Screen Time: Projectors Buyer's Guide

If you want to show your work in a big room, hold a video festival, or just get the most out of your TV viewing experience, a video projector is your friend.

There's nothing like a nice, big display. A big display on your computer means more screen real estate for timelines, preview windows, audio mixers and meters, scopes and more. A big TV lets you sit further back and fills your field of vision with your program. A video projector takes your viewing (whether your source is a computer, a camcorder, a DVD player, a VCR or a satellite receiver) to the next level, allowing you to show your production to hundreds of your closest friends all at once, on the same screen.

Plugging in

You can plug practically any video source into a projector. The vast majority of modern projectors have at least composite, S-Video and VGA inputs; but component video (YPrPb/YCrCb), DVI (with or without High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection, or HDCP) and HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) inputs are becoming increasingly available, at ever decreasing price points.

Note, however, that if you intend to tune local off-air broadcasts or cable feeds with your projector, you will need a tuner of some kind, as there are no projectors that we know of that include RF inputs or tuners. A VCR makes a fine tuner for off-air broadcasts or unscrambled cable, but you will need a cable box to tune in scrambled analog cable or any flavor of digital cable. A few companies (notably ADS and Hauppauge) make computer-based TV tuners, and there are a bunch of video cards based on ATI and NVIDIA chipsets that include TV tuners as well.

Going HD

If you've got HDV on your mind, a projector offers a price-competitive way to display HDV video, along with pretty much any other kind of HD signal that you want to show. A set of component video inputs on your projector will allow you to view the output from any of today's HDV camcorders. It's possible that future HDV camcorders may add a digital video output such as HDMI or DVI; or that future projectors may be equipped with FireWire inputs and have the appropriate codecs for playing back DV or HDV.

While projectors that can handle 720p video without having to scale the picture are relatively common, unscaled 1080i is still hard to find at a reasonable price point. On the computer side, 1024×768 is the most common native resolution available; but native 1280×1024 projectors are becoming common–although they're still a bit on the expensive side.

Bring It with You

Like everything else in the video universe, projectors are continuing to get smaller and lighter. It's not hard to find projectors that can easily fit in a briefcase, for taking your show on the road on a moment's notice, or otherwise traveling light.
One thing to consider, though, is that bulbs are rather pricey and fragile–but thankfully, the life span of bulbs seems to be improving somewhat. You'd probably want to have a spare on hand if you are going on the road, but keep it in somewhere safely padded.

Don't Forget Audio

Projectors are designed, first and foremost, for video reproduction. Most projectors do have small speakers that are usually acceptable for small boardroom settings, but generally won't satisfy the audio needs for most other applications. If you are presenting the premiere of your latest video, you'll definitely want to make sure you have access to good hardware such as a home surround sound system and a larger venue, or you'll want to make arrangements to rent a sound system.

Big Time

A projector makes a fine addition to the toolkit of any videographer. Like so many other items of technology, we're excited to see where projectors are heading, as prices continue to become more reasonable and projectors become more durable and portable. The continuing adoption of HDTV will certainly help in price decline, and the increased competition in the consumer electronics arena will keep this delivery option interesting.

Charles Fulton is Videomaker's Associate Editor.

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