There is a wide variety of holiday projectors available on the market and it can be difficult to determine which one is right for you. From the technical specifications such as resolution, and throw distance; to the practical aspects such as price, ports, and what’s included in each kit: there are a lot of options.
To help, we here at AtmosFX® ordered the following devices, took them all out back to the woodshed, and submitted them to a standardized set of side-by-side comparisons. Included in this review are:
- 2017 Star Shower Window Wonderland by Bulbhead
- AtmosFX® Digital Decorating® Kit
- AtmosFX® Digital Decorating Kit® Plus (DDK+)
- WindowFX Holiday Video Decorating Kit by TotalHomeFX
- WindowFX Holiday Video Decorating Kit PLUS SERIES
- Night Stars Holiday Magic Digital Motion Projector
Side-by-Side Comparison Grid
|Included Decorations||Inputs||Speaker /Outputs||Native Projector Resolution||Contrast||Stand Type|
2 USB HDMI
|Built-in Speaker 3.5mm Stereo output||800x480||2000:1||Solid w/bal lhead|
2 USB HDMI
|Built-in Speaker Bluetooth 3.5mm Stereo output||1280x720||3000:1||Case|
|Built-in Speaker 3.5mm Stereo output||480x320||500:1||Flexible|
|Built-in Speaker Bluetooth 3.5mm Stereo output||480x320||500:1||Flexible|
USB Composite VGA
|Built-in Speaker 3.5mm Stereo output||480x320||?||Mini solid tripod|
|Window Wonderland||$59.99||12- Built-in||None||No speaker. 1 output||?||?||Case|
Wherever possible, we tried to use the lowest price either from online retailers, common brick-and-mortar stores, or on the manufacturer’s Web site. Even before we examine photos of the performance tests, it’s clear that we should expect a wide range of results.
Bear in mind that we chose projectors designed for digital decorating, not those targeting home theater use. Though many of these projectors advertise themselves as able “stream your favorite movies & videos,” the results are likely to be subpar when compared to high-end home-theater projectors.
Viewed from this perspective, AtmosFX projectors are either the most expensive of low-end projectors or the most affordable of the high-end. We suggest you select your projector based on your decorating needs, not with the intent of trying to use it as a television projector later.
The number of included decorations should be a secondary factor in making your decision. Some, like the TotalHomeFX Mini, include only six, while the AtmosFX DDK+ includes 20. There are really three keys to this category:
- The projector itself. The decorations will only display as brightly and in as high a resolution as the projector is capable of, no matter how the videos themselves are constructed. For example, a fan could easily download Eerie Eyes by AtmosFX onto a USB stick and play it on the Night Stars Holiday Magic Digital Motion Projector. However, though Eerie Eyes is in HD, it will only display to the maximum Holiday Magic resolution of 480x320.
- You’ll also need to consider if you want to add additional decorations, either because you found some new material you enjoy or you want to expand your digital decorating to holidays throughout the year. For example, the “As Seen on TV” Window Wonderland includes six animations for Halloween and six for Christmas but, these are locked in and the device does not have any kind of input for adding new digital decorations.
- Another place where there was a wide variance was in the length of each scene. The Windows Wonderland scenes ran 4-10 seconds in length and the Holiday Magic scenes averaged 15-20 seconds whereas the other kit's scenes typically ran 30 seconds each or longer.
This leads us into the topic of inputs. In a very broad sense, these are just a matter of taste and utility. Devoted techies will have strong opinions on SD cards versus USB sticks but, for most home decorators, this won’t be an issue. Having an HDMI port as an option will help keep your decorations clear and bright if you’re using a DVD player or streaming from your computer. Again, the Window Wonderland projector has no way of adding new decorations.
Most of the kits have built-in speakers and then provide a 3.5mm output and/or Bluetooth for external speakers. This is going to be important if you are window projecting but want viewers outside to hear the sound, or are using your projector in location that is not close enough to hear the built-in.The notable exception in this group is once more, the Window Wonderland projector. It does not have a built-in speaker at all. Both the AtmosFX DDK+ and TotalHomeFX Plus have Bluetooth as an option for adding external speakers.
We didn’t have the facilities for rating either the volume or sound quality of the speakers so AtmosFX is unable to provide an objective rating. Subjectively, the sound quality follows the price curve pretty closely. Don’t go overboard here. You’re looking for a clear, loud sound that inspires fright without sounding tinny, hollow, or fake.
