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Designing a Home Theater Step 1 - Choosing a Projector

Updated on April 30, 2017

What I Was Looking For In A Projector

One of the main choices when designing a movie theater (and potentially the most expensive) is the projector.

I was expecting to spend a good amount of money, to get a good projector. I was hoping to get a 4K projector with internet apps (like Netflix), 3D would be nice, multiple HDMI inputs and something that would have an image that wasn't washed out. Because my movie theater has a couple of windows, I wanted something that would still be watchable with sun coming into the room.

Since I had never looked into projectors before I was really shocked to see how high prices for projectors go. I mean the higher end projectors are, I mean a lot of the higher priced stuff is in the $25,000 - $30,000 range.

I was not looking to spend anywhere near that amount, but I did want a really nice projector. After seeing those initial prices I kind of felt like maybe I wasn't going to be able to spring for a nice projector after all. Realistically I was expecting to spend around $2,000 maybe up to $3,000.

Luckily there are a few projectors out there that give you great value without breaking the bank.

I wrote this article in the hopes of helping others not feel as overwhelmed as I did when doing projector research for their movie theater.

The Projector I chose is the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB
The Projector I chose is the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB

What I Learned About Projectors

So in doing my research, I learned a bunch. It's hard to remember every aha moment, but I'm gonna give it a whirl, here are some of my aha moments.

The Projector Doesn't Need Multiple HDMI Inputs

Originally I thought the projector I was looking for needed multiple HDMI ports, probably about 4 for the cable box, DVD player, gaming console and PC.

Turns out if you're designing a home theater, chances are you will be installing a surround sound system.

When you use a surround sound system, it has plenty of HDMI inputs and you use the surround sound system to control the inputs.

In my scenario it made things much easier. I only needed to run one 20 foot HDMI cable from the surround sound system to the projector, all the other HDMI devices were in the same closet as the surround sound system so I could use regular length HDMI cables.

My HDMI Cable Layout - Everything plugs into the surround sound and one long HDMI cable goes to the projector
My HDMI Cable Layout - Everything plugs into the surround sound and one long HDMI cable goes to the projector | Source

Projectors Are not "Smart"

One of my initial requirements was that the project have internet apps. What I found out was that projectors are not really like smart TVs, they're more like computer monitors... that project the image on the wall.

All the projectors I looked at did not have any "smart" capabilities. So to get NetFlix, Hulu, Amazon etc you need to plug something into the projector that has "Smart" features.

How To Get 4K Content On Your Projector

In my setup I purchased a Ultra-HD Blu-ray player that had internet apps. The Blu-ray Player is a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player that does 4K and has built in WiFi.

The Ultra-HD is important if you want 4K content from Netflix. If you upgrade your subscription and you are watching Netflix on a 4K capable device, Netflix will have an addition 4K category.

This is the picture quality when I first put up the projector screen. It was the early stages (you can see the speakers were still on the floor ) but this pic shows the image details perfectly. The image is from a Blu-ray DVD called Life. Source: Thi
This is the picture quality when I first put up the projector screen. It was the early stages (you can see the speakers were still on the floor ) but this pic shows the image details perfectly. The image is from a Blu-ray DVD called Life. Source: Thi | Source

Projector Picture Quality

Aside from the option of 1080p and 4K, other things that contribute to the picture quality are the image brightness (measured in lumens) and the contrast ratio (the difference between the whitest white on the screen and the blackest blacks on the screen).

It's All About The Lumens

The lumens was something that was a factor for me since I was going to have some ambient light in the room. I was also expecting that there would be times where I'd like to watch content with the lights in the room on.

Just about all the projectors I looked at were 1000 lumens or brighter which from what I had read was a pretty descent brightness.

The Contrast Ratio Is Where It's At

My impression of projectors has always been that the picture was always washed out. I wanted to have something that would do a good a job as possible in minimizing the washed out image.

What I found out was that the biggest factor in preventing the washed out image is the contrast ratio.

As far as contrast ratio goes, it seemed like those were all over the map.

My Updated Project Criteria

After doing a bunch of research on the different factors that make a good projector and finding out some of my original criteria were actually no longer criteria at all - I now knew what I had to focus on.

I was looking for a projector with at least one HDMI input, no longer cared about being "smart", needed it to at least be 1080p (native 4K looked way out of my price range) and the primary focus was a projector with as high a contrast ratio as possible (to prevent that washed out image).

Choosing The Best Projector For The Money

I looked at a lot of projectors, ranging from around $700 all the way up to $27,000 (there are some that are even 4 times that price but 27k was a crazy enough price for me).

For $700 you get a projector that is small and portable with a very small foot-print.

For $27,000 dollars you could get a top of the line Sony 4k projector.

I wanted to get the biggest projector screen that I could fit on my wall. Since it was going to be a good sized screen I wanted to at least make sure the projector was HD (1080p).

4K would have been fantastic but $27,000 was way, way, way out of my budget.

Once I narrowed down what I was looking for the choice started to float to the top.

Now I was confirming that there was no other projector that was better than what I found for the money.... and there wasn't!

The Projector That I Chose - Hands Down The Best For The Price

After a lot of searching the one projector that stood out of the crowd. The Epson Home Cinema 5040UB is the projector that I went with.

It had fantastic reviews, does 1080p, 3D, HDR with a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and it even does 4K emulation - all for $2,499! The 4K emulation means it supports 4K input and will do some fancy stuff to project it in 4K-ish quality.

When I first started my search I really thought I'd have to stick to 1080p and that 4K was out of the picture because of the price. Although the projector doesn't do true 4K, 4K emulation made it way better than any other projector - even at twice the price.

The 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and 4K emulation were really the two determining factors for me. The other of course were the oodles and oodles of positive reviews for it.

It's been about a month that I have owned one and I can tell you that the picture is absolutely astounding.

I would love to see what a native 4K projector picture quality looks like, because I find it hard to believe that there can be a better picture than what the Epson 5040 produces.

I find myself often times forgetting that it's a projected image, it really just feels like a 135" TV screen!

The Epson 5040UB or Epson 5040UBe

There are two models of this projector, the one I purchased is the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB.

The other model is the 5040UBe which has a wireless ethernet adapter for wirelessHD, allowing you to have content streamed wirelessly to the projector.

I didn't go for the wireless option since it was $300 more, and since I was going into the attic to run speaker wires anyways running an extra HDMI cable wasn't a big deal.

More Picture Quality Samples

The picture quality without lights on in the room, still have ambient light coming in. The image is from a Netflix 4K nature show.
The picture quality without lights on in the room, still have ambient light coming in. The image is from a Netflix 4K nature show. | Source
The picture quality with the lights on in the room and ambient light coming in from outside. For a projector I think the image is still astounding. The image is from a Netflix 4K nature show.
The picture quality with the lights on in the room and ambient light coming in from outside. For a projector I think the image is still astounding. The image is from a Netflix 4K nature show. | Source

The Projector Mount

I'm not sure if there are differences in projector mounts. I just made sure the one I bought was compatible with the Epson 5040UB.

The projector mount I chose was the Epson 5040UB Projector Ceiling Mount V2 by Vega AV Systems

I have a feeling that most mounts would work with most projectors but I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to have a problem with it.

This mount definitely works, although if I had to do it again I probably would have gotten on that was a bit more sturdy.

Don't get me wrong, If your projector is going to be out of reach of most people then this mount will work out perfectly.

In my case since I have the raised platforms, the projector does stand a chance of getting bumped by someone tall that's not paying attention to where they are going. :)

The projector won't fall down or anything but if it's a solid bump it may shift a little requiring a readjustment of the projector image on the screen.

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