Get the Big Picture Page 2

Dark or Light?

The first thing you need to think about when choosing a projector is the room where it will end up. As I mentioned above, ambient light control is crucial to getting a good picture, but other screen-pairing options let you circumvent that situation somewhat. Can the room be designated as a dedicated home theater? If the answer is “yes,” then you should paint the walls a dark, neutral color. Gray is recommended, but you can also get away with other colors. (Just steer clear of loud choices like lime green or fire-engine red.) Any light switches in the room should be replaced with dimmers, and windows should be outfitted with dark-hued blinds or “blackout” shades and drapes.

If the room where the projector will be installed is a multi-use space where dark walls and window treatments aren’t an option, your best bet will be to use a screen specifically designed for high-ambient-light environments, such as Screen Innovation’s Black Diamond or dnp’s Supernova. Depending on the amount of gain (the screen’s ability to “amplify” the light hitting it) in the selected material, the Black Diamond and similar models sport a black, dark gray, or silver-toned surface and can effectively reject stray room light from hitting the top, bottom, and sides of the screen, as well as focus light coming from the projector back toward the central viewing area. Do they provide the same high level of on- and off-axis picture uniformity as a regular low- or unity-gain screen (the preferred types for dark-room viewing)? No, but their ability to create a picture with satisfactory contrast in an average-lit room makes them a good option for TV and casual movie viewing.

Wide or Ultra?

Now that I’ve gotten into screens, another important factor to consider when choosing a projector is the aspect ratio of the screen it will be paired with. Many movies appear on Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. That’s a close match with the 16x9 aspect ratio of HDTV screens, as well as with TV programs produced in high-def, which are also 16x9. However, a sizeable amount of movies are shot in an even wider 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 format, and when displayed on a 16:9 screen, these necessarily appear with black letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the image.

When setting up a projector, most folks simply opt for a 16:9 projection screen and live with the black bars (something you don’t see at a movie theater, incidentally). But there is another option: Use a wider screen. A 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 aspect ratio screen will let you view ultrawide, “Cinemascope” movies minus the letterbox bars — the entire screen area is filled up by the picture.

A complicating factor with this type of setup has been that viewing both Cinemascope and standard 16x9-format programs on the same screen requires an anamorphic lens. This device attaches to the projector’s front and works with either its internal scaler or an external one to format images in a range of aspect ratios so they appear onscreen with the correct width and height. The price for such lens attachments can easily run as high as the projector itself, but a number of new projectors with high-power zoom lenses provide a cheaper and less complicated alternative by letting you store “Zoom Memories” to easily switch between 16:9 and wider content on ultrawide projection screens.

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