Does a Luxury Cinema Really Need a Projector?

Does a Luxury Cinema Need a Projector?

Here’s a pop quiz to start your day with: How big is the TV you see in the image above? If you’re familiar with this specific model (LG’s C9 OLED), the proportions of its pedestal may give you some idea. The rest of you probably think this is an unfair question. You’re trying to look for other clues that could give it away: How tall are those ceilings? How wide is that wall? More importantly, how far away from the screen was the camera when this photo was taken?

 

That’s actually exactly my point. For the record, the image is of a 77-inch display. But if I had told you it was 55, or 65, or even 88 inches, would you have balked? Probably not, because you intuitively understand that a display’s screen size isn’t the beginning and end of the conversation when it comes to how large it actually appears to your eyes. It’s the relationship

between the display size and the distance from seat to screen that determines the degree to which an image fills your field of view.

 

Not to pick on my colleague and friend John Sciacca here, but in his recent piece “Rediscovering My Joy for Home Theater,” he says, “Watching movies on a 115-inch screen is incredibly more involving than a 65-inch one.” What John is leaving unsaid there, though, is, “. . . from the same seating distance.” That last bit, that unspoken relationship between seat and screen, was taken for granted in John’s story, because to him it’s obvious. But that fact often gets tossed out the window completely when the gatekeepers of home cinema attempt to discredit the “lowly” TV as a legitimate screen for a proper home entertainment system.

 

I think this outdated perception of projectors as the only valid screens for home cinema systems is probably rooted in the equally outdated notion that commercial cinemas are the gold standard against which the home movie-watching experience should be judged. As I’ve argued in the past, that ship has sailed. 

These days, with a few rare and special exceptions aside, commercial cinemas are simply a way for most people to check out the latest Avengers or Star Wars flick before someone else ruins the plot for them. Or maybe they just want to view those big event movies with a few more subwoofers than their home AV systems can accommodate. But I guarantee you that almost none of the people who opt to go to their local movie theater to see the latest blockbusters would tell you that the allure of seeing an image bounced off a big sheet of perforated vinyl was what drew them out of the comforts of their own homes.

 

And mind you, I’m not claiming there aren’t plenty of valid reasons to install a projector at home. In his own media room, John sits roughly 12 feet from his screen, by his own estimation. He also has two kids at home, so movie-watching is often a whole-family experience. For his needs and his lifestyle, yeah, a projector is absolutely the right screen.

 

I, on the other hand, only have to worry about my wife and me. The only other permanent resident is Bruno, our 75-pound pit bull, and more often than not he either leaves the room when we watch movies or curls up in my lap and goes to sleep. We also only sit about six and a half feet from the screen in the main media room. The smallest high-performance home cinema projection screen I’m aware of is an 80-incher that would frankly be too much at that seating distance. A 75-inch display is pretty much perfect for this room, as it takes up a healthy 45.5 degrees of our field of view—a little more than

THX’s recommended 36 degrees, but so be it. We’d rather have a bit too much screen than a bit too little. But we don’t want The Last Jedi turning into a tennis match, either.

 

Interestingly enough, John’s 115-inch projection screen, when viewed from 12 feet away, takes up roughly 38.5 degrees of his field of view. In other words, my 75-inch screen looks bigger to me and my wife than his 115-inch projection screen looks to him and his family.

 

Am I bashing John’s choice of screens? Of course not. What works for him works for him, and what works for me

How to Determine Your Viewing Distance

 

If you want figure out your screen size based on viewing distance, or vice versa, but without having to wade through technical specs or do any heavy math, click this link.

works for me. And I’m sure he would agree. Different rooms. Different families. Different viewing habits. Different solutions. Without a doubt, we’re both enjoying a better movie-watching experience than we would at the local cineplex, and his system gives him one big advantage over mine: He gets to watch ultra-widescreen 2.4:1 aspect-ratio films without any letterboxing.