A note on Bluetooth
The effective range of Bluetooth speakers is about 5 meters and they work best if you have a straight line of unobstructed sight between the projectors and the speakers. Each projector can only pair with one speaker at a time and the Bluetooth is only designed for sound output, not pairing with other Bluetooth devices. For many decorators, Bluetooth is a “nice to have,” but other times you may find that not having to tape down cords to prevent tripping is worth the extra feature.
Native Projector Resolution
As mentioned earlier, no matter how high-end your decorations are, they will only project to the maximum capabilities of the projector but, what’s most important here is the role that resolution plays. Let’s get technical for just a (very) brief moment.
Display resolution is not measured in dots per inch as it usually is with printers. Instead, it appears as the number of pixels on the horizontal axis and the number on the vertical axis. For instance, the DDK+ is 1280 x 720 while the TotalHomeFX Plus is 480 x 320.
Where this becomes important is when we enlarge an image. The sharpness of the projected image will gradually lose sharpness as it becomes bigger because the same number of pixels are being spread out over a larger number of inches.
No matter how bright your project is, you’ll want decorations with crisp edges (especially if you’re making a hologram effect) and that are clearly in-focus. Even wispy, ephemeral ghosts look more ghostly if they are in correct focus. You want images that are large enough to fit your display correctly but focused enough so that your guests aren’t wondering what that smudge is.
Many of the kits we looked at were 480 x 320 but, yet one more time, Window Wonderland left us wondering. It’s resolution is unknown. We’ll see the outcome of all this in the performance comparison photographs. In the meantime, we have one more thing to look at: Contrast.
This is measured as the ratio of the luminance of the brightest color (white) to that of the darkest color (black) that the projector is capable of producing. An average movie theater is about 500:1, an LCD computer monitor runs at about 1000:1, and newer TVs are as high as 4000:1.
Higher contrast allows for more texture and detail. Lower contrast looks hazy and dreamlike. You’re not necessarily looking for a system with the highest contrast but one with the greatest contrast ratio, that is, one that provides the greatest range for the display.
Almost all the kits provided a remote control (the exception being—you guessed it—Window Wonderland).
While that wasn’t much of a surprise, what did catch out notice was that the Holiday Magic Kit by Night Stars didn’t have both a vertical and horizontal option. It was the only one of the projectors that didn’t. Controlling spill light is crucial to creating displays where only the projection is light and the background is not. Being able to work both tall and thin or wide and narrow is going to be one of the most important factors in creating an effective home display.
Also check to see how each decoration is optimized. At AtmosFX, we called these different “modes.” For example, some decorations are designed for projection onto material covering a window, while others are specifically made for creating a hologram or “hollusion” effect. Many AtmosFX digital decorations have options for several modes. While you can probably project a wall mode decoration onto window material, you’ll get the best looking results with decorations that can adapt to their target surface.
In the photos below, we set up all the projectors in total darkness. Bear in mind that the dimmer images will wash out quickly if there is any spill light from other decorations, street lights, safety lights, etc.
We also set everything up at the same distance (throw). All the projectors were set at marks 8.5’ from a white wall covered in a 4x6 sheet of AtmosFX Window Projection Material™. The camera was on a tripod 10’. Each photo below was taken with the same camera settings (f2.8, ISO 1250, 1/60). In general, all of the images may appear brighter when seen from the outside of a rear projected window covered in fabric.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so take a look at see what projector you think will work best in your holiday display.
Star Shower Window Wonderland
Night Stars Holiday Magic
TotalHomeFX WindowFX Home Video Decorating Kit
WindowFX Home Video Decorating Kit Plus
As you can—hopefully—see in these pictures, the intensity and detail of the projections varies widely, even in the ideal conditions of total darkness. Any ambient light will further degrade your projections so carefully consider how, when and where you want to use the kit you choose. For some, a less expensive kit will serve just fine. Others will get good results from a more middle of the road kit. Yet others may find that they would prefer to use digital decorations with their 3500 lumen home theater projector. As a basic suggestion, it is always easier to underuse higher end technology than to try to force a cheap kit to perform beyond its capabilities.
Whichever kit you choose, remember that digital decorations aren't for Halloween and Christmas, but for football season, birthdays, Easter—basically any celebration you want to project into the world.