What is a Rear Projection TV?

What is a Rear Projection TV?

Almost all modern households have Smart TVs installed with the latest features, slim design, and thousands of hours of content options with over-the-top platforms. Smart TVs are available in various sizes starting from 24” and going up to 80” offering Ultra HD 4K resolutions in high-end models.  

But imagine being in the 1980s and enjoying the best viewing experience at a screen size of over 65”. Rear projection  TVs made it possible back then as they were built to offer much bigger screens where CRT-based TVs could only reach up to 40”. 

Here’s how rear projection TVs were able to offer bigger screen sizes reaching over 80”: 

A rear projection TV is a type of TV with a CRT, LCD, or DLP projector inside, which projects the image directly onto the back of the screen. These projectors allowed RPTVs to cast a much larger image than standard CRT-based TVs. 

What is a Rear Projection TV? 

A rear projection TV is a television set that uses a CRT, LCD, or DLP (Digital Light Processing) projector to display images onto the back of the screen. With the projector installed, the TV is able to cast a much larger image when compared to standard TV models. 

The Rear Projection TVs were widely available and witnessed a high production rate back in the 1980s. The rear projection technology allowed the creation of much larger TVs while the traditional CRTs could only reach up to 40 inches. 

These TVs were highly popular in the early 2000s until there was a gradual decline in their demand. This was due to the increased popularity of LCD TVs around 2008 as a much thinner, lighter, and more cost-effective alternative to rear projection TVs. Over time, companies ceased the production of rear projection TVs, and the last DLP based 82″ and 92″ sets were released by Mitsubishi in 2012. 

Technologies Used in Rear Projection TVs

The earliest rear projection TVs had CRT projectors followed by LCD and DLP ones. Each of these technologies uses a combination of projectors, mirrors, magnification lenses, and screens to project images on the TV.  

Cathode Ray Tube (CRT)

Cathode Ray Tube or CRT is the earliest and most basic type of technology used in rear projection TVs. Three CRT’s, one for each primary color, are used to project the image onto the screen. 

The advantages of CRT technology are that it requires the least manufacturing cost and provides a wide array of colors. Additionally, CRT’s can be configured in a broad range of resolutions providing a variety of screen resolution options. 

However, as CRT is one of the oldest technologies, the projector is much larger in size and takes up a lot of space. This makes the TVs bulky based on the screen size. In fact, a 65-inch CRT based rear projection TV can weigh up to 350 pounds making it very difficult to maneuver. 

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

LCD technology uses a powerful light that is passed through an LCD chip containing video pixels. These video pixels are magnified via a lens and then projected onto the screen. 

This technology is compact and used comparatively less power. The LCD-based rear projection TVs are equipped with good contrast and brightness capabilities. 

Though the LCD offers far better picture quality, the cost of these chips is higher than CRT. As these chips are designed of pixels, it leads to a bright dot on the screen if even a single pixel is burnt out. Additionally, LCD chips can only be designed in limited resolutions. 

Digital Light Processing (DLP)

The DLP technology uses advanced reflective mirror pixels to produce high-quality images on the screen. Similar to LCD, the DLP chips are compact and offer low power consumption. These chips have the highest projection quality when compared to the other two. 

DLP chips have a limited number of pixels on each chip, making the resolution change practically impossible. Also, DLP chips have a higher manufacturing cost than CRT or LCD.

Rear Projection TVs: Design 

Rear projection TVs look slightly similar to CRT TVs of their era. However, the major difference is that they’re more compact and have less depth at larger sizes. Though the later rear projection TVs (LCD or DLP based) had flat screens, they were still far deeper when compared to early LCD TVs and modern Smart TVs. 

CRT-based rear projection TVs were too big and heavy to wall mount. It was only possible if a base sized cavity was built in the wall. When compared to CRT, the later built LCD and DLP rear projection TVs were slimmer and lighter but can still be considered bulky based on modern Smart TVs. 

