The home theater is morphing into the media room. What does that mean? It means more people are hesitant to set aside a room for the single purpose of watching movies, but they still want that big movie experience a home theater offers. That compromise is what a lot of integrators are now calling media rooms, multipurpose rooms or hybrid entertainment rooms.
That sounds reasonable, right? So what’s the difference? First, the media room usually doesn’t have rows and rows of dedicated home theater seats. “Every seat is in the first row,” said John Clancy of Audio Command Systems during a CE Pro webinar yesterday Projectors for Multipurpose Rooms. Media room seating isn’t all that different from living room furniture. Sofas, chaise lounge chairs and love seats, sometimes arranged in a semi-circle to facilitate conversations rather than faced toward the screen are all options in a multipurpose room. Seats that swivel or can be turned easily are a plus for some users.
While a media room or hybrid theater may sound like the best of both worlds, there are some issues to keep in mind. Digital Projection’s George Walter noted in the webinar the importance of long throw projectors. In a dedicated home theater, with the lights off, it doesn’t matter much if the projector is hanging from the ceiling in plain sight. But in a room that’s also used for other family gatherings, an out-in-the-open projector is an eyesore. Projectors with long throw lenses allow the unit to be installed against (or even inside) a far wall, out of the way.
Walter also noted that lens shift (both vertical and horizontal) can be important in a multipurpose room. Architectural features (walls, windows, fireplaces, columns) can make ideal placement difficult, so mechanical lens shift can help your installer get the projector targeted properly.
One of the most important characteristics of a multipurpose room projector is high light output. The brighter the room, the brighter the projector needs to be. For a dark room, a projector should be able to bounce about 16 foot-lamberts of the screen. Walter recommends at least 40 foot-lamberts for a multipurpose room that will have some light in it.
Projector innovator Sam Runco and his wife Lori enjoy the picture from a projector installed in an oven hood.
Unfortunately, projector companies use lumens (or ANSI lumens) as their brightness specification. Usually that number is measured uncalibrated and at full lamp brightness—not the ideal home theater situation. Walter suggests taking 20-30 percent off the number, then divide it by the screen area for a foot-lambert number that’s closer to accurate (but not perfect). The distance to the screen and screen gain will also impact that number.
One thing Walter recommends frequently is dual-lamp projectors. That way users can run a single lamp when they turn the room lights down at night for a purer movie experience, but let some light in during the day for a sports program and run both lamps for a brighter picture.
The screen also makes a big difference. Screens that reject ambient light are often used. Living rooms tend to be painted lighter colors than home theater rooms, so there’s likely to be a lot of light bouncing around the room. Some ambient light rejecting screens also tend to have a narrow viewing angle.
If a projector finally seems too complicated, for your multipurpose room, then a very large flat screen TV may be in order. Sharp recently released a 90-inch LED LCD TV specifically for people who want a big picture, but don’t want a projector. At 90 inches, it will create a cinema-like experience, but without the installation and light issues of a projector. Mitsubishi’s 92-inch DLP rear projector TV is another option for big screens lovers (for much less money) if they have the space for a rear projection set.
Check out the slideshow for high-brightness projectors.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.