Projectors are for life, not just for cinemas

Tue, 18 Nov 2008, 5:11pm

Planar X-Screen 

Many of the tempting technological marvels we encounter promise a life-enhancing effect. But few of the little beauties qualify as life-changing – yet that’s exactly what home cinema projectors have done for me. Before I run the risk of sounding sofa-jumpingly Oprah-show gushing, let me explain.

Four years ago, when my big-ol’ CRT TV was starting to look unbearably lumpy compared to the flatscreens we were testing at work, I visited a friend’s house that appeared to have no telly in its living room – just an expanse of clean space.

Slightly panicked - there being a big match on that weekend I’d fully expected to watch with them - I asked if they’d moved their set to another room. With a proud smile, they pointed to a hitherto concealed projector and pull-up screen.

Now, this was in a regular living room, with big picture windows  - not the dedicated, blacked-out cinema-style space I’d previously seen projectors tested, demonstrated and used in. The only extra investment my mate had made was some blackout linings for his curtains, so he could enjoy his big-screen fun on sunnier days, too.

There then followed a film-fest Saturday, a Super Sunday of football and in my case a Damascene conversion (that also involved a shining light, if I remember correctly - but I digress and possibly offend, so will move on).

Why was I watching movies, sports and more on an ugly fat lump of a TV with a mere 32in screen, when I could be revelling in an entertainment-transforming experience from kit I could secrete away when not in use?

Goodbye CRT, hello home cinema

Within weeks the TV was history and I’d taken my first plunge into the world of home cinema projection. Films I’d only ever seen on the small screen – from black and white classics like Casablanca to all-out James Bond action – were suddenly teeming with background detail, endlessly engrossing and awesomely powerful. And all at the touch of a couple of buttons and the unfurling of my very own silver screen.

Back then, there were few projectors that were that living-room friendly – my friend’s model was one of them, being designed to allow ‘side-shot’ set-up (see below), so you could position the projector at the side of the sofa; not just a tidier solution, but one that meant you could get up during a movie/match without your bonce obscuring the action.

sideshot projection 

Features and ease-of-use have both increased in the interim - during which i've used a variety of projector and screen combinations, from LCD and basic screen to the arrival of high-definition DLP designs and a wider range of portable and fixed-screen options.

I now use a Full HD DLP design (InFocus IN83) and an 80in high-gain screen (Planar X-Screen) – the latter means I can watch during the daytime without even having to draw the curtains (lazy, moi?) The Planar is pictured at the top of this page - though sadly, that's not my loft-apartment living room...

Instead, my projector sits on top of a normal shelving unit behind the sofa, with a single HDMI cable running to it from my AV receiver (the dual-HDMI-output Onkyo TX-NR905, which would allow me to also output all my video sources to a TV, if I wanted a smaller-screen option).

If I had the money, I could have fancy motorised screens, ceiling-mounted projector and the works – but I don’t, and yet neither does my set-up dominate my flat’s compact dimensions. Yes, London living means I sit a mere 12 feet away from said picture, making everything ‘event TV’ – if newsreaders rather Big Brother  (in the Orwellian rather than inane sense).

Bigger picture, more fun

A projector is also a more social prospect – having friends round to watch the big match in glorious high-definition, the latest blockbuster on Blu-ray or even indulge in a gaming marathon with my PS3-obsessed stepson gets a lot more lively than a couple of you squinting at a small TV set.

There’s also the feeling that this is true home cinema. A projector in your living room makes it your very own Cinema Paradiso (blimey, just typing the name makes me start to go dewy-eyed. Sniff), and links you to moving-image history.

While that young upstart, TV, is a mere 20th Century device, projectors were first recorded in 2nd Century China, and have been crowd-pleasers ever since.

Though it must be said they also have a great history of scaring people. Take the Phantasmagoria shows (see below) of the 18th/19th century, when frightening images were projected, accompanied by special sound effects.

Phantasmagoria 

The most celebrated ghost-show projectionist, Etienne-Gaspard Robert, said: “I am only satisfied if my spectators, shivering and shuddering, raise their hands or cover their eyes out of fear”.

I think of this quote when I find myself having the self-same reaction to penalty shootouts - or indeed almost any over-intense sporting event (aka those involving British competitors).

 It’s only then – or when medical-procedure footage and/or Robert Peston shows up without warning – that I ever miss my previous life’s smaller screen.

Comments

Hi Clare,

Nice blog. I was wondering if you had any plans to update it with what your newest additions may be in terms of projector, receiver, speakers etc and what projector you may have your eye on as a future replacement unit.

