Home Theatre Projector questions from a cheap noob
September 5, 2011 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Home Theatre Projector questions from a cheap noob...

I watch movies on a 27" widescreen iMac. It's perfect for me. However, I just started dating someone and it's not perfect for two people watching. I don't want to buy a television as I prefer life without them.

So, I'm considering buying a used projector off Craigslist. I have tons of room for throw as I live in a loft.

I have a stereo, but it's ancient so does not have HDMI and all that jazz. (My receiver is from the 70s or 80s, for instance, but has plenty of RCA ins/outs.)

I have a dvd player but not a blu-ray player. However, through a friend I have access to blu-ray and dvd discs for free so if BR is better to project, I don't mind buying a drive for that. (Bonus if it can hook up to my iMac).

If I don't want to buy more speakers/stereo equipment and just want to spend money on the projector, b-r player, and possibly a screen, what should I look for in used gear?

Should I just buy the best one I can afford and make sure it has outputs to go to my amp? If so, what are those outputs? Or are there converter cables to take HDMI and other outs and turn them into my needs?

I mostly watch classic films, foreign movies, and art house pics. Explosions and crazy surround sound stuff is not a priority.

Any particular words, phrases, makes, or models I should be punching into my Craigslist searches? Thanks.
posted by dobbs to Technology (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My boyfriend has an old projector (don't know what kind) that was his dad's for a while until he upgraded and gave us the old one. We do our projected-movie watching as cheaply and as noobedly as possible. Hook the projector up to the computer (VGA cable I think? do macs even have VGA ports? I have no idea), then hook up the speakers (just plain old speakers, not hooked up to a stereo or anything) to the audio port on the computer. Then we point it at a blank wall. No screen, no special-purpose cables, no special-purpose players. Its about as un-fancy as it gets, but it works for us.
posted by phunniemee at 4:17 PM on September 5, 2011

Some guidelines:

Your stereo receiver does not need HDMI at all. HDMI cables can transport video and audio, but the audio is optional. I personally haven't seen a Blu-Ray deck without a RCA stereo audio output, though they may exist. So that part should be relatively easy.

For the interface from your player to your projector, you want VGA, HDMI, or DVI. HDMI cables can be had very cheaply at monoprice.com.

I don't have any movie-playing capability, but if I wanted it, I would buy a PS3 or PS3 slim as my blu-ray player. They've been consistently rated the best and there are a lot of them out there. They're also designed to work with just about any home theater setup so the cables are everywhere, too.

One reason that I would use the PS3 instead of my computer is just the sheer convenience of not having to screw with display setups, cables, switchers, etc. If you can get BR and DVD, just get a player and leave it configured with your projector, should save lots of hassle.
posted by fake at 4:48 PM on September 5, 2011

Can you make your loft very dark? Keep in mind that the darkest black a projector can throw is only as dark as the room is with the projector turned off.
posted by mendel at 5:17 PM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your iMac probably has a mini-DVI or mini-display video out.. either can go to HDMI. We have an Optoma projector that is about 4 years old now.... 720p looks great even at 100" on the wall.
If the seller lets you turn it on, you should be able to go into the menu system to see how many hours are on the bulb.. I think the lifespan on ours is 1000 hours, not sure what the average is.
posted by starman at 5:20 PM on September 5, 2011

I have been using a projector as my main TV for years now and after time I have become adept at making my life simpler by owning a PS3.
-Blueray and normal DVD's
-USB Ports- If i have something on the laptop, I'll transfer it to a thumb drive then plug the thumb drive into the PS3. No cable from laptop to projector, etc. I got good at converting anything funky, but generally the PS3 is good about playing most files.
-Built in wireless card (unlike the xbox 360)
-Netflix instant streaming app!

Input availability- My projector has HD in, HD component in, RCA in and cable in so I use the projector itself as the switcher. PS3 uses the HDMI, XBOX has great HD quality with the component HD cables and i use the regular RCA for the hand-me-down tivo that i never got around to upgrading. I guess my point here is to look for versatility when it comes to inputs, not a dealbreaker perhaps, but it is damn nice.

BULBS! Once you narrow down your choices on projectors, take a look at the cost of replacing the bulb. This can be a deciding factor! How much will a new bulb cost you? I can usually get 2 years out of a bulb if i keep it on whisper mode, or one year if not. Your bulb mileage will vary, I use my projector for everything though. I can recommend Electrified.com as having good prices as well as a good warranty. For example- you buy the extended warranty and get another 2 years after the 5 months warranty that already comes with the bulb, which gets you 2 bulb replacement during those two years.
posted by MansRiot at 5:29 PM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might also want to look into a screen, if ambient light is a problem. A good screen will have high reflectivity, which means you'll get more contrast out of what you're watching.

I have a 106" Draper screen that I'm pretty happy with, esp. during Seattle summers where we get ~18 hours of sun a day.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:37 PM on September 5, 2011

Concerning the screen. We painted one for our basement home theater. Take a look at AVSforum for the details. I did a 5-6 step process on flat wall. Primer, sanding, primer, sanding, paint (I think Behr silverscreen), sanding, paint - output was great - and you can't beat the price. Don't skip the sanding steps, you will notice defects in the wall.

If you have lots of ambient light, this might not work - but in a dark room with a reasonable projector the painted version gives a high enough contrast with good color.
posted by NoDef at 8:39 PM on September 5, 2011

Cheap used projectors are probably 800x600 resolution, which is about DVD resolution, so you won't get much extra benefit from blu-ray unless you get a higher-end projector. The next size up is 1024x768, which is good for HD (such as video games), but will still fall short of the highest resolution blu-rays.

You just send video to the projector, and audio to the amp, the projector shouldn't factor in the audio equation. Just make sure it accepts a high-definition input in common with the bluray player (they'll almost certainly both have matching regular definition outputs, as they're more standardised, but there are various analog and digital plugs for high-def, so you have to check they both offer the same)

A Play Station 3 gaming console doubles as a blu-ray player, if you want to pay extra for the option of games.

You'd be surprised how much difference is made by surround sound. IMO a DVD player with a 5.1 or better setup will give a better experience than a stereo blu-ray.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:44 AM on September 6, 2011

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