I love big screens and I cannot lie. My first major purchase after I got my first professional job was a projector. My first major purchase after I got my first house was a new projector. And I got an even newer projector late in 2015. With it came a refresh of the whole setup.
This is now my third projection system, and after a lot of research, I feel like it’s the first that’s actually set up really well. The first projector wasn’t 1080p and I didn’t even have as much of a screen as a really uniform white wall, so… not a great setup. The second generation was a big improvement, but I didn’t do any calculations and so some people thought the screen was too big to watch from the couch. Either due to finally applying the maths, or because the third time’s a charm, this version 3.0 is very much on point, and so this post lays out what I did in excruciating detail, because good documentation is the cornerstone of process improvement.
TL;DR: I put an Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB on an OmniMount wall shelf 11′ away from a 110″ Elite Screens SK110XHW-E24. There’s VIZIO S5451w-C2 soundbar behind the screen, a Monoprice 40′ active HDMI cable going through the ceiling from an outlet to the soundbar, and another from the soundbar to the projector. Into the outlet, I usually plug in an AppleTV 4, but sometimes I plug in my PC. And because the soundbar is behind the screen, there’s a BAFX IR Repeater with the IR receiver on the screen housing, and the emitter behind it.
Total equipment cost in 2016 dollars: 3250$
Absolutely _not_ my home theater system
I had to start with the screen because the projector needed to go into a family room attached to an open kitchen, which limited me to two walls of roughly the same size. The room itself is 11′ square, but in the direction that goes into the kitchen, the projector can go back as far as my wife would let me, which was about 15′, so that “it’s not actually in the kitchen, you know?”.
However, the bigger concern was brightness. The room is not very well light-controlled, and I need to be able to watch certain things — like football games — in the daytime. (The further back a projector is, the less bright it will be on the screen). We also have a TV facing out toward the kitchen, so putting the projector on the other wall would limit me to 11′ projection distance, but allow me to have both TV and projector running at the same time, as opposed to the screen covering the TV when it’s down. And you know what that means: simultaneous viewing of both NBC and CBS election coverage this past year. Oooooh yeah.
With the wall picked out, I calculated the screen size to buy: 11′ is 132″, and THX recommends screen sizes be 0.84 of the viewing distance, which works out to 110″ screen. (If you subtract the length of the projector itself, it works out more to like 100″, but I like screens being a bit on “bigly” side.)
For vertical placement there are two general guidelines:
- A rule of thumb that the bottom third of the screen should be below the viewer’s eyes, which are generally at 38″ for a seated adult
- That the top of the screen should be no more than 15 degrees above the viewer
For a 110″ screen, which has a height of 54″, the one-third that’s supposed to be below the viewer’s eyes is 18″. That leaves 36″ above the viewer’s eyes, and at an 11′ viewing distance, the top of that screen would be 15.3 degrees above the viewer, so that works out perfectly.
Screens generally have a 2″ black border all around, so that makes the entire screen 58″ tall, and brings the one-third that’s below the eyes to 20″. If the eyes are at 38″, that means the screen’s bottom edge is 18″ off the floor, and the top edge is 76″ off the floor. Unfortunately for me, there was a 96″ tall door frame on part of that wall, so I had to get a screen that had an additional 24″ of black border at the top, so I could essentially hang the housing up that much higher than where the actual white part of the screen needed to be.
With that added requirement, basically the only option I had was the the Elite Screens SK110XHW-E24 for 460$, which was a 110″ screen with 1.1 gain and 24″ drop. I’m not sure if I’d know a bad screen if I saw one, aside from obvious flaws, but I definitely don’t mind this one, and it goes up and down like a champ.
Once I had the screen picked out, I started looking at the projectors rated highly on projectorcentral.com. Three stood out:
- Sony VPL-HW40ES – 2500$, editor’s choice for 2014
- According to its calculator, for a 110″ screen with gain of 1.1, placing it at 16′ away would mean using a 1.07x zoom and the image brightness would be 20fL; 13’9″ for 22fL, 11’10” for 24fL
- Panasonic PT-AE8000 – 1850$, editor’s choice for 2015
- According to its calculator, for a 110″ screen with gain of 1.1, placing it at 14’10” away would mean using a 1.47x zoom and the image brightness would be 20fL; 13’9″ for 22fL, 13’1″ for 24fL
- Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB – 2300$, editor’s choice for 2013
- According to its calculator, for a 110″ screen with gain of 1.1, placing it at 16’4″ away would mean using a 1.41x zoom and the image brightness would be 20fL; 15′ for 22fL, 13’9″ for 24fL
After some internal debate, as you may have read above, I went with the Epson, for a few reasons:
- I liked the previous Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 6100 I had
- It had the most reviews of any of these on Amazon (139 reviews, 4.5 stars)
- Great zoom and brightness
I also looked at the 5030UBe, which has the interesting wireless HDMI feature, but apparently it has connectivity issues, especially with gaming, so it’s not worth the extra price tag if you can’t reliably use it.
