The New Image of Projection Systems
Projection systems branch out as options for every room of thehouse. Here’s a fresh look at the projection systems of today.
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Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond screen is designed for use in rooms with ambient light, which means you don’t need a dark room in the basement to enjoy a projection system.
May 14, 2012 by Krissy Rushing

Even though movie tickets can run $12 a pop, people still line up for premieres. One reason: The enormous screen. It’s so much easier to lose yourself in a movie when the action takes place on a 200-inch screen than when it’s displayed on the 50-incher you might have at home.

“A typical cinema screen at a movie theater takes up well over 50 percent of the moviegoers’ vision . . . transporting them into the alternative reality of the cinema experience,” says Bob Wudeck, director, Retail and eCommerce at BenQ. “By contrast, a 42-inch, or even a 55-inch, flat-panel TV typically takes up less than half of that in an average room, so there are lots of other things to distract the eye and remind the viewer that what they are watching is only a movie.”

Consequently, to best replicate the theater experience at home, a front-projection system is the way to go. “Front projection has come a tremendous way in a short period of time,” says Jason Palmer, senior marketing and channel manager for home entertainment at Epson. “What many people don’t understand is that a 50-inch flat-panel is only one-fourth the size of a 100-inch screen in terms of surface area. You can get an exponentially larger experience with a projector and a screen than with a flat-panel TV.”

Not only does the big-screen experience envelope viewers in the experience, it allows them to see things that are not apparent on a smaller display, like the details directors agonize over during movie production. “Little things like fabric textures, small scrapes on the skin, and individual hair strands are big enough to be clear to the eye and draw the viewer into the scene. By contrast, on a 50inch flat-panel TV 8 feet away, these details are often too small to be easily seen or appreciated,” says Wudeck.

Not only are projectors capable of producing large images on large screens, they are very practical when it comes to going even bigger. While a 50-inch flat-panel will ultimately have to be upgraded if you want a larger image, one projector might be capable of producing images anywhere from 50 to 300 inches. You’ll have to buy a bigger screen to accompany the larger image, but you essentially have infinite flexibility over image size. “It’s a solution that doesn’t come in a fixed size,” says Wayne Kozuki, product manager of projectors for Mitsubishi Electric Visual Solutions America. Likewise, you have the flexibility to make your image smaller if needed, which leads us to another great advantage of front-projection systems.

Flexibility Matters
One of the best things about two-piece projection systems is that they are very flexible. They allow you to watch different types of source material in various aspect ratios, such as 16:9 (widescreen) and 2.35:1 (CinemaScope). Nearly all flat-panel displays are 16:9, so when it comes time to enjoy a movie that was shot in 2.35:1, you will inevitably see black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. This means that you are using less of your plasma or LCD screen’s real estate.

Many projector and screen manufacturers offer solutions that let you enjoy more of the screen size for which you paid. Take anamorphic technology, which maintains a constant vertical height regardless of aspect ratio, meaning no horizontal black bars are displayed above and below the image. Screens like Stewart Filmscreen’s Director’s Choice, for example, feature motorized fabric “masking” panels that move over portions of the screen to eliminate black bars from being projected onto the screen and to improve contrast. “Viewing in the content’s native aspect ratio without annoying black bars gives a much more compelling experience,” says Joaquin Rivera, vice president of sales at Stewart Filmscreen.

Today’s projection systems also allow for more flexible placement of the screen and projector within a room. If your room is long or short from front to back, long-throw and short-throw projectors are available. If there is room behind your screen, you can opt for a rear-projection system where the projector shines on the screen from behind. Projectors can even go in a separate room and fire through a piece of glass. They can be mounted on the ceiling, in cabinetry at seating level or even from below the screen. And despite being very large, projection screens can be installed to disappear from sight when they’re not being used. Most manufacturers offer electric models that can descend from the ceiling or ascend from the floor or cabinetry.

Likewise, projectors have very small footprints and can be easily hidden. This feature, combined with the fact that projectors and screens are now advanced enough to create a bright image even when the rooms lights are on, means that more and more people are installing these systems in spaces other than totally darkened basements. “The world of projector possibilities is really opening up,” says Jennifer Davis, vice president of marketing for Runco. “Some people think you need total darkness to do projection. Not so, if you have proper lighting control.”

Screen manufacturers are also making projection systems more compatible with traditional rooms by creating products specifically designed to combat ambient light, such as Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond screen, which uses “ambient light rejecting” technology to reduce light scatter, according to the company.

Value and Affordability
Probably the biggest misconception about projection systems is that they are too ex-pensive for the average person to afford. With 1080p projectors starting at around $1,000 and easily capable of producing a 120-inch image (or larger), you are getting a lot of bang for your buck.

While the price of large flat-panel TVs is coming down, many of the larger models are still cost-prohibitive. “It is a common misconception that flat panels are cheaper than projection systems. That might be true in sizes up to 60 inches diagonal or even a little larger. However, if your goal is an immersive experience, you get a much better value on a per inch basis with a projector and screen versus a flat panel,” says Rivera. Likewise, technological advancements, such as extended bulb life, are minimizing the high maintenance costs once associated with front-projection systems. 

Learning more about what to look for in home theater projectors here.

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