160 (monitor 4K). 

Business versus Home Theater Projector Resolutions

By the way, those projector resolutions listed above can be further divided into two categories—home theater projectors exclusively used for viewing TV shows and movies in home theaters or cinemas and business projectors that are exclusively used for business presentations using your laptop or workstation PC.

Home theater projectors are typical of the HD variety, which can be split between 1080p (1920 x 1080) and 720p (1280 x 720). Both have the same 16:9 aspect ratio and both are used as HDTV standards, with 720p being the slightly lower version of the maximum 1080p HD. 1080p (progressive scan) is the standard home theater format available in 1080i (interlaced) version. 720p is used for economical movie projection or whenever your HD movie has to lower its resolution due to technical issues or use of switchers and adapters.  In other words:

  • HD 720p: This is the most economical resolution that’s considered HD you can use for slower media players, cable box signals, HDTVs, and computers.

 

  • HD 1080p or 1080i: This is the highest resolution available that’s considered HD and serves as the standard home theater format.

 

  • 4K and 8K: This is the future of home cinema and HD entertainment. There is even an 8K resolution already available for a limited number of Blu-Ray movies.

Meanwhile, all the rest of the resolutions listed above save for 4K are all business projector resolutions. So SVGA (800 x 600), XGA (1024 x 768), WXGA (1280 xx 800), SXGA (1280 x 1024), and WUXGA (1980 x 1200) are available for use in conferences and presentations. SVGA for the longest time was the go-to projector in the 1990s for projecting video clips, charts, and sample data from a PowerPoint Presentation. XGA and WXGA are the projectors for notebooks and smartphones. WUXGA is for higher-end HD notebooks and workstations. To break it down:

  • SVGA: This projector type was used in the 1990s computers as the de facto business projector for video clips, charts, and sample data.

 

  • XGA and SXGA: These are the projector types for notebook PCs, smartphones, and tablets made in the 2000s. They also project SD and HD video clips, charts, and more complex data.

 

  • WXGA and WUXGA:  These business projectors are the current HD standard for presentations and meetings used by the latest generation of smartphones and notebook PCs. They can showcase higher than HD resolutions only outdone by 4K and 8K projectors.

 

What High Definition Resolution Brings to The Table

There’s currently a technological arms’ race when it comes to presenting TV shows or movies in high-definition (as opposed to standard definition). Back in the CRT days of television, it was enough for people to view things at 480p or 480i and lower. Nowadays, there’s more of a push to see videos at far greater detail and with frames included. The cinematic standard of 24 frames per second isn’t enough anymore. This is why when choosing a projector, its native or maximum resolution is such an important feature. It’s a reflection of how technology keeps marching on.

What High Definition Resolution Brings to The Table

  • The HD Standard: Most mid-end projectors are at 720p and most high-end projectors are at an uncompressed 1080p. Your cable box sends out a 1080i signal. 1080i and 1080p are the same resolutions. The difference is that 1080p uses a progressive scan video where the image is displayed in 1/60th of a second while the 1080i signal displays the image as alternating sets of lines.

 

  • The 4K and Ultra HD Standard: The 4K resolution, as mentioned earlier, is at a whopping 4096 x 2160 pixels. Its “720p” version is at 3840 x 2160. Meanwhile, the 8K resolution is at a dizzying 7680 × 4320. There are currently no 8K projectors in existence at the time of this writing. Meanwhile, 4K projectors do exist but they come in two flavors—the expensive true 4K projectors that display all 3840 x 2160 or  4096 x 2160 pixels and the more affordable false 4K projectors that alternate displaying the pixels like super-fast neon signs to produce the illusion of a 4K projection.

 

  • The 3D Standard: The 3D stereoscopic gimmick of 1950s cinema has reemerged in the 1980s to 2000s with movies like Jaws 3-D and James Cameron’s Avatar. On top of viewing your movies and TV shows in crystal-clear and detailed HD, you can also view them with the illusion of 3D depth using stereoscopic technology, 3D glasses, or even 3D holograms you can see without glasses.  There are also active or passive 3D projector systems to choose from.

 

Aspect Ratio versus Projector Resolution

Projector resolution is intrinsically linked to the aspect ratio of whatever it is you’re viewing. Not every movie or TV show you watch, especially if they’re old-timey ones from the SD or standard definition era of television, will fit in perfectly with the rectangular box that is your standard fixed resolution, whether it’s XGA or 4K. They will tend to letterbox or have black bars on either side depending on the original aspect ratio of the BD, DVD, or cable box signal you’re projecting. 

