Ok, I have enough experience to "review" my own system now.
Sound: 9/10. Extremely happy.
Clear (and musical!) bass, clear center channel, immersive surround field, good looks. Listening to poorly done audio transfers is very frustrating now.
The bass response of the surround satellites could be improved. It's worth it for the diffuse mode but they can't keep up with the fronts and rears.
Combined with the above, sometimes I need the receiver to upconvert from 5.1 to 7.1 but can't enable it--it thinks it's getting (silent) rear channels and there is no override. Annoying to have the huge rear speakers and not be able to use them to support the sides.
Picture: 6.5/10. Satisfied.
Sharp and very bright picture. Great performance with some ambient light. 110" size at 11.5' seating is perfect, immersive, but not disorienting for 16x9 sources. Receiver upscaling quality is the best I've seen.
110" is a little small at this distance for 2.39 sources, but 123" would be too big for 16x9. Constant image height might give me the sizes I want?
I have been told that the sound seems much "bigger" than the picture. But more than a foot and half closer and you start to focus on the pixelation and slow frame rate. Blu-Ray just can't keep up!
True contrast is low. I'm not sure if this is best improved with a gray screen, or a fancier projector, or both. Ambient light in the room is no longer the issue, and reducing ambient reflection from walls etc. is not an option, although a blanket over the glossy coffee table finish would help.
Perceived contrast is even lower with a 2.39 source because the black bars are washed out. Again, it looks like a constant image height setup with side masking for 16x9 could solve this?
The lower score makes sense given that the picture investment was lower than the sound investment--not my original intention, but here we are. I'll revisit the picture components in a year. Edited by Pyxle - 8/30/12 at 12:28pm
1) So, you're saying that if you play a true 5.1 track you cannot overlay ProLogic IIx: Movie post processing on top of it? That seems strange and not in keeping with what I can do on my Onkyo (and it's an older model). If you go into the setup menu, you should be able, on an input-by-input basis, select your default surround modes. There you would select Dolby ProLogic IIx: Movie for DTS-MA, Dolby TrueHD, etc. etc. You can also hit the surround mode on the Onkyo remote and flip through the various choices manually.
Obviously, if you are watching a true 7.1 channel encoded movie, you're stuck with however the sound mixers chose to use (or not use) any given channel in their soundtrack.
As for the side surrounds, hopefully they'll come out with a larger, wider frequency response dipole/bipole wall mount model. You can always call them up and request one. If there are enough customer requests, they might just do it. Or at some point you'll just have to replace the sides with another pair of Grand bookshelves and Ebay or Audiogon the other surrounds.
2) Without a darker colored room (ceiling included) with total light control and a more expensive projector with a better contrast capabilities, you're not going to have inky, cathod-ray-tube blacks. Inexpensive LCD models like that Epson just won't do it, unfortunately. You might consider a JVC D-ILA projector in the future as one possible option. There may be other projector technologies coming out soon as well. It'll help, but without a dedicated theater type room environment and a living room setting instead, you'll always be battling these image issues somewhat.
If the receiver detects 5.1 I can enable it. I guess that is "true" 5.1. The issue is some sources like a Pink Floyd Blu-Ray I have and the Mac Mini are detected as 7.1 even though they are labelled as 5.1 sources (the Blu-Ray) or are currently playing 5.1 content (the Mac).
Plain old movies work fine, I either get 5.1/PLIIX or 6.1/Multichannel. But there is no way to override the detection if some component along the playback chain gets it wrong.
I don't expect the contrast to be perfect. But I think it can be substantially improved under my current conditions. I'll have to experiment to see which components and light sources contribute the most to the washout, and see what the future brings.
Have you done a down-n-dirty video calibration of your projector yet with a good calibration disc? And I do agree that any reflective surfaces should be covered up, if you have any. If you haven't done so yet, then you probably would see improvements.
Any particular reason you're using the Mac Mini to play discs besides muxing audio streams? It may be a software player issue. Some will automatically duplicate the side surround channels with a 5.1 track and make a fake 7.1 channel output, for instance, with no override option. The PS3 used to do that if you had it decode audio internally and it knew you had a 7.1 setup. Very annoying. That's why I always use a stand alone player and bitstream the audio track (by turning off the secondary audio function in the player). It just saves any hassles with potential playback glitches.
I have not. I assumed blacks could not get blacker but maybe the dynamic range is compressed for some reason. I have a calibration disk I burned and can try it out. Would a color meter be worth the trouble?
I use the Mac for downloads, FLAC audio and RiffTrax DVD playback. Software players outputting PCM seem unable to communicate to the OS that they don't have 8 channels. In the OS I can only choose stereo or 7.1 output modes. I haven't managed to make anything bitstream from the Mac; not sure if I have a suitable test source.
Brightness and contrast settings are interchangeable and have to be adjusted together... change one, you may have to change the other until they're both balanced in some fashion. Also, color saturation. These can have some affect on perceived contrast levels. It's a long, drawn out process, but in the end well worth the trouble. Which disc did you burn and was it a 1080p source disc? It has to be a Blu-ray or 1080p source with compatible Rec. 709 HD video spacing. Don't calibrate with a DVD or standard def. source. The color meter would be helpful, but there is a learning curve with a pro-grade product like this, and it must be accurate. They can cost hundreds or more for a good unit and the software package.
The disk is the AVS HD 709. I played with it for a while. I can't get the blackness any blacker than I was already able in a variety of modes and lighting conditions. I haven't had time to carefully do any color calibration.
The room reflections are the biggest problem. I was surprised to see major washout when holding a book just a few inches in front of the lens, as opposed to directly over it. The light is so bright it reflects around the room and makes it back to the screen.
The projector's black level could be mildly improved. Ambient light could be somewhat improved during the day only. But neither of these have much impact compared to the above.
Since I am unwilling to paint the room dark it seems like a gray high-contrast screen is the only option. Hard to find any information about how well they reject off-axis light. Is there such a thing as a retroreflective, high-contrast, medium-gain screen? If so I would roll it into a potential anamorphic upgrade someday. Or perhaps it is a fool's errand, and I should stop worrying and learn to love the grays.