Projectors are for life, not just for cinemas

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.

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.

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.