- Audio & Video
Home Theater Projectors (Home Cinema)
Home Cinema Projectors
Home cinema projectors allow the real feel of a cinema or film theater in your own home; enormous picture for a reasonable price. The price of LCD and Plasma flat panel screens and televisions has come down a lot in price the largest sizes available are constantly growing. This article explores the pro and cons of owning a projector instead of an LCD or plasma screen and includes a review of an affordable Panasonic projector.
Can you live with just a home theater projector and no television or can do you need to have both and only use the projector on special occasions? Are home cinema projectors noisy? Are they unreliable with short bulb-life? Are home theatre projectors expensive to run?
Pros and Cons or Home Theater Projectors
The ultimate home-cinema system probably still is based on a projected image rather than an LCD or Plasma screen, but it does depend on the size of the room and viewing distance and the lighting conditions available. If you have a dark enough room and a big white wall or screen on which to project the results can be spectacular. You don't need full black-out, but the darker the room the better. Alternatively a large flat screen (LCD or plasma) placed close enough to give a similar viewing angle can also be a big improvement on televisions of just a few years ago, especially now with Full HD screens (1080p resolution)
ProsBigger screen sizeInexpensiveScreen can be folded away when not in useA real cinema experience
ConsNeed partial black-out especially for darker moviesColours can look washed-out in daylight conditionsReduced contrastSome fan-noiseShort bulb life and expensive to replaceTIme taken to set up (If you don't have it set up permanentlyTakes a minute or so for the picture to "warm up"Some reliability issuesDifficult to arrange a room around (projector must be opposite screen)
Panasonic are one of the leaders in the field of inexpensive LCD home-cinema projectors, providing both HD (720p resolution) and Full HD (1080p)
Panasonic Projector Review
I have been using the Panasonic PT AX 100E as my main TV for just over a year now. I paid Â£900 for it then, but the price has dropped and even the improved PT AX200 can now be bought for about Â£700.
The picture quality is extremely good in a dark room and quite watchable during the day even with the curtains open for all but the darkest movies. In bright conditions the colours can become a little washed-out although there are various viewing options on the remote control to compensate a little. For some very dark films however you should wait until the room can be blacked out completely. The lens is large and of very high quality with a wide ranging zoom. Many home cinema projectors have just a wide angle lens with a small amount of zoom for fine adjustment, to allow big pictures from a short distance, but are less flexible, especially in big rooms where you may want the projector a long way from the screen. I used a 72" screen at a distance of about 18', but I could have used a far bigger screen or projected from much closer.
The projector is "HD Ready" (i.e. 720p resolution), which is good, but not as high resolution as "Full HD" (1080p) although this would only become apparent with a full HD source such as blu-ray. With lower-resolution inputs such as DVD or Freeview the built-in upscaling does a very good job of creating very high-quality images. The fan-noise is very low even when the bulb is not switched to low-power mode, although I suspect this is partly because the body is so big with huge vents to allow air-flow over the hot bulb.
Unfortunately after 2300 hours of use it has started switching to stand-by mode every few minutes, requiring a restart which makes it unusable. This problem is a known fault which will apparently be fixed free of charge.
A replacment bulb costs Â£250 and bulb-life is just 2000 hours when used in normal mode.
This is a good projector, although there are higher resolution projectors available now and they get cheaper and cheaper even faster than LCD TVs. Using a projector instead of a normal telly is great because when not in use there is no ugly TV in the lounge and the experience is so much more like going to the cinema.
Epson are another leading provider of good home theater projectors.
Other things to consider when buying
When buying a projector it is important to make sure the projector will work in your room. Will the projector be able to project the image you require from the location you hope to put the projector? Many projectors actually have just a short zoom range, for fine adjustment, so you may not be able to put the screen or projector in the locations you planned. Some projectors are short-throw, intended to create a big image from a short distance (e.g. from a coffee table) while others are intended to be mouted at the back of the room. The image sizes and zoom ranges are usually published in the product details e.g. on Amazon.
Surround Sound Equipment
Once the projector or screen has been purchased, to get the full home cinema effect you will need a decent surround sound system. This can range from an inexpensive system costing just a few hundred dollars to expensive custom systems costing many thousands.
Home Cinema Projectors on eBay
Buying a used projector is a very cost-effective way to get started with the big-screen home theater experience; second-hand projectors tend to be very reasonably priced although remember that you may need to buy a new bulb soon, if the existing one has been used for a long period. Bulbs from the manufacturers can be expensive, but may also be bought from other sources for a big discount.