Should I Get a Flat Panel or Projector for My First Home Theater? Ask the Editors

first home theater

Q: My wife and I are having a house built, and I would like to turn the loft into my first home theater. The room is 24×13 feet, and I don’t know if I should get a projector or the Sony A1E OLED TV. The viewing axis will be in the long direction, with the screen on one of the 13′ walls. The largest possible screen size is 77″, and the seating distance will be about 8′. I have good control of ambient light.

What do you think would be a good display for the home theater? My budget for the display is around $5500. I want size, but I also want a good picture. I have always wanted a home theater, and I want to do it right, so your help will be much appreciated.

– Mark Woodford (Si Lawd)

A: Congratulations on your new home—and your first home theater! One of the most common calculations to determine the ideal seating distance relative to screen size is that the seating distance should be 3 times the screen height for HD and 1.5 times the screen height for UHD. Assuming your specified maximum screen size of 77″ refers to the diagonal measurement of a 16:9 screen, the screen height is about half that, or about 38.5″. For HD, that means a seating distance of 9.6′ for HD or 4.8′ for UHD. A seating distance of 8′ is a bit too close for HD—you might see individual pixels at that distance—but not close enough to resolve all the detail in UHD. Still, I think a UHD display is your best bet.

Unfortunately, a 77″ Sony A1E OLED is way out of your budget; it’s $18,000. You could choose the 65″ version, which lists for $5000, but that’s a little too small for your seating distance. So, it might be worthwhile to consider a projector, though a 77″ screen is quite small for a projected image. It will be quite bright, but the black level won’t as good as it would be on a larger screen.

Still, I think a projector is the way to go for you. I would consider the JVC DLA-X570R ($4000) or Epson Home Cinema 5040UB ($2700). Both use “pixel wiggling” (quickly shifting each pixel back and forth between two positions) to double the effective resolution of their 1080p imagers, simulating UHD/4K resolution. Both can reproduce high dynamic-range (HDR) content in the HDR10 format. Both offer motorized lenses with lens memories, which lets you recall different lens settings for different aspect ratios. One advantage of the JVC is that its HDMI inputs operate at 18 Gbps, while the Epson’s HDMI inputs operate at 10.2 Gbps.

Either way, you have enough in the budget for a nice screen. Since you have good control of ambient light, there’s no need for an ambient light-rejecting screen; a white screen will do just fine. Assuming you don’t plan to put the front left, center, and right speakers behind the screen, you don’t need acoustically transparent material, either. And you probably don’t need a retractable screen, which is good; a fixed screen will save you more money. Makers of good budget-oriented screens include Elite Screens and Cirrus Screens. You should be able to get a screen from either company and stay within your display budget. Just get the largest size that will fit on that wall.

One final word of advice for your first home theater: Paint the room a dark, neutral color—ideally, a flat, hueless gray, as dark as you or your wife can tolerate. That way, very little light from the display will reflect from the walls and ceiling back onto the screen or into your eyes.

UPDATE: In the thread associated with this article, a number of members have commented that, at 77″, they would choose a flat panel over a projector. They assert that a projector is best at screen sizes of 100″ or more. They also point out that there are several 75″ flat-panel TVs that fit within your budget, though none of them are OLEDs.

If you want to go that route, my first recommendation is the Sony XBR-75X940E ($5000). It’s a FALD (full array local dimming) LCD TV with HDR capabilities using the HDR10 format, and Sony is expected to issue a firmware update to add Dolby Vision and HLG by the end of the year. If you want to spend less, consider the Vizio P75-E1 ($3500), which is also FALD, and it already supports Dolby Vision HDR in addition to HDR10. On the other hand, the Sony has better processing.

Both of these TVs are far brighter than any projector, and they are easier to set up. But as some have commented, a projector can be used to create a much larger image if you end up with space for a bigger screen in the future. I can definitely see the merits of both approaches.

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