Q I am throwing an NFL party and want to show the games on a 100-inch projection screen. I called AV rental places, and each quoted more than $1,000 to come in and set up a screen and sound equipment for an afternoon. I am starting to think I should just buy the stuff and find other uses for it. Can you set up a decent front-projection system for about $1,000?
A These days you can set up an extremely impressive front-projection system for about $1,000. The gear won't be top of the line, but I am betting it will knock your socks off, especially given the cost.
First, you need a projector. For that price range, my money is definitely on the Optoma HD20 1080p DLP projector. It retails for just under $1,000, but if you shop around, you can find it for less than that. Even at full price, it is an amazing performer and a great value. It can support up to a 300-inch screen size and will look bright at 100 inches. The HD20 puts up a sharp, colorful image with excellent depth and contrast, and the picture settings are close to optimum straight out of the box. Connect the HD20 to an HDMI output from your HDTV tuner or cable/satellite box, and you will be shocked at how good it looks.
The screen is an important part of the projection system. There is much more to picking a screen than I can fit in this column. Check out the forums at Projector Central (www.projectorcentral.com) and AVS Forum (www.avsforum.com), as well as the buying guide at the Projector Screen Store (www.projectorscreenstore.com/projector-screen-buying-guide.html). Don't feel pressured to dump a lot of money into a screen, though. Even on a clean white wall, you will be impressed with what the HD20 can do. You can spend thousands on a screen, but a $200 screen from Elite should suffice for your party.
You will need to connect the cable or satellite box to a sound system, because the projector doesn't have a built-in speaker. (Even if it did, it would be hard for partygoers to hear.) Connect the audio outputs of your cable/satellite box to your existing sound system, or buy powered speakers such as the Swan M200 speakers that I have written about in the past.
If you are a home-theater buff, the possibilities are probably already apparent. Spend $1,000 on the projector, make a screen using tutorials on the Web or buy an inexpensive one to get started. Put together a surround-sound system using a modest Onkyo receiver paired with Insignia NS-B2111 or Arx bookshelf speakers, and you can have a true home theater with a huge projection screen and good sound for $2,000 or less. Not long ago, you would have to pay several times that just for the projector.
I'd certainly rather own the gear for the same amount of money it would cost to rent it for an afternoon. (Bear in mind, though, that you are also paying for the rental company's labor and expertise.) Be sure to do a dry run before your party to make sure everything works.
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