A Buying Guide for Home Cinema Projectors

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A Buying Guide for Home Cinema Projectors

Many people relish the idea of having their very own home cinema. The magic of a movie theatre in the own home is a very attractive prospect. There are several home cinema setups available, but none has a more authentic movie theatre feel than those that use a video projector as the image source. Unfortunately, many people are put off the idea because they feel it's too complicated an undertaking. Money may not be the problem, and they may even have a suitably-sized room in their house, but choosing the right projector can seem like quite a challenging prospect.

The thought of spending a significant amount of money on something that is unsuitable is enough to put anyone off. Such fears and concerns are completely understandable, but they are also largely unfounded. All it takes to banish such fears is a basic understanding of what's currently available in the way of home cinema projectors, and what they can deliver.

Common Types of Home Cinema Projector

There are a few types of home cinema projector in common use. They use different technologies, but they all achieve the same end result: they project large, clear, full-colour video images onto a screen. Price varies with the quality of image. In general, the higher the definition and the greater the brightness and contrast range that the projector has, the more expensive it is going to be.

Type

Product Details

LCD Projector

LCD (liquid crystal display) projectors are commonly used in home cinema setups. In a typical LCD projector, a powerful metal-halide lamp is shone through a panel consisting of an array of liquid crystal 'pixels' and projected out of the unit and onto a suitable viewing screen. A related system is 3-LCD, also called tri-LCD. This system is based on LCD technology but with three LCD panels, each of which is dedicated to handling a single primary colour: red, green, or blue.

DLP Projector

DLP (digital light processing) projectors are also commonly used as home cinema projectors. Most DLP projectors use the same powerful metal halide lamp technology but modulate the light via an array of 'micro-mirrors' embedded onto a chip. Higher-end DLP projectors may have three DLP chips, each handling a specific primary colour. LCOS (liquid crystal on chip) projectors feature elements of both DLP and LCD technology.

LED Projector

LED (light-emitting diode) projectors are LCD or DLP projectors that use light-emitting diodes as the illumination source instead of a metal halide lamp. Metal halide lamps have a limited life span. They eventually 'burn out' after around 3,000-4,000 hours of use and can be expensive to replace. Projectors with LED light sources don't have this problem.

CRT Projector

CRT (cathode-ray tube) projectors were among the first video projectors to be commercially available. The technology is now virtually obsolete, and only used CRT projectors are available to buy. They are large, bulky, and not very energy efficient, but can still produce good sharp images. Being old, outdated, and pre-owned means that they can be found very cheaply. Some may be offered as refurbished models. Those won't be quite as cheap, but having been professionally serviced, they can be expected to perform well.

Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio or 'format' refers to the shape of the projected image. More precisely, it's the ratio of the image width to its height. Modern widescreen projectors have a 'native' aspect ratio of 16:9. The width is almost twice as great as the height. Many projectors still have the older 4:3 ratio, which was also the standard aspect ratio or format of televisions before widescreen display technology was introduced.

Resolution

The more pixels involved in projecting the image, the greater the clarity and definition; most modern high-end projectors offer the standard widescreen display resolution of 1920 pixel columns and 1080 pixel rows. Other common resolutions include 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 720. Cheaper, lower-resolution projectors with pixel displays of 800 x 600 are also available, but low resolution displays limit the size to which the image can be enlarged before the image quality is badly affected.

Brightness and Contrast Range

These two important elements of image quality are published in the projectors' specifications. Brightness is measured in lumens, while contrast range is shown as a ratio of the brightest and darkest image points that the projector is capable of producing. Brighter image capability usually costs more, but the brightness of the image can, in fact, be too much, depending on many other factors, such as the distance between the projector and the screen and also the reflectivity of the screen and the walls.

Room Considerations

Whichever room in the house has been designated as the 'cinema', some factors need to be considered.

Room Size

The designated 'cinema room' has to be large enough to accommodate the projector, the screen, and the viewers all at the optimum distance from each other. If the projector is too close to the screen, the image will be small. If the viewers are too close to the screen, it won't be a very enjoyable cinematic experience for them. First decide the screen's location, then the ideal seating arrangement. The projector's best location can be worked out more easily.

Projector Location

Projectors can be rested on a flat surface or ceiling-mounted. Also, with the exception of old CRT projectors, most modern video projectors are small enough and light enough that they can also be wall-mounted. The location of the projector in relation to the screen determines the size of the image. The screen then has to be large enough to capture the entire image. All of this can be worked out in advance, but one thing to keep in mind is that the further the projector is moved away from the screen, the larger the image becomes.

How much larger can be worked out from the projector's so-called 'throw ratio'. A 2:1 throw ratio, for example, means that for every two feet the projector is moved away from the screen (or the screen away from the projector) the projected image will increase by one foot in width. Some projectors have a zoom lens feature that can enable very useful adjustments to be made when deciding the optimum placement both projector and screen.

Room Brightness

The darker the room, the greater the contrast and brightness of the projected image will appear. Many people prefer to have a little ambient lighting present, however, much as real cinemas do. If it's kept very low, it enhances the warm, comfortable cinematic experience. If more ambient light is present, it will decrease the apparent brightness and contrast of the image. In addition to ambient lighting, the reflective properties of the room walls may have an effect.

A room with walls painted brilliant white will reflect the light that is already being reflected from the screen, and as with too much ambient lighting, the apparent brightness and contrast of the image may be adversely affected. The walls don't have to be painted black, but darker, less-reflective tones make for a much more controllable light space.

The Projector Screen

The projector screen not only has to be large enough to capture the complete image from the projector but, ideally, has to be the same format. This isn't completely possible because of the various aspect ratios of different video sources. The screen's aspect ratio may be perfectly matched to the projector's aspect ratio, but different video sources may have different formats, which can result in black bands at the sides or top and bottom of the image, depending on how it differs from the video source's native aspect ratio. Some screens can be 'reshaped', to an extent, by having edge panels that can be folded away to eliminate the unsightly black bands when present. It's a makeshift solution to an unavoidable problem, but it can be quite effective.

How to Find a Home Cinema Projector on eBay

When it comes to buying a home cinema projector, eBay is a highly-popular source. To search for them on eBay UK, simply go to eBay UK's home page and enter "home cinema projector" as a search term into the search box. The search returns an unsorted list of projectors and projector-related items. Also on the left-hand side of the page, the eBay product categories under which sellers have listed them are displayed. The main category, unsurprisingly, is Sound & Vision.

Listed underneath are the more relevant subcategories, such as DVD, Blue-ray & Home Cinema. A subcategory of that is Home Cinema Projectors. Clicking Home Cinema Projectors not only makes the results more relevant, it also reveals a list of filtering check-boxes. These can be selected as required and enable the search to be highly specific. They include: Brand, Display Technology, Aspect Ratio, Native Resolution and much more.

Conclusion

Whether it's LCD or DLP based, a modern digital video projector can be expected to produce excellent quality pictures. If the accompanying home cinema components, such as audio and video sources, are of equally good quality, an unmatchable home-cinema experience is virtually assured.

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