I ask as I am also considering a projector (vs. a Panasonic TX-P50VT30) with a drop down screen, but am wondering if any projector provides 3D viewing capabilities (fun with the kids and 3D movies). The price range would be in-line with the TV just mentioned. Perhaps you are looking into the same! Also it's always nice to know what gear the professionals deem worthy for their own use! 

Regards, TnA

Hi there,

We've reviewed a few 3D projectors - and indeed I've tried them at home! The JVC models have been particularly impressive- the best 3D experience we've seen - but you're talking spending about double the cost of the (excellent) Panasonic VT30 in order to experience it. Sony has just announced a more affordable 3D projector, so that may be worth checking out. But other than that, we simply haven't seen a (decent) @£2000 3D projector yet.

Re current kit - i'm using the Panasonic PT-AE3000E as my current main projector (I try out other models as/when we get them in for test, so we get plenty of real-world use as well as test-room experience with each projector). It's brilliant for the money, but can be bettered now - even at that price level.

Blu-ray player and receiver are the matching pair of Pioneer 'LX52 and 'LX82 respectively; speakers remain the Mordaunt Short Performance 6 floorstanders (bi-amped from the receiver) and matching centre, with smaller rear speakers to fill out the 5.1 surround experience.

Sky+HD completes the picture.

Hi Clare

In youre response of 21 November, above, you say you are looking at doing a screen round-up in the new year. Any idea of when?

I don't think I'm the only one that could do with seeing reviews of these more often in the magazine and the prospect of finally getting some in-depth info on them played a big part on my keeping my subscription for another year.

Thanks for your help.

Juan

how much is the Planar X-Screen for ????

good blog

The X-Screens don't come cheap - they cost from around £1000 - but they're incredibly well built: I can't see any reason why i'd want to replace mine for many, many years.

Many thanks for the blog and great to hear some real life experiences of projectors. I'm taking the plunge - I've looked at some DLP designs and am now getting a demo of the new LCD designs - Panasonic PT AE 3000 and Mitsubishi 7000. Two quick questions.

1. Your friend in the blog had a pull up screen. I also have one (6.5 feet wide, 0.9 gain). Given that they are not as state of the art as pull down/fixed, how did it work out for your friend? It is something that worries me slightly since it is not perfectly flat and has a couple of (minor) ripples across it.

2. Given how important screens are for projector viewing, is there any chance that the magazine could do an article/ review of some different types?

1) I too had a pull-up screen for several years, and found it very effective (as well as discreet). You need to treat it well to stop it getting any kinks etc in it, plus it's best not being in a draft (eg near a radiator or door) to minimise movement. Obviously a good fixed or motorised screen will be better, but you can save up for one of those (if it suits!) at a later date.

2) Yes, we're looking at doing a screen round-up in the new year.

Great info Clare. I've been thinking about buying a new TV but now I might have a look at a projector.

May I ask you where you got the Planar X Screen? I've had a look on the web, but I cant find any for sale in the UK

Cheers

I got my Planar via CSE Solutions - link here:

http://www.csesolutions.co.uk/product-detail.asp?PID=2963

Thanks Clare, appreciate your help

Cheers

Hi Clare. Thanks for this blog. I was about to buy a 42 inch viera but read your article and bought a projector instead. I got one of the new E series Sony projectors (VLP-EW5) and it's just AMAZING seeing the laptop output, the digital TV and DVD's on this. I am going to purchase a Blu-ray player soon - but the picture quality on the 3 other sources is so good I don't feel the urge to go buy a Blu-ray immediately. Now for the questions, how would readers and your team rate DLP designs compared to LCD. Personally when I did a demo of both, I found DLP magnificent - amazing colors and contract - like the cinema, but my eyes were a bit sensitive to it. Which is why in the end I went for an LCD design which has equally good colors and contrast. Any comments from others would be appreciated. What fun though watching Top Gun on this (I didn't see it in cinema when it first came out). This is a life-changer !!

but what about the recurring high costs of replacement lamps every 2-3 years approx.

Lamp costs are coming down along with cost of projectors. If I shop around, for example, I could get a replacement lamp for my InFocus IN83 for @£200. If the bulb lasts even just two years (and mine's been going for longer...) that's less than £10 a month. I probably save that on lower electricity costs compared to the cost of running a large flatscreen and having the lights on!

Clare, what is your usage pattern of the projector? Do you use it for absolutely everything i.e. movies, TV, News?

Thanks

Ali