The True Brightness of Projectors


When helping churches implement Environmental Projection, the biggest question we solve is “How bright of a projector does my church need?”

And that’s the big question! However, before we can answer that, there is a big and frustrating elephant in the room that we need bring up – the true brightness of projectors. I know it seems simple: When your church needs a projector, you simply pull up a few spec sheets on a few projectors and buy the one with the highest brightness. Right? Nope.  Please don’t do that; for the sake of your tithe dollars.  Let’s explore why.

The brightness of most projectors are measured in lumens, and often you will see “ANSI lumens” – they are the same thing, but ANSI (American National Standards Institute) is an organization that tries to dictate and regulate the brightness of projectors.

Sounds pretty official, right?  Well, the trouble is they don’t dictate (nor regulate) every little tiny  factor and variable that can come into play when measuring the brightness of a projector. Everything can affect the brightness. (Screen surface, distance, ambient light, the source/signal, lenses..etc.)

(Disclaimer: this is insider knowledge from a few top projector dealers and manufactures – I did not personally knock on ANSI’s door and ask.  However, the proof is all around us: brightness of projectors do not necessarily match up)  

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Add into the mix that no two manufacturers rate their brightness identically.

True case in point: (Names changed to protect the guilty)

Projector Company A: Released a model in 2006, rated at 4000 ANSI lumens  This company was the designer and original seller of this projector.

Projector Company B: Released a model in 2007, rated at 5000 ANSI lumens. This projector company did not design or manufacture their own projectors, but simply BOUGHT a projectors from another company, in this case, from Projector Company A.

The problem: those two projectors were the exact same price…and the EXACT same model.  They simply have a different name on the top. Consumers are naturally drawn to the “brighter” projectors for the same money, when in reality that projector wasn’t rated true.


The 1 Main Truth: No two projectors are rated the same 

Equate lumens to gas mileage: laboratory tests and real-world are two VERY different things.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Get a demo before you buy. I cannot stress this enough. Being a good steward means buying the RIGHT projector for your church, not simply the cheapest or brightest.


Two Main Factors that affect projector brightness:

1. Projector Age

Shady Grove Brightness Text

When consulting for churches, many pastors will tell me:

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“Camron – we have a 6-year-old, 10,000 lumen projector. We would like to use that for Environmental Projection.”

You know the projector: size of your car and cost as much as your house.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not 10,000 lumens anymore.  I could walk in to your church with a projector I fit in my carry-on and it would be brighter than that old projector. It’s the nature of technology.

Projectors are NOT like cars or houses – they are like DVD players or cell phones.  Use it for a short time, then donate it, move it to a small classroom, or toss it in the dumpster.


2. Color Engine

Projector Test 1

We won’t get into the whole DLP or LCD debate here , but know this:  Single-chip DLP (which is what most churches get drawn to) do NOT output the same COLOR brightness as 3-panel LCD does. Furthermore, I recently learned from a manufacturer that DLP projectors are also rated a little differently when it comes to lumens.

You want the WHITE brightness and COLOR brightness number to be the same.

Learn more here:

Camron Ware

Author Camron Ware

Visual Worshiper and leader in environmental projection and lighting. When I started Visual Worshiper, my goal was to help churches of any size, demographic, budget, and style in doing visual worship better. I am not an AV dealer. I’m a visual worship leader who also geeks out on the latest projector specs and lighting fixtures, and loves seeing churches implement the right people and tools to further the Kingdom and bring glory to God. Check out more from Camron at

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Anthony Coppedge says:

    Good information, Camron. I would add that what you’re demonstrating is likely a combination of things (which you touched on); namely – contrast ratio differences between older projectors and newer projectors and the lamp life. If well maintained, a 10k lumen projector will still produce at or near 10k lumens 10 years later. However, any projector of any age will look different if the lamp is used 80%, so the lamp is also a consideration.

    One of the biggest confusion points (besides the stupid ‘specs’ touted) is understanding how the lumens, contrast ratio, ambient light, and screen surface (and screen area) combine to create *perceived* brightness. My concern with this article is that some will skim it and assume you’re saying 3,500 lumens from a new projector is more than enough to compete with 10k lumens of a project that’s not new, when lumens alone are a wholly insufficient criteria.

    Frankly, most manufacturer sales reps, much less church dealers/installers, do not know the math or process required to get accurate specs based on a specific venue, so they default to the “most lumens” as the sales point. It’s frustrating, but it’s just not about the lumens alone.

    My 2 cents,


  • Stephen Wolf says:

    What is the best way to go about getting projector demos? I am looking at replacing a few projectors in our building and would love to take your advice of getting demos before buying but as far as I know none of the production companies in my area have that kind of stock or would be willing to bring in new projectors without a sales commitment.

  • Shnoodle says:

    Look carefully to see while your LCD is brighter, the words on that DLP are easier to make out (read), clearer to the eye

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