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July 14th, 2009

Part 1 includes Overview, Brightness, Contrast, Color, LCD or DLP and Portability, while Part 2 will include Connectivity, Resolution, HD Issues and Image Aspect Ratios.

The popularity of video projectors such as CRE rents needs no explanation, as it is a simple matter of decreasing price and increasing image size. Compared to other big screens—like the plasma screens that CRE also supplies to numerous businesses—a square inch of image real estate is a bargain. Connect a Blu-ray DVD player for the most “movie theater-like” experience in home theater. Hooking up a different high-definition (HD) source, like a cable box or satellite dish, gets you a mammoth 100-inch HDTV for 50-inch-plasma money.

Denizens of corporate boardrooms have already seen enough to know that the new digital multimedia projectors have saved business presentations from the slideshow graveyard. That these new models deliver massive, bright, color-saturated images even in normal room lighting conditions is a dream come true for veterans of the “overhead projector” days. Still, home theater and business projectors have to meet entirely different expectations and work in markedly different environments. Some of the “specs” of home and business models are close if not precisely equal, while others differ dramatically. Let’s take a look.

Brightness

Brightness as measured in lumens indicates the level of light produced by a projector. Since many presentations take place in conference rooms with standard office illumination, rather than the reduced ambient light of a (home) theater’s “semi-darkness,” brightness is more important for business use. The projected image will look washed out if it is not bright enough.

In small rooms with normal daytime ambient light, a brightness level of 1000 to 2000 lumens is typically sufficient. For safety’s sake, factor into your projector brightness requirement the projected screen size and ambient light level. In home theaters you can pretty much forget all this, as high brightness levels are not necessary. In fact, some home theater projectors allow users to dim the light source when watching in a darkened room, as it helps to produce richer blacks and more saturated colors.

Contrast

A high contrast ratio of 5000:1 sounds very impressive until you watch a minimal amount of ambient light make the image appear as if it were 500:1 instead. Although a certain minimum amount of contrast is required for the human eye to perceive brightness, high contrast is not an important factor in business use—and is only needed in the home theater if you will completely darken the room during viewing.

The fact is that the eye cannot perceive much more than a 400:1 contrast ratio unless the viewing environment is completely darkened. In addition, the eye’s “contrast sensitivity scale” means that, say, a 1000:1 ratio is not perceived as being 2.5 times “better” or “clearer” than 400:1. You should only pay more for a high contrast ratio in your home projector, and only then when viewing will be done under tightly controlled lighting conditions.

Color and Smooth Video Playback

These attributes are more important to the home viewer. Color accuracy is extremely important for natural skin tones and for achieving “the film look,” characteristics important when viewing movies and TV shows and less so when reading pie charts and graphs.

A projector’s ability to display smooth video playback without “motion artifacts,” in fast-action sports and movie scenes, is certainly important to home theater viewers. Any modern projector is going to do a decent job, at any rate, so spending extra money on these features in a business projector is not necessary.

LCD or DLP

Business Projector RentalLiquid Crystal Display (LCD) or Digital Light Processing (DLP)—which shall it be? A serious, no-nonsense answer would be, “It depends.” Frankly, both technologies can perform well in both environments, and technological advances have closed the gap that once existed between them. LCD projectors are still the first choice for buyers of business projectors due to their brightness edge over DLP units.

DLP, of course, remains the favorite technology with home theater users due to its “blacker blacks” and “smoother” looking projected images. These characteristics help DLP projectors more nearly approximate the movie theater experience.

Portability

Now this is a major consideration when it comes to business projectors. “Small and light” is good, particularly for people who travel to make presentations. Many business projectors weigh but a few pounds and come with carrying cases that hold cables and a cordless presenter, too. In this “lightweight travel” category of multimedia projectors, models typically have integrated speakers, and various option features.

Portability is a complete “non-issue” to the home theater enthusiast.  At home, the projector might even be semi-permanently installed into the ceiling, wall or custom cabinetry. The typical home theater projector is never removed from the home—until it’s replaced with a new model, that is.

Watch for Part 2 of this article, appearing on July 16, 2009, which will cover Connectivity, Resolution, HD Issues and Image Aspect Ratios.

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