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Home Theater Buyers Guide

When choosing a projector for a home theater, you need to consider what will meet your needs. Are you going to be using your home theater projector to watch regular TV programming and standard DVD’s or are you looking for a projector to connect to your next generation game system, Blu-ray player and HD source box (cable, satellite, etc.)?

Aspect Ratio
The aspect ratio is the number of units wide by the number of units high. The most common aspect ratios for projectors are 4:3 and 16:9. The standard (NTSC) 4:3 ratio image is almost square like an older television or computer monitor, whereas the widescreen (HDTV) 16:9 ratio is panoramic like a movie screen. Currently the majority of specified home theater projectors have a native 16:9 aspect ratio.

Resolution
The resolution of your projector combined with the source of the image will determine how sharp your picture is. The higher the resolution of the projector, the more pixels the image has. As your pixel count increases, they can become smaller thus creating greater detail and smaller separation between them. When it comes to home theater projectors there are currently 2 16:9 resolutions 1280x720 and 1920x1080.

1280x720
The 1280x720 format is a good choice if you have a budget under $500. 1280x720 projectors deliver beautiful high definition images from HDTV 720p, 1080i, as well as Blu-ray disc players. As such, there really isn’t much of a compromise in picture quality by going with 1280x720 instead of the higher resolution 1920x1080 format

1920x1080
The 1920x1080 format has come down in price within the last year+ and a good (1080p) unit can be had for under $1000. If you want the absolute sharpest and most detailed picture possible from high definition sources, then 1920x1080 projectors are the best choice. While the 1280x720 projectors can deliver very impressive HD images, the picture quality in terms of image detail is even better when the projector has the ability to show all 1080 lines of the signal in their native, uncompressed format.

Brightness
A projector’s brightness is measured in ANSI lumens. When it comes to home theater projectors, brighter is not always better. You need to have a projector that produces enough brightness for a bright vibrant image, but not too much because additional brightness will wash out the color and contrast. For home theater projectors, brightness typically ranges from 1000-3000 ANSI lumens. The amount of ambient light in your viewing environment will be the biggest factor in determining how bright your projector needs to be. Dedicated home theaters with controlled lighting and no ambient light will not require as much brightness as a family room with ambient light from windows or other household lighting.

Contrast
For home theater projectors, contrast is a very important quality especially when watching movies. Contrast gives depth and shadow detail to video images. Excellent contrast can take a two-dimensional image and make it appear almost three-dimensional. A high contrast projector produces good shadow definition, deep color saturation, and a picture with a rich dynamic look.

Mounting
There are three installation options for a home theater projector: Table mount, rear shelf mount and ceiling mount. The most common option is ceiling mounting. When ceiling mounting a projector it will only have to be adjusted once during the initial setup. Due to the high placement, heat from the projector is dispersed over the viewers head and the noise level is lower. Also, because of the variety of mounts and colors and because cables can be run inside the wall, a projector can be integrated rather seamlessly when installed on the ceiling. The other options of tabletop and rear shelf mounting are often used for a portable setup or when ceiling mounting is not possible. Both options allow for easy access to the projector.

Screen

Remember that a high quality screen is a long term investment. Projectors continue to get better and cheaper with time, but screens are different. It is not uncommon for a person to change projectors every 3-4 years but keep the same screen throughout. In dedicated home theaters, permanently mounted screens are often a good choice because they combine best quality of image with reasonable pricing. Manual or electric retractable screens can be mounted to the wall, a ceiling and can also be ceiling recessed. When a dedicated home theater room is not an option, a retractable screen can easily be concealed when not in use. The manual version is less expensive and less glamorous than the motorized version which can be controlled with the touch of a button. The electric screens definitely make an impression in your home theater guests.


Cost
If your projector is going to replace your current television, lamp replacement cost should be factored into your purchase. Lamps typically last between 2000-4000 hours (Note: regular filter cleaning and proper operation will improve lamp life). The average projector used for movies and special events runs 8 hours a week. At this rate, a lamp will last approximately 4.8 years. As a high pressure lamp is used, its light output diminishes. So, many users choose to replace their lamps more frequently than the maximum life in order to maintain a brighter picture. Replacement lamps usually run between $200-$400. If your projector will be used primarily for watching movies and special events, lamp life will not be quite as important. Still, it is wise to factor in the cost of replacement lamps before you decide which projector to purchase. You may also want to purchase a spare lamp when you purchase your projector. This will minimize downtime of your projector when your lamp needs replacement.