Projector and Screen recommendations

How can I get into a 1080P video projector with HDMI input and a pull down screen (not a supersize screen) for cheap. Viewing distance is anywhere from 12' to 18' depending on placement. The room is not real dark during the daylight hours.

I don't know what brand or price of each item to look for. I want rock bottom prices for a starter system.
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Looks like I can get a Daylight B screen for under $200
Which entry prijector should I get?
Some of the better priced and well received 1080p projectors come from mitsubishi. The 4900 and the newer 5500 They both have a $200 rebate right now, and can be had for under $1800. Sanyo also has one of the lowest priced 1080p PJ's, though the model # escapes me. Three sites to peruse for reviews are, and
I like the Panasonic units. Good price and great picture. If you are projecting to a light colored wall you may want to wait on the screen til you have the projector installed. That way you can decide on the screen size that you like after you see the image. I have one in a bedroom system and like it just on the white wall. You'd be surprised how good that can look.

Be aware, in any event, that you will have to control the light to some degree when viewing.
If your room is "not real dark", and you want to do this at "rock bottom prices" . . . then you really should be looking at a plasma. But I'm a quality-over-quantity kind of guy. If you're still going to do projection, the least you can do is to avoid a few very common pitfalls.

First, make sure you're using the correct type of screen for your application. If the projector is going on the floor or a table, then you can use a retro-reflective screen - these are the common, cheap glass-bead audio-visual screens. But if it's going on the ceiling, then you MUST use an angular-reflective screen, or the only time the picture will look good is when you're standing on a ladder. A good screen also hangs flat . . . tab-tensioning is IMO a good investment if the screen is retractable. If your room isn't very dark, then there are a couple of grey-coated gain screens on the market that make a huge difference, i.e. Stewart's "Firehawk" (and the Da-Lite equivalent). You will want an actual 16x9 screen - having the picture framed in black makes the contrast appear much greater than the 16x9 projection area in the middle of a white field.

Second, make sure that the projector's optics will work for your application - that is, double-check the throw distance AND the vertical offset and make sure that the projector and screen will work together in the place you're planning on putting them. Avoid having to tilt the projector (creates a focus discrepancy between the top and bottom of the screen) and using the electronic keystone adjustments (increases scaling artifacts).

And third, put up the SMALLEST screen you think you can tolerate! Brightness follows the inverse-square law, so making the picture somewhat smaller (i.e. from 100" diagonal to 82" diagonal) makes it much, much brighter.

If you get a good screen of reasonable size, and make sure that all of the projection geometry is set up correctly . . . this will make a MUCH bigger difference in picture quality than whether or not your projector happens to have "1080p" printed all over the shipping carton.
I want to mount the screen behind a window valance to pull down in front of a bank of windows, so when you say "you MUST use an angular-reflective screen" are you saying it must pull down and stablized on an angle in line w/ the projector or viewing? Or are you saying the screen is angular-reflective in design?

I can easily be satisfied with a 67"-80" screen w/ 12' viewing distance. Is this satisfactory and what do I need to look at in a projector for this size? I'm thinking of a coffee table projector is is ceiling mounted better?
The Mitsubishi HC4900 is the cheapest on the market now. Check out for reviews on all projectors and comparisons. It is an excellent site to do comparison shopping.

Below is a link to a guy who sells refurbished HC4900's for only $1,395.00! They come with less than 100 hours and a full factory warranty from Mitsubishi.

Also, search on ebay for "Accuscreen". It is a very easy to assemble fixed projector screen that looks great and is very cheap. I paid $217 for a 92" fixed frame screen a while back. Best Buy quoted me for an identical screen $1200.00.

Also, search on ebay for a projector mount for the HC4900 -I bought one for about $50.

I purchased a 30' HDMI cable on ebay for $45 from Rixlabs and am very happy with the quality of the cable.

