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Learn About Home Theater — Projectors

This section is dedicated to providing specific information about home theater as it applies to front projection. We recommend that you read the general section first so you become familiar with the terminology.

As with our other sections, we include pictures and diagrams to help reinforce the learning process — and to make it a little more fun.

If you have questions or would like to more information about a subject, please call us at 1-800-649-9809 or email us at info@theprojectorpros.com.

Is Front Projection Right for Me?

The first and most fundamental question about front projections is, “is it right for me?” It depends. Let’s run through the criteria we think is necessary to go forward with a front projector purchase.

Controlled lighting — Front projectors throw light onto a screen. The projected light is then reflected back to your eye.

Reflected Light

The problem with this type of set up is that the screen itself isn’t choosey about what light it reflects back to your eye. If you have lights on in the room or light spilling in from windows, that light combines with the reflected light of the projector and washes out the image.

The question that logically follows is, “how much stray light is too much?” A normal home theater projector usually has a brightness rating somewhere in the range of 800-1500 lumens. Given a projector with that kind of light output, the rule of thumb would be that if a room has enough light to read in, it is probably too bright for a standard home theater front projector. You don’t need to have the room perfectly dark, although the darker the room, the better the image quality you will get out of your projector

If your room just can’t be configured to control ambient light, there are still a couple of options left if you are dead set on using a front projector. The options are as follows:

Buy a brighter home theater projector — To overcome some ambient light, you could buy a much brighter projector. The problem here is that compromises must be made. To gain brightness in a home theater projector, you will generally lose contrast and shadow detail. For most people, this is a fair compromise, but be warned that high lumen home theater projectors will also carry a hefty price tag, especially if you want to have a DLP™ projector.

Buy a brighter dual purpose projector — Another option to gain a brighter projector is to buy a business projector for your home theater. Business projectors tend to be geared towards brightness, and away from color accuracy and contrast. If you choose to go this route, you need to keep the following factors in mind:

  1. Business machines are in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Most will show any widescreen image, but you lose vertical resolution. 
    1. An SVGA (800 x 600) projector will give you an 800 x 450 resolution when using it in 16:9 mode. There will be black bars on top and bottom of the image
    2. A XGA (1024 x 768) projector will give you a 1024 x 575 resolution when using it in16:9 mode. There will be black bars on top and bottom of the image.
    3. An SXGA (1365 x 1024) projector will give you a 1365 x 766 resolution when using it in16:9 mode. There will be black bars on top and bottom of the image.

  2. The most notable difference between an LCD business projector and an LCD home theater projector will be the difference in resolution. Other differences can be in menu features that allow for fine tuning the image, although some LCD business projectors can rival home theater projectors in functionality.
  3. The differences between a home theater DLP™ and a business DLP™ are vast in number. The light engine in a business DLP™ is set up for brightness and the sacrifice of color saturation and color accuracy. You’ll also notice the same resolution and functionality differences in DLP™ projectors as with the LCD projectors.
  4. Brightness ratings for business projectors are calculated while viewing images from a computer. When showing video, the brightness produced will not be close to the stated lumen rating of the projector. There is no numerical calculation available to figure out the lumen output showing video because each technology is different, and each model will vary widely depending on how the manufacturer set up the projector at the factory. As a general rule, expect at least a 30% drop in brightness.

All this isn’t to say that business machines shouldn’t be used in a home theater setting, just that you have to be prepared to accept shortcomings in the brightness you are looking for. Consult a sales professional for the best business machines that can be used for home theater. They will be the best resources to steer you towards models that are set up specifically for dual-purpose multimedia.

Room Dimensions — Your room dimensions and layout are other major obstacles to buying a front projector. We will cover specifics of how to set up a room later, but will give you a starting point here.

Front projectors need room to throw a large image. If you want to have a true home theater experience, we suggest that you start with a moderately large room. The whole point of purchasing a front projector is to give a theater-like experience; this is lost if your room dimensions prevent you from projecting an image larger than six (6) feet wide without costly short throw lenses or complicated, costly rear projection set ups. We suggest keeping it simple.

Think about the room you want to place your projector in. Is there a place for at least a six (6) foot wide screen? Is there available space for proper placement of your surround sound speakers? Is the seating going to be too far away from the screen, thereby ruining the large screen experience, or are they going to be too close preventing viewers from seeing the entire screen without looking from side to side?

If you have a room too small or too crowded, we would suggest looking into the options of a flat panel display or a rear projection television.

For detailed instructions on how a room should be set up, please refer to our section “Setting Up a Room for Front Projection.”

DLP™ vs. LCD vs. LCoS

The most common questions about front projectors center on the different technologies that they use. Which is better? That depends on what you are looking for. In this section will we compare the technologies as they relate to front projection. We will discuss how the technologies work in greater detail in the Learn About The Technologies section.

Digital Light Processing™ (DLP™) — DLP™ is a Texas Instruments technology that uses micro mirrors to project an image. There are three distinct types of DLP™ light engines: three chip; single chip for home theater and single chip for business. We will cover the pros and cons for each.

