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Researching HD Projectors for HT. What to look for?


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#1 of 21 OFFLINE   Dan Szwarc

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Posted May 24 2004 - 01:24 AM

Greetings fellow HT enthusiasts.

I have been out of the HT scene for over two years since I sold my house, TV, and moved to a house that did not have the space for a decent theater.
However, now I am building a new attached garage with a HT on the second floor and I will be selecting an HD projector for my ultimate setup in 6-12 months.

Since I have been out of the action for so long, the product choices and features appear to be enormous. Can someone please help me with some starting points and tips on what to look for in a good HD projector? You may suggest everything from projection technology to brands or even specific models. Are there any things to watch out for (like on the cheapos)? I don't want to cheap out and settle since I have a chance to do it right this time. I can spend anywhere from $2000 to $7000, but I want the best bang for the buck. Why buy a $6500 projector when a $3000 projector will have 95% the performance?

The ability to calibrate to ISF and set memories for each input is critical. I want a really accurate picture with minimal scanline visibility.

Here is some info about my HT that is being built:
Approximately 18' wide and up to 30' deep for room size. It may go as small as 13' by 20'.
Dedicated room that is dimly lit for viewing to total darkness like a theater.
Projector will be ceiling mounted and mostly be displaying Anamorphic DVDs and eventually HD/HD-DVD content from cable or air.
Possibly will use the projector for PC display of HD games.

If there is a thread or two that has already done this, can someone help me find it?

I appreciate all help and will happily post the result when the HT is nearing completion. Thanks in advance for your help!.
Dan Szwarc
Currently without a Home Theatre

#2 of 21 OFFLINE   Dan Szwarc

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Posted May 25 2004 - 11:08 PM

Any help is appreciated. Use this to prove how much you know! Posted Image
Dan Szwarc
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#3 of 21 OFFLINE   Matthew Todd

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Posted May 26 2004 - 03:09 AM

Quote:
but I want the best bang for the buck


Quote:
The ability to calibrate to ISF and set memories for each input is critical. I want a really accurate picture with minimal scanline visibility.


You're choices are going to be LCD, DLP, LCOS (D-ILA), or CRT.

I think that because you are looking for an accurate picture with minimal scanline (or pixel for digitals) visibility, I'd probably stay away from LCD, as it will have the most noticeable screen door (pixel structure).

DLP is very popular and worth taking a look at. I think that accuracy wise, some of the HD2+ DLPs look very good. You should look at some DLP's with fast color wheels and see if you notice the rainbow effect with single chip DLPs. That is one of their weaknesses.

LCOS is also worth looking at, and if they can get the black levels down to similar to the best DLPs, I think these will be real contenders. For now, most LCOS machines that are available are the JVC D-ILAs, although it seems like other manufacturers are beginning to seriously consider the technology.

Used CRT has awesome bang for the buck. For $3000 you could get a good used 8" EM focus CRT like a Marquee 8500LC, an NEC XG, or a Sony G70 that would provide an accurate picture. If you go higher in price (2 to 3x) you can get into the top of the line used 9" EM focus CRTs (Barco 1209, Marquee 9500LC, Sony G90-this would be more like $20,000 though).

I've got an Ampro 3600 (8" EM focus air coupled CRT). I paid about $2500 for this, including a spare set of brand new tubes. 1080i looks awesome. 720p is sharp, with scan lines barely visible.

Besides poking around here in your research, check out the CRT and digital forums over at avsforum. You'll find a lot of good info in both places.

Matt
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#4 of 21 OFFLINE   Dan Szwarc

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Posted May 26 2004 - 04:29 AM

Thanks, Matthew, for your response.

As far as technologies go, your info is good to know.

I guess what I am also looking for in a little baseline info about Lumens and contrast ratios. What are good minimums for a dedicated HT and a very dark room?

What about native resolution (for non-CRT displays)? Should I bother with anything less than 1024x768? Since most of my movies are anamorphic, I would prefer a projector with a "true" 16x9 display and not a cropped 4:3 display (thus losing even more vertical resolution). Are there many native 16x9 displays out there?


Anxiously awaiting...
Dan Szwarc
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#5 of 21 OFFLINE   ChrisWiggles

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Posted May 26 2004 - 04:36 AM

I think you could probably squeeze in an HD2+ dlp unit in that price, which would be very nice, or as mentioned an 8inch CRT would also be extremely nice (and better). I would hunt down those avenues...

#6 of 21 OFFLINE   Matthew Todd

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Posted May 27 2004 - 02:50 AM

Quote:
I guess what I am also looking for in a little baseline info about Lumens and contrast ratios. What are good minimums for a dedicated HT and a very dark room?

