Front Projectors as a Display Alternative

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More affordable and huge display – HeadRusch

Isn’t it funny in this world of fan-replacement, voltmodding our
motherboards, overclocking our stock CPU’s well past the point of sanity,
and creating custom cooling solutions that would make NASA jealous, when it
comes to our monitors many of us stick with the same old ones we’ve been
using since the dawn of time?

How many times have you upgraded a HSF, a CPU, a VideoCard….and yet you’re
still using that aging 19″ LCD or 20″ CRT. When you think of upgrading the
display, do you immediately think “Wow, Dell has a 24” Widescreen… and it’s
ONLY $800 dollars!”.

Well, there’s another area of display technology that,
while not for everyone, may wind up being a far more worthwhile investment
than the standard 20 and 24″ widescreen LCD’s that make up the average
persons upgrade path. I’m talking about Front Projectors.

We’ve all seen Front Projectors at school, at work and at presentations. The
little boxes that sit on desktops or hang from ceilings and throw those
beautiful Powerpoint presentations.

However when it comes to using one at
home with your PC, many folks have assumed that to get one that has any kind
of halfway-decent picture they’d have to invest many thousands of
dollars. Well that’s not the case anymore. In fact, the Front Projection
market is currently in a pricing free fall
, and the time to get on board with
the technology has never been more affordable.

As an example, you can now purchase 1280 x 720 pixel widescreen HDTV projectors for
under $1,000. Need more resolution? 1920 x 1080p projectors have hit the market
in the $4,000 range now. The cheapest 1080p projector last year was upwards of
$8,000, so prices are falling fast.

With a 720p DLP Front Projector offering
a 4000:1 contrast ratio and enough brightness to play games even with some
room lights on coming in at $900 to $1,400, one has to stop and ask
themselves if spending $800 on a 24″ widescreen, or $1,000 on a brand-X 32 or
37″ LCD TV with questionable specs is really the right answer. At screen
sizes of 100″ diagonal or larger, FPS enemies and driving simulators with
cockpit views that are nearly life size (or, larger!).

However, in order to make an informed decision one needs to weigh the pros
and cons of each technology type to see if a Front Projector could work for
you. Ultimately the question can be summed up this way:

For the same
amount of money, would you rather have a smaller screen with higher
resolution, or an orders-of-magnitude larger screen with a lesser resolution
(but still high)?

While there are lots of options to consider when thinking
about a display technology, I’m primarily aiming this article at the
‘average user’…..the gamer, the web-surfer, the occasional printing of
pictures and spreadsheet user.

In general, $1,000 today will buy you a flatpanel of 32″ size with a
resolution likely to be 1366 x 768. Spending a bit more will get you a 37″ or 42″ diagonal flatpanel with 1080p resolution. The specs on these
budget panels aren’t always the greatest, however, and depending on how rabid a PC gamer you are or how accurate you need your colors to be,
you may find the contrast ratios and pixel refresh times to be less than
adequate. PC Monitors in the under $1,000 price range will generally offer
higher resolutions, but no TV/HDTV tuner capability. Also, the screen sizes
run 24″ diagonal or less.

For that same money, you can consider a 1280 x 720 Front Projector in either
DLP or LCD flavor. If you can go a little higher, models offering the 16:10
format (1280 x 768) are also available. To get into a 1080p Front Projector,
you will need to commit $4,000 or more.

While that may seem a lot,
understand that this time last year the least expensive 1080p unit was
$9,000 – the year before that, it was $25,000. So prices are dropping, and
dropping very, very fast.
🙂 But, desktops are workable at 720p and games
certainly look fantastic at 720p.

There is always a race to chase higher and higher resolutions in the world
of PC gaming, but 1280 x 720 with 8xAF and 8xAF is truly a sight to behold at
120″. Another nice advantage is that with 720p projection and higher,
“screendoor” (the ability to see the individual pixels that make up the
1280 x 720 projected image because you are sitting too close to the screen)
isn’t nearly as much of a problem as it was in the past.

In general, a
seating distance of 1x the screen WIDTH is considered minimum for 720p
projectors, but with some (Sanyo LCD’s) the screendoor is more easily
noticed…. on Panasonic LCD’s it’s not visible even right up close.

DLP’s fall somewhere in between those two, generally offering less
screendoor (or matrix) visible than the average LCD. Going further into a
discussion of the technologies available in Front Projectors (DLP, LCD,
LyCOS, etc) is beyond the scope of this article. I recommend for all your Front Projection information needs.