  • What Is Aspect Ratio? A projector’s aspect ratio refers to the ratio between the height and width of its projection. Some projectors are actually capable of shifting from one aspect ratio to another, from square to horizontal rectangular or even vertical smartphone screen. Others stick to one aspect ratio and fixed resolution. For example, there are the most common aspect ratios you can come across for all devices, from SD to HD:
    • NTSC: If it’s NTSC it’s 1.33:1.
    • HDTV: If it’s HDTV it’s 1.78:1.
    • Cinema: If it’s Cinema it’s 2.35:1.
    • Video: If it says Video then it’s 4:3.
    • Square: If it says Square then it’s 1:1.
    • Letterbox: If it says Letterbox then it’s 1.85:1 or 18.5:10.
    • Widescreen: If it’s Widescreen it’s 1.6:1 or 16:10 or 16:9.
  • Why Are There Many Different Aspect Ratios? There are many different aspect ratios for projectors and TVs (as well as computer monitors) simply because there are many different sizes and formats of screens. Some are squarer others are more rectangular. For the longest time, the square boob tube was the standard for the cathode-ray tube (CRT) television sets and TV shows of that era followed that standard definition format. Ditto with cinema and its rectangular aspect ratio.

In fact, when movies started being shown on terrestrial TV, it was common practice to crop the original movie into the square aspect ratio of the TV. A 4:3 ratio typically displays square images for SD TVs. Meanwhile, a 16:9 ratio is reserved for HDTVs and projectors with wider, more rectangular screens reminiscent of the 23.5:10 aspect ratio of movie screens. When showing a 4:3 video on a 16:9 projector, you have the option to keep the original image with black bars on either side of the free space or stretch the image over the new aspect ratio.

  • The Most Common Aspect Ratios for Projectors: The aspect ratios listed above cover all sorts of devices, from HDTVs to CRT TVs as well as cinema screens and PC monitors. However, we can further delve into the specific aspect ratios used for projectors specifically.

The most common home theater projector aspect ratios include the following:

    • HD: This resolution has a 16:9 aspect ratio.
    • 4K: This resolution has a 1.9:1 or 19:10 aspect ratio

In turn, the most common business projector aspect ratios include the following:

    • SVGA: This resolution has a 4:3 aspect ratio.
    • XGA: This resolution has a 4:3 aspect ratio.
    • WXGA: This resolution has a 16:10 aspect ratio.
    • SXGA: This resolution has a 4:3 aspect ratio.
    • WUXGA: This resolution has a 16:10 aspect ratio.

In other words, the standard 1080p HDTV has a 16:9 aspect ratio, WXGA and WUXGA have 16:10, and XGA and SXGA has 4:3. 4K alone has a unique 19:10 aspect ratio.

  • Best Aspect Ratio for Watching Different Media: Which aspect ratio is the best for what you’re watching? It shouldn’t matter since even 4:3 vintage TV shows can be stretched out or featured on a 16:9 HD screen with black bars anyway. However, for the most part, standard definition TV shows look great in XGA and SXGA while new HD releases or movies work better with the cinematic 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio of WXGA, WUXGA, and HD resolution projectors, whether you’re watching something for a business meeting or as home entertainment.

 

  • Why Do Most Projector Resolutions Follow The Same Aspect Ratio? The HD projector follows the 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio across the board (specifically WUXGA, WXGA, and HD). The reason is simple. Most home cinemas replicate the feel of movie houses and their 23:10 cinema or 18.5:10 letterbox aspect ratios. It’s easier for a projector with a fixed resolution to blow up an XGA to HD without the picture looking weird as long as that 16:9 aspect ratio is maintained for at least most HD DVD and BD releases. It’s all for the sake of consistency. The 4:3 resolution of XGA might be stretched out or feature black bars to make up for the extra space.

The Bottom Line

When shopping for a projector for your home cinema, the resolution is an important specification to take into consideration. When you have a bigger resolution or pixels to spare from a frame or full-motion video, even when you were to blow it up or expand it to a bigger screen (as in the case of a projector and its projector screen), you’d still be able to retain sharpness and detail.

In regards to the aspect ratio, if you’re viewing a 4:3 show on a 16:9 projector screen, you can either choose between keeping it originally (and have black bars flank it on either side) or stretch it unnaturally to fit the fixed resolution and aspect ratio of the projector. Also, remember that the higher your resolution gets the better it is to invest in a projector because even the biggest TVs can only sport so many pixels of detail.

Image Credit: www.flickr.com

James Core
I write dozens of helpful informational articles based on topics that I have identified again and again throughout my research and work experience. I am here to help you find the right projector.

2 Comments

  1. Hi James, I would like to watch movies in the back garden with my kids in the summer – I have a projector screen but I don’t know what type of projector to buy. I understand the lumens part but what would be a good one for this? We live in a housing estate that will have some light pollution even when darkness falls. Thank you

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