Video Formats for Projectors and Presentations [u]

Posted on by Larry

workflow[Updated 6/29/15 to include HDMI, which I inexplicably forgot.]

A question that I get fairly frequently is: “What video format should I use when I want to display my project using a projector or inside a presentation?”

For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming you are not displaying your files theatrically, which would require very specific media files, but in a more corporate, religious or informal setting.

In these situations, the rules are a bit different, because file size is not as important as it is when we are transferring files to the web. The basic idea is to use a relatively uncompressed video format which allows us to opt for larger file sizes providing the opportunity for higher image and sound quality.

While the format choices are somewhat different for PCs vs. Macs, the basic concepts are the same.


There are several questions that need to be answered before a format recommendation can be made; and they all revolve around bandwidth.

  1. How are you connecting the computer to the device? In almost all cases, a converter of some sort will be necessary.
  2. Are you playing the file from a computer or a USB drive attached to a TV set/projector.
  3. Was the file created on the computer (i.e. After Effects, Motion, Screenflow) or shot using a camera?
  4. Will you have access to a hard disk to store files on for playback or do they have to be emailed?


Video projectors range wildly in image quality, from really poor to really great. It is essential, before you invite the audience, to test your display. For this reason, I always travel with a five minute video file of color bars that I can use to configure the display to look its best.

NOTE: I’ve often found that video projectors tend to have pretty good color representation, but crush black levels and remove shadow detail.

Most inexpensive projectors provide a “Brightness/Contrast” setting which is about a close to useless as you can find; in fact, any setting you choose using Brightness/Contrast is wrong. If you have the option, look for projectors that provide Highlight/Midtone (Gamma)/Shadow settings.

Once you have the projector looking as good as it can, its time to hook up the computer.


Most non-theatrical digital projectors have one of three connection options:

HDMI is the best choice for video as that protocol is specifically designed for it. An HDMI cable carries both audio and video signals.  Many computers already include an HDMI port, making high-quality connections easy.

When HDMI connectors don’t exist, DVI is the next best choice. It always yields higher image quality and greater image resolution when compared to VGA. VGA projectors are limited to a maximum actual resolution of 1024 x 768, though some use digital tricks to support larger image sizes.

There are three other formats you may find:

HDSDI is the best image quality (both SD and HD) that you can get, but you will need an adapter, such as a T-tap from AJA Systems to convert a Thunderbolt signal into an HDSDI signal. The big benefit HDSDI provides over HDMI is that HDMI signals do not include timec0de, which HDSDI does. However, timecode is not needed for video projectors.

SDI is for standard-definition only, but provides an ideal signal for SD images. It, too, needs a converter box between your computer and the cable.

Composite is standard-definition only and you’ll find it everywhere; except it is about the lowest image quality you can get. On the other hand, something is better than nothing. This, too, requires a converter, though the convertors are much less expensive than HDSDI, or SDI.

NOTE: Here’s an article that explains what these different connectors look like.


If you are creating your media on the computer, for example, using After Effects, Motion or ScreenFlow, you are best off recording, editing and outputting ProRes 4444 files. The color will match what you created in software exactly, it edits smoothly and displays with the highest image quality you can get.

NOTE: All my computer-based training is recorded in ProRes 4444. The only disadvantage is that files sizes are really large, but the images are the best you can get.

If you are shooting the majority of your media using a camera, I would suggest editing and outputting ProRes 422. (ProRes 422 HQ is a good choice, the only downside is larger file sizes. All my in-studio training is recorded using ProRes 422 HQ. ProRes 422 LT is another option with a smaller file size. Given a choice between the two, I’d take ProRes 422.)

NOTE: There is no benefit to converting your files to ProRes 4444 as video cameras do no use a 4444 color space. (However, digital cinema cameras do, in which case 4444 makes sense.)

On the PC, recording ProRes files tends to be problematic, if you can do it at all. Instead, I would work with either GoPro Cineform for computer-based projects or AVC-intra for camera-based projects.


If you have access to a computer and hard disk for either the projector or presentation, leave your files in the same format you exported them; that is, ProRes 4444 or ProRes 422. I would even use these formats for a Keynote/Powerpoint presentation, because they will look great, provided I have access to a computer and hard disk to play the files.

