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Projectors for House Mapping

Which kind of projector do you need for house mapping?

Lenses

The projector’s lens determines how large an image the projector can produce from a given distance. Because most of us are constrained by the length of our yard, lenses are an important consideration.

On the whole, I’d recommend going for a projector with a short throw lens. This type of lens requires less distance to throw a large image compared to a standard lens. 

If you look at a projector’s specifications, anything with a throw ratio between 0.4 and 1 is typically considered short throw.

A projector's lens determines how large an image it can create from a given distance
A projector's lens throw ratio can be found in its specification sheet

Once you have identified a projector that is potentially suitable, you can use Projector Central’s throw calculator

Just select your projector and then use the tool to tell you the distance your projector needs to be from the house to produce a large enough image.

Just a word of warning about the estimated image brightness section of this tool: Often it will flag that your estimated brightness is too low. Don’t get too hung up on this. The tool is working to professional standards and applies to indoor scenarios like conferences. We can afford to be more lenient when it comes to residential house mapping.

If you have a long enough yard, absolutely feel free to go with a projector with a standard lens. 

They tend to be cheaper and easier to get hold of. But remember that the projected image appears less bright as you move your projector further away. Having a large distance between the projector and the house also increases the chances of encountering shadow-casting obstructions within the beam.

There are also ultra short throw projectors but I don’t recommend these for house projection mapping. They suffer from shallow depth of focus and lens distortion.

Brightness and lens type are important factors when choosing a projector

Brightness

Moving on to the other big factor when it comes to projectors – brightness.

Lumens are a measure of how much light a projector gives out.

As a general rule of thumb: the more lumens, the better, and you should get as much brightness as your budget will allow, without going totally overboard.

In general, I’d say you should be looking in the 3,000-3,500 lumens range as a minimum on average. But it also depends on how far away you’re projecting from, the color of your house and the level of ambient light.

If you have a dark house and/or lots of street lighting, consider going up to 4,000 lumens or more.

If you have complete darkness and a white house, you could get away with fewer lumens.

For example, I’ve used a 2,200 lumen short throw projector in a situation like this and the results were still great.

Look out for ANSI lumens which is a standardised rating – although there is still some room for interpretation.

Beware of overinflated lumen-claims from cheaper, off-brand projectors; If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is!

You can get away with less brightness from your projector if your house is a light color
A dark house is more of a challenge and will often require a brighter projector

Resolution

I’d recommend a minimum of Full HD resolution which is 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Anything less than this on an average-sized house will probably look pixellated.

Do you need a 4K projector?

If you have a very large home, it does make a visual difference to use a 4K projector, but it comes with some disadvantages. 

4k footage can be slow to preview and export if your computer is not that powerful.

And will you even be using 4K video content? If you’re not able to source and build your show using high-resolution 4K content, there’s no point to having a 4K projector.

4K projectors also are generally more expensive so you need to work out if the extra resolution is worth it to you.

Be aware that when a projector is marketed as having a “4K input” that means it can accept a 4K signal, as in you can give it 4K media to play, but its native output resolution listed in its specification is usually still just 1080p which is Full HD 1920 x 1080. 

In recent years, 4K UHD projectors have become affordable and give you 4x the image quality of Full HD projectors. 

Confusingly, some models claim the accolade of True 4K but they are not true 4K in the strictest sense – they have to use a pixel shifter or enhancer, but they do still deliver near-4K image quality at a fraction of the price of true true 4K.

Lamp-Based or Laser?

Traditionally, projectors use a halogen lamp or bulb. But laser light sources are starting to become more ubiquitous in the consumer projector market. 

Lamp-based projectors have been around the longest and are typically the most affordable projectors on offer when you take all factors into account including brightness, lamp lifespan and image quality. 

However, they do come with some downsides. The main one is that halogen lamps have quite a steep reduction in brightness over their lifetime and particularly at the start.

Nowadays you might expect to see lamp lifespans of 5,000 or more hours, longer if the unit is run in eco mode. 

To put that into perspective – 5,000 hours is the same as running your projector for 8 hours a day, every day for over one and a half years. 

Most people will be using it far less frequently than that and by the time it comes time to replace the bulb, technology will have moved on and you may feel it’s time for an upgrade anyway.

The brightness of a halogen lamp light source decreases over time, but especially at the start of its life

Laser on the other hand boasts over 20,000 hours of life, requires less maintenance than lamps and generates less heat.

They also often outperform lamp-based counterparts in terms of how wide a range of colors they offer and sharper contrast.

However, as things stand in 2022, they are more expensive than lamp-based projectors with equivalent specs so it will be for you to decide whether the slight visual improvement and cost-savings over the long term are worth it to you.

TIP

Use the shortcut Command + F1 twice and it will extend your display.

Plugging a USB into a media player

Kit List

See a list of suggested house projection mapping kit including projector, media player, computer, audio, cables, window covering & enclosure materials.

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