HD Advisor at Playhouse 90

Posted Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 10:30 AM PST by

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Answers by Joshua Zyber

What's So Great About Projectors?

Q: Why do some people look at a home projector as the best setup? I know you can get a larger image, but from what I've seen, they are not as good as top-of-the-line televisions in areas like black levels or color vibrancy. Having to manually focus the image can get close to perfect focus but not quite perfect, which a TV already is out of the box. You also need to have absolute control over the lighting in the room, as any external light will obscure the image. That basically means you have to build a room in your house with no windows. Why would someone want to do this instead of just getting a high end TV?

A: My philosophy is that there's a reason the hobby we're in is called "home theater," and not "home TV." As far as I'm concerned, projectors offer by far the best option for replicating the theatrical moviegoing experience in the home. As large of an HDTV as you may install, you're ultimately still just watching TV.

The most obvious benefit of a projector is screen size. You can produce a much larger picture with a projector than is realistically feasible in most homes with a TV. And you're generating that picture from a relatively small, portable box. When I first got into this hobby, my wife was very opposed to the idea of buying a large TV, which would be quite obtrusive in the room and difficult to transport if we moved. On the other hand, a projector offers a much bigger picture and can be moved pretty easily. This gives it a huge Wife Acceptance Factor.

Along similar lines, projectors are much easier to swap out and sell off when you want to upgrade to a new model. For example, if you own a 60" TV and decide that you're ready for 3D, it can be a real ordeal for you to get rid of the old set.

If the projectors you've seen have poor contrast and color vibrancy, I think you've just not been looking at very good projectors. Yes, these can be legitimate issues, especially with entry-level models, but the better home theater projectors will give you a picture every bit as pleasing (or more so) than any HDTV.

Projectors are not practical for every viewer. The better models are expensive. You will probably find more value in a big TV. And you're correct that a proper projector installation requires light control, which means watching mainly at night, blocking out all external sources of light, and even painting your walls a dark color. (What's known as a "bat cave" theater is the ideal.) This isn't going to be for everyone. If you prefer to do most of your viewing in the daytime with your windows open and a lot of ambient light in the room, you may not get a watchable picture at all out of a projector. But for those willing go the extra mile, projectors definitely provide a cinematic experience that can't be beat.

Contrast Calibration

Q: I just bought the Sony 52" NX800. I still have a ton of DVDs and just a few Blu-rays. The TV is basically still at its factory calibration. All I want is to watch movies with the color/saturation/blacks/whites as close to what is actually on the source material as possible. But my TV has a million calibrations and it is a bit overwhelming. I tried the THX Optimizer, but I couldn't find a setting simply labeled "Contrast" on my TV. Any advice would be great here.

A: "Contrast" is a control for setting your display's white level. Some manufacturers may choose to use different names for this, such as "White Level" or "Picture" or "Intensity." I don't have a Sony TV myself, so you'll need to check your owner's manual.

I generally recommend that you purchase a real calibration disc rather than the THX Optimizer patterns found on some DVDs and Blu-rays. A calibration disc will offer a wider range of test patterns, with explanations for how to use them. 'Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics' is a solid go-to calibration tool. The 'Spears and Munsil High Definition Benchmark' is used as the reference standard by many professional home theater reviewers. Disney also recently put out a calibration disc called 'WOW: World of Wonder' that's very comprehensive and user-friendly. (For some reason, that one's hard to find at retail, unfortunately.) I think you'd find any of these more helpful than the rudimentary THX Optimizer patterns.

Pre/Pro Connections

Q: I have a question regarding HDMI. As all new Blu-ray machines pass video and audio through HDMI, why are separates manufacturers still using analog connections between Pre/Pros and power amps? Surely a single HDMI cable would be a better option?

A: The digital audio on a video disc must go through three steps before you hear any sound. First, the Dolby or DTS compression codec must be decoded to PCM. Then that PCM must be converted to analog. Finally, the analog signal must be amplified out to your speakers.

The point of using separates in an audio system is to isolate those first two steps away from the third. The theory behind this is that combining all of these functions into one A/V receiver limits the amount of power available to the amplifiers in order to avoid overheating (or needing an unwieldy large chassis). A separate, dedicated amp can handle a lot more power, which is helpful for large listening environments, really loud playback levels, or speakers that suck up a lot of juice.

The name "pre/pro" is short for "preamp-processor." As inferred by the "preamp" portion of that, the processor takes care of everything in the audio signal chain before amplification. The pre/pro will perform all decoding and digital-to-analog conversion, then export the resulting analog signal to a separate amp.

Obviously, the analog signal can only be transmitted over analog connections. HDMI would not work for this purpose. Any signal transmitted over HDMI would still be digital, and would still need to be decoded to analog somewhere downstream in the chain.

Homework Assignment: You Be the Advisor

The HD Advisor knows many things, but he doesn't know everything. Some questions are best answered with a consensus of opinions from our readers. If you can help to answer the following question, please post your response in our forum thread linked at the end of this article. Your advice and opinions matter too!

Samsung DLP Pixelation

Q: I have a question that a lot of technicians have tried to answer, but I never get the right answer. I notice pixelation issues on my HDTV. This tends to happen when there is a lot of action on the screen at one time. The frame distorts into little pixels which drives me crazy to no end. I have one of the older Samsung DLP 1080p projection TVs that I bought in December 2006. I have a PS3 connected by HDMI into my TV, and my DirecTV goes through Component Video. I don't know if it's the TV itself, how I have it set up, or what. I have heard a bunch of reasons: the processing speed of the television isn't fast enough, I need more expensive HDMI cables (your column already debunked that, I think), etc. Is there anything I can do about this?

JZ: Pixelation during motion or complex action like you describe is a common artifact of satellite TV when low bit rate transmissions or signal break-ups occur. However, if you're seeing this on everything you watch, including Blu-ray, then there must be something wrong with the TV. This isn't normal, even for a set from 2006. If any of our readers have experienced this, please respond in the forum thread linked at the end of this article.

Check back soon for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.

Joshua Zyber's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its owners or employees.

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