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Today’s Show:

We can go bigger

The term “Home Theater” has become pretty subjective. Years ago it meant exactly what it sounds like, and actual theater in your home. Typically reserved for only the super rich, it slowly grew more mainstream as prices fell and DIY solutions came to market. Eventually, the term has come to describe any home audio-visual setup that has surround sound and perhaps a larger than normal television.

We’ve long believed that true home theater is closer to its roots than the marketing firms would have you believe. The real home theater has a front projector and a huge screen, something in the 100” or bigger size range. But does the size of the screen really matter that much? You can get some great theater-like experiences from a rear projection or flat panel TV in the 60”-65” size range. That’s where we’ve both been for the last few years.

But that all changed recently. Some unfortunate water damage left Braden without a ceiling for a little while in his family room, which also serves as the main A/V room in the house. But tragedy turned to opportunity when Braden decided to run cables in that open ceiling and wire up the ability to run a projector in the family room. That kicked off a series of events that culminated in Braden finishing installation of a 100” TV in his family room earlier this week.

The Projector

The projector is an Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8100. You can buy them online for around $1300-$1400. It’s a 3LCD projector that is very bright, 1800 lumens, and has almost unlimited placement options. It is native 1080p with two HDMI inputs. Bang for the buck, it does a great job. Sure Braden would have preferred the 8500UB, but the 8100 was a steal and he couldn’t pass it up.

Braden’s overall strategy with the projector was to stay has low cost as possible. The technology is changing so fast, and projectors are so small and easy to swap out, that he can change them as often as he likes (assuming the finance committee doesn’t freak out). Why pay a ton of money for a projector now, when that technology will be half the price a year from now? And what happens if something like 3D or ultra high def takes off?

Some notes on projectors:

  • Be very mindful of where you plan to place the projector. Some have a limited throw distance, so if you will be very close or very far from the screen, they simply will not work for you. Also, some projectors don’t allow you to do any sort of lens shift. If you aren’t directly online with the screen, and at the right height, the picture will look funny. The Epson 8100 has up to 96.3% vertical shift and up to 47.1% horizontal. You can literally put the projector anywhere and still get a great image on screen.
  • Pay attention to the volume of the fan noise in the projector in the specs. Keep in mind that most projectors are much closer to you than your TV set, so if they are quite loud, you will certainly hear it. That can get annoying after a while.
  • If the projector will sit above or behind you, you may need a way to get IR commands to it so you can continue to use the activity functionality of your universal remote. Luckily for Braden the Epson 8100 is sensitive enough that it picks up commands from his Harmony remote without a blaster, repeater, or anything of that nature.

The Screen

The Screen is a Dragonfly High Contrast Grey fixed frame 100” screen. It’s downright awesome. Dragonfly only sells through authorized dealers, so you can’t buy one for yourself online. But if you contact them, they will get you in touch with your local distributor or installer. From our experience (we also have a Stewart screen we have used in the past for demos and such) the Dragonfly screen is amazing and cost quite a bit less than equivalent competition.

High contrast grey does a great job at making a projector with less than the best contrast ratios look really good. It also helps control ambient light issues, which can be a problem in Braden’s family room. Braden’s wife, who tends to prefer brighter, more vibrant color, liked the Dragonfly bright white screen better. But Braden, who prefers more natural color and better contrast, opted for the grey screen. Not sure how well that will go over in the long run.

So why go with an expensive screen? First of all, we had great interaction with SnapAV, the parent company behind Dragonfly. They were stellar to work with. Secondly, screens, tend to be large and need to be installed somehow. They aren’t something you want to be swapping out all the time if you can avoid it. So you might as well go ahead and get the best one out there the first time.

Unlike the projector decision, Braden opted to treat the screen investment more like a speaker investment. Buy a great screen now, and any projector you put on it will look good. But buy a bad screen now and any projector you put on it won’t quite live up to expectations. Like speakers vs. receivers, screen technology doesn’t move as fast as projector technology. Once you get the screen in place, you can swap projectors out all day long. But the screen will stay with you for much longer.

Conclusion

We’ll admit that a 100” screen does take some getting used to. It still feels too big when the kids are using it to watch cartoons, but we’re sure that feeling soon disappear. For movies and HDTV, however, it’s simply amazing. It really does feel like going to the movie theater in your own home. If you go retail, you can put together an equivalent theater with a little bit of lumber,, hardware and elbow grease, for under $3500. If you shop around, and are willing to get a used projector, it can be much less than that, maybe even $3000 or $2500.

Compare that with the price of a new 65” plasma: it’ll run you about $2500 as well. The 100” projector setup gets your roughly 2.5x more screen area, and reduces what you have to pay to upgrade to the latest and greatest technology by about one third. With the plasma, you have to replace the whole unit, with the projection setup you only have to replace the projector.

Download Episode #441


Posted by The HT Guys, September 2, 2010 11:48 PM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.