You're pea green with envy. You just visited friends who have put in a media room — the kind with a projector hanging from the ceiling, a screen on the wall and surround sound. Very impressive. It's like having a movie theater at home.
So, you're wondering what it would take to create such a media room at your house. What's involved? What should you look for? How much will it cost?
When you want to buy a television set, you go to a store that sells them and view 20 to 30 different models. They're usually tuned to the same channel so that you can compare picture quality.
Shopping for large scale projectors is a different matter. You are not likely to find more than one model on display. Some stores do carry a single projector set up in a sample media room so that customers can get an idea of how the system works while others, notably chain stores, refer customers to their web sites.
There's another way to go. Contact a custom home electronics design and installation firm. These folks generally meet with clients, discuss their goals, design the home theater, consider room size and audio issues, then order the equipment and install it. It may cost more, but you'll probably get a superior result.
Look in the Yellow Pages under "Home Theater" or check the web site www.projectorcentral.com for more information about types of projectors.
While the projector is your primary concern, you also need to bone up on screens, bulbs, room sizes and audio systems.
There are many different models of projectors, says Gary Mack, electronics specialist at Larson's Home Furnishings in Medford. Prices and capabilities vary widely. The projector takes the place of a television set and just about any video source — cable, satellite, etc. — can be routed through it. Some people use large scale projectors only for watching DVDs or special events like the Super Bowl, while in other homes they actually replace the TV set.
And most experts agree that the equipment has improved a lot in recent years and come down in price.
"You want to get the highest lumens and contrast you can," advises Michael Johnson of Jacksonville, who recently bought a system and installed it himself.
You should have at least 1,000 lumens, better still in the 1,500 to 2,000 range, says Dennis Lane, president of Accurate Electronic Interiors of Medford. Besides brightness, consider the projector's resolution and contrast, adds Brian Pahl of Rogue Technology Solutions (formerly Quality Systems Integration, Inc.). Both firms design and install home theaters.
Most projectors hang from the ceiling, but desk-top and wall-mount models are also available.
Bulbs last anywhere from 1,500 to 4,000 hours before needing to be replaced.
Two varieties of screens on the market are solid and perforated. Lane notes that with a perforated screen you can place the speakers behind the screen instead of below it, so the sound appears to come directly from the picture.
Room size and design also play an important role, as do acoustics. Pay attention to room dimension ratios, advises Lane. If your room is square, or has a length that is exactly twice its width or height, your audio quality can be adversely affected because of the way the sound bounces around. Lane recommends a room ratio of 2.4 in length, 1.1 in width and 1.0 in height.
"You also want to make sure your home theater room has some sound absorbing properties," he adds. For example, don't put in a hardwood floor.
"You need to be able to make the room dark," adds Pahl. Many projectors don't create an image bright enough to be enjoyed in daylight.
How big should the room be? At least 18 feet long, Johnson suggests, and seating should be 10 to 20 feet from the screen, says Pahl, so the room should be large enough to accommodate that.
So what's all this going to cost? Depends on how far you want to go with it. Mack says what he calls "entry-level" projectors run in the $1,500 to $2,000 range. More sophisticated units can cost up to $10,000. Pahl believes "really good ones" can be found in the $3,000 to $5,000 range. Lane cautions against buying too cheap a projector. "Some of them have loud fans."
Screens run anywhere from $100 to $1,500, and bulbs $300 to $400.
At the high end, a fine home theater — with projector, screen, bulb, speakers, and theater seating — can cost $25,000 or more, says Lane. His firm designed one for a local home that cost $150,000.