 

In addition to the larger perceptual screen real estate, though, my TV also gives me better black levels, better dynamic range, better peak brightness, and better color uniformity than any two-piece projection system could. And if for whatever reason we ever decided to watch a movie with the lights on, we wouldn’t have to worry about the screen washing out. (Not that we would, mind you. My wife and I prefer to keep any and all distractions to a minimum when watching movies, going so far as to put our mobile phones away or turning them off entirely. I’m just saying that we could leave a light on if we wanted to.)

 

And yet, the naysayers and gatekeepers would have you believe that for whatever reason my viewing experience is subpar. That I would somehow be better served by lacking black levels, middling contrasts, less peak brightness, and worse screen uniformity, simply because that would be a more faithful facsimile of the local cineplex.

 

To which I say this: The New Vision Theatres Chantilly 13 across town isn’t the yardstick by which I judge my movie-watching experience at home anymore. My home cinema system looks better and sounds better, and quite frankly has a better selection of films from which to choose. Granted, if we had a much larger room, or typically invited large groups of friends over to watch movies, a projection screen would likely be a superior alternative to our 75-inch TV on the balance sheet. If we had two or three rows of seating? No question about it—we would need a projector.

 

The beauty of current AV gear, though, is that you don’t have to change your lifestyle or viewing habits to have a better-than-movie-theater experience at home. You can assemble a reference-quality home cinema that conforms to your lifestyle, not the other way around. And if, like me, that means employing a gigantic TV as your screen of choice, you shouldn’t pay much attention to anyone telling you you’re doing it wrong, or that your system doesn’t count as “luxury.” Chances are, they’re trying to sell you something.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

3 Comments
  • John Bishop

    The cinema experience intended by movie creators is defined by projection on the big screen.
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    The cinema experience is defined by those who make the art, not by those who review TV’s. Suggesting projection is not the reference is misguided and the antithesis of the CineLuxe mission. An Apple watch held close does not provide a cinema experience, nor does a phone, a tablet; or a 75” TV at 6’. It’s not a cinema experience. At best, it’s a movie audit.
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    The reference for the cinema experience is found in the C I N E M A; projection on the big screen. Director Barry Sonnenfeld recently told a CEDIA audience in his seminar on the topic What is the cinema Experience? that he would never watch a movie on a TV of any size, ‘It’s not cinema’. He shared that he has a 14’ wide scope screen and a premium CE projector in what I would call a media/screening room.
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    Suggesting ‘6 feet from a TV’ is cinema is contrary to the CineLuxe mission. The size and quality of the projected image on the big screen is our reference, and unless and until Hollywood and NATO tell us otherwise, arguments to the contrary are moot. Since AVATAR and the DCI revolution circa 2009, It is outdated to suggest cinema exhibition is not a good reference for the art of movies. They use calibrated DLP or SXRD projectors on white or gray screens. We can meet or beat this at home only if we use the same technology and take more care in design, installation, and calibration. We can’t do better using TV’s of any kind. No director expects dark scenes to be rendered in an oil slick, or have images frame rate converted, or color exaggerated, or have poor white field purity or flat field uniformity, to name just a few of the issues.

    Back to viewing Geometry: this is a first principle of the genuine cinema experience, so clarity here is useful. First, the 36 degree THX recommendation is for the LAST ROW, to ensure screens aren’t too small. Cinema speaks in terms of screen heights, and cinema rows are typically placed from 1H to 3.5H to fill theaters these days. The prime seats are considered 1.5H to 3H from the screen, which is a 15 to 30-degree vertical viewing angle. The best cinemas, like the Samuel Goldwyn and Linwood Dunn Academy Theaters in Hollywood use masking screens in native 2.40:1 aspect ratio. As does the Dolby HQ theater in SF.
    [Excerpts] & responses;
    [But that fact often gets tossed out the window completely when the gatekeepers of home cinema attempt to discredit the “lowly” TV as a legitimate screen for a proper home entertainment system.]
    Home entertainment can be many things, and TVs are fine for most, but movies are an art form, and cinema is a science. TV’s don’t do justice to either.

