Q. Should I Go with a Big RPTV or Projection System?
On a $5,000 budget, would an 82-inch rear-projection DLP or projector/screen combo give this viewer more bang for the bucks?
August 24, 2009 by CE Pro

Q. I am trying to decide between buying a DLP Rear Projector TV (like the Mitsubishi WD-82837 82-Inch) or a Projector and Screen. Obviously size is important, but picture quality is even more important. If $5,000 is my budget, which should I go with? - Jonathan L. Kort, Ankeny, Iowa

A. There are two ways to approach it: the first way is to think of the overall cost and with that in mind, there’s no question that a rear-projection television is much more affordable. It is however a type of technology format that is slowly dying (flat-panel TVs are killing off rear projection) and it also takes up a lot of room on an aesthetic level.

The preferable choice in my opinion is a two-piece projection and screen solution. It is more costly, but you will have more screen size choices (you’ll also end up with a larger screen in all likelihood), and a easier upgrade path to allow you and your budget to grow into whatever is next in terms of technology (CinemaScope now for example and the development of 3D, which isn’t far off).

I would start by looking at projector manufacturers like Epson, Panasonic, InFocus, Sony, Optoma, Sanyo and Mitsubishi. They offer 1080p products that range in cost from approximately $1,000 to $3,500 and technologies that include LCD, DLP and LCoS (a type of LCD), and you can mate one of these products with screens from companies like Elite Screens, Vutec, Screen Research, Da-Lite, Draper, Dragonfly and even Stewart Filmscreen.

From there as the costs begin to come down you can look at investing into an anamorphic lens and screen. Companies like Panamorph make really good anamorphic lenses and it will transform your media/home theater room into a true home cinema without the black bars and a wow factor that will awe your family and friends.

Updated, from the CE Pro forum reader jbrown: I hate to step on Mr. Archer’s toes. But one very important question he left out is, How do you intend to use the room?

If it’s a Family Room with windows and french doors and there’s a lot of light in there, then a 2-piece front projection system is probably a bad idea regardless of price. Even the brightest projectors are no match for the sun.

If it’s a dedicated “TV room” with shades and/or light control and you can make it very dark in there, then a projection system has many benefits as Mr. Archer indicated.

But if you’re a sports guy who is doing a big upgrade for football season and you like to have “the guys” over and want the lights on for your game-day get-together, make sure you get a projector capable of 50 foot-lamberts or more. Just take the square-footage of your screen and divide it by the lumens of the projector and add in screen gain. For example, a 100” screen would be about 30 sq. ft. so you would need a real 1500+ lumens. But if you’re just watching movies in the dark, 20 foot-lamberts is plenty, so around 600 lumens will cut it. And don’t put too much stock in contrast ratios. Most ratings are flat-out lies, and unless you paint your walls and ceiling flat black, and literally eradicate all light from your room, you’ll barely break 700:1, much less 70,000:1.

There are a lot of things to consider, and we have just scratched the surface. I strongly recommend you visit a local showroom and view an RPTV and a front projector in the conditions you intend to use them in before going much farther.

Response from Bob Archer: I agree with your comments about controlling the room environment. The reader didn’t specify what the ambient light conditions in the room so I answered the question based on the information he offered.

I would also add, that another spec to question are those ANSI brightness figures, which are measured in a variety of ways to pump up those numbers. You are correct in pointing out that I should have mentioned the room environment as a factor that affects a projector’s performance.

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