0True home cinema for a grand

I’ve long had a “home cinema” setup with a fairly budget HTPC, a 50″ plasma TV, and a 4.1 sur­round sys­tem, but when I moved house a year ago I found I no longer had a place in the main fam­ily room to fit the 50″ TV, so had to revert back to the old Sam­sung 32″ 720p CRT that I bought in around 2006. The room has a large bay win­dow with a little recess per­fect for fit­ting a screen, so a plan was born for true home cinema

A 133 inch motor­ised and tab-ten­sioned screen was a mere £200 on amazon, and with the audio sys­tem already in place all I needed was a decent pro­ject­or. After lots of research I settled on a BenQ W2000 for £800 from rich­er sounds as I was able to see it in action in store and was happy with the pic­ture qual­ity and the bright­ness. 4k pro­ject­ors are cur­rently far too expens­ive to con­tem­plate, and whilst I could have gone for an even high­er end pro­ject­or, the increase in qual­ity wasn’t worth the extra money which I will instead save towards a future 4k or 8k upgrade. I was offered cables and mount­ing brack­ets and screens but this is where Rich­er must make there money as the value was very poor com­pared to what I’d already researched online, so I left with just the pro­ject­or and set it up on top of a spare fil­ing cab­in­et to exper­i­ment with the optim­al dis­tance and pos­i­tion.

The pro­ject­or auto­mat­ic­ally adjus­ted itself and turned on (or already had turned on) a small amount of key­stone cor­rec­tion and lens shift — both of which I promptly restored to default to avoid prob­lems with pic­ture qual­ity. Key­stone cor­rec­tion had caused notice­able reduc­tion in pic­ture qual­ity so turn­ing it off was essen­tial. Once I was happy with the arrange­ments I ordered a wall/ceiling mount from amazon and moun­ted the pro­ject­or high up from the wall (the wall being sol­id load-bear­ing, where­as the ceil­ing is plaster with unknown strength behind it).

Finally I ordered a couple of long high qual­ity white HDMI cables and a long white power cable. The whole sys­tem was up and ready in time for the start of the new BBC / Dav­id Atten­bor­ough series Blue Plan­et II which has been excep­tion­al as a true cine­mat­ic exper­i­ence. I have also watched a couple of movies which have also been fant­ast­ic — I can’t see myself going to the cinema very much in the future, the exper­i­ence at home is actu­ally super­i­or for sev­er­al reas­ons, and there is no tick­et to pay for. The final part of the phys­ic­al install­a­tion was some self-adhes­ive trunk­ing from screw­fix.

The “old” 50″ plasma screen was a good qual­ity screen and plasma’s are well known for hav­ing bet­ter qual­ity col­ours than most flat pan­els so the pro­ject­or had a lot to live up to. Advice online about home cinema pro­ject­ors says it’s best to have dark col­oured walls, min­im­al light­ing and no large win­dows. My lounge has 2 large bay win­dows, white walls, white ceil­ing, beige car­pet and 12 lights, so it’s not exactly tick­ing the home cinema boxes. The screen does at least come down in front of the main west-facing bay win­dow which blocks the light from that, but I was still con­cerned about how well it might work. I was delighted to find that the “scare stor­ies” were non­sense. For a full cinema exper­i­ence it is neces­sary to turn off lights and close cur­tains, but this was also neces­sary with the plasma TV. The pro­ject­or can also be used just fine with cur­tains open dur­ing the day, or the lights on in the even­ing. The plasma TV, like most flat pan­els, was highly reflect­ive, so any lights would inev­it­ably reflect from it straight into any view­ers eyes. The pro­ject­or arrange­ment doesn’t suf­fer from this prob­lem in the same way, the screen is matt so instead of a point reflec­tion there is just a slight loss of con­trast because blacks become dis­tinctly grey. This may be a mat­ter of pref­er­ence, but for me the pro­ject­or arrange­ment is hugely super­i­or.

The final part of the puzzle was to upgrade the HTPC with an nVidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti which is cap­able of hard­ware decod­ing both 4k and 8k video, and also of run­ning the mad­vr presenter which hugely improves upscal­ing of low res­ol­u­tion videos, which could oth­er­wise look very dis­ap­point­ing on the 130″ screen. 4k videos down­scaled actu­ally look much sharp­er than nat­ive 1080p videos, which I attrib­ute to the mask­ing of com­pres­sion defects — the 4k videos are typ­ic­ally around 10 times lar­ger in data terms, and what com­pres­sion arti­facts that are present will be par­tially hid­den by the down­scal­ing. Com­bined with hav­ing HDR this means that although the pro­ject­or is “only” 1080p, the pic­ture qual­ity is very close to the qual­ity of a nat­ive 4k dis­play, and far big­ger than any TV avail­able.

I will be writ­ing about mad­vr set­tings in the near future, but they’re still a work in pro­gress as there are so many options to get my head round with too little empir­ic­al evid­ence avail­able from a google search. The video card did push the total cost up to around £1200 — a little bit above a grand, but it wasn’t strictly neces­sary. The pro­ject­or, screen, and mount were with­in a few quid of £1000, com­par­able to a 60″ 4k TV and vastly more cine­mat­ic. A final bonus of the pro­ject­or sys­tem is that it doesn’t dom­in­ate the room in the same way as a large TV would — when it is not in use the screen dis­ap­pears back up to the ceil­ing and the room becomes a fam­ily space again. We still have the old 32″ CRT in the corner for day-to-day TV use.

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