    [I think this outdated perception of projectors as the only valid screens for home cinema systems is probably rooted in the equally outdated notion that commercial cinemas are the gold standard against which the home movie-watching experience should be judged. As I’ve argued in the past, that ship has sailed.]
    Thankfully the gatekeepers who understand cinema can articulate what is totally false about the above.

    [But I guarantee you that almost none of the people who opt to go to their local movie theater to see the latest blockbusters would tell you that the allure of seeing an image bounced off a big sheet of perforated vinyl was what drew them out of the comforts of their own homes.]
    Neither the love of TV or disdain of cinema exhibition can obscure the fact ‘Joker’, a character study in the tradition of Taxi Driver, has become the largest box office R rated movie of all time, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the biggest box office for any QT movie. Neither are effects driven, they are unique art, and audiences responded.
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    Luxury Cinema, like high end audio or any fine art form is about accuracy of the experience. Suggesting a 75” TV viewed from 6’ is cinematic, is like suggesting plastic box speakers are audiophile. CineLuxe should not be advocating for either notion.
    John Bishop
    President b/a/s/
    EVP Mavericks Architectural Cinema div James Loudspeaker
    Director Cinema Experience Engineering RAYVA

    October 30, 2019 at 3:43 pm
  • John, you are, of course, free to your opinions, and you’re more than welcome to share them here, but please don’t try to dictate the ethos of Cineluxe to those of us who write the site. This publication’s contributors don’t agree about a lot of things. The one shared motivation we have is attempting to explore, question, and help define (or perhaps even re-define) a new era of luxury home entertainment for those who may have been turned off by the overly enthusiast-driven or technically daunting tones of other, similar publications.

    I get to decide what Cineluxe means for me. John Sciacca gets to decide what Cineluxe means for him. Ditto Andrew, Adrienne, et al. And for what it’s worth, what follows should be taken as my thoughts and mine alone. I don’t represent the rest of this site’s contributors.

    That said, Hollywood and the National Association of Theatre Owners are both attempting to cling to what little perceived supremacy they have left, so they don’t get to dictate how I watch movies at home, which is where I do 99 percent of my movie-watching. You claim, “No director expects dark scenes to be rendered in an oil slick, or have images frame rate converted,” Your first assertion is pure speculation (and ignores the reference monitors on which most films are finished). Your second is non sequitur. I don’t want frame rates converted, either. It’s why I turn off that feature as the first step in calibrating any new TV. And let’s not forget that most home cinema projectors also have the same frame interpolation technology that’s found on TVs. So that argument simply falls flat.

    Look, I’m not saying that TVs are right for every room, as I repeated in this piece over and over again. I’m not advocating that everyone ditch their home video projectors in lieu of a good TV. I’m saying that for my family and my lifestyle, a TV works better–and it also just so happens to deliver a superior, more engrossing picture with better contrasts, better peak brightness, better dynamic range, and better color than a projector would. I also clearly spelled out all of the reasons why a projector would likely be a better solution for some families and some lifestyles, such as Sciacca’s. I’m not saying that one display solution is fundamentally superior to the other in every respect. I’m saying lifestyle, environment, and real estate considerations need to be taken into account.

    Comparing my viewing environment to an Apple Watch held inches from the face is a strawman. What prevents such a setup from being cinematic boils down to focus (the distance from the eye to the screen) and distraction. The difference in focus between such a scenario and watching a large TV from six feet away is an order of magnitude as compared with, say, watching at six feet versus twelve or twenty or fifty or what have you. What’s more, a cheap plastic speaker isn’t an audiophile solution for performance reasons. So your analogies simply don’t hold up to scrutiny.

    If you would prefer to discuss field of view in terms of screen height instead of viewing angle, we can totally do that. With a 2.40:1 film I’m 2.7 screen heights away. With a 1.85:1 film I’m 2.15 screen heights away. Both fall well within recommended cinematic viewing distance guidelines. By your own logic, they’re the best seats in the house.

