Entertainment is one of the major draws in American bar culture. But these days, it’s not just about sports – movies, TV, award shows, debates, trivia, karaoke and video games are just some of the things you also might want to project to keep customers in their seats running up bigger tabs. Projectors can be a great way to make your bar feel exciting and alive with entertainment, but many owners and managers might not know the first thing about finding the right projector and accessories, and feel vulnerable to getting upsold on a pricier system than they need. So here’s a guide to make sure you not only get the right projector, but one that’s properly installed and cost-effective to your establishment.
Projectors Vs. Flat Screens
The first question to ask: Do I need a projector, or will a flat screen TV suffice? There are certain benefits to going the flat screen route, namely that you don’t need to worry about the light level in a room—which you must be conscious of with a projector. You don’t need to worry about replacement bulbs or maintenance, but screens over 100 inches can run upwards of $40k, and are just as liable to break. Simply put, projectors are usually more cost effective when it comes to larger images. If you’re a sports bar, and want to show multiple games at once, a bank of several screens is probably your best bet. Even if you already have a bunch of flat screens, you may want to have a projector on the side so fans can watch the “Big Game”. The main benefit to a projector, besides lower cost, is it is versatile and generally more suitable for larger viewing crowds and rooms. If you change your mind and want a smaller or bigger image, you don’t need to buy a new screen, you just need to adjust its distance from the surface you’re projecting onto.
Resolution Vs. Budget
What are you willing to spend on a projector, cables and installation? This is ultimately up to you depending on your needs and trying to meet realistic expectations. Projectors with HD resolution(1920 x 1080) create the best image and the greatest connection flexibility. But most owners don’t necessarily need an HD home theater projector for a business. The high-contrast ratios and advanced image processing important in a home theater aren’t as important at a sports bar. Projectors with XGA (1024 x 768) or Wide XGA (1280 x 800) resolution are likely fine for most owners’ needs. Once you have a make/model in mind, we recommend checking reviews on at least one independent, verified electronics site, like CNet or Consumer Reports. But here are a few units we recommend under $5,000 to get you started:
- Epson PowerLite 1980WU Wide UXGA- 1920 x 1200 / 4400 lumens / Retail ~$1,500
- Casio XJ-A257 Wide XGA-1280 x 800 / 3000 lumens / Retail ~$1,500
- Sony VPL-HW45ES HD – 1920 x 1080 / 1800 lumens / Retail ~$2,000
- JVC DLA-RS400U UHD-3840 x 2160 / 1700 lumens / Retail ~$4,000
What Are Lumens?
Another key element to understand is lumens, which is a measure of light emitted. The rule of thumb is, the higher the lumen count, the higher the dollar count. But having a ton of lumens isn’t necessary to have a good, properly contrasted image. The darker the room, the fewer lumens you’ll need for illumination. So don’t go overboard on the lumen count if you don’t need to. Here’s a rough guide of diagonal screen size to lumens:
Screen Size Suggested Brightness
60 – 80 inches 2,000 – 3,500 lumens
80 – 120 inches 3,500 – 4,000 lumens
120 inches & up 4,000 lumens & up
It should go without saying to always save your receipt with a purchase of this size. If you get the unit back, turn it on and find out you’ve misjudged your count, then simply return it…before you install.
Buyer Beware: Audio-Visual Cables
Electronics chains will try to upsell you expensive accessories. It’s just what they do. They sound fancy and always offer some sort of glitzy gimmick, but don’t fall for it: simple, cheap cables are 100% fine and wholly equal to the shiny name-brands at three to four times the generic price, and ultimately, no one will see or care. The cable type you’ll need depends on what types of input you’re connecting (i.e. cable box, AppleTV, Blu-Ray or DVD, etc.) but will most likely be HDMI. For audio, it depends on what your bar’s stereo situation is, but you will feed audio cables from one of the above playback devices directly into the input for your speaker system. You do not need to run the sound through the projector, unless you have your own reason for doing so.
Where Do I Point This Thing?
This may sound obvious, but figure out where you’re going to actually be doing the projecting before you buy anything. Projector screens are unnecessary if you any have bare drywall surfaces. The simplest, most effective screen is a white wall, which you could prime with a coat or two of Projector Screen Paint, ($50–$200). If you have, say, exposed brick, you’ll need to figure out a solve. You could buy a retractable screen if you want to get real fancy, but even a piece of light fabric can do the trick if you hang it tight for a clean presentation.
Installation: Go Pro or No?
Perhaps the most annoying part of the process is still ahead of you: installation. Most projectors are ceiling-mounted or above six feet to minimize obstructions. You’ll want to keep the projector near cool circulating air and out of direct sunlight. The more lumens it’s got, the hotter it’ll get, and the more sensitive to temperature you’ll need to be. Too much heat can cause the beamer to overheat. Your best bet is to have an A/V professional install a proper housing for it, and help to run cables in the most efficient way. If you invest in that help upfront once, it’ll definitely pay off in the long run, helping to avoid shaky images, overheating and customer complaints. Or just extreme frustration.
Calibration & Maintenance
Once it’s installed, you’re going to want to make sure the image is properly calibrated so you get the best picture possible minus weird color shifts—like skin tones looking off. If you get a professional installer, make sure they help with calibration too and let them know if it looks off to you, or some of your staff’s’ eyes. If you’re going the DIY route, there’s plenty of online tutorials on calibration using the color bars and the instruction manual. Basically, make sure the colors are balanced and the contrast and brightness are set to make a clear, strong image. Other than that, check that your projector is using the best resolution and proper aspect ratio and frame rate, which will also be covered in that manual. If you take care of your projector—which includes keeping your air filters
and ventilation holes clean by spraying them with condensed air—it should last you a very long time, perhaps even decades. (Pro tip: If your bar allows smoking, that may break your warranty so be aware of that.) You’ll likely need to replace the bulb after several thousand hours, so factor that into future costs associated with the equipment. However, if you don’t want to worry about replacements down the road, perhaps consider an LED projector, which tend to have very long bulb life, although much dimmer bulbs.
In theory, you shouldn’t need to replace projectors very often. If the image quality works for your crowd, you needn’t worry about constantly trying to keep up with new technology and “cutting-edge features” which come out every day, because it won’t be noticed by the vast majority of patrons. If the playback stays smooth, and the image looks clean, then that’s all that really matters. Then again, that could be just a projection on our part.
By Heather Florence Marple