When determining the look and design of your new media room or home theater, you’re quickly going to be confronted with a major decision: The size and style of your video display. While the choice ultimately boils down to whether you’ll go with a front projector or a traditional direct-view TV, the number of factors that can go into making that decision can sometimes make it difficult. But you might find it easy to choose if one factor quickly sways your decision, since each technology has definite advantages.
In Part One, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of having a separate projector and screen. In Part Two, I’ll do the same for direct-view TVs.
No Limit on Screen Size
While TV screens are measured in inches, projection screens come in feet, and you can get a screen literally as big as your wall can support, meaning you can have a truly cinematic experience in your home. And while people might debate whether they can or can’t see the resolution improvements of 4K on their 65-inch TVs, you’ll be basking in all of the noticeably sharper detail on your 200-inch screen!
Less Expensive to Have Bigger Screens
Dollar per inch, it’s tough to beat front projection. Where the price jump from a 75-inch to a 100-inch direct-view set is exponential, it might only be a few hundred dollars more to go from a 110- to a 120-inch screen.
Supports Multiple Aspect Ratios
People primarily talk about two different aspect ratios: 16:9 (the rectangular shape of modern HDTVs) and 2.35:1 (the wider shape of many films). But in reality, modern filmmakers often use various aspects to capture a specific look or feel. More and more original content on Netflix and Amazon uses aspect ratios other than 16:9. With a projection screen and a masking system, you can make sure you’re always seeing the image as the director intended, with no distracting black bars.
Optimal Speaker Placement
The ideal speaker layout places the front left, center, and right speakers on the same horizontal plane as the center of the screen, ensuring that the sound exactly tracks the on-screen action. These speakers can be perfectly placed behind an acoustically transparent projection screen, just like in a movie theater.
Can Disappear When Not in Use
If you want a movie theater but don’t want your room to look like a movie theater, a front-projection system offers several solutions. Even the largest screens can be motorized to roll up and out of sight, and a projector can be concealed as well, with just a glass porthole in a wall or soffit for the lens to fire through.
Still Supports 3D
Direct-view display manufacturers have all abandoned support for 3D over the past few years, but nearly all projectors designed for home use still have this capability.
Offers Many Screen Material Options
When you buy a direct-view TV, you get what you get, but when you buy a projection screen, you have a myriad of options. Your installer can help you select the right material, color, and gain to make sure you get the most out of your projector, room, and screen size.
Stewart Filmscreen’s Gemini has separate screens for daytime & nighttime viewing
Needs a Dark Room
A projector can’t actually reproduce black, so it projects nothing where black should be. That means, to have black up on screen, the room needs to be black—or at least dark. Since projectors rely on dark rooms to produce their best image quality, that might not be your best choice if there’s any amount of light in your space. Sure, ambient-light-rejecting screens like Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond or Stewart Filmscreen’s Phantom HALR do an admirable job of producing viewable images in lit rooms, but they can’t deliver the same picture quality as viewing in a darkened room.
Not Always Good for Gaming
Using a projector can be a con, depending on the types of games you like to play. Many projectors have an input delay of up to several seconds, which means there can be a noticeable lag between when you press a button and something happens on the screen. While this isn’t an issue when pausing a movie, it definitely can be when playing a videogame where milliseconds of reaction time can be the difference between onscreen life and death. Also, if you play games that require standing in front of the screen, you might find yourself blocking the projector’s light path and creating life-sized shadow puppets instead.
HDR and Brightness Inferior to TVs
HDR (high dynamic range) can deliver both deep, detailed blacks and ultra-bright colors, but projectors can only deliver a fraction of the necessary brightness levels. This makes HDR on a projection system tricky, with manufacturers searching for the best solution to tone map the high-brightness images for their projectors. Also, outside of a custom, dual Christie Dolby Cinema projection setup, you currently won’t find any projector that can support dynamic HDR metadata like DolbyVision. That isn’t to say projectors can’t pull off HDR, and some of the new laser-based models look pretty spectacular. But direct-view sets will likely always be superior in this regard, able to produce images with more punch and contrast.
Lack of 8K Support
I hate to even mention this, but 8K is now apparently a thing, so here we are. Yet no projector manufacturers seem to be seriously pursuing 8K resolution. This is especially surprising since if there was any technology that could benefit from 8K, it would be a massive front-projection screen. (But I digress . . .) I’ve only seen one projector that can deliver 8K resolution, and it was nearly the size of a small car, required its own ventilation system, and cost a wallet-blistering $400,000! (JVC will be launching a native 4K projector that uses the company’s eShift pixel-shifting technology to deliver a pseudo-8K image at a far more reasonable sub-$20,000.)
In my next post, I’ll break down the pros and cons of going with a traditional, direct-view TV set for your entertainment room’s display.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.