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Podcast #441: We can go bigger

The term “Home Theater” has become pretty subjective. Years ago it meant exactly what it sounds like: an actual theater in your home. Typically reserved for only the super rich, it slowly grew more mainstream as prices fell and DIY solutions came to market. Eventually, the term has come to describe any home audio-visual setup that has surround sound and perhaps a larger than normal television.

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We can go bigger

The term “Home Theater” has become pretty subjective. Years ago it meant exactly what it sounds like: an actual theater in your home. Typically reserved for only the super rich, it slowly grew more mainstream as prices fell and DIY solutions came to market. Eventually, the term has come to describe any home audio-visual setup that has surround sound and perhaps a larger than normal television.

We’ve long believed that true home theater is closer to its roots than the marketing firms would have you believe. The real home theater has a front projector and a huge screen, something in the 100” or bigger size range. But does the size of the screen really matter that much? You can get some great theater-like experiences from a rear projection or flat panel TV in the 60”-65” size range. That’s where we’ve both been for the last few years.

But that all changed recently. Some unfortunate water damage left Braden without a ceiling for a little while in his family room, which also serves as the main A/V room in the house. But tragedy turned to opportunity when Braden decided to run cables in that open ceiling and wire up the ability to run a projector in the family room. That kicked off a series of events that culminated in Braden finishing installation of a 100” TV in his family room earlier this week.


The Projector

The projector is an Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8100. You can buy them online for around $1300-$1400. It’s a 3LCD projector that is very bright, 1800 lumens, and has almost unlimited placement options. It is native 1080p with two HDMI inputs. Bang for the buck, it does a great job. Sure Braden would have preferred the 8500UB, but the 8100 was a steal and he couldn’t pass it up.

Braden’s overall strategy with the projector was to stay has low cost as possible. The technology is changing so fast, and projectors are so small and easy to swap out, that he can change them as often as he likes (assuming the finance committee doesn’t freak out). Why pay a ton of money for a projector now, when that technology will be half the price a year from now? And what happens if something like 3D or ultra high def takes off?

Some notes on projectors:

  • Be very mindful of where you plan to place the projector. Some have a limited throw distance, so if you will be very close or very far from the screen, they simply will not work for you. Also, some projectors don’t allow you to do any sort of lens shift. If you aren’t directly online with the screen, and at the right height, the picture will look funny. The Epson 8100 has up to 96.3% vertical shift and up to 47.1% horizontal. You can literally put the projector anywhere and still get a great image on screen.
  • Pay attention to the volume of the fan noise in the projector in the specs. Keep in mind that most projectors are much closer to you than your TV set, so if they are quite loud, you will certainly hear it. That can get annoying after a while.
  • If the projector will sit above or behind you, you may need a way to get IR commands to it so you can continue to use the activity functionality of your universal remote. Luckily for Braden the Epson 8100 is sensitive enough that it picks up commands from his Harmony remote without a blaster, repeater, or anything of that nature.


The Screen

The Screen is a Dragonfly High Contrast Grey fixed frame 100” screen. It’s downright awesome. Dragonfly only sells through authorized dealers, so you can’t buy one for yourself online. But if you contact them, they will get you in touch with your local distributor or installer. From our experience (we also have a Stewart screen we have used in the past for demos and such) the Dragonfly screen is amazing and cost quite a bit less than equivalent competition.

High contrast grey does a great job at making a projector with less than the best contrast ratios look really good. It also helps control ambient light issues, which can be a problem in Braden’s family room. Braden’s wife, who tends to prefer brighter, more vibrant color, liked the Dragonfly bright white screen better. But Braden, who prefers more natural color and better contrast, opted for the grey screen. Not sure how well that will go over in the long run.

So why go with an expensive screen? First of all, we had great interaction with SnapAV, the parent company behind Dragonfly. They were stellar to work with. Secondly, screens, tend to be large and need to be installed somehow. They aren’t something you want to be swapping out all the time if you can avoid it. So you might as well go ahead and get the best one out there the first time.

Unlike the projector decision, Braden opted to treat the screen investment more like a speaker investment. Buy a great screen now, and any projector you put on it will look good. But buy a bad screen now and any projector you put on it won’t quite live up to expectations. Like speakers vs. receivers, screen technology doesn’t move as fast as projector technology. Once you get the screen in place, you can swap projectors out all day long. But the screen will stay with you for much longer.


We’ll admit that a 100” screen does take some getting used to. It still feels too big when the kids are using it to watch cartoons, but we’re sure that feeling soon disappear. For movies and HDTV, however, it’s simply amazing. It really does feel like going to the movie theater in your own home. If you go retail, you can put together an equivalent theater with a little bit of lumber,, hardware and elbow grease, for under $3500. If you shop around, and are willing to get a used projector, it can be much less than that, maybe even $3000 or $2500.

Compare that with the price of a new 65” plasma: it’ll run you about $2500 as well. The 100” projector setup gets your roughly 2.5x more screen area, and reduces what you have to pay to upgrade to the latest and greatest technology by about one third. With the plasma, you have to replace the whole unit, with the projection setup you only have to replace the projector.



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Reader Comments (10)

The Epson 8100 is the perfect projector to build a budget home theater around. The thing that sets the Epson apart from its DLP competitors is the generous lens shift and zoom, making it ridiculously easy to install in almost any room.

I myself have an Epson Pro Cinema 7500UB (basically a 6500UB in black), but when my brother-in-law wanted to put a home theater in his basement, he was facing a wife-imposed budget of under $2000.

We went to H.H. Gregg and haggled them down to $1275 for the 8100, and $450 for the Onkyo HT-S5300 7.1 surround sound system. And for the screen I helped him build a very nice 108" DIY screen from black out material.

