Hifi - Home Theater - Automation
Home Theater: It's All About Image
How to get the ultimate image quality for your home theater?
It's no secret with the rampant changing of technologies, marketing hype, poorly educated sales personal; the choices are at best daunting.
I will do my best to demystify, debunk and provide information in a manner that will arm the consumer with the necessary information to make confident decisions.
Your Video Playback System
Most people typically start with the projector, it seems logical and we are told it is the norm. However, many experts believe this is not the best approach. Salesmen and marketing propaganda alike tossing around specifications and pushing variations of technologies, while having some merit with regards to helping make educated choices these tactics perhaps misguided are often used to manipulate, confusing both salesmen and client alike into purchasing by the numbers.
Most often, specifications have no standard of measure regarding how they are measured. The average person has no idea how to interpret these specifications or how they inevitably will benefit them.
A little info about Projectors
Projectors come in multiple technologies, there’s LCD (liquid crystal display) used by many companies such as Panasonic and Epson, then there’s DLP (digital light processor) developed by Texas Instruments, used by many brands and most often used in professional projection systems, as well as, in public theaters. There are LCOS and DLA another variation used by the likes of SONY and JVC to a very successful degree and most recently, LED bulbs vs traditional bulbs offering greater luminosity, longer life, less heat, and less maintenance.
Where does this leave us? How do we get the best picture quality? With a different approach. Most salesmen, nor projector reviewers talk about or even mention the projection screen itself. Leading experts agree that the one component that makes the greatest difference in overall picture fidelity is the screen.
So why don’t most salesmen discuss it in greater length or emphasize its significance? Simply they either do not know and/or the other reason, is that while projectors become obsolete and yesterdays news fairly quickly perpetuating new projector purchases, screens do not. Unless your doing a complete re-modeling of your media room or move to another home etc, once you invested in a high quality screen it's pretty much a very long term investment.
So there we have it, the most important purchase for a great video reproduction is making the high quality screen the priority followed by the projector. So does that mean the consumer shouldn’t invest in a great projector, no that is not what I am saying. However, for what ever given budget I suggest dedicating a larger portion of it to the screen vs the projector and not visa versa. To be clear, you will get a superior quality image from an inexpensive projector on a high quality screen versus a more expensive projector on the typical generic screens that are packaged and inexpensive.
Obviously, a better projector on the same high quality screen will yield even a superior picture still, but to somewhat of a lesser degree.
Now that the cats out of the bag... What screen type, what ratio, what gain or material to choose?
Well there are a variety of screen types:
Fixed, electric, electric with trim tabs, flush mount, etc. While these types are really more about style and application. When I’m referring to quality of image we are discussing the screen material itself. Most of the higher end brands such as Stewart, Screen Innovations, Da-lite, Draper, produce excellent products with legitimate R&D labs and high quality control. There is also a new breed of imports from Asia that can also offer better quality screens as well, often marketed as 4K ready or hi-def from the likes of Elune vision and Dragon fly etc.. that offer very good value as well.
Regardless of the brand, there are several type of screens to consider, all depending on your specific requirments.
Perforated screens: these are used in front of speakers just like you experience at the public theaters, this helps camouflage or hide the speakers.
There are different shades of screens; white, variations of grey and almost black as well. White being the most traditional typically used in dark dedicated theaters or with higher gain for 3D projection, whilst the grey variants are made to provide better ambient light rejection providing improved contrast in media rooms or where light cannot be totally controlled.
Then there are specialty materials such as Screen Innovations Black Diamond specifically made to work best in brighter well lit rooms with excellent results.
I am sure your dying to know, so what is a good screen cost? Like all screens, the prices will fluctuate according to type and size.
All things being equal, lets say based on a 110 inch diagonal fixed screen, using a good, better, best comparison."Good" Elunes 4K Reference provides excellent value at around 1200.00
"Better" Draper Onix is right in between selling for around 3000.00
"Best" Screen Innovations Black Diamond figure on around 4500.00
Typical screen you see packaged free with projector purchases at the big box stores would sell for around 4-600.00
I suggest if you can afford to make the jump to a better screen you should do so.
If you take the plunge, you will be rewarded with better reproduction than most commercial cinemas, with reach out and touch images, excellent depth, inky blacks, big bold rich colors and viewing angles. This will surpass any of today’s LED tv's without the animatronic two dimensional feel you get from those panels.
For more details and guidance seek out a professional retailer that has the education and a showroom that is able to demonstrate what works best for your individual needs and requirements.
For a list of educated and approved dealers in your area you can try to log-on to http://www.cedia.org/find-a-cedia-professional
Happy music and theater,
Your Hifi and Home Theater Expert