Setting Up A Projector Room

Projector MountedOver the years I’ve spent a fair amount of money on different types of electronics. Back in the 1980’s much of that money was spent on a never-ending succession of high fidelity amplifiers and speakers. I still have most of that equipment and it still functions quite well to this day.

In the 1990’s my purchasing patterns shifted to a voracious appetite for personal computers, peripherals and software. Though I seemed to derive enjoyment at the time, I have comparatively little that remains useful today with the exception of a fairly massive 25-year-old computer desk.

From the mid-2000’s forward my computer-buying habits slowed somewhat, but I partially shifted from Windows to Apple machines. In the past couple of years my adoption of Android smartphones has mostly usurped my computer usage, completely freezing any urge to acquire new computer equipment. The computers I have – two older Apple laptops, two Mac Minis, a Compaq machine running Vista, and an Asus Netbook running Windows XP, all work remarkably well after equipping most of them with modern SSD’s. I record podcasts, write occasional articles, and do my taxes once a year and that is now the extent of my computer usage. Barring some unforeseen disaster, these older machines should last well in to the foreseeable future.

Of all of those consumer electronics purchases, few things stand out as being really enjoyable. Though I enjoyed the computers at the time, the investment in stereo equipment still delivers satisfaction, some of it 30 years on.

Today, I derive the most use and gratification from my smartphone. It is always with me and it ably handles most functions.

However, that doesn’t stop me from looking at and experimenting with consumer electronics. Back in the early 2000’s, I briefly considered buying a projector. At the time I didn’t think I had a good place to put it or use it, and the idea quickly got pushed aside. As it turns out, I’m glad that I didn’t buy one then, because consumer video technology was still standard definition and projectors of the era were expensive and primitive by today’s standards.

Fifteen years later, projector technology is radically better and far less expensive. Don’t get me wrong – it is possible to spend a fortune on modern projection equipment if you want the latest and greatest and your budget allows. However, it is possible today to get really great bargain projectors that can offer great value and performance.

When I bought my house 20 years ago, for whatever reason one of the extra bedrooms ended up as a junk room. I have no one to blame but myself – it was easy to just pile stuff in the room, close the door, out of sight, out of mind. Over the years I had given little thought about what to do with that extra room. It is fairly small – 9 and ½ feet by 13 and ½ feet, but nonetheless it could be made into a useful space.

A few months ago I started thinking about projectors once again. I purchased an Android-powered pico projector from Amazon to bring with me when I travel. I then realized a great use to put the junk room to – clean all of the junk away, and set up a larger wall-mounted projector capable of projecting about a 95” inch diagonal image on the opposite wall.

Projection ScreenI just happened to have plenty of extra speakers and an old surround sound receiver that had been lying around in the junk room for a few years. After a bit of research I purchased an inexpensive $350 dollar LED-powered Android 720p Chinese projector from Aliexpress.Com. After doing how-to video research on YouTube I purchased lumber and a friend helped me make a large wooden 16 x 9 format frame. I purchased Carl’s Place blackout cloth via Amazon, and with the same friend’s help I now have a large homemade projector screen that cost me a total of about $75 dollars in materials.

I purchased a projector wall mount from Amazon that was under $50 dollars, plus a few other odds and ends. From Walmart I purchased an inexpensive Sony BluRay player for under $50 dollars that even includes WiFi support and the important apps I need – Netflix, Amazon Videos, Hulu Plus and YouTube. I purchased a 5 input HDMI switcher from Amazon for under $20 dollars as well as well as a $15 dollar 25’ foot long HDMI cable to run up the wall to the projector. I even purchased an HDTV tuner that includes an HDMI output from Amazon for about $25 dollars. On the more expensive side, I purchased a 10” inch Klipsch subwoofer from my local Best Buy store for $300 dollars.