But the one big “gotcha” that comes up with Projectors is the price of the

Projector bulbs are usually rated between 2000 – 4000 hours depending
on usage and bulb settings in the projector. A flatpanel likely won’t go dim
for tens of thousands of hours or longer. Unfortunately, bulbs require
replacing, and replacement bulbs aren’t the $20 Phillips type. Bulbs cost
anywhere from $200 – $500

This usually causes most people to freeze in
their tracks, but if you stop and think about it… bulb cost can work out to
as little as 10 cents an hour. If you are the handy
sort, good with tools and a soldering iron, there are even sites catering to
Do-It-Yourself home projectors that use $30.00 super bright lights. But that’s a whole different story. Luckily these days more and more
Projector stores are selling bulb warranties that can cover the cost of
replacements up to three years from the purchase price of the Projector – something to
consider if you plan on being a heavy user.

Another gotcha is that the darker your room environment, the better looking
a front projector will be.

Ideally you want a dark room,
no lights on, for maximum image “punch” and contrast ratio, but today’s
projectors are better and better at throwing pleasing images (if not
optimal) even with some room lights turned on. Of course you need a flat
wall to project onto as well, or consider investing in a DIY screen or an
inexpensive pull-down ($150-$400 depending on size and material).

lastly, you don’t want to be turning a projector on and off too often. It’s better on the projector if you turn it on for your marathon PC session,
rather than turning it on/off every time you want to.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with using your old monitor for day-to-day stuff,
and flipping on the PJ for gaming.

Ultimately, just remember that before you plunk down $1,000 on a 24″ Widescreen
monitor, think about your needs and understand that Front Projectors have
advanced radically in both image quality and affordability over the past three
years. If you are a gamer, seeing games projected with stellar image quality
at 100″ or larger will blow you away.

And, as a side bonus, all projectors these days are HDCP ready. Using your
PC as a DVD, HD, Blu-Ray, or .TS file server will allow you to watch both
DVD’s and HD sources the way they were meant to be seen: Friggin Huge 🙂

Thanks For Reading!


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  1. Nice article and good info there.

    I did come up with another Con to these though....Space constraints. To get that huge screen you need two spaces. first off the space to actually project onto, second the space inbetween the "screen" area and the projector. While this might not affect some it would be a bear for me. I live in an older trailer house(yep, I'm good ole whitebread, cornfed, trailer trash). I don't have a wall in my house that is suitable for projecting onto. So I would also have to invest in a screen. Then I would have to find a place to set it up where my girlfriend won't be constantly walking between the screen and the projector. The one thing that an LCD gives you is a shorter allowable distance between you and the screen.

    It's very inexpensive to make a nice screen. For about $15 in black out cloth from JoAnn Fabric and another $10 in wood and staples you can make a screen up to about 8 feet diagonal. I helped my neighbor with his and nobody can tell it's home made. It looks like something purchased at a high end home A/V store for several hundred dollars.

    I made one a while back - best couple hundred dollars I ever spent:

    I'm currently working on one. I've got all the parts except for my fresnel lenses and reflector. It's awesome fun and I can't wait to complete it (on hold currently because I'm building a deck w/ hot tub :beer: ).

    The story from the main page was excellent I thought. It hit all of the main reasons why I'm going the projection route for TV viewing and game playing. For web surfing and productivity stuff I'll probably stick to a monitor though.
    I'm making a projector as we speak!

    I made one a while back - best couple hundred dollars I ever spent:
    I've been running my Viewsonic DLP projector with my HTPC since December, 2005 and although I don't game, it makes for a fantastic home theatre experience.

    7' wide ceiling-mounted pull-down screens go for only about $70 and provide a perfect display surface in virtually any location. My projector is only 10' away from the screen and the image fills it very nicely. The space dedicated to this system is very minimal (far less than a large-screen TV would consume) and the image quality IMHO is far better.

    As the author notes, bulb replacement needs to be considered in the operating cost of the unit. Also consider that a typical 2000 Lumen projector consumes 200+ watts of electricity (an important factor for those of us who pay US$.035 per KHW) and produces a considerable amount of heat.

    Using a separate LCD (as the author suggests) for those times a large display is uneeded is a viable alternative, as is using remote desktop over the network for those with a LAN and more than one machine.

    As for the market being in "freefall", I'm not too sure. I paid US$783 for my projector nearly a year ago, and the current market price for the same model is now $729; that's only a 9.3% price drop over the course of a year; comparable projectors (DLP, same resolution and brightness) sell within the same price range.
    Is it possible to project unto the ceiling???? That would be awsome! So many ideas!! Like laying in bad, comfortably looking at the ceiling watching a movie!!!
    That's what I was thinking too. A projector is great, but you really need a room dedicated to it. And I honestly don't want to have to switch back and forth from the projector for games vs. email. If I had a house in which I could set up a dedicated projector room, I'd be all for it. Until then... :)