First off, do you have an idea of what screen size you'd like to have? That's going to tell you something about how many lumens you're going to want. You want to aim for probably at least 10 foot lamberts reflected off the screen. You calculate this by taking ANSI lumens of the projector, dividing by the square footage of the screen (in feet) and multiplying by the screen gain. Most projector ANSI lumen ratings seem to be quite generous (especially digitals?) Try to take this into account.

For me, I doubt that I could really be happy with a machine that has an on/off contrast ratio less than about 3000:1 That limits it to pretty much an HD2+ DLP or a CRT. That's why I like my CRT. They have very high on/off contrast ratios. ANSI contrast is much, much lower, and is actually better on the best digitals than it is for CRT. On/off CR tells you something about how the contrast is going to look on low lighting scenes, while ANSI CR tells you something about how contrast is going to look on moderate to high APL scenes.


Quote:
What about native resolution (for non-CRT displays)? Should I bother with anything less than 1024x768? Since most of my movies are anamorphic, I would prefer a projector with a "true" 16x9 display and not a cropped 4:3 display (thus losing even more vertical resolution). Are there many native 16x9 displays out there?

I personally wouldn't bother with anything less than 1024x768 with your budget. Actually, I probably wouldn't bother with anything less than 1280x720 (or 1280x1024).

I don't know that much about specific digitals, but there are a lot of 16:9 digitals available. The best ones (HD2/2+ DLPs) are 1280x720. There are also some that are something like 848x480 or 1024x576.

Here's a good link to read:

http://www.projector..._resolution.htm

What are you going to be watching? DVD is natively only 720x480, so any of these will show you the full resolution of DVD. If you watch any HD or you want to be somewhat prepared for the future, you probably want something with a higher resolution.

You don't necessarily have to get something with a 16:9 native aspect ratio. If you get a 4:3, just make sure that the 16:9 space within the 4:3 area has enough resolution so that you aren't missing any vertical resolution that is in the source.

Matt
"Do not use to unclog a disposal drain." - On a box of Dynamite (from Joseph Howard)

#7 of 21 OFFLINE   DaveGTP

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Posted May 27 2004 - 08:01 AM

If you're really going to be doing only DVDs on it, for the most part, you may be best off with getting a $2k-ish 480p or 720p projector. For a little over-the-air, HD still looks very excellent downrez'd to 480p.


With pricing going the way it is going, by the time HD-DVD is in the picture, you could probably upgrade to a 1080p projector when it arrives.

Otherwise, if you've got a dedicated room setup and don't mind the little extra work, weight, etc that goes with a CRT projector, that seems indeed the best way to get a true HD projector.

If you're really going to use it for PC games, you'd be better off with a 4:3 digital projector. You'll need a lot more resolution for PC games, though, and CRT seems chancy for burn-in risks (I don't know much about CRT projectors, though).

My 2 cents.
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#8 of 21 OFFLINE   Dan Szwarc

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Posted May 28 2004 - 12:45 AM

My minimum reqirement for screen size is "bigger than my brother-in-law's". Posted Image I guess I should find out how big that is. A side goal is to have a 120" diagonal screen on a 2.35:1 ratio, but that could easily change. Screen width will probably by in the 8 to 10 foot range.

I realize the bigger the screen size, the more lumens I need to get the same brightness of picture. I guess I should research a little more before I come close to buying. I might need a 2000 lumen projector. I don't know what looks bright enough yet (I've only ever owned CRT rear-projection TVs).

480p and 720p are required. 1080i (I don't like the i formats) is secondary but will probably come free.

Game play is actually unlikely. I might hook a computer up to it just because I can, but I doubt I will do much "computing" on that display.

My HDTV viewing will depend on how quickly the industry moves to HD. I will not be buying D-VHS tapes. I want HD-DVD or HD-Blu-whatever optical disks so I can watch when I want to watch. I might get Voom.

I want a native 16:9 display because when you crop the vertical resolution to display 16:9 on a 4:3 display, you lose total vertical resolution. Since 95% of what I watch is anamorphic, I might as well get what will look better with anamorphic. I've found some 1280x720 displays and 1280x1024 that seem to be pretty good.
Dan Szwarc
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#9 of 21 OFFLINE   DaveGTP

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Posted May 28 2004 - 06:44 AM

Actually, with projectors, they have a 16:9 mode. Kind of like the Squeeze feature on some of the CRT HDTVs. That way they accept the widescreen anamorphic from the DVD player without losing rez.
Matheson- "There are probably some who'll say that by doing this, we are interfering with their culture."