One of the great problems with front projection systems — if not the greatest — is sound. The virtually universal advice is that you need to get a good receiver, run all sound through that, and just run an HDMI output from the receiver to the projector.
Well, I’m a minimalist, I only have two inputs for the big screen (Apple TV and my PC), I’m not an audiophile by any means (stock TV speakers sound great to me) and on a philosophical note, I absolutely will not buy yet another gadget to make up for the fact that projector manufacturers just can’t seem to bring themselves to make simple Audio Out ports be a thing on their devices.
Throw in the annoyance of running speaker wire, and when I saw a well-reviewed Vizio soundbar on sale, and it had wireless speakers, I bought it. It’s the 2014 model, so it was old when I got it, and not even available new anymore. But, I love it.
At first, in an effort to avoid a run of cabling, I tried to have HDMI only go to the projector and to get the audio to the soundbar via Bluetooth from my AppleTV and my PC. But while music worked fine, video absolutely did not: the last syllable to many words would get dropped out, and it was just unwatchable. So I regrouped and ran HDMI to the soundbar and then another HDMI cable from the soundbar to the projector. The soundbar picks off the audio and sends the video to the projector, which means I just have two HDMI cables running through the walls and ceiling and it works beautifully.
The subwoofer is wireless and hangs out hidden away in the TV stand. Two wires come out of the back of the stand and go behind the couch and up to the rear speakers.
For the first leg, from outlet to soundbar, I needed a 40′ cable, which meant I needed an active one, that deals with attenuation over that long of a haul. Monoprice is where I usually get cables, and this was no exception: they have 40′ active HDMI cables for 35$ and after one year, I have zero complaints. But do note that they are unidirectional: you have to have the right end in the soundbar or projector. I got two of these, one for each leg.
Now, a word about installation: for my second generation system, I waited for a cool November day, ran the cables in the ceiling myself, and I have the scars to prove it. Literally: I sliced my knee on an exposed bracket in the attic to what seemed like the bone, and had to superglue it shut (to avoid going to the ER and having them do the same). For this third generation, I was going to repeat history. Then I realized that due to the position of the soundbar in the house, I couldn’t even figure out how to physically get a cable there, much less how to stay conscious for that long in the Florida heat, that in an attic, approaches Venus conditions. So I hired a professional home theater outfit and both cringed and thanked the seven gods while seeing what they went through. Worth every penny.
Second, in an effort to make things look nice, I mounted the soundbar behind the screen. I already had to mount the screen housing about a foot off the wall, so that the screen would drop over a set of drapes, so I had clearance back there. And really, I had nowhere else to put the thing. To my great dismay though, on testing, I found out that with the screen down, the infrared from the soundbar remote control would only work if I walked over and pointed it behind the screen and up to the soundbar. Which really sucks to do when you’re trying to enjoy a movie but it gets loud enough to wake the baby — and the baby is literally the last person you want waking up when you’re trying to enjoy a movie.
To get around this, I bought a BAFX IR repeater for 28$. You stick a small IR receiver on the projector screen housing, plug that into a box that’s mounted and hidden behind the housing, and then plug in an IR emitter that points to the soundbar. Boom! You’re now a light bender.
This particular gadget is a little overkill for this purpose because it could control up to 8 devices and I just needed one, but I couldn’t find anything good for less money anyway.
The repeater is _not_ pretty
So that’s it for now: pretty simple setup, great results, mostly thanks to the calculations and planning. But nothing’s ever perfect, so while I’m happy with version 3.0 of the Jiva Projection System, I’m definitely planning on upgrading to 3.1 and 3.2 when I “get the time”.
First, I’d really like to actually mount the rear speakers up on the wall someday. Right now, they’re just on the floor behind the couch. Honestly, this is because (again, I’m the opposite of an audiophile) I find them more distracting than anything. Whenever I hear a distinct “rear” sound, I don’t think “oh wow, how realistic”, but more “WTF was that noise?!”. Which means that a lot of the time, surround sound is just off. But, maybe it’s like beer and I just have to acquire a taste for it so I can hang with the cool kids.
Second, I really need to put a power outlet behind the projector. There’s an HDMI outlet there that the nice home theater people put in, but they weren’t licensed enough to run power behind the wall. So now there’s this power cord that just runs down the wall, that a toddler can and would definitely like to tug on. And yeah, I could just drill two holes in the drywall and run the power cable behind it, but that’s not up to fire code, and insurance is a bitch. So I’m currently trying to either work up to running high voltage wire myself, or getting an electrician to do it. And I really don’t want to do the latter, because while delegating is par for the course at work, actually doing stuff is what makes me wake up in the morning.
Third, I probably should get a fancy Harmony remote, because between the projector, soundbar, TV, cable box, Apple TV and homemade DVR, we literally have half a dozen remotes. But, 95% of the time, the Apple TV remote is the only one we use. And I just can’t bring myself to spend 150$ or more on something that’ll get used once a week and only very marginally improve my life. But, I’m keeping it on the backburner as a birthday wishlist item, for when I become the man who has everything, so that I don’t wake up to find myself entombed alive in a cemetery in Mexico.