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A new projection

Once more trouble than they were worth, projectors have become technologically sound, not wildly expensive and quite uncomplicated. Here's understanding them better. Read on.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2011 16:03 IST
Rajiv Makhni

Once more trouble than they were worth, projectors have become technologically sound, not wildly expensive and quite uncomplicated.

Just a few years back, most of these phrases would be an apt description for setting up a home theatre with a projector: fiddly, spares too expensive, impossible to set up on your own, difficult to maintain, works only in pitch darkness and prone to blowouts. So while a large screen experience was only possible with a projector, most of us shunned them. Then prices for flat panel plasmas fell and today most people use a 55-inch plus plasma TV for their ‘cinema hall at home’.

But projector manufacturers now claim that most of the problems with their product are ancient history. So can one think of putting in a large screen projector at home with no cons to battle? Is a projector a viable alternative to a large flat panel TV? Can it replace a TV in a bedroom? Is it out of the specialist sphere? Has it entered the mainstream?

The first thing that has changed is technology itself. What used to be a highly specialised field where the perfect picture required expensive display technology has turned into a simple category. The main reason is the coming of High Definition 1080P and the maturing of the inherent technology. Projectors now are either LCD, LCOS, single chip DLP and three chip DLP. The best part – you can pretty much forget about which one to buy. While most manufacturers cry themselves hoarse on how their technology is better, almost all tests, reviews and surveys have shown that no one technology is inherently better than another. Thus, that terrible and muddy confusion is gone and all that’s left is a smooth, bright, crisp and brilliant picture. Score 1 for projectors.

Just a few years back, specialist projectors for home theatre enthusiasts could run to as much as R1 crore. They still do. But you don’t need it! A full HD 1080p, upscaling HDMI projector has bounced down to about R50,000. Yes, you read that right. 50K! Put some real research into a Blu-Ray player, an AV receiver and 5.1 speakers and you can have a state-of-the-art home theatre to blow your socks and other garments off for about R1,00,000. At one time the price of replacing one blown out bulb on a projector was about that much. Score 2 for projectors.

So you can buy great technology at a great price – but does it deliver? A projector still needs more maintenance than a TV. Even now! You’ll still need dim lighting for a true movie feel, you still need a little hand holding for set up, including installation and specially calibrating colour gamut, you will still have to replace bulbs, it still needs clean power and the room and the screen are as important as the projector itself.

Having painted the picture black, let me now minimise the damage. While you still need to do stuff to coax the projector to perfection, most things are a one-time-only exercise. Zoom lenses can ensure the perfect distance even in a small room, lens shift controls help to move the picture up, down or left, right to compensate for projector placement, a dynamic iris helps contrast ratio and deep blacks, and variable lamp brightness can help run them cooler and longer. Replacement bulb prices have fallen, projector fans run super silent and the all new LED projectors are green and efficient (but unfortunately, too expensive right now). All in all, great strides have been made to make sure the projector isn’t the white elephant in the room. Home run for Projectors!

So how do you choose the right projector? Here are a few basics. First of all, no store in this country (and I include most specialist stores that sell projectors and home theatre equipment) ever have projectors set up and calibrated right. Even the best projectors in the world will look like dull, washed-out, ugly contraptions there. So go armed with a movie you’re familiar with, most importantly dark scenes. 1080p with at least a single HDMI is the bare bones minimum. Lumens matter as do the video processing and upscaling.

The screen it’s projected on is a big deal, but not to the level you’ve been told. High gain screens help, but only to a certain level. Oh – and motorised retractable screens look very hi-tech, give you great flexibility and are priced very well nowadays.

At the end of the day, a projector is very much back as a mainstream product. There nothing close to the experience you get when you have 160 inches of pure screen brilliance. But can it be your TV replacement in your bedroom? Well, yes – if you have a bedroom that can be kept pitch dark all day and you live with somebody who won’t do serious damage to you for doing that. For all others – we may still have to wait for a few more years.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni

- From HT Brunch, January 30

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