Home Theater projectors and screens over the past 20 years have had quite a metamorphosis.

At the turn of the century (2000, not 1900), most quality projectors were dim (less than 1000 lumen), had expensive bulbs with short life (350-600 hours and cost $250-500), and you had to have a dedicated, light controlled room to view movies for movie night (because of the bulb life) and your projector had to be between 12-20 feet from the screen with cables running up walls and through ceilings. The projectors themselves were Standard Definition (same as your 4:3 TV) and generally were thought for the rich. Screens were generally vinyl with a 1.0 gain and a thick border, like in a movie theater.

Fast forward to present.

“TV’s are the best way to have a home theater”

TV’s have gotten bigger, brighter, thinner, and after initial high price, cheap sets are selling for a couple hundred, 65” TV’s (US average purchased size in 2019 was 50”) for less than a grand, and they have features like 4K, High Dynamic Range, Dolby Vision, smart features and a lot of bells and whistles, some features are genuinely needed and some are simply silly marketing.

However, with large LED/LCD/OLED HDTV’s there are a few drawbacks.

One of which is that no matter what the screen type (with a possible exception by Samsung and a special IPS non-reflective surface) is highly reflective. This is OK in a dark room, but in a regularly lit room, especially with windows, reflection is a major nuisance, requiring specialty mounts that tilt and move, or you always watch TV with the blinds closed because of the reflections.

Also as you increase in size on a TV, the more expensive and heavier the TV becomes and some technologies (OLED) are limited in maximum size. An 86” LG thin TV is about $3000 and weighs 100 pounds and you better have that in studs on all your mount points, or you end up with it on a table with tie down straps to prevent injury if it falls

Did you know that every 30 minutes, a person is brought to an ER because of an improperly mounted TV, most are children who pulled the TV on themselves?

You are also limited to where you can mount a TV, and unless you buy one of Samsung’s “The Frame” with Art that shows when the TV is off, you have a very large black, reflective, box on your wall. 

“Oh, but what about those light walls I heard about?”
Samsung and LG have come out with their “direct view” (mini/nano/micro) LED technology (similar to the full color digital road signs) that allow an installer to build a screen however big they want (they showed off a 237” diagonal TV at CES), but to do a 120” TV, the cost is in excess of $120,000, a dedicated 220v circuit and weighs somewhere around 250 lbs.  This naturally will come down in price and technology will make it thinner and easier to build, but we are looking at 10 years before this technology is available for anyone other than corporations and the very rich.

There was an adage that told kids that if they sat too close to a TV, it would ruin their eyes.  This wasn’t because of some mystical radiation or the moronic content on the TV, but from eye strain.  You watch any TV, you are staring at a light bulb for all intents and purposes.  So people sit farther away from their TV’s, usually about 8-10′.

A couple of years back, THX asked families what their biggest regret was in their purchase of a TV.  Their answer was “We should have bought a bigger TV”.  They also set what the standard for “immersion” (similar to in a movie theater) as the distance from your screen. 

For a 100″ screen that distance is the aforementioned 8-10′.

For a 65″ screen, it is 4′ away for the same effect.

That is not immersion, that is pathetic.

Enter projectors and screens.

Projectors and screens eliminate the #1 and #2 complaint about HDTV’s.  Projector screens are much lighter (between 10-40 pounds), their screens are non-reflective, and unless you purchase Screen Innovations Black Diamond Screen, does not look like a large, black monolith on your wall.  Additionally, if you use drop down or rise-up screens, you won’t see the screen unless you are ready to watch your projector.

Home Theater projectors are brighter (2100-4000 lumen), most have longer life bulbs (15,000 hrs on some which is 8 hours a day for 3.5 years) that are inexpensive (between $75-$100), and more with lasers at more reasonable prices ($1500-$4000) and with short throw and ultra short throw (UST) projectors, can give you that 100-120” screen from only inches away from the wall, or a 150” image from 4 feet.

The projectors are 4K, have HDR, and most are less than $5000, many under $3k, with the 4K Optoma UHD50 at $1399. The newer projectors have built in voice control, Android or WebOS for smart features, wireless or networked and some have built in soundbars  so you don’t even need to have a separate sound system (although adding a sound system is recommended for better immersion).

The advantage of the UST projectors is you don’t need a large room, and you don’t have to run a bunch of cables through your walls and ceiling, they can all be on the shelf or cabinet the projector sits on. Clean and neat.

But what about screens? Yes, you can still get the inexpensive vinyl 1.0 gain screens for a couple hundred bucks in the 100-120” size, but now many companies have various screen materials that absorb ambient light, while increasing contrast for even older or dimmer projectors.

Screen manufacturers, Elite Screens, Stewart Filmscreens, and Screen Innovations, have many types of screens from fixed with thick borders, to “Zero Edge” screens that make your screen look like a giant thin bezel TV, to portable screens that require no electrical plug ins and have screen materials from white to ambient light rejecting, to specialty materials for UST and standard projectors to get you the best image for your projector.  They are split into fixed screens, motorized screens (on wall, in ceiling, or floor rising), portable, and manual pull down.   A lot of the fixed screens

You can use a standard white, with very good results, but it can get washed out with ambient light. That is pretty much the rule of thumb here, if you can control your ambient light, go with a white high gain screen.

As a note:  Gain is the reflective properties of the screen.  If you have a screen with a 1.0 gain, that means it reflects back 100% of the light as is projected on it.  A 1.2 gain screen, because of a special coating, will reflect 120% of the light.  ALR (Ambient Light Rejecting) screens by their nature will dim the reflective aspect of the image, so making sure you get one with a 1.0 or higher is recommended.  The aforementioned “Black Diamond” screen is a .85 screen, but is used in high ambient light conditions to improve the image.  The image above is of the screen material specifically for Ultra Short Throw projectors.

Projector manufacturers and screen manufacturers together, have made it so there truly are no limits to where you can put a projector and screen, and that anyone can enjoy a movie theater experience in their home.