Pro aAre home projection systems, like the ones they have in cinemas, doomed to go the way of fax machines, VCRs and Palm Pilots; great ideas until better things come along?

Projectors are fussy beasts. They need a darkened room, they need lots of setting up, usually by an expert, they need regular maintenance and lamp changes (and new lamps cost anywhere from $400 to $1000) and they need a screen made for the purpose.

Their attraction is the biggest picture in the business. If you want a screen with a diagonal measurement of two-and-a-half metres or more projection is the only way to go. But its big picture exclusivity is slipping. A few flat panel televisions are now at more than two metres and according to Lambro Skropidis, general manager of marketing at LG, there are 249 cm and 267 cm models on the horizon. And once one of these monsters is delivered and installed the demands it places on its owner are minimal; it’s just like a regular television.

It won’t need a darkened room or complex cabling through the walls and ceiling because it hooks up to disc players and sound systems just like a regular telly. It won’t need a new lamp every few thousand hours, cleaning can be done by anyone with a lint-free cloth and any child, and even many adults, can figure out the remote. And only the very best projectors could match its picture sharpness and definition.

“In all aspects of the viewing experience televisions have long had the lead on projectors,” Skropidis says.

So why projection? Well the pricing is pretty compelling.

pro 2A truly large, ultra-high definition (UHD) television costs comfortably into five figures – Sony’s KD85X9500B 216 cm is $19,999, Samsung’s UA85HU8500W UHD (also 216 cm) is $14,999 and LG’s 213 cm 84UB980T UHD is $12,999 – while a projector throwing a good quality 250 cm image can be had for less than $5000, even when you’ve added a good screen and whatever it takes to get it installed and calibrated.

For example Panasonic’s full high definition (FHD) PTAE800 is $3899. BenQ has an FHD for first timers, the W1070, which can fill a screen of up to 2.5 metres and comes with a built-in speaker for just $1299.

But the image of an FHD projector is nowhere near as sharp as a UHD television and the screen is only at its brightest when the lights are down and the curtains drawn. If you want a projector throwing a stunning UHD picture that’s as bright as projection gets (but still not as bright as an LCD) you’ll pay about as much as you do for a monster television. Think around $26k for Sony’s premium VPLVW1100ES or $14k for its little brother, the VPLVW500ES. JVC’s DLAX900R is around $11,500.

And while televisions have speakers in-built projectors need sound. But to be fair television speakers, although improving, don’t sound anywhere near as good as a separate sound system so you’ll need external sound to do justice to a monster television, too.

pro 3If you’re starting to think projection is for purists you’re right. These people immerse themselves in movies, they don’t eat pizza, keep an eye on Facebook and stay in touch with the cricket scores while a movie is rolling, they’re absorbed. Much of this is down to the closed, darkened room in which they’re normally located.

Sydney dealer Len Wallis thinks the immersion thing is why projection will always survive. “Projection really is more like going to the movies,” he says. “It has improved so much in recent times that I prefer the film-like quality of the medium. It doesn’t present the ultra-vivid colours of a similarly sized LCD, I find it more natural. And the sharpness of colours is more than adequate.”

It’s exactly this immersion that makes projection popular with hard-core gamers.

I visited a few high-end retailers to talk projection-versus-television, expecting a solid defence of projection because retailers make good money out of selling and especially installing these systems. So I was surprised. The first one told me to consider projection only if I could dedicate a room to it, otherwise a big telly was the way to go. The second advised me to go with projection only if size was of critical importance, otherwise a television offered better flexibility.

Published November 2014


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