TheONbutton Durham Computer Services

Remote IT Support and Computer & Technology Help in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh NC

Stars of the Big Screen

Friends who visit me tend to fixate on my projector. And why not? It’s pretty sweet to have a hundred inch screen for a quarter of the price of a quarter sized LCD. So here are the Ins and Outs of buying and living with Mr P. Ratings are out of 10 and assume home use.

Chickens vs Rainbows
There are two display technologies: LCD and DLP. LCD is cheaper and uses a matrix of pixels, which when blow onto a surface creates a ‘chicken wire’ effect of lots of tiny squares making up the screen. This annoys purists who say that they can see the squares from long distance but modern projector LCDs have extremely fine matrices. My Hitachi LCD is native HD 1080; that’s just how fine they get nowadays.

DLP gives better results with no ‘chicken wire’ effect but some viewers complain of rainbow artefacts to the image. DLPs also tend to reproduce vibrant color, including pure black, to higher quality. They’re also generally more expenive than LCDs.

Cheerful Chickens: 8
Radiant Rainbows: 8

Light vs Sound

Projectors make light. Sun makes light. Projector + Sun = No fun. Projectors prefer darker rooms and the only way round this is to ramp up the light output or lumens coming from the projector. Sounds simple…but sounds loud too. Here’s why:

As the lumens rack up, so does the heat generated by the projector bulb. So the projector kicks in a fan to cool the whole shebang. Before you know it, you can’t tell if the storm sound effects are coming from your film or the projector.

This is one time where it really pays to read the spec sheet before you buy. Ambient noise in a quiet room measures around 22-25db. Some projectors get down that low, which means that when they’re on they’re truly unobtrusive. Others manage around 28-30db, which is OK. My old Epson made it down to 28db in Theater mode which was really good enough but the trade off was a significant reduction in lumens.

Projectors with higher lumen specs tend to be louder, which is especially the case for office projectors designed to produce viewable screens under fluorescent lighting. In a home environment try to get one which kicks out a good image under 30db. Once you approach 35db you WILL hear that sucker instead of the film. Nobody will care how big your screen is if they can’t hear diddly.

Seen but not heard: 9
Shining like the national guitar but singing up a storm: 4

Wide vs Square

This one’s pretty simple. If you’re buying for home use, your projector should have a native widescreen resolution (16:9). If it is native 4:3 then it will probably digitally manipulate the image to display widescreen material. Avoid. It’s real easy to pick up native widescreen models and they’re generally designed to have a quiet/whisper mode for watching films which is an added bonus.

Phat ‘n phunky: 9
Dare to be square: 2

Supersize and Downsize

Projectors are all about getting a big screen. But what if you don’t have a big wall, or you want to use it around the house? You need a zoom. Projectors come with either a digital, optical or combination zoom. Get optical if you can; this uses a mirror system similar to good cameras and results in an excellent image.

Digital zooms create unwanted artefacts in the image which get worse the bigger the image gets. Combinations use small optical zooms for initial enlargement and then create bigger images using a digital zoom.

Mirror mirror zoom on the wall: 10
Digi-pixel-zoom: 4
Combo meal supersize: 7

The Ins and Outs

Let’s do this the opposite way round first. The Outs are not important. The only things you probably care about which come out of a projector are light and fan noise. Everything else such as pass-throughs and similar outputs are not worth worrying about right now.

As far as Ins are concerned, for DVD you want component RGB and for computers you want DVI. Composite video is OK, I have my Wii connected this way but it lacks the clarity of other connections. VGA is fine too, I have my PC connected this way but it’s not nearly as well defined as the DVI connection I get from my Mac.

DVI / RGB (Component or SCART): 10
VGA / Composite: 7

Stones vs Shelves

You may never have cared that light travels in a straight line until you have a projector. Whilst this seemingly innocent fact has little part to play in our daily lives, it plays havoc with projector positioning. Why? Well if you try to place a projector anywhere off-center to your screen then the image will be skewed. I normally want to be sitting right in the center of the image, instead of the putting the projector there, so this presents a problem.

Manufacturers try to overcome this with a couple of measures. Firstly most projectors have digital keystone correction to neutralize the trapezium effect caused by throwing light at a flat surface from an angle. This works OK if your unit has both horizontal and vertical keystone correction.

The second, and superior, measure is a manual lens shift – preferably horizontal and vertical. This looks like two small sticks or dials popping out near the lens housing. Manual shift allows you to position the projector off-center with vastly reduced side effects. So the projector could live on a shelf above or to the side of a central placement. You’ll probably still need keystone correction, but not as much compared to actually angling the projector itself.

Stick shift: 9
Keystone only: 6

How much will it cost?

Projectors are great value, but they do need intermittent feeding. A bulb is a bulb and bulbs blow, which can cost anything from 100 bucks upwards. On the upside you can easily pick up a good projector for under a grand so the total cost stacks up well against a big screen LCD or plasma.

Remember when comparing total cost vs value that a 100 inch image from a projector is four times as big as a 50 inch image from a large flat screen and over nine(!) times the size of a regular 32 inch. And you can have that hundred inches as native HD. This is not ‘home cinema’, this is cinema in your home.

Other Tips

When some projectors get too hot they shut off to protect themselves. So try to put yours somewhere where it can easily exhale.

A remote blaster is useful.

Adjustable feet help that little bit extra when placement is difficult.

Consider ceiling mounting if you’re building a permanent setup. However as with flat screen TVs this will probably mean drilling permanent holes.

Price up replacement bulbs. My last one was rated at 2000-3000 hours which is a lot of watching. The replacement was in the region of 200 bucks. I had it for over three years and racked up 1700 hours when I sold it. If you do buy one and sell it with hours on the lamp, please be sure to declare the usage to the buyer! Lamp usage is normally tracked in one of the projector’s menu pages.


Epson’s Powerlite 10 is a great first buy. It has decent connections, is quiet and throws a super-huge image from short range with an optical zoom as a bonus. It’s a native widescreen LCD and though discontinued and not HD, it is great value. I saw new stock on eBay recently for 399 bucks.

Moving up a bit, I can’t recommend my Hitachi PJ-TX100 enough. Native HD 1080, manual lens shift and 25db operation are all included. It has DVI, component and, most importantly, one of the best images ever from an LCD. I’ve been bowled over by the quality of this thing, it can even show an image in a low lit room.

The Final Scene

Projectors can make your films into stars, but it’s worth doing some research before you sit down in the director’s chair.

Neil Berman


Oct 3, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,


  1. But what about the environmental cost? What’s the power consumption of a projector versus an LCD or plasma? (probably quite good). And presumably the less bright the bulb the less energy used…so dimmer is better if you don’t want the iceman to melt!

    Comment by lobbyfodder | Oct 9, 2007 | Reply

  2. I appreciate the straight forward comments about projector use. I will link to your page if you don’t mind. My customers will find it useful. Might I recommend to say something about the all-in-one projector solutions such as the Epson Moviemate 25. I like these machines very much.


    Comment by Anonymous | Jan 1, 2008 | Reply

  3. Hi Jerry,

    Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad the article is useful.

    You are absolutely welcome to link to my page.

    I’ll take on board your comments about the all-in-one projectors and will see what I can do :-)

    All the best,

    Neil Berman

    Comment by Neil Berman | Jan 1, 2008 | Reply

  4. I found the info on projectors very helpful thank you. One question how big difference is there between a SVGA and XGA projector? Can you please recommend a good vale for money entry level unit. This is my first buy and it will be mounted in the roof.

    Comment by Johan | Jun 26, 2008 | Reply

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