Understanding the Technology Options in Home Theater Projectors

The beauty of being an integrator and moving into a new home is that I get to do whatever I want for AV and electronics. The curse, however, is I’m always trying different solutions on myself because I’d rather be the guinea pig than my clients. I’m currently in the process of finishing off my home’s unfinished basement and creating my dream theater room.
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The beauty of being an integrator and moving into a new home is that I get to do whatever I want for AV and electronics. The curse, however, is I’m always trying different solutions on myself because I’d rather be the guinea pig than my clients. I’m currently in the process of finishing off my home’s unfinished basement and creating my dream theater room. Recently, I had Jeff Schneider from Digital Projection come to visit and demo a few projectors for use in the room. (I’ll probably end up installing both so I can demo them to clients, but that’s another story.)

While speaking with Jeff, I also had one of my Home Theater Rebuild colleagues in the room because he hasn’t had as much experience with two-piece projection. He felt very comfortable asking questions of both Jeff and me, as it was a pretty casual situation. I realized that a lot of things that I take for granted are things that confuse people who have not been living and breathing two-piece projection for years. And that led me to think that maybe a lot of integrators don’t sell two-piece because they lack the confidence that comes with deep knowledge. It isn’t really something you can get your way through a few times and then you’re an expert. Since it’s such an important decision for the client, and something they are focusing on, you really have to know what you are doing from the beginning or you won’t have the confidence. And without confidence, you can’t sell. I wanted to dedicate a lot of space this week for talking about some of the technical aspects of two-piece and answering several of the questions you may get from customers.

So today I got the opportunity to demo two projectors side-by-side from Digital Projection. One was the HIGHlite Cine 1080p-3D-HC and the other was the M-Vision Cine LED 1000. The HIGHlite is a 3,000-lumen, 3-chip DLP lamp-based projector and the M-Vision Cine LED is a 1,000-lumen LED projector. This gave me a great opportunity to compare not just different price points but also different lighting technologies. All DP projectors use DLP Technology, either single chip or 3-chip. Other manufacturers also offer LCD technology.

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Digital Projection’s HIGHlite Cine 1080p-3D-HC .

Here is a quick breakdown of the differences:

• DLP is a reflective technology in which the light is bounced off of mirrors through the lens. Within DLP there is single-chip and 3-chip technology. With single-chip technology, one DLP chip is utilized along with a color wheel and lamp. The cycling of the color wheel is how the three different colors of red, green, and blue are produced whereas in three chips there's a dedicated chip for each color and therefore no color wheel.

• LCD is a transmissive technology in which light passes through an LCD screen. In the LCD process over time there is degradation of the brightness and the image due to the light engine deteriorating over time, whereas in DLP technology because of the reflective mirror you do not have that same issue.

Another decision to consider is the light source: traditional lamp or LED.

• The M-Vision projector I tested uses an LED light source, which means that it does not have a bulb or spinning color wheel, but instead has a red, green, and blue LED that produces the light that is then bounced off of the mirrors and through the lens onto the screen.

Here are some more specifics about the technology:

—Color vs. brightness
• LEDs produce richer colors
• Bulbs produce more brightness
• Bulbs are better in ambient light situations.
• LEDs should be reserved for applications where ambient light can be eliminated
—Contrast is about equal, if not a touch better with LED since you can turn LED’s off when producing Black
—Lamp life
• LEDs offer lamp life of 50,000 hours
• A typical bulb will last 1,500-2000 hours.

• So assuming a lamp replacement cost of $400 and replacing 20 to 30 lamps over the life of the projector, your client will save in the neighborhood of $8,000-$12,000 with an LED projector.

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Digital Projection’s M-Vision Cine LED 1000.

Back to my recent demo, we reviewed both projectors side-by-side while watching Man of Steel, and they both looked fantastic. The colors on the M-Vision projector were incredibly rich, although I definitely did notice less brightness when compared with the HIGHlite projector, which uses a bulb. And of course there is the $17,000 difference between the projectors. The M-Vision is $12,995, while the HIGHlite retails for $29,995. Both looked incredible, both had fantastic colors, and, again, there was definitely a noticeable brightness improvement with the HIGHlite projector with higher lumens and the lamp as opposed to LEDs. While I am likely installing both projectors in my home, if I had to take one I would probably spend the extra money and get the HIGHlite as I am a sucker for the brighter image it produced.

So, some things to consider when working with clients who are considering projectors, or even those who aren't but where a projector would be a better fit:

• Always consider screen size: I have often seen clients with a 90-inch TV on the wall and when I ask why they have that they say it was the biggest screen available, even though the room could use a bigger viewing area. With 2-piece projection, you won't be in that situation. You can have a 110-, 120-, 140-inch, or larger screen with a fantastic projector and a great picture.

• Aesthetics: always remember that 2-piece projection can improve the aesthetics of the client’s home. The screen can retract into the ceiling, and the projector can either be hidden behind a soffit or a lift or just mounted very discreetly in the back of the room, so as not to disturb the design, decor, and aesthetics of the room.

• Leverage the manufacturers: every room is different and requires a unique solution. That is why we are custom integrators and not hang and bang jockeys. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, especially when it comes to 2-piece projection. Get yourself a decent light meter, take pictures of the room, and work with your projector manufacture and screen partner to find the perfect combination of projector light output, color reproduction, size, price points, brightness, etc. for your client’s needs.

• Match the product to the needs: A sports fan will require a much brighter image because they’ll want to hang out with their friends and talk about the game, whereas a movie buff doesn’t require as much brightness, but will need better contrast. In other words, a well-lit room will need higher light output, whereas a darkened, dedicated theater will be better served by focusing on contrast and color reproduction.

With Digital Projection projectors ranging in price from $7,000, there are definitely opportunities to get your clients into high-quality 2-piece projection at a price that is not too much more expensive than the largest flat screens out there. I can’t wait to get my new projectors and tell you all about the results I get not just to demo for my clients, but for my own movie watching enjoyment.

How do you sell 2-piece projection, and what do you like about the brands that you sell?

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What do you do to set expectations with your clients at the start of a job?

+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.

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