Buying Projectors in Australia

From ProjectorPeople on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/projectors/473634738/
From ProjectorPeople on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/projectors/473634738/

Home cinema need not be expensive!

Home theatre shopping shouldn't be difficult - but it sometimes seems whenever there is money involved, you've got to be cautious. Especially when people consider projectors - home cinema and data - as luxury, discretionary spending, where they'll happily fleece you of a couple hundred dollars because they can. I'm going to try to debunk some of the myths around home theatre projector purchases with an Aussie slant. Feel free to leave some comments to give me some feedback on how you think I'm going...

Imports vs. Imports

As projectors aren't mass produced within Australia, every major brand of data projector you see (Epson, Sanyo, Panasonic, BenQ, InFocus, JVC, Sony, etc.) is produced overseas and imported into Australia. However, whether or not they go through the brand-appointed Australian importer before retail sale will decide whether or not they are a genuine Australian import or a 'grey import'.

For example, an Epson TW-4500 Projector that goes through Epson Australia to be resold is considered 'Australian stock' and comes with an Australian manufacturers warranty from Epson Australia. However, a 'grey' import Epson TW-4500 that did not go through the regular Australian importer will typically not carry an Australia warranty.

Most grey imports are imported from the United States, United Kingdom, Japan or Hong Kong - and if they don't come with a local warranty, will generally be required to be sent back to their place of origin for servicing. If you haven't already guessed, this can be expensive and time consuming! If it's important for you to get timely service with minimal costs - you should definitely consider buying your electronic goods through the local brand agent, look for the phrases "local stock" or "Australian stock" with a full Australian warranty. If you're unsure, ask!

If you don't mind taking on the risk, and could do without your projector for a few weeks in the instance it malfunctions, you might be able to save some money on your initial purchase price by buying a 'grey' import. Often you can save hundreds off the initial retail price, but if things go bad, it's often up to you to get it all sorted out. Some companies try to hide the fact they import their own stock - but by asking a few questions (Is this covered by the Australian manufacturer? Who covers me in the case of a fault? etc.) you should be able to work it out and make sure you're getting a cost saving in comparison to local stock.

If you'd like to read up some more about this situation, Nikon Australia has a pretty good wrap up on 'grey' imports.

Home Theatre = Dark Room

Sanyo Z3000 Home Cinema Projector from http://www.HomeCinemaCentral.com
Sanyo Z3000 Home Cinema Projector from http://www.HomeCinemaCentral.com

Home Cinema vs. Data Projectors

Data projectors will normally be split into these two categories that are becoming increasingly redundant. All home cinema projectors are technically data projectors as they take digital, or data, input. The difference between these two isn't 'digital data' and 'not digital data', or even whether or not it will display movies better than the other, it's all to do with brightness.

Data projectors are designed to be bright. Bright enough to display PowerPoint presentations in meeting rooms during lunchtime, the world over. Whereas home cinema projectors have more of a focus on accurate colour reproduction, contrast and definition - and this can sometimes lead to having less brightness than a cheaper data projector. If you've got a dedicated home cinema room (i.e. a room that's relatively dark), you probably won't notice much of a difference in brightness between the two projector types - if you're planning on watching a movie in the middle of the day with blinds up - well, maybe you shouldn't get a projector. A data projector will generally produce better quality images in bright environments and a home cinema projector will create more vivid cinema-quality reproductions in darker environments.

Longhorn Projector Screen from http://www.longhorn.com.au/
Longhorn Projector Screen from http://www.longhorn.com.au/

Don't believe the hype: Projector Screens

Seriously, with most modern projectors you could easily project onto a white wall and happily watch your latest Hollywood release. Most projector screens are just an easier way of getting a flat, dull white wall on demand. You won't really notice much of a difference between a painted wall and a screen until you start spending north of $6,000 - which will afford you better light reflecting materials to truly get the most out of your projector. I know this is probably against what the salesperson said, but seriously, cheap screens are generally fine! If there is some promotion on involving a cheap screen, go for it - or just find the cheapest at the store. Unless you're planning on spending over $6,000 on a screen, save your money for where it really counts - in a better quality projector or building a darker environment to play it in.

Movie theaters the world over know this trick - it's much cheaper to have a projector running in a darker room than to buy a more sophisticated screen.

Don't get caught with brand name HDMI cables...

Buying a more expensive HDMI cable will most likely not affect your image or sound quality. At all. Why? Because it's all digital! It's either on or it's off, and as long as the signal can transmit over the cable, the levels of insulation, size of the connectors or brand on the plug is largely irrelevant. Don't believe me? Here's what CNet Australia had to say on the issue:

"One of the joys of digital transmission is that the cables should not affect video or audio quality whatsoever. If it isn't wired correctly the picture will either look garbled or not work at all. In other words, all HDMI cables should offer identical performance in almost all usage situations." - Are all HDMI cables the same? October 2005

Of course, there are a few limitations to this 'anything goes' rule. If it's over five meters, you will typically need signal extension or amplification - and this will cost more. Further, most HDMI cables are version 1.3 or above - but it doesn't hurt to make sure that it is 1.3, 1.3a, 1.3b, 1.3c or 1.4 and you'll get Full HD picture with great sound. All of these standards will get the most out of your Blu-Ray devices.

So, if you've got the choice between a $320 two meter Monster HDMI cable and a $40 one... please, please, please - check the specs and if it's okay, you can save big. There will be no difference between very expensive HDMI cables and el cheapos in most circumstances. Which means you've got more mulah to spend on the important stuff!

This cable sells for $200 more than a competitor - it does the same job.

Genuine Monster cable for those that like to spend more than they need to on home theatre products.
Genuine Monster cable for those that like to spend more than they need to on home theatre products.

Where to shop...

The following are just personal recommendations for buying home cinema equipment, I've either had a good experience or know of someone with a good experience:

Aussie Stock Retailers - Full Australian manufacturer warranties on all products.

  • Ausmedia. These guys know their stuff! Give them a call for their latest pricing as their projector website is a little hard to navigate. Thankfully it's a free call - 1800 008 899.
  • Hot.com.au Projector Section. A new online store by Australian Interactive Multimedia Pty Ltd offering a wide selection of home cinema projectors, as well as an assortment of data projectors and accessories. Well worth a look! Although they are strictly no frills - with no phone enquiries and no demo rooms.

Imports and Aussie Stock - Buyer beware, do your homework...

  • eBay.com.au - the Aussie marketplace really delivers if you're after cheap HDMI cables. You can regularly pick up new 2m HDMI cables for under $10! Including delivery! Normal eBay rules and precautions apply, but these are some bargains!

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