All together, I’ve spent less than $1,000 dollars. The resulting projector system for that price is impressive. I can stream HD content from the Internet, I can play BluRay discs, or I can watch local over-the-air digital TV. The digital TV tuner even has a USB port that will accept up to a 2 gigabyte hard drive if I wish to utilize its HD DVR functionality! All sound is routed through the surround sound receiver.

One Man Theater ChairBest of all, that once-upon-a-time useless junk room now has a great use. I have 100% control over the light so the resulting projected 95” inch 720p image is crisp and clear.

Some people might scoff at my purchase of what is essentially a no-name Chinese projector as opposed to spending a few hundred dollars more and getting a name-brand projector such as an Epson or one of the other brands of HD projectors. My reason for going with the no-name Chinese 720p LCD projector is simple – it uses a Cree LED lamp that will likely last 30,000 hours or more. Most name brand projectors use conventional bulbs that must be replaced after only 3,000 to 5,000 thousand hours and can cost $150 and up – way, way up in some cases, more than I paid for the no-name 720p Chinese projector. Especially for a first-time purchase, why not go with a projector using an LED bulb? I’m willing to spend money on electronics – if I didn’t like it, I could always go with another more expensive machine later.

It turns out that I really like the no-name Chinese projector. It has two HDMI inputs along with various analog inputs, outputs, USB and even an SD card slot. It runs Android 4.2.2 and even came equipped with a wireless mouse, along with a remote control. If I wish, I could easily also pair it up with a wireless keyboard and use it as a computer with a large projected display. The Android 4.2.2 comes with the Google Play Store so that means it has access to all the Google Play Store apps. At $350 dollars, I consider it a true bargain.

This has also been a learning experience. I’ve found over the years that regardless of how much I research something, I never really know about it until personally taking action. The only thing I would change about the room setup at this point would be to go with the so-called “Flexigray” screen material from Carl’s Place as opposed to their black-out cloth which is bright white and the most commonly used projection screen material. Because the room is so small and has light colored walls and ceiling, when the projector is on in the otherwise pitch black room it lights up the room enough to create enough stray bounce light from the side walls and ceiling to slightly interfere with the projected image. At this point I could either take steps to darken the walls, or re-cover the screen with the Flexigray material which has superior stray side light rejection properties, thus creating better black levels. I probably won’t make any changes anytime soon – the current projected image really is just fine. But, it’s something I learned and something to keep in mind for future reference.

For under $1,000 dollars, I’ve managed to create an amazingly enjoyable experience. That same money could have easily been spent on the latest gadget being pushed – say an overpriced smart watch – a dubious solution in search of a problem that comes packaged with planned obsolescence for your spending convenience.

Even though it has only been a couple of months, I already know that setting up this projector room is one of those rare things that offers genuine satisfaction and enjoyment, as opposed to all of those things that soon enough ended up unused and obsolete in a pile of dusty junk.

eyeSight Singlecue Gesture Control at CES

eyeSight logoWhen it comes to motion tracking and gesture control, gaming has shown the way especially with Microsoft Kinect and the Xbox. Outside of this arena, there’s been relatively little traction though eyeSight are hoping to change this state of affairs with Singlecue. The two Todds talk to Tal Kryzpow, VP of Product Management, to find out more.

The Singlecue is a tabletop device that’s roughly the same size as a Kinect, though unlike its sibling, the Singlecue has a small central display. Singlecue converts gestures, such as an upright finger to the lips, into an action, in this case “mute”, which it then passes onto the relevant devices in the room using infrared. As it uses IR, it’s compatible with almost every piece equipment in the home that uses a remote control. The Singlecue also uses WiFi to interact with technology such as Nest thermostats and Philips Hue lighting.

The Singlecue is currently on pre-order at $129 but will have MSRP of $199 when it goes on sale in Spring 2015.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Todd Aune of The Elder Divide for the TechPodcast Network.

