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What kind of projectors do movie theaters use?



What kind of projectors do movie theaters use?

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Now, for the best cinematic experience, theater operators use the best projectors, commercial grade projectors that are simply a bigger version of the projector that we normally use and weighs a hundred kilos more.

In this article, we will look these kinds of projectors and its specs, how they are different from normal projectors and how we can recreate a cinema environment from just a normal projector.

So, if you are here, you are most likely interested in the hardware aspect of projectors used in movie theaters.

So, let’s dive right in….

What kind of projectors do movie theaters use?

You must have seen the olden days projectors which a film is inserted into the projector and then powerful light is shone onto the film, the image is magnified and projected on the projector screen.

For Sound, it is encoded onto the side of the films, it is read, converted to electrical signals and then played onto the speaker systems.

Well a lot has changed, the projectors we have nowadays, is more powerful and has turned digital for the most part.

 What storage medium do they use?

Projectors nowadays are now digital; they no longer need physical tape drives.

Instead, they use Hard drives as a storage and input medium.

Movie theaters nowadays use what is called a Digital light processing projector (DLP) which has a built in DCP hardware (Digital Cinema Projector) which is made for cinema purposes

 Movie studios distribute their movies in hard drives with it’s license that limit viewing time for a particular movie, the DCP part of the projector will act upon these restrictions and ensure that they are played only during the licensed period.

Digital Cinema Projector Hard Drives which the movie companies were made by the US military.

The movies that comes in these hard drives are encrypted and will only be played during the timeframe which it is licensed for.

How much does a movie theater projector cost?

Extras may push up the price of the projector significantly like hard drive, server and other addon features.Due to movie theater projectors being huge and having a lot of electronic components that are costly to produce, movie theater projectors may cost from $10,000 to $80,000 according to the size of the projector.

How bright and how much resolutions do theaters projectors have

Lumens, in terms of image brightness, theater projectors use up to 25,000 lumens, which when compared to a normal projector, is a lot, a normal projector has up to 3000 lumens, 22,000 difference right there.

Theaters need bright projectors so that it can shoot brightly, right across the large room, hence the need for more lumens, plus the brighter the image the better it is for viewing.

Pictured below is a theater projector from Barco

What kind of projectors do movie theaters use?


Projectors this size is capable of producing images that are 4K resolutions wise, this gives out a really high picture quality for patrons to enjoy.

A normal consumer projector will give you up to 1080p resolutions.

Screen size

As these projectors project onto large screen sizes, screen sizes that are as large as theaters and cinemas, they are capable of projecting onto 100 feet wide screens.


These projectors, has an extended contrast capability of up to 6000:1

Contrast is simply the difference between black and white, the more the difference the pleasing it is to watch bright colors mix with black.

High frame rate capability, since movies are divided up into digital frames, the projector reads from each frame individually, creating an illusion that it is a moving picture, while it is not, it is simply reading on frame after another, reading from each frame faster makes the movies blur free.

High frame rates give out a smoother transition of frames.

 Cooling system

Movie theater projectors have liquid cooling systems combined with fans which cools the gigantic parts inside which produces a lot of heat from the power intensive components that runs it.

Smaller projectors has the keystone feature which help align the image perfectly onto the projector screen, on the other hand, cinema projectors don’t. These cinema projectors must be aligned perfectly on a fixed position, a position that will enable the projection to be perfectly aligned on the screen

The upkeep of theater projectors can be intensive, financially and also maintenance wise.

Projector lamps of these industrial projectors are expensive, they will need to be replaced more since they will be playing three-hour long movies, up to 5 times a day thus depreciating the lamp more quickly.

So, you may ask, how are movies distributed to theaters?

Movie studios, distribute movies in hard drives and through satellite links.

Theater projectors have hard drives plugged into it with the movies stored in these hard drives, the movies are then copied to the projectors, some projectors have satellite downloading capability while others rely of file server, a central server will store all its movies and then each theater projectors from the different cinemas will read the files from this central server.

Impressive right?

Special features

Unlike a normal projector, these projectors have other features that normal projectors don’t. They have a web control interface just like a router where you can command the projector over the web.

Unique to cinema and theater projectors are automation capability, the projector room attendant, can set the sequence of events which the projector has to run, like ads and the likes and then set the time in which it has to run it, it will do the job by itself.

How heavy are they (weight)?

They may be as heavy as 140 KG, now that’s heavy! This is because it is feature packed and has a lot of heavy hardware packed inside.

What kind of projectors do movie theaters use?

Price (How much do they cost?

To help answer our question of “what kind of projectors do movie theaters use”, we will need to look at the prices of these projectors

With all those features, they must surely cost a fortune to buy, we’ll they are damn expensive as they can get into the $100,000 price range, not forgetting the maintenance costs of these projectors.

It pays off in the long run for commercial cinemas and theaters operators.

Making your own home theater

What kind of projectors do movie theaters use?

While we may not have the budget for some kick ass high end projectors, there are alternatives to these mega projectors can produce similar result but on a lower scale.

We’ll I am assuming that you are reading this because you want to maybe create a theater or a home theater theater

So with that said, let’s have a look at what projector that have similar capability of that of a high end cinema, but is smaller and affordable.

It’s all about the experience that we can have from watching movies at the theaters, you can re-create that too.

With just a few hundreds of dollars spend and a small room, you can have a theater of your own.

There are projectors out there that are being made for small cinemas and theaters and have 4K resolutions, 1500 lumens and with a 350,000:1 contrast.

Sony is the maker of these high-end projectors, now that high end consumer projectors, there are also mid-ranged home theater projectors projectors that has 1080p resolutions with up to 60,000:1 of contrast ratio.

Heck you can even use affordable projectors to create a theater of your own, lets need a small sized room with minimal lighting and a good sound system and you are good to go.

Lets sum it up…

Here is a summary of the answer for our question, “what kind of projectors do movie theaters use”.

A lot of money is spent by the public to watch and experience a good movie at the theater, with a good theater comes a huge bulky electricity intensive projector that has really good features.

Its like a Ferrari for projectors.

As we have talked about, movie theaters use high end projectors that cannot be found on a regular ecommerce site like Amazon, rather, they have vendors that specifically make projectors for cinemas and theaters.

One such maker is Barco.

Their lamp projectors offer up to 4k resolutions with 24,500 lumens (normal projectors go only up to 3000 lumens) , these projectors can connect to a primary file servers with store all the movies which are to be played and also has a hard drive slot which is for Digital Cinema Packages or DCI, these are studio issued hard drives which will play the movies that has been  licensed to play.

Producing 4K resolutions, they also produce a lot of heat which are taken care of by liquid cooling systems.

There are 4K projectors available on Amazon which you can easily buy, with a good lighting, good sized room, a sound system and some pop corns and you have a home theater which you can spend limitless time with your loved ones.

With all that said, I hope that we have answered our “what kind of projectors do movie theaters use” question

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