Three chip DLP™ — Pros:

  1. Perfect color accuracy.
  2. Good contrast; much greater than film theaters.
  3. Good shadow detail.
  4. Can provide high brightness compared to the limited brightness of single chip versions.
  5. Overall image quality deemed as the best of any type of micro display technology.
  6. Same technology as projectors installed in digital theaters.
  7. Pure digital technology.

Three chip DLP™ — Cons:

  1. Very expensive compared to the other technologies. Prices start at around $20k.
  2. Lower contrast than single chip versions.
  3. Generally larger and always louder than single chip versions.
  4. Lamps usually don’t last as long.

Single chip DLP™ for home theater — Pros:

  1. Fantastic color accuracy.
  2. The best contrast ratios and shadow detail.
  3. Generally very quiet.
  4. Very little space between each pixel creates a very smooth image, even when using lower resolution projectors.
  5. Best overall image quality available for under $10k.
  6. Very few, if any, dead pixels.
  7. Light engine failures are very rare so repairs are less costly than other technologies.
  8. Technology doesn’t degrade over time. With proper routine maintenance, DLP™ projectors consistently provide just-out-of-the-box performance. (DLP™ is the only technology that makes this claim).
  9. Color uniformity is the best of the technologies.

Single chip DLP™ for home theater — Cons:

  1. It is more expensive than LCD technologies given comparable projector resolution and brightness.
  2. Home theater DLP’s only reach a maximum of 1500 lumens of brightness.
  3. On some DLP™ projectors, viewers can detect a color breakup effect called the “rainbow” effect. This rarely occurs with home theater DLP’s.

Single chip DLP™ for business — Pros:

  1. Provides higher brightness than home theater DLP’s.
  2. Excellent contrast and shadow detail.
  3. Generally produces reduced noise levels.
  4. Very little space between each pixel creates a very smooth image even when using lower resolution projectors.
  5. Very few, if any, dead pixels.
  6. Light engine failures are very rare so repairs are less costly than other technologies.
  7. Technology doesn’t degrade over time. With proper routine maintenance, DLP™ projectors consistently provide just-out-of-the-box performance. (DLP™ is the only technology that makes this claim).
  8. Color uniformity is the best of the technologies.
  9. Cheaper to purchase – based on resolution and brightness – than true home theater DLPs.

Single chip DLP™ for business — Cons:

  1. Color saturation is not as good as LCD or home theater DLP™ machines.
  2. Color separation effect, AKA “rainbow effect,” can be apparent on these projectors and can be distracting to watch, although most people don’t notice the effect.
  3. Advanced menu screens for image adjustments are rare in business machines, although some manufacturers do offer them.
  4. Most, but not all, business machines won’t offer HDCP enabled digital inputs.
  5. These machines are only offered in 4:3 aspect ratios.
  6. True 720p resolution projectors not offered.

LCD — LCD or liquid crystal displays are the oldest type of micro display technology used in front projection. Since the only real differences between an LCD projector for home theater and one built for business are the resolution and menu options, we won’t differentiate between the two here.

Pros:

  1. Can be very bright even in home theater applications.
  2. True high definition models are the least costly of any technologies with 720p models starting at under $2k.
  3. Great color saturation.
  4. Home theater models are usually feature-rich.
  5. 1000 lumen and lower models will usually have long lasting lamps.

Cons:

  1. Dead pixels are common.
  2. Contrast ratios are lower than those on DLP™ projectors.
  3. Shadow detail and absolute black levels fall short of DLP™ powered projectors.
  4. Panel convergence problems (where the three LCD panels don’t align properly producing a noticeable color halo around each pixel) are common.
  5. LCD panels are organic and lose image quality over time. The less the machine is used each day, the less of a problem this is. Projectors that are used for over eight (8) hours a day can exhibit problems fairly quickly.
  6. Color uniformity across the image is lower than that of DLP™ powered projectors.

LCoS — LCoS, or liquid crystal on silicone projectors, came along at about the same time as DLP™ powered projectors and have a much smaller market share than either DLP™ or LCD in the home theater or business machine markets. LCoS technology is also referred to as reflective LCD, while individual manufacturers use their own names. For example, JVC refers to its LCoS light engines as “D-ILA.”

Pros:

  1. LCoS resolutions tend to start at SXGA enabling native 720p high definition images to be shown.
  2. Like LCD, LCoS machines can be very bright.
  3. Offers a very smooth, film-like image due to its pixel structure.
  4. Great color saturation and accuracy.

Cons:

  1. Can be pricey, although based on resolution, the cost is not much more than that of DLP™ home theater projectors.
  2. Dead pixels are more visible than with other technologies and happen as often as with LCD’s.
Learn About Home Theater — Projectors

How Will Different Video Sources Look on a Front Projector?

An important thing to remember when building a front projection system is to keep your expectations reasonable. For example, it’s natural to assume that when combining a high definition projector with a state-of-the-art theater room that all viewing materials are guaranteed to look stunning. This is not always the case. Digital projectors can look stunning with the right source material, but the quality of the source material is paramount in obtaining a movie theater-like performance from any projector

Here is a brief overview of what to expect from different video sources when viewed with a front projector.