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Auro 3D Immersive Sound

Auro 3DDon and Todd get a demo of Auro 3D‘s immersive sound experience which until recently was only available in movie theatres. The newly launched consumer version of the Auro 3D audio system adds a height component into the sound mix, giving the equivalent of 9.1 sound. Coming from a digital cinema background with over 150 theatres already using the system, Auro 3D is being introduced into home theater, gaming, mobile and automotive markets.

Especially watch this video if you want to see Don and Todd looking like smurfs while discussing the merits of smooth jazz and alcoholic beverages….

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Omnimount PJT40 Projector Mount

Omnimount LogoIf you want to hang or support some piece of technology from a wall or ceiling, then Omnimount ought to be on your review list as they have a portfolio of mounts and brackets that will do the job for flat screen TVs, speakers and projectors. Todd and Don chat with Kevin Paulson, who has the latest ceiling mount, the PJT40, for digital projectors. They also discuss the merits of desks that go up and down to facilitate standing at work. Really.

The new PJT40 is a universal projector mount that offers easy one person installation and tool-less microadjustment in the pitch and roll axes, making it simple to get a perfect image in your home cinema. The PJT40 will be on sale in February priced at US$179, which Don thinks is a bargain. Omnimount products are available AV dealers throughout the US and there’s more information at www.omnimount.com.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Panasonic introduces three wall-mounted home theaters at CES

panasonic-SC-HTB880Panasonic debuted a number of new products at CES, ranging from tablets to home-ware for your kitchen, and also new home theater gear. Perhaps the latter is one of the most interesting of the launches.

The company is showing off three wall-mountable home theater systems. The SC-HTB880, SC-HTB580 and SC-HTB8 are all expected to hit retail later in 2014.

“The SC-HTB880, SC-HTB580 and SC-HTB8 Home Theater Systems feature speaker units with a triangular cross section to achieve a slim body size, and incorporate a Delta Form Design to deliver dynamic sound. The top panel of each model’s main unit is inclined to provide extra space inside for the installation of large speaker units. The Delta Form Design provides a stylish appearance to match and enhance room interiors, while its hybrid hardware design achieves superb sound quality”, the company announces.

The high-end SC-HTB880 model is capable on handling 4K video and the main unit houses the front, center and surround speakers; combined with the wireless subwoofer, this model’s sound system delivers 5.1-channel dynamic surround sound.

All models combine “Panasonic’s sound-enhancing technologies, cutting-edge network technologies and stylish designs to achieve versatile sound systems, creating true-to-life ambience from content such as movies, TV programs or music to make users feel as if they were actually in the movie scene”. Exact release dates were not announced, nor were prices.

Logitech announces a keyboard for your living room

These days many of us have computer devices in our home entertainment centers, be it a Google TV, Roku or something else. All of these devices come with remote controls, some of which have tiny QWERTY keyboards on the flipside. These may work, but it is not the best solution for some tasks. Now Logitech seeks to make your living room life a bit easier with a new keyboard specifically designed for this need.

Logitech tells us “Whether you’re using an Apple TV to stream iTunes, or catching up on your current Netflix obsession by connecting your laptop to your TV, there’s one thing you’ll need when browsing the Internet and apps on your TV: an easy way to navigate”.

Logitech is releasing both the Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 and the  Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard, with the latter being specifically for Apple TV customers.

logitech k400

The K400 claims a wireless range of up to 33 feet and multi-touch touchpad built right into the keyboard. Meanwhile, the Easy-Switch uses Apple TV remote commands like Menu, Media Control, Select, D-Pad, Play/Pause and Tab, plus its keys are backlit and laid out in the traditional Mac-specific way, so you can easily find your commands even in the dark. It can also be paired with up to three devices at once and allows you to switch and type from your iPad to iPhone to Apple TV with the simple push of a button.

The K400 retails for $39.99, while the Easy-Switch is a bit pricier at $99.99. Both keyboards are available for sale now.