Gideon - "Probably. Screw them."
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#10 of 21 OFFLINE   ChrisWiggles

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Posted May 28 2004 - 07:14 AM

Dave: your comment about a 16:9 mode on projectors is confusing at best, because it really depends on whether you are talking about a 4:3 digital projector, a 16:9 digital projector, a CRT projector with raster squeeze, whether or not you are using an anamorphic lens on a digital, etc.

#11 of 21 OFFLINE   DaveGTP

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Posted May 28 2004 - 09:43 AM

Well, I guess what I am saying is, excluding anamorphic lenses, etc:

You're not getting more resolution from a 16:9 native pj receiving 16:9 from the DVD player, as compared to a 4:3 pj in 16:9 mode receiving 16:9 from the DVD player.

I'd suggest this article for a good overview 4:3 vs 16:9:

http://www.projector...com/formats.htm

Example:

Infocus 4805 (16:9 native) 854x480 (480 lines vertical)
X1 (4:3 native) in 16:9 mode is 800X450 (450 lines vertical, some cropping is done to keep 1:1 pixel ratio)


Pretty much the same.


It's for this reason that some have suggested that a cheaper 4:3 projector + anamorphic lens is often better bargain than one of the 16:9 projectors.
Matheson- "There are probably some who'll say that by doing this, we are interfering with their culture."

Gideon - "Probably. Screw them."
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#12 of 21 OFFLINE   Leo Kerr

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Posted May 29 2004 - 02:02 AM

A couple of comments to inject into this discussion.

Brightness: doesn't need to be really high if you're going to have a dark space. I saw a 500 ANSI Lumen DILA projector a couple of weeks ago doing a 16'x9' image on a unity gain Stewart screen. There were no problems with the brightness; it was a glorious picture (but then, it was also a $30,000 projector! Posted Image

Contrast: is vital. Granted, people say that a gray screen can help, but the important thing is, you really can't manufacture contrast.

DLP Twitter: (AKA: Rainbows) Some people can see 'em; some can't. Other threads have indicated that some people who can't see 'em still end up with curiously powerful headaches after watching them for a while. My strongest recommendation is to avoid single-chip DLP. Period. Sorry guys, but that's the way I feel.

Overall recommendation: the really good stuff in the projector world is changing radically on a daily basis. The DVD player side is doing the same, with the threat of HD-DVD, too. Get a cheap projector. When the lamp burns out, re-evaluate the market. If you change projectors, consider - where else do you want a projector...? Maybe you do want to relamp the old one, too...

Short term recommendation: Panasonic PT-L500U MSRP $2,499. 1280x720 resolution (true HD,) up to 850 lumens, reasonable contrast, up to 5000 hour lamp (which is really long.)

Long term: by the time the lamp dies, the D-ILA projectors should be getting affordable..

Leo Kerr
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#13 of 21 OFFLINE   Bruce McDermott

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Posted May 29 2004 - 06:05 AM

The situation you describe--a light-controlled, single-purpose room that you are designing and building--is ideal for a front-projection CRT set-up. It's particularly hard these days to predict what will be available at what price point in "6-12 months", but it's also hard to imagine that a used, properly set-up front projection CRT won't be the comparative value then that it is now.

That said, CRTs are much more of a hassle to get started with. I have an XG, and it was indeed a pain--the damn thing is 140 lbs, and getting it securely mounted to the ceiling, square to the screen, was not a walk in the park. Also, getting it properly focused mechanically, though not difficult for me (since I didn't do it--here's where an expert comes in, often) is vital. You can teach yourself service menu adjustments pretty easily, though, with the help of the fine folks over at avs.

The result? Well, you've got a projector that was upwards of $25,000 when new in 1998 shooting a DVD or HD picture with gorgeous, liquid colors and unbeatable blacks and shadow detail, and thousands of hours of viewing pleasure still left on the tubes. Service menu touch-ups every 3-6 months max, taking maybe 15-20 minutes, will suffice for any drift, etc. If you're a mad tweaker you can do more, I suppose, but IMHO that's purely optional.

Maybe $3,000 for the projector (8" EM focus, as suggested by others--go to 9" if you're feeling greedy and/or money becomes less of an issue). A good scaler for maybe $1,000-$2,000 (check out Lumagen here), cabling and a screen for maybe $1500, if you splurge, and maybe $500-$1000 for some set-up and calibration help from an expert, and you're good to go. That puts you at $6,000 to $7,500, and you've got a picture that simply cannot be matched for the price in other technologies (at least currently).

