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INUTECH: Want a cinema at home?


ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 05 February)  – No, I’m not talking about those pricey 60-inch smart TVs you see displayed at the malls. They’re too small.

They’re less than half what I have at home. My screen measures 140 inches diagonally, if I’m watching a movie with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the same ratio on most modern computer monitors and TVs. But since most movies first shown in theaters—and later, on streaming platforms like Netflix—have the widescreen format in a letterbox (those black bands above and below the image), then the image on my screen is reduced to 132 inches.

That’s not a giant TV screen though, but that’s the image of my projector on the wall.

I view the screen from three to four meters away, the projector mounted close to the ceiling 4.5 meters away from the screen.

Pair the projector with surround speakers, and you have a truly “immersive” movie theater experience.

I’m lucky that when we built this house, I reserved a family room with a huge empty wall. When my wife brought home a projector after speaking in one seminar, I just had to try it on our wall before she could return it. I was blown away! I had to get one. A few weeks later, the family room became a home theater. My screen is nothing fancy, just a concrete wall painted with flat-white latex. Others would spend hundreds of dollars for some special paints.

But let me point out why the projector might not be best for your Netflix.

You can’t use a projector in the day, unless you have a room big enough for a projector, with windows and door closed, and with aircon, of course. We don’t have that kind of spare room. The space originally for our family room is open on one side, and wide windows on the other. So we can’t watch movies in the day. But that’s fine with me because we watch movies only at night. We all need to work during the day, right?

How about for watching TV programs? We gave up TV in this household more than 20 years ago, because nobody really watches TV in our family. When the kids were small, cable TV was forgotten as soon as we got a DSL connection. The various TV series shows, of course, are now on Netflix and other streaming services, which for me are better watched at night.

So, this must be an expensive set up then? 

Cheap compared to those big smart TVs. Try finding a TV that big. Actually, you can’t, because at this time, I doubt if there’s one for the home.

I have to admit that my projector, an Acer H5360 using DLP projection technology, is not 4K. This is an old model of more than a decade ago and is only 720p (or 1280×720 pixels). But since I’m viewing the movie from four meters away, I really can’t see the pixels. All that’s in front of me is a huge image of the movie, similar to what I’m seeing in the theaters, not one small image like a framed picture on my wall.

For a long time we were so happy with DVD resolution, right? That was only 720×480 pixels! At that time, I didn’t really think Blu-ray resolution (720p or 1080p) would ever be adopted in the Philippines. But it did.

I got the Acer H5360 from eBay for $300 maybe 10 years ago, so around P12,000 at that time. Before that, I used an InFocus with a 1024×768 resolution that I got for $500 from, you guessed it, eBay. It may be difficult to find these models these days, already replaced by the 1080p and 4K models. If you check eBay, second hand 1080p DLP projectors of 8 to 10 years ago are in the same $300 price range. Brand new is usually more than $500. 4K? I’m not interested. Even my computer monitors are still stuck at the 1080p level. 

For now, I’d like to stick to the established projector brands, like Acer, Optoma, Sharp, BenQ, Epson, Sony, and Panasonic.

There are a lot of cheap Chinese brands online (Shopee, Lazada, even Amazon) in the $100 to $200 range, brand new. but I’m not really sure how they perform compared to the long-established brands. There are glowing reviews of these projectors at Amazon, and even Lazada and Shopee. But the way people review products in these online shops, I really can’t believe them until I see how the projectors perform right with my own eyes.

I have tried only one Chinese brand, AUN, a 720p model. I got it for its glowing reviews. But it’s not even close to my much older Acer. The edges aren’t sharp, the image not as bright from the same distance. It’s better if you move it closer to the wall, and produce an image of maybe 80 inches. But I want my 140 inches.

You can also Google something like “best projectors for the home theater under $200.” Familiar brands are Vankyo or GooDee or Yaber or Fangor. I’ve been tempted to buy several times, but I always remind myself that my projector is still perfectly fine. Once, the bulb got busted, but it’s easy to find replacement online for maybe P1,500 pesos. But if you do get any of these cheap Chinese projectors, please tell me how they perform, if you’re happy with them. Should I finally get one, I’d write a review.

For your speakers, you can go muggle-level, as I did. If you’re rich, you can splurge. I hear friends spending over a hundred grand for their audio system at home. Nah, I don’t have that money.

I’m not an audiophile, so I’m perfectly happy with the Logitech Z5500, a THX-certified (that company Lucas set up to ensure that theaters could reproduce the sound effects he had in the Star Wars movies) speakers for the computer, game console, and a host of other devices. I heard gamers love them. It’s a 5.1 system, meaning it has three speakers to be placed in front of the viewer, two at the rear, and one subwoofer. With a total power of 505 watts RMS, it’s loud enough to shake the house that we usually set volume to just half when we’re watching a movie.

It has been phased out, but I got it for P10,000 second hand a dozen years ago when it was selling P20,000 brand new. Logitech has come up with a newer model. A few other companies, like Klipsch, make THX-certified speakers for the home theater.

There are 7.1 systems for an even better cinema experience. Check them out.

The important thing about surround speakers—do not place them all at the front! I know a friend who did. Wasted money there. They’re called “surround speakers” for a reason, so you’d get that immersive feeling of being surrounded by sound, like three-dimensional sound.

(Bobby Timonera enjoys tinkering with gadgets, starting with typewriters, mimeographing machines, film cameras and darkroom equipment since his college days.. He’d often DIY his way when it comes to obtaining otherwise expensive technology, not just to save money, but also for the challenge. In this column he shares the “inut” ways he has learned along the way. You can reach him at bob at mindanews dot com.)

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