TOTAL COST for this 1080p setup only ~$1700!
Mounting the screen in front of a window would worry me. Are you going to use blackout shades behind it?
No, I can't use blackout shades. Our HDTV sits there with good results. But we do have good heavy plantation blinds on the windows. If a projection system is not feesable I'm willing to get a plasma TV.
Another recommendation to consider the Mits 4900. I have one and it is a great 1080 projector for not much money than a 720. It is very bright even in low lamp mode where the bulb will last "stated by the manufacturer" 5000 hours. Kirkus has a great recommendation to look at grey screens, especially if you are looking under 100 inches. My screen is about 13 feet away and 100 inches diagonal and the brightness is great with a 1.0 gain screen. There are quite a few grey screens around that gain and they will give you better blacks. IME the two weaknesses of this projector are the poor on board processing (fixed with a good upscaling dvd player), black levels and the slow iris. The black levels do not bother me that much, but the auto iris is really distracting on some movies. Despite its weaknesses it does everything else great and I am still very happy I chose this projector. With that screen size stated above and at that distance the image would be too bright for me in a dark room even on the dimmest setting, but with a little light I am not sure if it would be better. Maybe someone with more knowledge could say if a low gain screen would be better at that size and distance.
I have a setup like the one you are planning to develop: windows behind the screen, Panasonic projector on the ceiling, and the most inexpensive pull down screen (by Elite Screens) that I could get. I was concerned about the screen in particular, but when I installed it, I was surprised by how not bad everything worked.
Even though my room is very bright, it is absolutely beautiful when I watch Roger Waters or Pink Floyd DVD's and I can still see the sunset on the right side of the window (my room is facing West).
If you plan to use your system during the day, the light intensity in your room may be the only thing you need to consider.
I also have the Mitsu 4900HC projector. I moved from a Panasonic 720p projector which had a very nice and bright picture. Up until recently, I thought it was a tossup between the two; the Panasonic having a more three dimensional and brighter picture and the Mitsu having more detail but less contrast. I have to agree with the posters above about the scalar in the Mitsu; it sucks. The scalar in my TivoHD is better than the scalar in the Mitsu. The scalar in the Panny is better than the Mitsu. About 3 weeks ago, I started running the video through the scalar in my Anthem Statement D2 and have to say the picture improved about 30%. The picture is every bit as good as the Sony VPL-VW60. And at night time, when the room is pitch dark, the picture is vibrant, detail and three dimensional. I actually prefer the Mitsu over the 42 1080P Panny Plasma in the bedroom know. (I'm sure if I hooked the Panny Plasma up to the Statement D2 the picture would be a lot better, but I don't have the funds, or the need to get another D2 for the bedroom.)

So, I have to agree that the Mitsu is a lot of bang for the buck, but make sure you pair it with a good scalar. BTW, the scalar in the Comcast HD DVR sucks too.
Thanx everyone.
There is some good info to get started.
Now I will have to research further and get prices.
A retro-reflective screen throws light back directly towards the projector, just like the reflective coating on highway signs. The traditional material for these kinds of screens is tiny beads of glass (just like road signs). They work best for situations where the height of the projector lens is about the same as the height of the viewer . . . so they're the usual choice for general-purpose classroom and conference-room applications, where one usually just plops the projector on a table.

An angular-reflective screen is designed to be used where the vertical angle to the projection lens is the complement of the vertical viewing angle. They're generally used with ceiling-mounted projectors, because the projector is much higher than the viewers, and the height of the (center of the) screen is somewhere in between. Most modern high-performance screen materials are angular-reflective.

Both of these attributes have to do with the "gain" of the screen, which is a measurement of how directional it's reflection characteristics are . . . kinda similar to how directional a speaker is. A perfectly matte-white surface is considered to have neutral gain (gain of 1.0), that is, it's both retro-reflective and angular-reflective to exactly the same degree, and reflects absolutely all of the light that hits it. Screens with a gain higher than 1.0 increase brightness (and contrast) by sending more light in a particular direction . . . provided, of course, that it's in the direction of the people watching it. If it's the opposite direction (wrong screen choice) then it DECREASES brightness and contrast. Gains of 1.3 to 2.0 are typical for front-projection home theaters.

