Go big and stay home
Front projection home theater is more affordable than you think
I've been enjoying my HDTV for two years now, and I'm still amazed at the clarity and detail. I find that I watch things that I wouldn't normally watch just because they look so good, especially since I got Dish Network. I now know a lot more about pandas and Lake Ontario than I ever imagined I would. But now I have a new drug. It's a video projector.
If you haven't noticed, video projectors have dropped in price like Gigli's box office numbers. And the bad old days of dim bulbs and low resolution are gone. You can get yourself a widescreen, high-definition 850-lumen projector for under $2,000. That's what I did. Add in the $720 I spent on a high-quality 119" screen, and I've got a movie theater in my basement for the same price I paid for my 65" rear-projection TV. (No, I have nothing better to spend my money on.)
I figured I'll replace the projector in a couple of years, when they're cheaper, brighter, and higher contrast, but I won't want to buy a new screen too. That's why I bought such a big screen.
I thought that I would mask it off with black curtains and a matte panel at the bottom, but the projector is hi-res enough and bright enough (and my viewing room dark enough) that I watch it at full size.
It's awesome. It totally changes your perspective on the movie to see it that big, like it was meant to be in the theater. Wow.
DVDs look really great, but HDTV is unbelievable (so don't consider a projector with less than 1280x720 resolution). The Olympics opening ceremony was spectacular. Unfortunately, there's still not as much available in hi def as you'd hope. I like CSI and a couple of other hi def dramas. Football is incredible in high definition, especially if you can pause and rewind it. And Discovery HD Theater is great, at least if you like nature shows. HD Net is included in my package and has some good stuff, but who wants to see Square Pegs* reruns in hi def?
I don't understand why CNN or MSNBC hasn't created a hi def news channel. That would be cool. Not all the coverage would have to be in HD. A standard-def picture in the corner would leave room for a commentator or a list of jackass factoids they're so fond of.
The gory details
Projector Central has great reviews of projectors and screens. Based largely on the pro and user reviews, I bought the Panasonic 500. The Sanyo Z2 is very similar and has the lens shift feature, which would make setting it up a lot easier. But several user reviews complained about dust blobs getting inside the lens. If the Hitachi 100 becomes available at a similar price, it could be the best of both worlds.
Projector Central has a good screen guide too. So does Projector People, where I bought my projector. When I first got the projector, I just projected it onto my satin-finish peach-colored wall, and it looked surprisingly great (your brain quickly adjusts to the overall color imbalance).
I wanted better black levels, tho (the contrast is not great on LCD projectors), so I bought a gray (high-contrast) screen: the Da-Lite Perm-Wall High-Contrast Cinema Vision. It was easy to put together, but is designed to be permanently screwed to the wall all around the frame.
If I had it to do over again, I would be tempted to try the high-contrast screen paint from Goo Systems. It got very good reviews and is much less expensive (but very expensive compared to regular paint). You could paint a wall and create your own frame for a couple of hundred bucks and have a screen that ranks among the top four or five available. Not a bad deal.
* This originally said "who wants to see Hogan's Heroes in high definition?" But I caught an episode the other day and remembered that it was a pretty damn funny show.
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