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Imaging Devices

Lights, Camera, Action! (Part 1)

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There’s no better way to replicate that cinematic experience in your living room than with a projector and a huge screen. No matter what your budget, we’ve got a perfect model to suit.

Home cinema projectors used to be strictly for the seriously rich, but with steadily falling prices, more and more people are finding a blank wall and setting up their own miniature movie theatre. You can get Full HD LCD projectors for around $1,372 and DLP projectors for even less, with many supporting 3D as standard. HD Ready projectors are even cheaper, with some 720p projectors in one month’s test costing less than $686.

A Full HD LCD projector

A Full HD LCD projector

Picking the right projector can be a bit of minefield, with competing technologies and complex features all vying for your attention. We’ve tested 13 projectors, ranging from portable DLP models that use the lower 720p resolution to top-of-the-range giants whose only practical home is a sturdy ceiling mount. Whether you’ll be watching the latest blockbuster, playing games or just watching the football, there are several important factors to consider before you buy.

Flying color

There are three main types of projector technology: liquid crystal display (LCD), digital light processing (DLP) and liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS). An LCD projector splits light from its bulb into red, green and blue components. Each color passes through one of three small LCD screens, which create the three primary colors. These images are then recombined to create a full-color image LCoS projectors are similar; but use reflective LCoS panels, rather than transparent LCD ones, for the red, green and blue images.

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

Consumer DLP projectors use something called a digital micro-mirror device (DMD). This consists of thousands of tiny mirrors, one for each pixel on the screen. The chip controls the angle of each mirror either to reflect light through the lens (for a bright ‘on’ pixel) or reflect light away from the lens (for a black ‘off’ pixel). The speed at which the mirrors are turned on and off lets the DMD create shades of grey. To produce a color image, a spinning color filter wheel is placed between the light source and the DMD. In older models this has three segments, allowing red, green and blue light to be projected. By synchronizing the DMD’s mirror movements with the color wheel, three images - red, blue and green – are projected for each frame. As this happens so quickly, your eyes see full-color images.

DLP projectors tend to be cheaper than LCD models, and they produce darker blacks, giving deeper contrast. The downside is that fast-moving video can put the three frames slightly out of sync creating ripples of red, green and blue known as the rainbow effect. This is particularly obvious on high-contrast and black-and-white content. However, more modern six-color and faster-spinning wheels increase the refresh rate of the image to make the rainbow effect less noticeable

Colors from LCD projectors are generally less saturated than those from DLPs, but some find their colors more natural. With no rainbow effect, they produce smoother motion, and on the whole are superior to DLP projectors. Their downside is that you can sometimes see each pixel, with a picture looking as if it's made up from a grid. LCoS projectors combine the best aspects of DLP and LCD, but are comparatively expensive.

The color wheel with 3 colors of DLP

The color wheel with 3 colors of DLP

Some home cinema projectors use dynamic irises that constantly adjust the amount of light projected on the screen to increase the contrast ratio. However, this uniformly adjusts the brightness on the entire screen, so while it can produce deeper blacks when there are no bright areas in the image, it can’t show the deepest blacks and brightest whites at the same time.

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