A Room With a View

Why a Projector—in a Pitch-Black Room‐Is Still the Home Theater to Aspire To

I’ve gone on record, more than once, saying that you need not have a screen of a particular size, nor a minimum number of speakers, to have a home theater. Indeed, here’s a definition I developed a while back for an article in our sister publication, Geek:

A home theater is any assemblage of technology whose purpose is to enhance the visual and aural perception of movies and television shows, with the intent of creating a more engaging and immersive viewing experience.

That leaves a lot of leeway. If you’re watching your TV via Netflix on a dorm-room laptop and add a pair of high-quality headphones, you’ve taken steps to enhance your perception and create a more immersive experience—you’ve created a home theater. Step up to a flat panel and a soundbar, and now you’ve enhanced your home theater and started down the path to total immersion. A bigger screen, a more elaborate sound system; it’s all part of the process of more fully engaging with your content. But once you’ve made any commitment to image and sound quality, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve got a home theater.

Of course, there are degrees of everything, and in this world of bigger and bigger flatscreen TVs, and more tepid options for sound beyond the discrete multichannel surround systems we enthusiasts hold so dear, there’s a danger of not understanding or ever aspiring to the holy grail: a full-tilt front-projection system with a huge screen and high-quality audio. Even within the projection category, the recent promotion of high ambient-light screens intended to make projectors an option for day-to-day viewing in rooms with uncontrolled lighting threatens to homogenize and even water down what many of us know to be a very, very special experience.

That’s a shame, because until you’ve not only experienced an intimate projection theater but also lived with it for a while, you can’t really appreciate how it catapults your viewing into the stratosphere. Imagine, if you don’t already know this feeling, what it would be like to get genuinely pumped up about carving out the time to watch a movie. To be eagerly anticipating events like the Olympics or the Oscars or the Super Bowl, because it means you get to experience it better and with more emotion and attachment than 99 percent of the viewing public. Imagine that TV watching is not just watching TV but is really climbing into your own customized cocoon, sometimes alone, sometimes with a loved one, for an extended escape into another world. Nothing takes you there better than sitting in the sonic sweet spot of a darkened room with an oversized screen.

So I’m here to tell you: Stop dreaming, already. Get a front projector, stick it in a room where you can control the light (at least at night), get the biggest screen you can for it (make it retractable if you need the room for other things), and surround yourself with at least 5.1 speakers. Then, gather your family or friends into a huddle with a bowl of popcorn, crank up the system, and don’t look back. Yes, as the editor of Sound & Vision, I will be the first one to tell you that anything can constitute a home theater. But there are home theaters, and then there are home theaters. If you’re an S&V reader, you deserve one of the latter. Start your journey by checking out our projector reviews.