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Big Screen Decisions: Video Projection vs. Flat-Panel TV

September 15, 2014 | Comments

Is it time for a new TV? Or maybe that 40-inch screen is starting to look kinda small.

Before you head to the local electronics store to pick out a new TV, have you ever thought about installing a video projection system with a huge screen? If you love watching movies and like the idea of creating your own private movie palace, read on to see if a projector is for you.

To Project or Not to Project

There's no question that setting up a video projection system is more involved than simply replacing your existing TV with a new flat-panel that sits on a stand or hangs on your wall. A TV is a plug-and-play device with a built-in TV tuner and (often mediocre) sound system; you plug in a cable/satellite box, power it up and you're ready to go.

A projection system a two-piece affair, comprising a light source (the projector) and a screen, just like in a movie theater; there is no tuner and no onboard audio capability, and installation is best left to a home technology professional.

The first step in setting up a projection system is figuring out where to put the screen and the projector. Projectors are typically suspended from the ceiling, and you'll need a wall with plenty of open space.

Screens start at around 8 feet and go all the way up to 18 feet or more. In case you're wondering, an 8-foot screen with a movie-like 1.85:1 aspect ratio is 4 feet tall by just over 7 feet wide - 3 1/2 feet wider than a common 50-inch screen - while that 18-foot monster would be more than 15 feet wide and nearly 9 feet tall (as you can see, ceiling height becomes the limiting factor as you move up in screen size).

When you consider the size of these screens, you begin to understand the allure of a projection system. Of course, there are a few other things to take into consideration before you decide to go the projector route:

Room Size

You need a decent-size room, preferably one that can be darkened. Ambient light will wash out the projected image, which means you can't really watch TV in the daytime with the shades up or in the evening with the lights on. Well, you can, but the picture will be compromised.

While it's true that you can ameliorate the effects of ambient light by choosing a super-bright projector and a special screen designed to reject ambient light, some degree of wash-out is inevitable.


All else being equal, setting up a video projection system will cost considerably more than buying a 50 or 60-inch TV; of course, once you move up to screen sizes larger than 65 inches, projection becomes more competitive and may even be less expensive, depending on the type of TV technology and size (an 84-inch Ultra HD TV, for example, will set you back more than $10,000.)

Bulb Life

The lamp used as the projector's light source will need to be replaced every year or two, depending on how much you use the projector.

Noise Control

Every projector has a built-in fan to keep it running cool (that lamp generates quite a bit of heat). Noise can be an issue, depending on the type of projector and where it is situated relative to the seating. To get around this, professional installers sometimes mount the projector in an enclosure (or in the wall).

Sight Lines

Standing up in front of the screen can block the image for everyone - not just the person sitting directly behind you!

Big Screen Rewards

Okay, so transitioning to a projection setup takes more effort than sticking with a regular TV. But there is a big payoff: Watching movies, even TV, on a huge screen is an epic experience; even the smallest of projection screens is still considerably larger than your average 50- to 60-inch TV.

And with a good surround-sound system to match, watching TV on a video projection system is like going to the movies without leaving home - and without the overpriced snacks, restricted leg room, and chattering audience.

To learn more about TV options, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.