Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.
Column #15 December 2, 2001
PowerPoint or Peckinpath: Business Projectors For Home Theater
Question: I use a projector at work for PowerPoint presentations. Could I use this projector at home for watching movies on a really big screen?
In most cases, you could. The question is whether you would want to.
The biggest part of the theater experience is the big screen. When an image takes up more than 30% of your view, your brain starts visually interpreting the image as “real.” When the image takes up the majority of your view, your brain really starts playing tricks on you – for example, at an IMAX theater, you might feel that you are on the rollercoaster or under the water with the actors on screen. So a big image is critical for big impact. Certainly, if you want to project a large image, and your data projector can display video (most can), you can have an extremely enjoyable experience. Just bring the projector home, hook up your DVD player, turn out the lights, and press “play.”
The great thing about business projectors is that business people buy them to project things. There are a lot of business people out there, and it doesn’t take too much handholding to sell a business projector, so the prices have dropped accordingly. Business projectors that can throw a bright, colorful 100” image start at only $1,500 – much less than a decent big screen TV that can display an image only half the size. Plus, the projector is tiny, portable, and digital, so the image is always converged and stable. What’s not to like?
Well… if you’re designing a home theater incorporating a projector, there are good reasons to go with a projector designed specifically for home theater. Most digital business projectors:
Digital home theater projectors cost between $3,000 and $15,000. And, if you’re knowledgeable enough (or use the collective expertise of the folks on http://www.avsforum.com), there are ways of getting the most out of certain business projectors, and ending up with an image comparable to home theater projectors costing – literally – ten times as much. If home theater is your hobby, using one of these specific business projectors is certainly the most economical route to go, and researching / buying / configuring it can be great fun. For specific recommendations, check out http://www.projectorcentral.com.
But if you want a knowledgeable sales person to help determine your needs, demonstrate the projector with video, and offer installation services, you should stick with home theater projectors sold by home theater dealers. I cannot underestimate the corollary to this: if the home theater store you go to isn’t providing expert advice, don’t buy from them – expertise is a large part of what you’re paying for when you buy home theater-specific gear.
Oh, One More Thing...
There is one other option to consider, directly related to the digital business projectors we’ve been talking about: used CRTs. Projectors using traditional cathode ray tubes (the same technology in most big screen TVs) offer near perfect color and truly black blacks; many models using 9” CRTs can resolve full HDTV. They are extremely expensive ($10,000 – 60,000), but as industrial users are switching to digital projectors in droves, they’re dumping their used CRTs. You can find truly incredible deals on lightly used models for $3000 – 5000. However, a CRT is large, heavy, requires professional installation, requires professional setup, and requires regular maintenance (at least every six months). They are also not appropriate for all rooms: CRTs tend not to be very bright. This means you’ll need total control of all light in the room, and you can’t use them on screens more than five or six wide.
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© 2001, 2002 Avi Greengart