If file size is a consideration, compress the files using the YouTube 1080 setting in Compressor or Adobe Media Encoder. This setting has a very high bit rate for both audio and video and will yield very good results when projected, though not as good a quality as the ProRes masters.

NOTE: If your files originated as 720p files, which is what I use for all my screen capture training, then use the YouTube 720p compression setting. Never enlarge an image bigger than the size that you shot.

If you REALLY need to squeeze files down, say to email a presentation to someone, use the same compression settings you would use to post a file to your website. However, while the file size will be small, the image and audio quality will suffer in comparison to the uncompressed source. How much the image degrades will vary depending upon how well it was shot, how much movement there is in the frame and the final bit rate you choose for compression.

NOTE: Most USB thumb drives use USB 2, which limits video playback to about 10 MB/s. If you need to deliver your files for this device, compress them as you would for the web.


Picking the right video format to display your project depends upon a number of factors. However, this article outlines what you need to know to make your images look their best given the situation in which you find yourself.

Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Video Formats for Projectors and Presentations [u]

  1. Thanks Larry.
    What a remarquable document. I archive it for future reference.

    God bless you and your wife.

  2. Justine jaanu says:

    What’s the recommended resolution to shoot and edit in given the general levels of most projectors and PCs

    • Larry says:


      Ah, I wish it were that easy. The only reasonable answer is: “it depends.” I’ve used projectors that don’t support HD, while others support 4K. PCs range from really poor to really great. There is no standard.

      As a general rule, I recommend 1920 x 1080, progressive. If you are going to the web, any frame rate will do, I prefer 30 or 60. If you are going to digital cinema, however, 24 fps is required.

      Whatever you do, never shoot interlaced.


      P.S. Just remember, there is no standard, every venue is different; so always check to see what your client or venue needs before committing to a format.

  3. Vic Hamilton-Attwell says:

    Larry, My projector has a “blue” multi-plug, that is connected to a “blue” multi-plug on the old laptop.All my presentations with embedded video and sound worked perfectly. My new laptop has a HDMI plug! I then bought a HDMI to multi-plug converter – and then my trouble started! No Video or sound on my presentations!
    Can I solve this? Please help.

    • Larry says:


      You may need to change the settings in both System Preferences > Display and System Preferences > Audio in order to send signals out the HDMI port.

      If that doesn’t work, contact Apple Support who will be able to diagnose the problem.


  4. So – how would you format a USB stick for video delivery on Mac and PC?

    Video files are often too large for FAT32. Which format is ‘foolproof’?!

    I often used exFAT but just supplied an exFAT formatted USB stick (on El Capitan) to a Windows 10 user and they were not able to access the files/drive.

    • Larry says:


      As you’ve discovered, nothing is “foolproof.”

      However, EXFAT is your best option. What you may need to do is format the thumb drive on Windows. Also, remember that Windows doesn’t have all the same video codecs as your Mac. Be sure to use something common to both platforms, such as H.264.


  5. david Saltzman says:

    Hi Larry, Thanks for all your helpful advice. I screened a feature documentary using a Pro Res 422 format from FCX and the file looks perfect on my computer but when projected the colors got very weird, a bit grainy, and just not the high quality of the actual images. The file was about 200 gb and I was running off a macbook.Once I restarted the computer things improved, but not completely. Was the Pro Res 422 the wrong format? was it the memory on my computer? Or most likely something else I don’t know about? Thanks!

    • Larry says:


      It seems counter-intuitive, but file size has no direct impact on image quality.

      ProRes 422 might desaturate your image a bit, but would not create graininess. There are several things that impact image quality on a projector the biggest is making SURE that your frame size matches the native frame size of the projector. From your description, I suspect this issue first. Next, is frame rate. The frame rate of your project needs to match that of the projector.

      Projectors are FAR less flexible than computers. They want specific frame sizes, frame rates and codecs. Somewhere, your file did not properly match what the projector was expecting. Also, keep in mind that you were probably watching images on your computer that were less than full screen. Enlarging them on a projector will always make them “grainy” because the pixels you see on your computer are now enlarged dramatically when projected to a screen. Your total pixels haven’t changed, but their individual size has.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Recommends:

FCPX Complete

NEW & Updated!

Edit smarter with Larry’s latest training, all available in our store.

Access over 1,900 on-demand video editing courses. Become a member of our Video Training Library today!


Subscribe to Larry's FREE weekly newsletter and save 10%
on your first purchase.