Choose the Correct Home Theater Projector

How to Pick the Correct Projector for Your Home Theater

You’re finally making the jump to the holy grail of home theater video
displays; the front projection system. There’s nothing else that delivers
that really big, impressive video image like a front projection system.
It’s how you get that real cinema experience in your home theater. Home
theater projector prices have plummeted in recent years, and the size of
the units have shrunk right along with the prices. No more do have to live
with a coffin sized box on your ceiling. As sizes have decreased, the image
quality and brightness have actually improved dramatically. You’ll notice
image quality and brightness are two separate issues.

How do choose the correct home theater projector for your application from
the myriad of projectors on the market today? There are so many different
units, each with their strengths and weaknesses. First of all, there are
two main projection technology categories, analog and digital. Analog
projectors are based on CRTs, a mature technology that’s been around for
decades. Those are the projectors with the separate red, green and blue
picture tubes and three lenses on the front. The other projectors use one
of the newer digital technologies. These projectors have a single lens on
the front. There are three major types of digital projectors on the market
today; LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), DLP (Digital Light Processing) and
LCOS (Liquid Crystal On Silicon). Each type of digital projector has it’s
advantages too.

You need to evaluate your specific requirements in order to make the proper
decision. First of all, look at the room. Is it a dedicated home theater or
a multi use room? Do you have complete control of the light? What aesthetic
concerns are you dealing with? What is your projector budget? How large of
an image do you want? Do you watch primarily DVD movies, TV movies, sports,
or other TV programming? What specific source components will you be using
with your projector now or in the future? Is picture quality the most
important thing, or are other concerns, such as noise, size or brightness
more important? Are you installing the projector yourself, or are you
hiring a custom installer to do the installation for you? Where must the
projector be placed? Can you get the required video and control cables to
that location? These questions must be answered to ensure you get the
proper projector for your home theater. If you are using a custom
installer, they will take into account these factors and specify the
appropriate unit for you.

Dramatic improvements in the picture quality of digital projectors
notwithstanding, CRT projectors still deliver the most film like image.
They have no pixel structure and deliver rich, deep blacks. Properly set up
and calibrated, with a good video processor, and with the proper size
screen, a CRT projector will deliver simply stunning picture quality.
You’ll need to use a good quality projection screen, typically with 1.3 –
2.5 gain depending upon the size, viewing angel and ambient light in the
room. Prices on really great CRT projectors have fallen like a rock in the
last year or two. You can get a 9″ CRT projector that used to cost $35,000
to $50,000, for less than a third of that figure now. Many firms no longer
make CRT projectors due to the decreased demand for projectors using this
technology. In addition, the required video processors have decreased
dramatically as well. Ten years ago a great video processor used to cost
$10,000 to $20,000. Now you can get one for well under $5,000 and as little
as $2,000, brand new. They also easily last 8,000 – 10,000 hours when
properly set up.

If they are so fantastic, why doesn’t everybody still use CRT projectors?
Well, there are many detriments to a CRT projector as well. The best ones,
with the 9″ tubes, are simply huge. It’s like hanging an upside down
bathtub on your ceiling. If you want to put one under a coffee table, it’ll
be one large table. They are also very heavy, around 150 – 200lbs, so you
need the proper structure to support them. CRT projectors also require
precise placement. They must be perfectly square with the screen, at the
correct elevation for good picture quality. In addition, while many digital
projectors have zoom lenses, allowing the projector to be placed at a range
of distance from the screen, CRT projectors must be at a very precise
distance for a specific screen size. These factors severely limit placement
options. While the larger CRT projectors put out more light than their
smaller counterparts, they have pretty dim images compared to even the
least expensive digital projectors. Finally, CRT projectors require
specialized setup in order to get a watchable, much less an optimum image.
Every 6 months to a year, they must be re-calibrated to ensure you are
still getting optimum picture quality.

There are some very good reasons why most people are using digital
projectors in their home theaters today. Many are small and light, require
minimal setup and calibration (compared to a CRT), are quiet and have a
bright, sharp image. But, there are many different digital projectors,
ranging in price from around $700.00 to over $100,000.00. Which one is the
best for your specific application? Thankfully, the situation is changing,
but many of the digital projectors marketed for home theater use are really
just re-badged presentation units. Presentation projectors sacrifice good
video quality for brightness. Brightness is much more important when giving
a Powerpoint presentation in a lit room than the correct color palate or
the black level. The red on the pie chart looks great, no matter what, as
long as you can see it from the back row.

You want to choose one of the newer units that has been truly designed for
home theater applications. The actual technology used for the imaging chip
is not all that important, there are great examples using all three of the
digital technologies. Companies such as Sony, Runco, InFocus, Vidikron,
Marantz, Benq, Panasonic, Sharp, Optima and Sanyo and some others all make
great home theater projectors. The projector will have great black levels,
to accurately reproduce detail in the darker areas of the picture and give
great contrast. Absolute brightness is not extremely important, unless you
have a multi-use room without complete light control or you have a lot of
people over for sporting events. If you are entertaining many people for
sports, it’s nice to have some light on in the room, so a brighter
projector is advantageous.

Projectors come in a number of different resolutions. The lower the
resolution, the smaller the screen you can use before you can see pixel
structure. Also, the lower resolutions will not support true HDTV. Most
will display HD, but at a decreased resolution. The lowest end projectors
typically have resolutions of 800 x 600. The Texas Instruments Matterhorn
chip is popular on budget priced wide screen projectors, and has a
resolution of 1024 x 576. Anything over a resolution of 720 will allow for
true HDTV. The TI series of HD-2 DLP chips has a resolution of 1280 x 720.
In April of 2005, TI announced new DLP chips with 1920 x 1080 was ready for
production, allowing for true 1080p resolutions. Projectors with this chip
will begin shipping in Q1 of 2006. Blu-Ray Disc has stated they will
support 1080p, so by late 2006 there will be commercially available 1080p
content besides Microsoft’s WMHD discs.

Another very important aspect of home theater projectors is the internal
video processing. This is one of the primary differences between good home
theater projectors and presentation projectors. Digital projectors must
display progressive scan images at the native resolution of the chip, so
any interlaced signal, such as 1080i HDTV, must be de-interlaced and then
scaled to the native chip resolution. Poor quality video processors,
weather in the projector or external units, cause all sorts of video
artifacts that can get in the way of a satisfying video presentation. This
subject alone is too in depth for this article, as entire texts have been
written on the subject. However, one common video artifact is “jaggies”
where diagonal lines are jagged instead of straight. Another annoying
artifact caused by poor video processing is moire’. This is a pattern seen
as alternating light and dark lines that change position as the image moves.

You’ll want to be sure your projector supports the HDMI or DVI with HDCP
copy protection to allow you to connect a HD-DVD, scaling DVD player or
Blu-Ray Disc player. These devices will only allow maximum resolution on a
display that has a digital video input with HDCP copy protection. In the
future, cable TV and satellite providers may restrict the maximum
resolution to their digital outputs too.

When choosing your new home theater projector, make sure it has the video
quality, brightness, size, auditory and budget characteristics that you
need. Projectors are a large investment, choose carefully and you will be
rewarded with years of thrilling video in your home theater.

Steve has 15 yrs in custom electronics. He is a CEDIA certified designer
with ISF and THX certificates. His experience includes: installer and
programmer; system designer; business unit director for an a/v importer;
sales rep for a CE distributor; and principal of a $1.5M+ CEDIA firm. He’s
now senior sales engineer for Digital Cinema Design in Redmond, WA. Get
more great home theater and home automation information here:Home Theater
Projectors []

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