Tech News: What’s Happening in Home Theater Projection?

Twice a year we at take a moment to share with you our perspective on what’s new in the projection industry. In this article we will look at some of the current trends, from features to pricing, in home theater video projection.

Home Theater front projection is more popular than ever before. Our business has grown significantly in this area, even in just one year. Most likely this can be attributed mostly to the consistent price erosion over the past two years, and an improvement in video display quality. As you would expect, cheaper and better usually gets attention.

A Brief History of Home Theater and Projectors.

Three or four years ago portable projectors were used primarily for business presenting. People liked the big images and eventually took them home on the weekends to watch video, even though the quality was far from ideal. Manufacturers started making business/home theater hybrids that were sometimes called “crossover” products. These portable units were thousands of dollars less than the home theater systems of the time, and those more complex systems also had to be installed by professionals and often required calibration maintenance after installation.

These were great for people who weren’t picky about their images, but there was definitely room for improvement. For one, high-definition compatibility is supposed to become government mandated by 2009. The standard requires a 16:9 aspect ratio and a minimum 480 lines of resolution with progressive scanning, called 480p, and up to as high as 1080p resolution. Crossover products were typically 4:3 aspect ratios, and did not specify video resolution. Contrast ratios were also lower on these products, since business presentations look just fine with as little contrast as 300:1.

High-Definition Resolution

Today’s resolution ‘sweet spot’ seems to be WXGA-H. You might see WXGA-H referred to as 1280 x 720 pixels, or 720p (for 720 lines with progressive scan rather than interlaced video). There are now a number of products in this category with very reasonable price points. Some start as low as $999.00 after rebates and incentives, but typically these projectors cost closer to $2,000. Brightness and contrast ratios are the primary factors that differentiate the models and prices in the WXGA-H category.

Feel the Need for More Resolution?

You can expect to see some 1080p projectors released by the end of the year, but it’s not clear what manufacturers will charge for these units. However, we suspect that they will be significantly more than (WXGA-H) 720p projectors. 480p products appear to be slowly phasing out, but remain today as a great ultra-cheap option for first-time buyers.

Sometimes it is Black and White.

One of the biggest “buzzwords” in home theater projection is contrast. Contrast is essentially the difference between the brightest white, and darkest black in an image. It’s measured as a ratio of one to the other (eg. 2000:1).

Last year the sweet spot for contrast ratio hovered somewhere between 1000:1 – 2000:1. But popular LCD products like the Panasonic AE900U and Sanyo PLV-Z4 have pushed that number closer to 5000:1 and higher. DLP