A home theatre is truly an idea whose time has passed. You need not be as rich as Steven Spielberg to bring the atmosphere of a cinema into your humble abode. Now you can engage in Star Wars or gaze at Katy Perry’s visage up close from the comfort of your plush sofa. Better yet, you can pause them in action—all while you get something from the fridge.
But you don’t really recreate a theatre or stadium at home with a television set. The better choice is a projector, which delivers a visual experience in feet, not in inches. With a projector, you should be able to watch videos on a screen that rises to 8 feet—a far cry from the biggest plasma or LCD TV sets in the market.
With prices at an all-time low, projectors offer better value per screen inch than humongous flat TVs. Since a projector practically only calls for a wall, you need not worry about glare from glass ruining your viewing experience.
Projectors today are a breeze to run, with more and more brands churning out models as light and utilitarian as cellphones. You can stash a projector on a shelf. You can mount it from the ceiling. However you install it, the projector aches for a place in your home, right now.
Let there be light
Before anything else, you need to consider the lighting conditions of your intended ‘theatre.’ Ideally, it should be rayless as can be, left alone by the sun or ambient light. Go for windowless rooms. If not, invest in blackout shades.
Then your projector needs to be as bright as your room is dark. The brilliance of a projector is measured in lumens: One lumen equals the amount of light a birthday candle casts on a square foot. A projector with 1,000 lumens or so should be sufficient; that is, if your viewing room is completely dark. As for rooms that cannot elude an influx of household light, around 3,000 lumens should do.
Where life begins
You also need to take into account the expected life of your projector. Most non-LED projectors, i.e. DLP and LCD projectors, have high-pressure lamps that last anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 hours. Replacing these lamps would set you back by at least $200.
However, lamp replacement should constitute a trifling worry—at least for the next five years—if you only use the projector on occasion, i.e. for movie-watching and special functions. However, if the projector doubles as your TV, and you use it for four hours daily, expect the lamp to wane in a year or so.
Next, you should be considering the quality of display itself in a projector. At present, the sharpest projections emanate from high-definition models. They typically have a 1,920×108 resolution: capable of screening 2,073,600 pixels. The next best thing is a wide XGA projector, which means a 1280×800 resolution or 1,024,000 pixels. Just remember that high resolution stamps out pixilation, making for more homogeneous images.
But this is all irrelevant if what you are watching comes in a low signal and thereby does not match the projector’s native resolution. Thankfully, the latest Blu-ray players and video game consoles are able to feed high-quality signals—1080p or more—to your projector, making for richer projections. Wide XGA can also cast presentable projections from the same signal but the disparity can be glaring on, say, a 10-foot screen.
Third, mull the projector’s contrast ratio, the difference between the whitest whites and blackest blacks in a picture. As a rule, a high contrast ratio means more nuances in colour. However, the contrast ratio does not represent the ability of the projector to display the greys, which can spell a difference in the pixel structure of the image. Some projector models let you skirt this problem by offering greater flexibility in lamp brightness.
Likewise, take note of the projector’s native aspect ratio. A 16:9 ratio is standard for viewing widescreen pictures.
Lately projectors are enhanced with capabilities that keep up with the explosion of 3D content all over the world’s cinemas. These projectors are extraordinarily bright to offset the dimness of your 3D glasses.
Projector manufacturers have also found a way to resolve an off-tangent picture shape: horizontal and vertical lens shift. Lens shift enables the lens to move inside the projector, whether left or right, up or down. The projector itself remains steady. This feature lets you place the projector askew but still get a the same projection.
For $4,000, you should be able to get a 2D projector capable of supporting 1080p images, perhaps with internal lens shift and 3D capability. In general, don’t settle for anything less than a high contrast ratio as well as a very bright bulb.
You never have to line up for a ticket or put up with murmuring voices inside a cinema again.