The Evolution of Front Projection
In his recent contribution to our ongoing discussion about media rooms, Theo Kalomirakis wrote about the need, as an AV system integrator, to approach the media room concept with an open mind. Whereas he once shunned media rooms as a lesser alternative to a dedicated home theater, he now acknowledges that the demand for more casual home entertainment spaces is growing, and the industry needs to creatively adapt.
Perhaps no segment of the home theater market has needed to adapt as much as the front projection category. Nothing screams dedicated home theater like a projector, and getting people to embrace the use of a two-piece video system over a big-screen TV in a den or living room is certainly a challenge. It has forced both projector and screen manufacturers to think outside the light-controlled box known as the theater room.
Projectors used to be divided into two main categories: home and business. Now the home market has further splintered into home theater and home entertainment. For a home theater projector, black level is king. You want a projector that can serve up lusciously deep blacks to give the entire image a greater sense of contrast and depth in your fully light-controlled room.
But, when people move out of the theater and into a den or media room—where the lights often stay on and daytime TV watching is an expected practice—a projector’s light output becomes a lot more important. These days we see a lot more 2,500- to 3,200-lumen projectors at lower price points. Epson’s premium Pro Cinema line even includes several ultra-bright models in the 4,800- to 6,000-lumen range.
Projector manufacturers have also been forced to make their products a bit more TV-like in their features, adding things like TV tuners, built-in speakers (which, in most cases, sound even worse than the speakers in flat-panel TVs, if you can believe it), instant on/off light sources, and MHL/MiraCast support to stream media content from mobile devices. LG has incorporated its WebOS smart platform into some of its DLP projectors.
Of course, no matter how bright a projector is, your basic matte white 1.0-gain screen just isn’t going to cut it in a well-lit room where people want to watch NFL football on Sunday afternoon. Screen manufacturers have also had to adapt, which has given rise to the hugely popular ambient-light rejecting (ALR) screen. As the name suggests, screen materials like Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond (shown above) are designed to reject light from nearby windows and lamps to improve image contrast. We’re also seeing a lot of “zero bezel” frames with sleeker designs meant to mimic the look of a flat-panel TV.
But there’s still that whole “two-piece system” problem. A TV is a nice, self-contained unit, and that’s what a lot of people want. They don’t want a projector on one side of the room and a screen on the other. Enter the ultra-short-throw projector, which can cast a big image from a small distance.
One of the more interesting categories to emerge is what I’ll call the all-in-one AV projection system—like Hisense’s new Laser TV system, which combines a 4K-friendly ultra-short-throw projector with a 100-inch screen and a Harman/Kardon sound system. In the same vein, Sony’s upcoming LSPX-A1 (shown at the top of the page) omits the screen but builds the native 4K projector and sound system into an attractive furniture cabinet (shown above) that blends into the room’s aesthetic when it’s not delivering an immersive AV experience. While pricey, these designs represent exactly the kind of creative thinking the AV industry needs as it moves outside the home theater.
Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.