Get insider access
Preferred store
Your browser is not supported or outdated so some features of the site might not be available.
We've recently launched Projectors! Read the R&D Article to learn more.

Our Picture Quality Tests
Contrast Ratio

What it is: The brightness difference between white and black; it's the main component of image quality.
When it matters: Higher contrast ratios lead to better image quality and sharper colors.
Score components:
Score distribution

The contrast ratio is the ratio between the luminance of the brightest whites and the darkest blacks that a projector can produce simultaneously. Higher contrast results in a greater luminance difference between the deepest blacks and the brightest whites, so shadow details and dark areas of the screen remain dark when bright highlights are visible. A projector with a low contrast ratio looks washed out whenever bright highlights are in the scene.

To test the contrast, we measure the average luminance of multiple white and black squares and then calculate the ratio between the two. Luminance is a metric to measure the amount of light (or intensity) present on a surface and is expressed in cd/m².

Test results

When It Matters

Contrast is one of the most important aspects of picture quality with any display technology. Whether you're looking at a TV, projector, monitor, or even your phone, the display's contrast is usually one of the first things most people will notice. It's especially important if you're watching something in a dark room. Contrast isn't just about deep blacks or bright whites; it's about the difference between the two. If you're watching a movie in a dark room on a projector with low contrast, whites and saturated colors won't stand out well, and the entire image looks dull and flat. High contrast leads to a punchier image, with shadow details that stand out from the dark and bright highlights that stand out from the background.

It's important to note that contrast measurements don't paint the full picture of the projector's performance. Many factors go into producing good picture quality from a projector, including the room setup, ambient light, and even the specific screen you're using. The content itself also plays a big role here, as the average picture level (APL) of a scene can have a huge impact on the perceived contrast. Part of this has to do with the sheer size of most projectors; 200 nits on a 55" TV doesn't look very bright or impactful, but that same scene on a 120" projector screen is far more impressive.

Our Tests

The way we measure contrast is fairly simple. Using a checkerboard pattern of alternating full white and full black squares, we measure the luminance of each and calculate the ratio between them. This way of measuring contrast is usually called ANSI contrast. However, our pattern and test methodology differ slightly from the commonly used ANSI test methodology.

Once we have measured the black and the white, we can calculate the contrast ratio. To get this number, we divide the white luminance by the black luminance.

Contrast Ratio Equation contrast ratio pattern Our test pattern

Native Contrast

What it is: The ratio of white against black in our recommended SDR settings.
When it matters: When you want brightness or color variations to be displayed with accuracy.
Score distribution

The native contrast test measures the ratio of the brightness of white and black of the projector in its most accurate, post-calibration settings, with all dynamic contrast features, like iris dimming, turned off. Since it's a ratio, there's no unit for contrast. Instead, contrast is expressed as 'X:1,' with 'X' being how many times brighter white is than black. For example, a 300:1 contrast ratio would mean that the projector emits white that is 300 times brighter than its black. The higher the contrast ratio, the deeper the blacks, and the better the picture will look.

We set up the projector in our completely black, light-controlled room to run the test. We're using a 100" Stewart StudioTek 100 projector screen with neutral gain (1.0), with the lights turned off in the room. We connect the projector to a computer, which we then use to display the checkboard pattern shown above. We measure the luminance of each section using a Konica Minolta T-10A illuminance meter, which is expressed in lux, and record it. We take multiple measurements to ensure our results are consistent and not impacted by stray reflected light.

KODAK LUMA 150 - 69:1
Optoma UHD35 - 260:1

Looking at the two examples above, you can clearly see the difference between a projector with low contrast (left) and one with high contrast (right). Combined with the low peak brightness of the KODAK LUMA 150, the overall picture quality is disappointing, and bright highlights don't stand out at all. In fact, white doesn't even really look white. The Optoma UHD35, on the other hand, has bright, punchy whites, and the colors are sharp and stand out immediately, even in scenes with lots of dark elements.

To arrive at a final contrast measurement, we take the average of the white squares and divide it by the average of the black squares. We also take a picture of the checkboard pattern on the screen and overlay our measurements on the image to give you a sense of the black-and-white luminance uniformity across the screen.

Alternative Methods

You'll likely notice that our measured contrast is rarely close to manufacturer claims. Why is that? Well, it turns out there are actually multiple ways to measure contrast, and those sneaky manufacturers like to choose the method that delivers the highest numbers for their marketing. Not all manufacturers do this, but most do. So what other ways are there? When you see numbers like 1,500,000:1, the manufacturer is most likely using a full white and full black square to measure contrast. The problem with this method is that it simply doesn't match any real-world content. The checkboard pattern above doesn't really match real content, but it's a much more complicated pattern for any display technology, so it more closely matches your real-world experience.

ANSI Contrast

The way we measure contrast is commonly called "ANSI Contrast," but our methodology isn't quite in line with the ANSI standards, so we call it Native Contrast instead. Contrast measurements are extremely sensitive to stray light measurements. As explained in our Projector Launch article, during our initial test development process, we discovered that even the clothing we're wearing can significantly impact our measurements! Although we've taken steps to reduce reflections and stray light, our test setup isn't good enough to be considered equivalent to ANSI contrast. Our test room resembles a typical dark-room projector setup you might have at home, but it's not as good as a true laboratory setup. This means that our results will almost always be worse than true ANSI contrast measurements.


Another common method to measure contrast is known as FOFO, or Full-On, Full-Off. As the name suggests, this method to measure contrast uses a full white screen followed by a full black screen. This way of measuring contrast is one of the most misleading, as it's usually a lot easier for a projector (or any display) to show a full white screen or a full black screen. This rarely resembles anything even remotely close to real content, so it's extremely misleading and not really worth considering. Many projectors can do really well with this test yet have poor real-world contrast.

Dynamic Contrast

Many projectors include features that help improve contrast by adjusting the light output from the projector. For example, some projectors can adjust the iris when displaying a dark scene, reducing the amount of light they send. When measuring FOFO contrast in particular, these features can significantly improve the measured contrast, as they can effectively close the iris entirely when displaying a full dark screen. Brands often use dynamic contrast when marketing their projectors, as this method often yields the highest contrast measurements of any methodology. The problem with this method is that it rarely comes anywhere near the actual contrast capabilities of the projector, so it doesn't represent what you'll actually see when watching real content.


Contrast is one of the most important, most noticeable aspects of the overall picture quality of a projector. The higher the contrast, the better, as bright highlights will stand out better from darker areas of the scene. Although there are multiple ways to test for contrast, we use a checkerboard pattern and measure the difference in the average luminance between the white and black squares.