TVs vs projectors – our expert decides whether it's realistic to ditch the TV for a bigger home screen

If you want the biggest picture possible, there are pros and cons to both these options

a projector being watched in a home
(Image credit: Samsung)

Should you pick a TV or a projector? As we enter the season of indoor entertaining, you might be considering the best option for getting a big screen picture in your living room. Historically, a projector was the most cost-effective way to get a giant screen, but as prices of TVs have come down over the last few years, it’s no longer quite so clear cut. 

While most people opt for an easy life by choosing a television in the end, both TVs and projectors have their strengths and weaknesses. These can generally be broken down into the four categories below, which are all things you should consider before browsing the best TV brands and projectors for your next home purchase. 

What's better, a TV or a projector?

1. Size

If you’re mulling over the TV or projector question, then the size of the picture is clearly a big concern for you. Nobody shopping for projectors is planning on exclusively displaying a modest 32-inch image, and if they are, then they should stop immediately and buy a small TV.

In short, the best projector images can go far bigger than most conventional TVs, assuming you buy the right one — albeit at the expense of brightness and sharpness. You can make the image exactly fill your home theater wall, or go bigger still. If you want to put a 200-inch picture up on the side of the building or your ceiling, then that’s an option. 

The biggest TV that Best Buy sells, meanwhile, is 100-inches. This TV will always be that size - it can’t grow or shrink to fit the available space.

2. Price

We said earlier that TV prices have come down, and that’s true, but the big-screen options will still cost you a pretty penny. The 100-inch Sony we mentioned earlier will set you back $15,000 — and that’s including a $2,000 discount.

But those prices come down fast if you drop to more popular sizes. What most people would consider big-screen TVs — 55-inches or so — can be had for as little as $300, and even the critically acclaimed 65-inch OLED LG C2 can be bought for under $1,800 if you shop around, including on Amazon

By contrast, projectors tend to be expensive, especially if you opt for a very bright, good-quality, 4K one. The model currently topping our list of the best projectors — The Premiere from Samsung — will set you back around $3,500, though it will project an image of up to 130-inches.

3. Picture quality

LG NANO90 85-inch TV being viewed by father and son in lounge area

(Image credit: LG)

That price difference is important because a good 4K TV will almost always beat a projector in terms of image quality.

There are a few reasons for this. One is that 4K projectors are rare and expensive, with 1080p ones being far more common. Another is that they struggle to offer the same level of brightness or contrast that even cheaper TVs can provide, which means that even if HDR is supported, it usually won’t be supported very well.

There’s one more part of this equation, and that’s the fact that projector image quality is very much at the mercy of the environment in which it’s placed. This is partly because you need a big, neutral, flat surface to ensure the image won’t be distorted, but it’s also down to the way projectors function. 

Because projectors work by throwing light at a surface, they live or die by their environment: any kind of ambient light is going to make things a whole lot worse. 

Unless you can control the light of your space with a set of heavy-duty black-out curtains, you might just be better off with a big-screen TV for your home theater — especially if you watch a lot of dark, atmospheric content rather than just wanting a projector for the big football game. 

4. Flexibility

But there’s one big advantage that projectors have that televisions can’t possibly hope to match: flexibility. We’ve already talked about the way that you can adapt your image size to the occasion, but they’re also a whole lot more portable.

Fancy taking your projector outside to broadcast the big game onto your house? Go for it (if it’s not too bright!). Want to take your big screen on holiday? Shouldn’t be a problem, given projectors' compact size — some even include built-in speakers and a battery, such as Samsung's recent release, the Freestyle, which can be bought for under $550 on Amazon.

Television sets obviously can’t match this. They’re bulky, awkward and designed to sit in one place for the whole of their working lives. That has its advantages — they’re very easy to set up and forget about — but the one thing they’re not is portable. 

So, which is best for you?

In short, TVs are cheaper, offer better picture quality and can work in almost any space. Projectors, meanwhile, are a bit more sensitive to conditions and fiddly to set up — but will reward you with a picture size that simply can’t be matched, and are portable enough take outside or on the road if you want a change of scenery.

Most people will pick TVs, and if you want a big picture you could do worse than picking one of our picks of the best 85 inch TVs, but for a certain kind of person, a good projector just can’t be beaten.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. He often writes for T3 and Tom's Guide. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.