    My wife and I have both lived the experience of seeing a Star Wars film at our local IMAX, then coming home and watching an earlier film in the series on my system, and the home cinema experience was superior when judged by any meaningful performance metric. When viewed at home, on my 75-inch TV, those films take up more of my and my wife’s field of view, have better black levels and detail, better color, and all of the other aspects I’ve already discussed ad nauseum. I’m listing quantifiable performance metrics here; I’m not making appeals to authority.

    The biggest misrepresentation on your part (intentional or not) is that I’m somehow attempting to discourage anyone from installing a projector at home. That’s simply not the case. I’m trying to open the doors that have kept some people from installing better home cinema systems. While you’re building walls, saying, “You must do it this way or you’re doing it wrong!” I’m simply saying that today’s home AV technology allows for better-than-commercial-cinema home entertainment setups in a much wider variety of rooms.

    I’m saying, “Hey, you–the well-to-do family with a luxurious but space-limited dwelling, like a Manhattan apartment, who got turned off of home cinema ten years ago because you were told you needed an isolated, dedicated room with two rows of cinema recliners and drab fabric on the walls–come back! Look at what we can do with today’s brighter and higher-performance displays, superior digital room correction, higher-performance architectural speakers, etc. You can have a luxury cinema experience at home even if you don’t have room for a projector!”

    I’m trying to expand the horizons of home cinema, while it seems to me that you’re trying to limit them.

    As for The Joker and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I’m excited to see both of those films. I just had no desire to see them in commercial cinemas. They’ll look and sound better in my home system. This has nothing to do with “disdain of cinema exhibition.” I don’t have disdain for commercial cinemas. I simply think they’re becoming increasingly irrelevant. And I think more people would agree with me than with you.

    Should we also, though, discuss one of the most talked-about films at the moment: The Irishman? Should we discuss Roma? For films of this sort, the era of commercial cinematic supremacy is either ending or over. All I’m saying here is that if the commercial cinema is trending in the direction of no longer being the primary source of such art, then why should we have to cling to reference standards that have their origins in the unique needs and *limitations* of large exhibition spaces that have nothing to do with optimal performance?

    This, I believe, is why we saw audio giants like JBL Synthesis eschew the use of projection at this year’s CEDIA Expo in lieu of a good TV. Of course, there’s also the fact that Harman’s room at this year’s show was quite different from the massive exhibition spaces of the past. It was a smaller, more intimate space with limited seating, and as such a TV made sense for it. And I guarantee you nearly everyone who came out of that demo would have enthusiastically lumped it under the category of “luxury home cinema.” CEDIA is also seeing more and more modular MicroLED displays like Samsung’s The Wall, which I believe we’ll be seeing more and more of in luxury installations down the road. And, ignoring the size of the screen (which is only important when taken in combination with distance to the screen), those displays have more in common with TVs than with projection systems.

    I’m sorry if this seems dismissive, but your personal attacks against me are unwarranted. If you’d like to discuss this in a less heated, less ad hominem manner, I’d love to do so. Maybe even on our podcast, if you’re willing to be a guest.

