Real Life Viewing on the Big Screen

Let’s take a look at common sources you might use with your home theater.


NTSC Broadcasts (regular television)

Rabbit ear antennas are not as common as they used to be, but there still may be a few folks out there using over-the-air broadcasts as their primary television source. If you are currently getting good reception on your small screen TV, you will get decent results with your front projector. This is not the optimum arrangement, however. Those imperfections you see as reception fades are only amplified on the large screen.

Image Quality: Low to OK

Cable TV (satellite or terrestrial)

More common than NTSC broadcasts, cable television is a giant improvement in picture quality. With most cable services, there are both standard definition (480i) channels (typically below channel 100) and high-definition channels. You may have noticed that cable signal quality varies from home to home based on external factors like the length of cable from the outlet and the strength of the signal reaching your home.

High-definition cable services offer more high resolution (typically 480p, 720p, or 1080i) options. These high-def services convert all signals, even local channels, to a digital signal, which means you should receive consistently better looking images across the board.

Image Quality (Regular Cable): Good to Very Good

Image Quality (High-definition Cable): Very Good to Excellent

Home Video

With DVD and VHS players, there are two factors to consider. The source material (i.e. video or DVD movie) and the player. The general rule, as the saying goes, garbage in – garbage out. High-resolution source material will most likely look better on any display, be it low or high resolution. The best results will come, obviously, when high-resolution source material meets a high-definition player. Here’s a little more about VHS and DVD players.

VHS and S-VHS Players

Remember the day when 4-head VCRs were the best thing ever? Well the good news is we have come a long way since those days. The bad news is your old VHS tapes won’t perform terribly well on the big screen. However, for a gathering of friends and family (without Uncle Videophile) the image will look OK. If possible, s-video will provide a better image than composite video.

There are some S-VHS players available that can produce high definition resolution (usually 480p or 720p) images with high-definition videos. This is a somewhat niche product, and may be more difficult to find some of the titles you are interested in. However, when a high-definition combination is reached, S-VHS will look very good on a high-resolution projector.

Image Quality (4-head standard VHS): Low to OK

Image Quality (S-VHS): Good to Very Good

DVD Players (standard, upconverting, and high-def)

DVD players come in different varieties. Most will match current NTSC resolution output of 480i resolution. However, there are new DVD players which can convert standard NTSC up to a 480p (progressive scan), 720p, or even 1080p image. These new DVD players are much less expensive than they used to be, and cost less than external scalers but cannot upconvert all incoming signals as an external scaler does.

Image Quality (standard DVD player): Good to Very Good

Image Quality (upconverting DVD player): Very Good to Excellent

Image Quality (high-definition DVD player): Excellent

Video Game Consoles

If you enjoy playing video games, you haven’t really lived until you have played your favorite games with a 120-inch screen. But to get the best image, gamers will need to invest in the high-definition cable options. Most game systems ship standard with composite video cables, which cannot carry high-resolution signals. For the best looking images from your game console you should order a component video (or at least S-video) cable. There is talk of next generation players offering HDMI outputs, which will give you the best image.

Quick Tip: Select video projectors with picture-in-picture can allow you to view more than one video source from your projector. A great feature for team gaming. Be sure to check that the projector can run two live feeds for picture-in-picture. In some cases the projector may only be able to do computer and video simultaneously.

Cables and Screens

Your cable and screen selection will also affect your final image. Our guide to cables and connections will walk you through some cable basics, but the short version is this: HDMI, DVI, or component video will give you the best image. The brand of cable can also affect picture quality, as cheaply made cables are less able to protect the signal from interference. Consult a projector expert for more about which cables will work best for you.

Quick Tip: Shorter cable runs usually mean less interference and better picture quality. However, when longer runs are necessary, cable quality becomes more important and distribution amplifiers may be required.

We are often asked the question, “Do I really need a screen?” The answer to that question depends on you, and what kind of image you are trying to achieve. The right projector screen can make a huge difference in your final image. Gray screens will help improve the appearance of black in an image, and are a good choice in rooms with some ambient light. In controlled environments, a matte white screen might also be a good choice.

Last But Not Least