Now, change the basics, and the answer might change. If you are going to watch a lot of HD in a lighter room, for example, CRT's advantages are harder to see, and the digitals' strengths come to the fore. But for the set-up you describe, at your budget, the old-fashioned 3-eyed monster is the way to go.

#14 of 21 OFFLINE   Dan Hitchman

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Posted May 29 2004 - 07:03 AM

If you want a 2.35:1 screen you need to consider a few things:

1) You want a 16x9 panel projector

2) Almost all of the anamorphic lenses out there work best with medium to long throw lenses, which are hard to come by in the cheaper projectors for whatever reason. Short throw lenses cause both picture cutoff (since the entire light path can't fit through the lens) and distorted images.

3) If you want a constant height screen then scratch the Panamorph lens off your list. It compresses the image rather than stretching it out. You then have a choice of the ISCO II (the best overall image, but somewhat pricey), Prismasonic H-500, or upcoming Prismasonic H-1000.

4) You want a projector that throws a bright image yet doesn't sacrifice black level and detail for it. When you place the anamorphic lens in front of the light path, it will dim the picture somewhat. A combination of the correct gain of screen and projector brightness is essential.

5) You need a scaler of some sort (like a Home Theater PC with Zoom Player and/or Theater Tech, or outboard digital scaler box) that can convert the various aspect ratios into what is needed for an anamorphic lens.

Dan

#15 of 21 OFFLINE   ChrisWiggles

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Posted May 29 2004 - 07:09 AM

Contrast: is vital. Granted, people say that a gray screen can help, but the important thing is, you really can't manufacture contrast.


Using a grey screen has less to do with contrast, and everything to do with lowering the black level on digital projectors which cannot adequately create a true black.

It *may* minimally help ANSI contrast, because slight light spill from the room will be ever so slightly less objectionable with a darker screen that will reflect less of it back at you.

But it won't really improve on/off contrast.

#16 of 21 OFFLINE   Leo Kerr

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Posted May 30 2004 - 02:21 AM

..my understanding of the contrast measurements - and I may be wrong - is that for a 'standard' contrast measurement, they project a full white field, find the brightest spot with the incident meter pointed at the projector, and then find the darkest spot on a full black field, and take the ratio.

ANSI contrast, by contrast, is done with the 4x4 checkerboard pattern, and the ratio is of the average of the center of each white square against the average of the center of each black square.

So contrast measurements have nothing to do with the screen they're projected on, but rather the imaging device, the optics, and everything else leading up to, but not including, the screen.

I think.

Leo

#17 of 21 OFFLINE   ChrisWiggles

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Posted May 30 2004 - 05:03 AM

Leo, yes you are right, the usual way to measure ANI CR is with a checkerboard pattern with the meter pointed at the projector. This captures mainly the ANSI CR of the projector, and the effects of the room. However, a gray screen will very slightly affect the reflections back into the room, then back onto the screen, etc (hard to explain that part). So you *might* be able to measure a slight change in ANSI CR if you had precise enough measurements, but the reality of the ANSI CR going on at the screen will change slightly with a grayer screen, or a retroreflective screen, etc.

Though I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone measuring the changes in ANSI CR with gray screens, so the above is more a hypothesis if it is measurable at all.

Regardless, better blacks by the grey screen will improve your *percieved* contrast.

But yes you're right leo. But thing is, the measured CR is not the real CR that we see, let alone the perceived CR. Confusing huh... :b

#18 of 21 OFFLINE   Leo Kerr

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Posted May 31 2004 - 03:44 AM

Although that is an interesting issue.. if you have a very reflective screen in, (gack!) a white room, how much of a change in CR are you going to measure?

Leo Kerr

#19 of 21 OFFLINE   ChrisWiggles

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Posted May 31 2004 - 07:13 AM

Dunno. I've never read about anyone measuring any change in ANSI CR off a gray screen. But you're probably going to get much much better improvements with a can of dark paint than moving to a pricey gray screen. The significant improvements with gray screens is lowering the black level. The ANSI CR thing is sort of a very minor side issue. But the point is that a gray screen does NOT improve on/off CR. It's just that you can't say that a gray screen "wont improve CR at all," because of that minor quibble. But be clear that gray screen has nothing to do with on/off CR.

#20 of 21 OFFLINE   Dan Szwarc

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Posted June 01 2004 - 11:03 PM

Well, based on this information, it sounds like my 10 foot screen will be reduced to accomodate the smaller room size (my prints came back and the HT room is only about 20' deep). No biggie.

I can see I have a lot to learn, but I have started with some good info right here. Keep it coming.
Dan Szwarc
Currently without a Home Theatre


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