Are your games too big for a TV? Try a projector.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I have to sit through a boring PowerPoint presentation, I always think, “All right, who’s ready for a couple of rounds of Counter-Strike?” Multimedia projectors are a great way to converge your computing, gaming, and movie-watching experiences. Lately, prices for quality projectors have taken a nose dive, and the attraction of PC gaming on a giant display is unassailable. Small projectors today are brighter and display higher resolution than ever. Because they use LCD and DLP technology, they are immune to the burn-in problems associated with rear-projection big-screen TVs.
When considering what kind of projector to purchase (or borrow from the IT department), first consider your room’s ambient light level. The more you can do to reduce this, the less you need to consider the projector’s peak light output. It might be significantly less expensive to invest in better blinds or shades instead of purchasing a very bright projector. That said, remember that contrast and brightness on a projector are closely interrelated; contrast often decreases as brightness increases. Buying the projector with the highest brightness rating will certainly not guarantee you the best overall picture. So again, having a room in which you can control light is of paramount importance.
The next most important factors are the projector’s core technology and native resolution. Portable multimedia projectors today generally use single-chip DLP and LCD engines to drive their displays. There are top-quality and value-oriented projectors made with both technologies. The highest-end projectors have one chip for each color group (red, green, and blue). These units are much more expensive and aimed at the home theater market. My hat is off to you if you can afford one of these, but I’ll concentrate on the much more affordable portable-projector market.
There seems to be a sweet spot in the resolution range at 1024 768, with projectors only a bit more expensive than the 800 600 units. Since the manufacturers typically intend these projectors for use in business presentations, they have a 4:3 aspect ratio. When you play DVDs on a 4:3 projector, the 16:9 format occupies only a portion of the panel. An XGA (1024 768) resolution panel fully resolves 16:9 DVD information, even though you use only the middle part of the chip.
Business multimedia projectors generally drop a few home-theater-type features to make them more competitive in the business market. Generally speaking, you won’t find component video inputs on the back of a very affordable projector. In fact, the amount of video inputs most likely will scale up or down with the actual size of the unit. The most portable projectors don’t have the real estate to accommodate all the various connector types your typical home theater might use. However, if you plan to connect this projector to your PC, you can work with only the computer input—the VGA connector or DVI input. For the reasons that a desktop LCD monitor looks better with a DVI connection, the same holds true for a projector.
Many presentation projectors lack ceiling-mount support. This feature reverses the projected image so that you can mount the unit out of the way on the ceiling. To work around this lack, use your video card’s software to send an upside-down image to the projector. The projector’s reversed orientation will make the image right-side up again. Your image will have done a 360-degree spin, ending up the right way. You will have to practice your handstands to set up the projector, but once this is done, you are all finished.
ATi users: right-click the ATi icon in your systray, mouse over to
Rotations, and select “Rotate 180
degrees.” You can also enter your Control Panel, hit
the Display Settings tab, and select Advanced to bring up the ATi
software settings group. If you still don’t see the
Rotation tab, enter the registry, navigate to
where xxxx is the display device number, and set
the value to
00 from the current value of
00. Then select the Rotation registry and change
the value to activate the tab. After you change the registry value,
you’ll see the tab where you can flip your image.
NVidia users: click on the NVidia icon in your systray, select the NVRotate function, and set it to 180 degrees. You can also navigate to the Display icon in the Control Panel and change your settings from there.
A very important factor in using a projector is what you project onto. The surface must be smooth, even, and perfectly white if possible. You can cover part of your wall with special reflective paint, but drywall typically isn’t very uniform and will distort your image. Also, the surface must have a fair amount of reflectivity in order to provide a bright image. Bare walls will often eat up a big portion of the projector’s output because they do not meet the above criteria.
Unfortunately, professional-grade projector screens from companies such as Stewart, Da-Lite, and Draper can easily approach or exceed the price of the projector itself. Thankfully, there are a couple of great solutions at a low cost. You can typically buy white melamine-coated MDF (medium density fiberboard) at a big hardware store. Though this type of board has a hard plastic coating that resembles Formica and is often used to make cabinets, I’ve found that it is a very suitable projection surface. It is extremely flat, and you can screw or nail into it if you want to build a frame around it.
Another material with quite a bit of buzz is the Parkland Plastics PLAS-TEX panel (http://www.waterproofpanels.com/plas-tex.shtml). Originally used as a heavy-duty industrial wall covering, this shares many properties of a good projector screen. Home theater enthusiasts have begun using it for this purpose. It has become so popular that Parkland now manufactures these panels in 16:9 aspect ratio sheets. You can find this material at Lowe’s and Home Depot stores.