Logitech Harmony unveils 2 new universal remotes

The Harmony line of universal remotes is a favorite in many living rooms, but the lineup has stagnated in recent times, with only the Harmony Touch being added and that came with mixed reviews. Rumors of Logitech refreshing the line have been around for several months, but today the company did just that.

Logitech’s Chad Thompson announced “the expansion of its Harmony universal remote control lineup with Logitech Harmony Ultimate and Logitech Harmony Smart Control“. Thompson goes on to elaborate “both products feature Logitech’s new Harmony Hub and Harmony Smartphone App to enable closed-cabinet and game console control. And, for the first time ever, Harmony can even help you set the mood in your living room: the Harmony Hub takes personalizing your activities a step further with the ability to control your Philips Hue lights with a tap of the Logitech Harmony Ultimate”.

I currently use a bottom of the line Harmony 300 and have been waiting for the new line to finally debut. The day has arrived and I suppose I must now spend some money, but I still will not be paying for that Philips Hue light bulb, no matter how cool it looks.

Control your home theater with Zmart Remote for iOS, Android

There have been several hardware solutions over the past couple of years that turn your smartphone into a universal remote. I have previously looked at RedEye, which seems to no longer be available, but a new solution was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week — the Zmart Remote from Viatek.

This one involves a small device that you will need to plug into the micro-USB port on your phone. It works with both iPhone and Android. The company claims that “The setup takes less than a minute. Whether you are trying to choose which tv show to watch, need to pause the movie to pop some popcorn or even skip to your favorite song on a CD, now you can do all of this with just your smart phone.”

Setup of the RedEye was clunky and almost felt as if it required a computer science degree. Hopefully the newer technology will improve this process. The company claims it is capable of controlling 200,000 devices and 95 percent of those on the market. The ones it can’t control it can learn.

The package, including the app, will retail for $19.99 and can be purchased now.

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 750HD projector unveiled

While NVIDIA has dominated the news for the past 12 hours or so, it doesn’t mean it is the only company who has announced anything cool. Epson, known mostly for its printers, also has been making projectors for some time. Largely its lineup has been business-level, designed for presentations. Now the company want to jump from your office to your living room with the PowerLite Home Cinema 750HD.

The projector will handle both 2D and 3D and has 3000 lumens. It is designed for use from either an entertainment center or a ceiling mount, making it more versatile than many others on the market. It also includes component video, S-video, HDMI, and USB connectivity.

epson PowerLite Home Cinema 750HD projector

“Epson America, Inc. today expanded its award winning line of 3LCD home theater projectors with the highly versatile and affordable 3LCD PowerLite® Home Cinema 750HD – offering families and first-time home theater enthusiasts an affordable and versatile 2D and true 3D big screen entertainment solution. Offering full HD, active shutter 3D with 720p resolution, the Home Cinema 750HD makes it easier than ever to enjoy movies, video games, sporting events and more in high-quality 2D and eye-popping 3D at up to 120-inches or larger.”

The projector is slated to become available in late March and will retail for $899, which is undercutting much of the competition in the market right now.

Video of Home Automation System in a $55 Million Mansion

Tech news web site BGR introduced their new BGR Show today and episode one is a big one for tech, home theater, and home automation fans.  The show is slated to run weekly and, in addition to a little cool technology like this week, they also promise interviews with celebrities and some behind-the-scenes segments with manufacturers.

The home featured in episode one may be beautiful, but the statistics surrounding it’s internal electronics are nothing short of breath-taking.  Try to grasp these numbers – over 2,000 lights, 48 TVs, 50 miles of wiring, 35 security cameras and hundreds of speakers.  All of this can be controlled from touchscreens, tablets, computers, and smartphones.

The home is located in New Jersey and the show features the man behind implementing all of the electronics – Gabriel Karlis from JD AV Design.  I would try to describe the level of sophistication seen in the video, but it’s really worth just watching to get a real idea of what exactly is possible if you have the money to do what you want, including controlling virtually every aspect of your home from lights to security to HVAC with the click of a button.