    November 1, 2019 at 7:17 pm
  • John Bishop

    Dennis, thank you so much for your thoughtful response.
    You represent the opinion of many who write in the CE space, and I too think CineLuxe should endeavor to differentiate. I don’t presuppose to tell you what CineLuxe should be for you, but given the genesis of it and the Theo Kalomirakis roots, I would expect it to be a resource where the benefits of a genuine cinema experience, in a dedicated room or media room would be celebrated. A place where its components might be explained and where solutions for any room might be explored not just at the budget end, but at the Luxury level as well. The name is derived from Luxury Cinema. It is not TVLuxe, EntertainmentSystemsLuxe or DoubleWideLuxe. TV talk makes sense for these alternate Luxe’s and it is all you get at every other CE media outlet.
    ——————————————————————————————————————————————
    You double down in your response to my comments suggesting that your ‘TV cinema’ has a better viewing geometry, better image quality, and a better overall experience than exhibition cinema; and Sciacca’s media room as well. Neither your TV, nor the JS projection system are quite cinematic, but at least JS has an image that is proportional to room furnishings, with an image at cinema standard light levels. Your eyes work differently when blasted by an image 3 to 10 times brighter than theatrical. If JS had a 5’ x 12’ image, then sitting 12’ back would put him in the better seats of a real theater, as it is, he’s in the last row of many, and out in the hall for some. Media rooms can be designed to cinema standards for both sound and image. And that goes for any room of any size, dedicated or multi-use.
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    The problem with the 6’ from a 75” argument is in the surroundings. A lamp in your peripheral view is larger than the ‘blockbuster’ image of Endgame on your TV. Otherwise the phone argument is equally valid. At least with a phone, your eye’s convergence and accommodation puts the background out of focus. Cinema is experimenting with Enhanced Reality, and that may influence the future art of movies, but until then, we have one absolute reference; exhibition cinema and professional screening rooms. They contain the technical elements from which we can design a genuine cinema experience anywhere.
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    The viewing geometry link in your article is also TV based, not cinema. The THX website has a ‘home’ and a ‘cinema’ page. The home page shows a couch & TV where 40 degrees Horizontal is recommended. On the cinema page they show a cinema floor plan with a triangle from the last row to the scope screen edges at almost the same angle, 36 degrees. They are implying HT is a last row cinema experience! We can and should do better.
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    I was on a project a few years back in a tiny Manhattan room. Seating was about 11’ back. We had to build the projector (2K post DLP) into the back wall, aiming it up at a cinema grade mirror custom made by Stewart Filmscreen, to bounce the image through a port window towards a 12’ wide scope screen. It was challenging to engineer, but in the end, it made for a killer screening room with a genuine cinematic experience. The building was on a corner of Central Park West, the value of the floor space in our room alone was 7 figures!
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    The interior designer, architect and building engineer thought we were nuts to do this screening room. But the client loves movies and approved it. All the experts would have put a TV in there. Instead, we had a cinema, and when the dealer principal and I did our turnover demo for the client, he was ecstatic! He said something to his dealer I’ll never forget; ‘Brian, everyone was against this room, now they all want to take credit for it! It’s the coolest room in the house! That’s CineLuxe to me, a TV would have gone unnoticed.
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    You say I’m building walls and you’re opening doors. That’s true. I promote a wall based on cinema performance standards. You’re impugning exhibition cinema, which you rarely experience, you trivialize projection, which your title implies, and you suggest TVs are genuine cinema, in every room or not. That’s a disservice to cinema verité. Without standards, anything can be called cinema, and that means my Samsung HDR Note 10 + may provide a better cinema experience than your 75” TV, depending on quality of the headphones of course.
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    If you had a 3’ high scope screen in place of your TV, Endgame would be a 7’ wide experience and not a letterboxed 2 x 5. So would Roma. And the black & white image would be reference grade without the color tinting of LCD in bright fields, or the uniformity issues of OLED in dark. B&W content is almost unwatchable on any TV by comparison to DLP on StudioTek 100. And inclusion of Roma at the Academy awards was protested by Spielberg and many others, because it had almost no cinema exhibition time. Which is the only way to judge it as movie art, according to them.
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    The image from a Barco LED 5K cinemascope projector would have charcoal blacks, not an oil slick. (Low gloss and absence of sheen is a hallmark of cinema grade screen surfaces and projection). It would have higher adjacent pixel and small area contrast (the most important kind), it would deliver superior flat field uniformity and white field purity (the perfect canvas no TV can provide), and it will hit P3 color points (TVs don’t).
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    HDR is the driver for most TV infatuations today, and for good reason. It looks great. And most CE grade projectors struggle with it in terms of color volume and accuracy. But Luxury projectors with laser or LED light engines can hit P3 at full volume almost to perfection, and they can be calibrated to the cinema standard for HDR; Barco, some Sony, and a few others can do this.
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    And the performance reference that is exhibition cinema isn’t limited to the 150 or so DV theaters you can’t get to. All DCi cinema does P3 color of course. The 6P lasers of 4K IMAX and DV go beyond, and most PLF rooms are moving to Laser which is allowing the new 30fL DeFacto luminance standard to be hit in hundreds more theaters. A good example comes from the Galaxy DFX theaters using Barco Laser DLPs. I’ve deployed 3 of these (Prometheus III) in residential theaters in the last year. There is nothing like it, and the clients are blown away. They didn’t know this level of performance was possible, and to me that’s part of the CineLuxe mission too. Let Luxury Cinema candidates know what’s possible, not what TV to settle for because of space or lifestyle?
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    So, my take is purely from a movie art and cinema science point of view.
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    A great source for understanding today’s cinema and why it has never been better, (besides technical books on digital cinema), is the documentary movie, Side by Side, hosted by Keanu Reeves. Wiki; ‘Interviews with directors, cinematographers, colorists, scientists, engineers and artists reveal their experiences and feelings about…. C I N E M A. ‘Those Amazing Shadows’ a PBS documentary on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry is another great resource on what cinema is today.
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    I mention these because they reveal the nature of movies as art, and illustrate the experience intended by the makers. There’s a moment in Side by Side showing a young person watching Lawrence of Arabia…on their phone. They know it’s not cinema on that device, or any TV.
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    Of course, monitors are used in the making of movies, and have been for decades, but they are not the reference image, they are a tool to help Directors and DP’s translate how their work will look on the big screen! At a recent SMPTE meeting in Boston, the CTO of Sony Professional introduced a new 8K cinema camera with a great technical overview on imagers. He spoke to the cinema experience and I asked him if Directors & DP’s today consider the reference image to be what is seen on their grading monitor, or what is seen in the exhibition or post projected image. He said of course, it’s the projected image.
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    This year CEDIA had their first training class on DCI screening rooms for residential spaces. Peter Aylett was host; I gave the section on content and its impact on the sound and image experience. Andrew Poulain (WW Director for Dolby Cinema) gave the section on immersive sound and ATMOS, and Thomas Andersen, Product engineer for Barco gave the section on projection technology.
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    I alerted attendees about a recent Hollywood AES/SMPTE meeting, ‘how to prepare movie soundtracks for home media delivery’. The speakers included Brian Vessa Chairman of the Technical Standards Committee on Cinema Sound; TC25CSS, Floyd Toole on the myths of room correction, and the Director of Netflix ‘cinema’ on their non standards. The theme suggested a need to compress, gain ride dialog, and otherwise dumb down the sound for our UHD releases.
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    They think we watch movies on TV’s with sound bars, and use ‘room correction’ to make it sound good.