Standard Over-the-Air Broadcasts (NTSC): If you opt for an old antenna to view standard definition television, your viewing experience is going to depend entirely on your reception. You can expect a fairly good image if you receive a strong signal, but this is rarely the case at all times. Because over-the-air analog signals are so prone to interference from a number of factors ranging between weather to sunspots, receiving a quality image at all times is difficult, if not impossible. When the reception is poor, ghosting, snow and a host of other problems can occur, and “blowing up” these eyesores to sizes of over five feet in width only exacerbates the issue. In short, if using an antenna, don’t expect too much out of your projector.

Cable Television – Analog channels: Cable television is obviously the most common video source for any video display. The thing to remember is that even with digital cable, all channels below 100 are still analog. How well these analog channels will look varies widely based on how far away you are from the point of transmission and how well your particular cable company is at shielding signals on the way to your home. Generally these channels tend to be of rather low quality. Expect snow, ghosting and an assortment of other problems that are only maximized when viewing them with displays larger than 35 inches diagonally. As with over-the-air broadcasts, expect the image to look worse than it would on your smaller television.

Cable Television – Digital channels (NTSC): Digital cable channels – those over channel 100, will appear bright, sharp and colorful regardless of the projector resolution you choose. Hopefully the proliferation of digital television will speed cable companies’ conversions of the most popular analog stations to digital.

Analog Satellite Television (NTSC): There are still many of the old-style, larger satellite dishes around rural America. If you are still using an analog satellite dish, expect the same type of results as with over-the-air and analog cable broadcasts.

Digital Satellite Television (NTSC): Newer digital satellite services offer 100% digital television. Most of the more common stations still originate from an analog source, but are converted into a digital signal before being transmitted to your home, vastly reducing, but not eliminating, problems with an analog transmission. Expect similar results as you would from digital cable channels, although channels that were originally analog (such as WGN, WTBS, etc.) can have some quality issues.

VHS: VHS players/recorders are analog and very low resolution. Even if you have a higher resolution S-VHS player, don’t expect a wonderful image from a front projector. We suggest avoiding VHS players of any kind as your primary source for theater viewing materials. If you do have older tapes that you want to view or want to set up a VHS player for the kids to watch, we suggest purchasing a VHS player with an S-video output and using only the highest quality cable to ensure that you’re getting the best image possible. We also suggest that if you have a large library of camcorder videos on tape, get them converted to a digital medium as soon as possible.

DVD: DVD players are digital devices whether or not they actually have digital outputs. DVD will look great on any projector. Expect clear, colorful, vibrant images. Just how clear, vibrant and colorful will depend on the projector.

High Definition Television (HDTV): Obviously HDTV is going to look great regardless of the source or what projector you buy. Exactly how good it looks can depend on a few factors including:

  1. How close the projector resolution is to that of the HDTV signal. The less the projector has to scale an image down, the better.
  2. How much compression was used to transmit the signal can greatly affect the overall image clarity. Compression rates vary with each cable and satellite company, so results can vary across the country. There are many internet forums that discuss each company’s merits if you’d like to research your cable or satellite company before going to HDTV.

Picking the Right Projector

  1. What is my budget?The first thing to do when choosing a front projector is to determine how much you’d like to spend for the projector. To do this with some accuracy, you must take into consideration the costs for cables, mounts, screen and any audio equipment you may need. Once you have a number in mind, you’ll narrow down your shopping list and have a clearer picture of your options. Here are some examples:
    1. Let’s say you have $10,000 to spend on just the projector. The sky is pretty much the limit. With this budget, you can take a close look at all of the available technologies to see which will offer you the most bang for your buck.
    2. You have $2500 to spend. 720p DLP™ projectors and LCoS projectors will be out of your price range. You’ll need to choose between a mid-resolution DLP ™ projector (1024 x 575), or go with a higher-resolution LCD projector.
    3. You have $1000 to spend. Your choices will be limited to widescreen 480p projectors — in both LCD and DLP™ technologies.
  2. Choose a technology Once you have a better idea of what technologies you can afford, it will be time to make your actual choice. First, read everything you can about how the technology works. Carefully review the pros and cons of your projector to determine if your projector is right for your environment.As we’ve already mentioned, if you have an ultra-bright room without any practical means of reducing ambient light, then the room itself will dictate the technology you must use.
  3. Choosing a brand and model The next step is to plan the layout of your front projection room. You will need to figure out a few things before looking at particular projector models including:
    1. The distance you’ll need to place the projector from where you would like to place your screen.
    2. The maximum width you would like your image to be.
    3. The distance your audience will be from the screen.These measurements will help you figure out which projector will work for your particular room setup.Once you know the specs you need from your front projector, you can establish which makes and models match your individual needs. If you are deciding between manufacturers, we would suggest choosing only manufacturers that actually make the products they sell — not those that “re-label” other companies’ products, and manufacturers that have been in the projector business for a significant period of time.Many major companies have dabbled in projectors and then abruptly left the business, leaving owners of their products with little, if any, support. If you are unsure about a company, investigate it further — talk to one of our representatives. Our team has substantial knowledge of today’s front projector manufacturers.

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