Updated: December 15, 2012

Introduction to Front Projection Systems

Understanding the Pros and Cons of Front Projection

Many would opt for direct view plasma or LED TV as a big screen TV option; yet if you want to go really big, your only two options are either a rear projection HDTV or front projection using one of the latest affordable 1080p video projectors.

Video projectors enjoy quite a few major advantageous over both the latest massive LED TVs and rear projection HDTVs, advantageous worth taking note of if you are planning to go BIG.

In this guide, we discuss the pros and cons of front projection to help you determine if the home theater projector option is for you; we provide you with all the basics you need to know before getting started with a front projection solution.


An affordable yet excellent 2D/3D home video projector capable of excellent picture and bright 100-inch projections at a fraction of the cost of a 70-inch LED TV!

Designing your own home theater is becoming even more exciting than ever...

HDTVs are getting bigger, better, cheaper & slimmer

The home theater enthusiast has got a vast selection of big screen systems ranging from direct-view Plasma and LED TVs to large screen rear projection sets and video projectors. 

Yet few realize that nothing sets you closer to the movie theater magic than a front projection setup, more precisely the two-piece home theater projector - projection screen solution.

Picture, size, and quality, provided by front projection setup resemble most closely the movie-theater experience.

The truth is that if you want to put the 'real movie magic' in your home theater experience, the video projector and movie screen solution delivers it; the latest massive 80-inch and 90-inch rear projection TVs and LED HDTVs are just big televisions! Unfortunately, most home theater enthusiasts seem to ignore this option completely, partly due to the misconception that projectors are priced well out of reach of their budget. Yet, if you have got the necessary room space, the video projector solution is most probably the best way forward to big screen home entertainment.

The Video Projector: Affordable Big Screen Option for the Home Theater

A great deal of consumer appeal for massive flat-panel LED TVs and rear projection TV systems arises out of the shear simplicity these HDTVs offer as an immediate solution to getting a bigger TV. In addition, most big screen high street retailers seem to give the impression that these represent a cheaper alternative to a front projection TV solution.

This may be true in retail stores, but not necessary so when buying online. On the internet, it is most likely that for a given budget level, a front projection solution will deliver a much more cinema-like experience in terms of picture size and quality than any other TV picture technology. Clearly, there is market for both but the main decisive factor here is your home theater room size.

At the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that a video projector setup offers a number of advantageous over rear projection and the latest massive LED TVs. In particular, a front projection setup:

- Supports a larger screen size

- Does not suffer from poor viewing angles or screen reflections

- Is more compact than a rear projection TV in terms of floor or wall space

- You wouldn't be stuck with a fixed screen aspect ratio

- Renders a more comfortable and immersive 3D viewing experience

We take a detailed look at each of these issues to expose the main differences between RPTVs/LED TVs and a home cinema video projector based solution

Screen size: An obvious difference but worth thinking about for a moment. Front projection would easily deliver a 100" screen - that's four times the surface area of a 50" rear projection TV. Yet a home theater projector for your front projection setup would not cost more than a premium 50" plasma TV.

Viewing angle: Rear projection and LED TVs have a rather small optimum angle of view; move away to either side of the optimum viewing position, and color, contrast, and brightness degrade considerably.

This is not so much of an issue with a front projection setup - the image is both larger and much easier to view from a wider angle but the use of a good quality projection screen surface is essential to ensure the best results when viewing the picture from different positions.

Reflections: Reflections may create a serious degradation of picture quality in Rear projection and LED TV systems. Front Projection do not normally have reflection problems especially with matte screen surfaces.

Optimum use of floor-space: A rear projection TV is a large box that will stand out from the wall by as much as 24 inches - shrinking the viewing space by over two feet. 

It is true that LED TVs are much slimmer  - with Sharp 80-inch LED TVs being just under 5-inch thick. But it is still relatively think and even more so to disguise when not in use. With a front projection setup, the screen is usually either wall, or ceiling mounted. Therefore it lets you use the full room depth for viewing. A wall mounted screen can be covered with a curtain when not in use, while a ceiling mounted electric screen can be retracted. A great advantage of front projection is that the projector and screen combination gives you more flexibility in terms of 'making it disappear' when not in use, while using zero floor-space.

Aspect ratios: A serious issue with any video display system is aspect ratio management. Rear Projection HDTVs and LED TVs come with a fixed aspect ratio of 16:9. But today video material comes in a variety of aspect ratios. So if you are designing your own home theater, it is important to give this issue careful thought.

The aspect ratio of a video image is the ratio of its width to its height. Standard television screens are 4:3 (1.33), which means they are four units wide for every three units of height. Instead HDTVs support a wider aspect ratio of 16:9, yet modern films are normally produced in one of several widescreen formats. On the back of many DVDs you can find the movie's actual aspect ratio in the fine print; a most common aspect ratio is 2.35.

There are various ways to deal with different aspect ratios: Image stretching lets you fill the available screen; use of black or gray bars on top and bottom or on the sides of the screen would show the movie in its correct aspect ratio as originally filmed but the effective film display area is smaller than the available screen area; pan and scan editing would display only the most important portion of each frame with the rest being discarded.

'Image stretching' and 'horizontal/vertical bars' can be extremely irritating while in the 'pan and scan' you are giving up film information to have a full screen view. Worst of all, in the case of phosphor-based displays such as CRT TV and projectors, and plasma TVs, prolonged use of black or gray bars to adjust aspect ratio may lead to phosphor burn-in at HUGE costs to you.

With front projection, aspect ratio is less of an issue. Mind you, digital video projectors still come with a fixed native aspect ratio, but a front projection setup makes it possible to use a manual or electrically-driven black masking system that adjust the projection screen border to suit the image source aspect ratio (more on this in our projection screen section).

For best results, you still need to match the projector native resolution with that of the incoming video signal if you do not want to loose picture information when adjusting the image aspect ratio.

3D: If 3D is on your cards, a 3D-enabled home theater projector would not cost much more than a 2D-only video projector; yet a video projector setup will deliver a significantly better 3D viewing experience than that possible with a plasma or LED TV, due to the bigger projection screen.

As we explain in our 3D TV Technology Guide, a prerequisite to an enjoyable and immersive 3D viewing experience is a large screen. What many considered as a 'massive' 65-inch plasma or LED TV, is still not big enough for a true rendering of image depth while still ensuring a comfortable 3D viewing experience; this is due to the reduced image parallax comfort zone necessary with a smaller screen.

 Price: Are you still being faced with the dilemma of choosing between a massive HDTV or a home theater projector set-up? Price-wise, a 3D-enabled video projector capable of bright 100-inch projections complete with a good quality projection screen would fall within the same price bracket as premium 55-inch flat-panel HDTV.

Making the Choice: The bottom Line should be your room size!

If you are looking for a high quality rear projection TV and your viewing room can accommodate an 80" to 100" screen, do not overlook the possibility of a video projector based solution. From a budget perspective, if you can afford a good quality 50 to 55-inch" HDTV, you can also afford a good quality home theater projector and projection screen.

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