I need an external sound system? In most cases, the answer is yes. Audio plays a big
role in bringing the movie theater experience into the home. While many projectors
have basic sound built-in, it's a far cry from the theater-like experience that
even a basic surround-sound system can deliver. Creating a home theater system
means assembling one yourself by buying a
I need a projector screen? Again, for most the answer is yes. A white or light-colored wall can do
in a pinch or for occasional viewing, but a projector screen -- included
painted-on projector screens -- can help boost apparent performance by quite a
bit. Some choices are covered in our report on
How long to projector lamps last, and how much do they cost? Average lamp life in a home theater projector is between 2,000 and 4,000 hours, and replacement lamps are not cheap. Most cost upward of $250.
Is my room big enough for a projector? Most projectors are capable of throwing an image of more than 100 inches, measured diagonally. That means that most viewers will need to sit at least 10 feet away to get the best view -- although some now suggest sitting closer when watching a 3D projector. In any event, if you're working with a very small room, a projector might not be the best choice.
Where will you put the projector? Any projector can be placed straight back from the screen, either on a platform or a ceiling mount. The projector's zoom capability will determine just how far back it can be placed. Placement flexibility is also increased if the projector has lens shift capability, which lets you move the projected image vertically or horizontally.
When you start shopping for a projector, you'll immediately notice that there are three main projector technologies on the market: digital light processing (DLP) liquid crystal display (LCD) and liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS).
Historically DLP projectors boasted better contrast and black levels, while LCD projectors had better color saturation with less fan noise and lower operating temperatures. Because of improvements in both technologies, those differences have almost disappeared. However LCD projectors still have a brightness advantage, and DLP projectors tend to be a bit smaller because the technology takes up less space.
These common projector types have Achilles heels, too. When using a DLP projector, a small percentage of viewers will spot occasional flashes of color known as the rainbow effect. This is caused by the DLP projector's rapidly spinning color wheel. LCD projectors don't create a rainbow effect, but you can -- on lesser models -- see cross-hatching on the projection screen as if you were viewing it through a screen door. Blur or softening can also be a problem with fast-moving objects on a LCD projector. In general, DLP projectors handle fast motion better.
LCoS suffers from few of the drawbacks of other projection technologies. There's no color wheel, so rainbow effect is not an issue; neither is screen-door effect or excessive motion blur. In general, LCoS projectors are well-regarded for deep black tones and good color accuracy. However, LCoS chips are expensive and difficult to produce, limiting them to more expensive home theater projectors.
At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, LG announced its new Hecto laser projector. This is a DLP projector that does away with a traditional lamp, replacing it with a laser light source. Pricing for the LG Hecto laser projector was announced this spring, at around $9,000. That initial pain is mitigated -- a little -- by the fact that the laser is expected to last five times longer than a standard projector lamp.
The LG Hecto ships and must be used with a proprietary 100-inch screen. With a fixed throw distance of less than two feet, the projector is designed to sit essentially under the screen, on a credenza, home-entertainment console, or a similar piece of furniture. The LG Hecto was yet to ship at the time this report was prepared, but CNET looks at a near production version, and has a mixed take on it. One interesting finding is that the LG Hecto laser projector has more in common with a standard flat-panel HDTV or a rear projection TV than it does with a standard video project. That includes an image that stands up well even under normal room lighting.