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A Home Theater Build Project - Part I

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Going Front Projection (can this be done?)

Before I started this project, back in 2003, I already had a “home theater” by the classical definition. I had a 51” CRT rear-projection TV and 5.1 surround sound. I had a decent receiver, an excellent DVD player, and a high-definition signal. My set was calibrated and tweaked by ISF technician Greg Loewen for the best picture possible. I sat 9 feet away and with the lights off, it was a pretty darn good experience.

Like many who are just starting to get into this hobby, I eventually stumbled across the AVS Forum. A mountain of information and links, it was there that I first found myself in thinking about the idea of front projection.

A front projection setup had always been in the back of my mind. No matter how much we try, the experience provided by a conventional TV will never be a truly cinematic – a cinematic experience can only really come with a projection setup and a large screen. I had a study that contained a desk, bookshelf and couch. Besides the dog, and the occasional house guest, nobody used that room ever.

So there I was, with a perfectly respectable system, clicking away in the AVS “Front-Projector” forum and on various commercial websites. Was this really doable? People were chatting about projectors from names I recognized like Panasonic, Sanyo and Infocus. Wait? Not just Runco, Sharp and Maratnz? Projectors with real world pricing that produced competitively good images? But would these more reasonably priced projectors work for me? There was only one way to find out. I placed a posting in the forum in the fall of 2003 with a shameless solicitation for people in my area: would anyone with one of these lower cost projectors be willing to have me come over and look at their setup? I was interested in two projectors that had been generating a ton of buzz: the Infocus X1 and the Panasonic 300U. To my great surprise I had several generous forum members invite me into their homes to see their front projection setups. I quickly discovered one thing: the technology wasn’t there.

I learned two terms very quickly in that initial outing: screen-door effect and rainbows – terms discussed at great length in the projector reviews here at Secrets and the projectors that I saw that were in my approximate budget suffered from one or both of these negatives. I left this experience quite happy with my current setup, confident that performance like that which I was hoping to achieve, was unattainable at a reasonable price.

In the winter of 2003, that easiness began to abate with the release of two new projectors: the Panasonic 500 and the Sanyo Z2. For the first time, true high definition (1280x720) was being offered at the right price point. Another projector, the Infocus 4805 also popped up around this time promising DLP performance in a 480p configuration. Another posting, and several trips around and I realized I was ready to make a purchase. The two LCD projectors produced great pictures, little noticeable screen door effect and a surprisingly pleasing image. I decided it was time…what other considerations were there?