Technobabble: You call that a home theater?

  • Article by: RANDY A. SALAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 16, 2007 - 8:57 AM

If you really want to re-create the movie experience, a projector is an essential component for your dedicated viewing room.

Many people talk about having a home theater. What they usually mean is that they've dedicated a room to a big-screen TV, a DVD player and a surround-sound system. That's a fine setup -- hey, it's what I enjoyed for many years -- but it's no home theater.

Swap that TV for a projector and a companion screen, though, and now you have a real home theater.

I saw the light several years ago when I added a projector to my home theater. I wrote an article about it soon afterward and have been preaching the cinematic gospel ever since.

That article was picked up by the wire service, dozens of newspapers and websites, and even featured by HGTV. For months, I received e-mail from readers nationwide, asking how they could add a projector or build an inexpensive screen. We were on the verge of a projector revolution, I thought, and it was just a matter of time before consumers joined en masse.

I'm still waiting.

Oh, home-theater fans are discovering projectors -- just ever so slowly.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimates sales to dealers this year of 1.1 million front projectors -- electronic devices that connect to an AV system and project an image on a screen. That's up from 1 million in 2006, according to the CEA, which predicts sales of 1.2 million in 2008.

Those figures show growth, just not at the pace I expected. By comparison, the CEA predicts that 16 million HDTV displays will be sold this year.

One reason why projectors haven't caught on, says Derek Burns of Minneapolis-based projector retailer Tierney Bros., is that big-box stores, even if they stock projectors, don't really push the technology because they can make more money from flat-panel and other TV displays. Another reason, he says, is that consumers are simply unfamiliar with projectors.

"There's a lot of interest in projectors, but I think there's more education that needs to go on," Burns says.

To that end, Tierney Bros., which sells entry-level and midline projectors to do-it-yourselfers (rather than high-end models, which are typically professionally installed), will soon start holding informational seminars to educate buyers about home-theater projectors. It's a good idea, because while installing a projector isn't difficult, there's much to consider before adding one.

For example, while advances have vastly improved the brightness of their lamps, projectors still make the best impression in a dark room. At the least, they should be placed where the user can control the lighting level, even in daytime.

The projector bulb has to be replaced when it burns out, which can cost several hundred dollars every two years, depending on use and model.

Regular TV and cable programming generally looks poor when viewed via projector because of their low resolution, which becomes more obvious at larger sizes. So projectors are best suited for people who watch a lot of DVDs or high-def sources -- such as HDTV broadcasts, HD DVDs or Blu-ray Discs -- or play video games on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 system.

Because of this, a projector generally isn't a primary viewing option. I have a 36-inch TV in the bedroom and a 32-inch set in the den that my family uses to watch most TV shows, although I do have DirecTV connected to my projector, too.

"A projector is not going to be your main thing," Burns says. "We're very realistic about that."

So what is a projector good for?

It doesn't take up any floor space. Mine is mounted on the ceiling, but many people place theirs on a table or on a high shelf behind the viewers. The image is then projected onto a wall-mounted screen.

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