Rear Projection TVs Vs. Modern TVs

The larger and more capable rear projection TVs especially those with LCD and DLP projectors were able to display resolutions up to 1080p. However, the features and compatibility with modern devices are highly limited. 

Modern TVs based on LCD and OLED technology offer better picture quality, higher resolutions, increased brightness, and improved refresh rates. These modern TVs are superior to even the best rear projection TVs ever built. 

Rear projection TVs even lack support for modern display standards, devices, and connectors. They’re not equipped with modern HDMI ports, WiFi, Bluetooth connectivity, and other smart features. 

If you’ve got a rear projection TV available, it might be used as a secondary display but none of the modern devices can be connected to it. Even a few years older, second-hand TVs will far surpass the high-end rear projection TVs in terms of features, display quality, and design. 

The End of Modern RPTVs

Rear projection TVs have a CRT, LCD, or DLP projector installed that projects the image directly onto the back of the screen. It can be considered similar to a movie theatre but the projector is on the back side of the screen. 

Rear projection TVs come in various sizes from 42″ diagonal up to 80″. While the 42″ models can be termed as large televisions, those from 60″ to 80″ are the ones that were used as home theatres. 

A rear projection TV is much less costly as compared to a similar sized plasma TV. It was considered suitable for budget conscious buyers who don’t want to spend too much on a television set. 

Rear projection TVs were at the peak of their popularity and production in the early 2000s. However, with the increased popularity of LCD TVs, the production of rear projection TVs was significantly halted. 

The earliest RPTVs had CRT projectors making the design too bulky. With time, the introduction of LCD and DLP based rear projection TVs opened doors for slimmer and lighter variants with better display resolutions going up to 1080p.

The last rear projection TVs were launched in 2012. Though they’re not manufactured now, you can still find the second-hand as well as new models online, or in local electronic markets. 

Though the rear projection TVs can’t withstand the design and smart features of Modern Smart TVs, they were immensely popular due to their big screen variants that were often used as home theatres. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do they still make rear projection TVs?

No, they are not being manufactured anymore. Rear projection TVs were phased out by the industry around the early 2010s, as advances in flat-screen display technology such as LCD, LED and OLED made rear projection televisions less popular. The last set of rear projection TVs was launched in 2012 by Mitsubishi. 

Though not being manufactured, the rear projection TVs are still available in local electronic markets and online websites. If you’ve got an old rear projection TV, you can disassemble it and sell the internal parts at a reasonable price. Additionally, you can put it to recycle or donate it if it’s in working condition. 

Are rear projection screens good?

Rear projection screens can provide good image quality and large screen size in a relatively compact form factor. However, the technology has some limitations, such as a limited viewing angle, a need for regular maintenance and lamp replacements, and possible image quality degradation over time.

Which is better front or rear projection?

Viewing angle depends on the gain in case of front projection while for rear projection, it depends on the material’s ability to diffuse light across the viewing surface. Contrast levels are affected by ambient light in front projection. Alternatively, t is less affected by other sources of light and contrast so the presence of external light is better in case of rear projection. 

This depends on personal preferences and specific needs. Front projectors offer more versatility in terms of installation options and can provide a larger screen size, while rear projection offers a more compact form factor and can be easier to set up. Therefore, the ideal choice highly depends on the viewing environment, space available, and purpose. 

Why buy a projector instead of a TV?

Some people choose projectors instead of TVs for their ability to provide a larger screen size, more versatility in terms of installation options, and potentially lower cost per inch of screen size. However, projectors can also have limitations such as a need for a dark room, more complicated setup, and potential image quality issues such as keystone correction and chromatic aberrations.

Is projection better for eyes?

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that projection is better or worse for the eyes compared to other display technologies. However, some people might find rear projection TVs to be more eye-straining due to the limited viewing angle and the possible presence of screen door effects. 

About the author

Maria Chan, or MC, as we call her, is the genius girl-boss who gave up on her cushy silicon-valley job to grind it out with us. Her undying pursuit of wanting Zeebox to the best makes it very clear that she has no interest in running a generic tech-site.

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