    CineLuxe would do our market a service by disabusing them of that notion and suggest that meaningful cinema experiences can be had at home, in any room by following the standards of cinema and not the standards of CE; TV’s, hifi speakers, and room correction AVR’s!
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    Regarding podcasts, I’d love to join you on one. I’ve done CEDIA’s and had several episodes on HT Geeks with Scott Wilkinson. About 20,000 views to date. In fact, there is a quarterly webcast in the works where Theo will cover design, Steve Haas on acoustics, Joel Silver on Video and I’ll be covering the overall cinema experience. It may be a CineLuxe linked series.
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    Please don’t take this as any kind of personal criticism. My intent is only to expose the cinema centric viewpoint on things that are so entrenched in CE TV based commentary as to make my notions seem almost heretical. Believe me, in cinema circles they are not.
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    Now, I do have a 75” in the living room. The closest seat is 9’. Its great for sports and it has all the HDR formats, so I use it as a test display. But movies are in my theater/office space where the room is 13’ x 22’ with a lofted ceiling. The screen is 5’ x 12’, wall to wall. The sound design is a Mavericks Architectural Cinema system by James Loudspeaker in a 9.4.8 architecture including a 5-speaker screen wall. A Barco Bragi 5K LED CinemaScope HDR projector drives it.
    There is no comparison, one is cinema, the other is a TV in the living room.
    JB
    b/a/s/
    MAC div James Loudspeaker
    RAYVA

    November 5, 2019 at 4:23 am