Front projectors are not a new TV technology. They’ve been in homes and night spots since the 1970s, when cathode ray tube TV screens were limited to 27 inches. A front projection TV can give you an immersive movie-theater experience in your home, and if you’re looking for “the big picture,” you’ll find that front projector HDTV prices are in line with smaller plasma HDTVs, and cheaper than the largest HDTVs. Still, front projectors require a little extra work to set up, and they’re not for everyday use, but they can deliver images over 100 inches diagonal with ease. Not sure what to look for? Pronto’s HDTV Front Projector Buying Guide can help point the way (see also HDTV Buying Guide, Plasma TV Buying Guide, LCD TV Buying Guide, Rear Projection TV Buying Guide).
Front projectors are not complete TVs. You’ll need a TV tuner, a DVD player, a sound system, and a screen or a white wall to make a front projector work.
LCD, LCDoS, and DLP all have strengths and weaknesses in front projector HDTVs. Let your eye be your guide.
While front projectors can display images up to 200 inches diagonal, they perform best with a picture between 80 and 110 inches.
Each time a front projector is moved, you need to readjust the settings. Use a ceiling mount or pedestal that can’t be jostled, and try to set up the front projector in a dark room.
A wall painted matte white will provide an adequate viewing surface, but a high-gain screen can improve the image quality of your front projector.
One of the high definition television (HDTV) standards. It uses 720 lines of resolution and is progressively scanned, meaning that every frame is displayed in its entirety.
The highest possible resolution of HDTV, 1080p uses 1,080 lines of resolution, progressively scanned.
Developed by Texas Instruments, Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology uses an image projected on millions of tiny mirrors. Early DLP front projectors used a single chip and a fast-moving color wheel to deliver the image. Higher-end sets have three DLP chips, one each for blue, green, and red.
High Definition Multimedia Input is the new standard for connecting high definition components. It’s bundled cables can carry more data than other connection options.
The average life of the light used in a front projector. This typically ranges from 2,000-3,000 hours.
Liquid Crystal Display is a transmissive front projector technology that works by shining a light through red, blue, and green displays.
Liquid Crystal Display on Silicon shines a light through the three LCD display chips. The light then bounces off a mirror and back through the chips, creating a sharper, more vivid front projector image.
A front projection HDTV system is not a ready-to-use TV. It’s simply a display projector, and it needs to be hooked up to an HDTV tuner, a DVD player, and a sound system to work. You’ll also need a screen to get the most out of your front projection HDTV, although a wall painted white will suffice.
If you have those items sitting around, then you’re ready to add a front projection HDTV. Choose a room with little ambient light-front projection HDTV images are easily washed out by sunlight or excessive room light. Room-blackening blinds may be needed, and the ideal room lighting is recessed ceiling spots attached to a dimmer switch. A long room is best, as you’ll need some distance from the front projection image-around 14 feet for a 110-inch image. Sitting closer will reveal motion blur, edge distortion, and other artifacts created by the front projector.
There are two classes of front projection systems. HDTV front projectors can support 780p to 1080p HDTV images from a broadcast signal or high definition DVD player. Office model front projectors do not support these higher resolutions. You may find a cheaper front projector at the office superstore, but it won’t give you an HDTV picture.
The same technologies used for rear projection HDTVs are in play for front projectors. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and people have varying sensitivities to the visual artifacts that front projectors create. When shopping, let your eye be your guide. Watch the same types of programming you’ll be watching at home, and choose the front projector that looks best to you.
LCD - Liquid Crystal Display front projectors shine a light through three liquid crystal chips, one red, one blue, and one green. This is called a “transmissive” technology, because the light shines through the LCD. These front projectors can have trouble creating black and dark colors, which reduces the sharpness of the image.
DLP - This “reflective” front-projector technology shines the image on either a single microchip or three microchips (one each for blue, green, and red) coated with millions of tiny mirrors. A fast-spinning wheel then colors the information. Considered the brightest and sharpest of all front projection HDTV systems, the spinning wheel can create a “rainbowing” effect as colors change that some viewers find distracting.
LCDoS - Liquid Crystal on Silicon is both a transmissive and a reflective front projector that shines a light through the red, blue, and green LCDs then bounces it off a mirror and back out through the lens. These front projectors deliver what some consider a superior LCD picture, but they are subject to sharpness issues as well as motion blur, which occurs on all LCD-based front projectors when the refresh rate cannot keep up with movement in the image.
All front projector HDTVs use a lamp with an average lifespan of 2,000-3,000 hours. Depending on how often you use the front projector, you’ll need to replace the lamp every 12-24 months.
Front projector manufacturers tout the large images that can be displayed, often in excess of 200 inches diagonal. But as the image size expands, the quality of the picture diminishes. In practical use, an image between 80 and 110 inches diagonal is the sweet spot of most front projectors.
It’s best to set up your front projector once and leave it, as any movement will require you to readjust it to get the best image quality. Front projectors are lightweight and can be hung from the ceiling or placed on a stand that holds your VCR, sound system, and high-definition tuner. If you hang the front projector from the ceiling, you’ll need HDMI or Composite Video cables rated for the distance from the projector to your components. This can add hundreds of dollars to your setup cost.
If you put the front projector on a pedestal mount, make sure the stand cannot be jostled or moved easily, and make sure it’s high enough for the image to clear the heads of anyone watching.
You may be satisfied with painting a wall matte white to use as a screen. If you decide to purchase a screen, look for a high-gain model. All screens are rated on a numerical system based on their gain. A rating of “1” will deliver the same results as that white-painted wall. Higher numbers will improve the sharpness of the front projector’s image.
Some front projectors include an automatic “iris” feature that adjusts the lamplight to balance dark and bright scenes. A “keystone” feature compensates for any problems with the front projector’s mounting angle, so you get a rectangular picture. Using the keystone can create image artifacts, and these vary among different models. Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions for your front projector, and save the keystone for fine-tuning.
The viewing angle on a front projector tells you how far you can sit vertically and horizontally and still get optimal image quality. Paying more for a wider angle may not be needed, depending on your setup.
Don’t pay extra for built-in sound. No front projector can match a home theater receiver with good speakers.