In the end, he ended up with a fantastic home theater for under $2000. Amazing how far your home theater dollar can go these days!

September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdgar_in_Indy

Hi Guys,

Do you plan to either show pictures or a video of Braden's home theater? Maybe I could get some pointers!


September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom F.

Assuming those prices are only the HT equipment you can do better than that..... there are a number of 1080p dlp projectors under $1000 new. I have the optoma hd20 personally but there are others. I also have a screen from elite (amazon) that only cost $400 for a 100 inch screen. Just a heads up you can go even cheaper than the prices you quoted.

Also during the appletv discussion you were contrasting the quality of vudu hdx with the speed of streaming that appletv/netflix offers..... no need to make the tradeoff. The zune video store that runs on xbox360 matches vudu hdx but also does smoothstreaming for the instant on watching. The box also carries the same $199 pricetag that the boxee box does but also gives you gaming, netflix and soon espn3 and hulu..... just saying.

September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

What's with that psnation podcast, those guys are awful, they spend over 2hrs joking around like 12yr old kids, plus they also talk about the xbox not exclusively Playstation in all is a really,really bad podcast.

September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

The problem with the Butterfly screen is that it's too small, expensive and dim. I have a Da-Lite HP which is cheaper, bigger (110") and at least three times brighter.

The problem with the Epson is that it uses a bulb and has filters. Plasma screens were hard to sell until they improved the technology. Formerly they dimmed early. Then they found ways to let them keep their brightness for years. The same thing is about to happen with projectors. Currently almost all projectors need a new bulb after two years or so, That we hope is about to change with LED technology. It would be wise to wait until Christmas when new models lit by LEDs should appear on the market.

Also LCD projectors require maintenance that DLP models don't. This is a major convenience issue.

September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatB

I haven't found the occasional air filter change to be a "major" convenience issue. I did find the positioning limitations of the budget DLP projectors to be a major installation inconvenience though.

I had been considering the Mitsubishi HC3800 prior to buying my Epson, but when I did the numbers the Mitsubishi simply would not work in my space with my screen, no matter where I mounted it. With the fixed vertical offset of the DLP, I could not do a large screen with my basement ceilings only being 7'8".

September 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdgar_in_Indy

@Edgar_In_Indy is correct in all that he says. And the Epson projector is certainly an excellent product. Maybe we projection fans should not argue amongst ourselves.

The real point that I was trying to make was that people don't consider a projector based Home Theater basically for three reasons. First is the lack of an appropriate room. I have a three bedroom house with two baths and kitchens. Luckily one of the upstairs bedrooms that I use as a den can also serve as a Home Theater. The kitchens and baths are too small. The living rooms, dining rooms and two of the bedroom have floor to ceiling windows. I have a carport rather than a garage and a crawl space rather than a basement. Many houses don't have a bedroom with a window that can be covered, or they need that bedroom for a bed. So you need a little luck if you are to avoid expensive new construction.

Secondly the public resists projectors because of the installation hassle. It's not the projector or even the screen that is so hard to set up. Mostly it's the speakers. Bose and some others make all in one systems that don't require so much wiring but these systems just don't sound like a true Dolby 5.1 (or better) system. This means that you will probably have to run wiring channels on your walls or in your walls. The Epson has been praised for its ability to be shelf mounted. That indeed makes installation easier than a ceiling mounted projector. But speaker mounting is harder than projector mounting unless you have all floor standing speakers and can run wires under the rugs. With a less flexible ceiling mounted DLP projector you may need to run six wiring channels on your walls. With the Epson you still would need five.

Finally almost all projectors today use UHP bulbs. These can blow at any time and must be replaced in two years even if you have no problems. I've had bulbs that have lasted much longer than their rating and I've had bulbs that failed as soon as they were out of warranty. A bulb costs about $300. I think this is changing this year with the introduction of inexpensive bright LED projectors. But I thought the same thing last year. My ability to predict the future isn't too good.

September 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatB

I ended up building my own screen (130") using this DIY guide with fantastic results. With about $100 in materials and some color calibration on the projector I have a great looking picture.

Here is the DIY guide I used with some minor modifications:

I'll post some pictures when I have a chance to show how my implementation worked out.

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAl

I have a FP (Panasonic AE900? - the 720P LCD). So far on the original bulb but I don't use it all the time. Only for DVDs and the occasional TV show. I run with the bulb on low and the fan on high (not that loud) For regular TV viewing I use my 27" CRT. My screen is a sheet of Duro-Therm -- light, stiff, and a decent budget screen (< $50)


September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I had a flood and redid my basement with a projector and have several thoughts.

Consider 2.35:1 or constant height screen. The screen is smaller for TV/Sports application when you want it brighter and larger for movies when all the lights are out. My screen is about 45" tall giving me a 92" 16:9 screen and almost 115" 2:35:1 screen. It is awesome for movies. Also the talking head is not so big.

The only projector that I know that allows this switching and automatically adjusts the screen height is the Panasonic ae4000u. I have the previous model ae3000u and think it's quiet, bright and does a great job. Everyone is amazed when I zoom to fill the entire screen for a movie.

DIY screens can be great and very inexpensive. Seymourav have very good screens and walk you through the process nicely. If you have another 2000 to spend buy a screen, you won't be replacing it like the projector. But I was out about $300 dollars on my DIY and if I change my mind I can always buy one, I"m not out that much. I made an acoustically transparent screen with my speakers behind it and I love it.

Good luck everyone, it is really nice to have a large screen for movies.

Pictures of my theater are listed under Listener's Home Theaters, Eric's Basement Theater.

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric

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