There's also the matter of the grey coatings used on some screens - what they do is improve black levels by absorbing some of the ambient room light. Of course, the screen doesn't differentiate between room light and projector light, and a coating like Stewart's "Greyhawk" actually has a gain of less than 1.0 . . . I think it's about 0.8. This is a good screen for applications where you're making up for the loss in light by spending more money for a brighter projector. On the other hand, Stewart's "Firehawk" coating is grey and has a gain of 1.3, so it "gooses up" both the black levels and the brightness . . . making it a great choice for a more budget-oriented home theater. The tradeoff with Firehawk is viewing angle (nothing is free) . . . so you definately need to get the projection geometery set up optimally to get your money's worth out of the screen.

The other benefit of a gain screen is (when set up correctly) if the ambient room light comes from a different direction than the projected image, you get double the benefit, because the ambient room light isn't reflected towards the viewers. So in a typical home theater, the WORST place to have an ambient light source is directly behind the seating area. And for an angular-reflective screen and ceiling-mounted projector, recessed lighting (with BLACK trims) is definately the way to go, as this reduces glare from a critical direction, if the lights are to be used at all with a picture on the screen.

And finally for your application, you have to be concerned with the opacity of the screen, because you're also using it as a shade to block out room light. This is an area where many of the cheaper screens have problems . . . and it's also not usually possible to mount the screen so close to the windows that this really works very well. Usually these windows will require shades as well.

Oh and your screen-size choices are refreshingly sensible for a budget theater . . . I can't tell you how many times I've seen people try to use a $1200 Powerpoint-grade projector on a 120" screen with ambient room light, and then come to the conclusion that "projection looks bad". Go figure.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You addressed issues I've been concerned about in planning for front projection. I had been planning for the horizontal center of a 45" X 80" (92" diagonal) 16 X 9 fixed screen to be at eye level. Now I wonder if the center might better be a bit above eye level. My plan is for a ceiling mounted projector, most likely a Sony VPL 50/60 but maybe one of the new JVCs. The viewing angle is very narrow, and a Firehawk screen seems attractive. We do not wish to sit in complete darkness, but need very little ambient light.

>We do not wish to sit in complete darkness, but need very little ambient light.

You might consider installing some narrow beam (~10 degree) 2" spot lights aimed at your seating area combined with remote controlled dimmers. 120V PAR-16 bulbs are available if you look around so you don't even have to use expensive low voltage fixtures. They'll give you enough light to eat by, fidget with the remote controls etc. but wash out the screen much less than if you raised the ambient light in the room to get the same amount of light where you want it.

Some development has been done on "black" screens that are even more light rejecting than the Firehawk; when I get around to setting things back up I'll probably do that for the flexibility in light control.
Kirkus, thanks for your wealth of knowledge on screen choices. It will help. I will now have to research the apropriate projector to match a screen.

Drew, thanks for the info on directional lighting.
Most of the "high-def gray" screen I can find on the web are 0.8 gain. I also have a Mit 4900 and run it in low lamp mode 99% of the time, wondering if 0.8 gain is sufficient in a dark but not completely light control room?

where can one find a gray screen with 1.0 gain? I am torn between pull down and fixed frame right now... also torn between adding a solid state amp to do 2.1 or buy a better receiver for 5.1/7.1 in the future. I don't need surround sound, but kids love them. a decent solid state amp will easily cost more than a good receiver, but even a good receiver like Pioneer Elite can't drive my Sonus Faber Amati well.
The classic calculation for screen brightness is:

Projector Lumens / Screen area (sq. feet) * screen gain =
Brightness (in foot-Lamberts, or fL).

Target brightness is 12-15 fL in a darkened room, maybe around 20-ish with a little ambient light. But here's the catch -- projector "ANSI Lumens" specifications are so hyped and inaccurate, that a good rule of thumb is to take the projector's ANSI lumen specification, and use ONE QUARTER of this advertised value in your calculation. No kidding, those numbers are really that unrealistic.

Grey screens with gains above 1.0 are made by Stewart (the aforementioned "Firehawk"), and Da-Lite ("High-Contrast Cinema Vision") - I'm sure there are others, too.

Oh and I would personally prefer watching movies with a good two-channel "music" system than a typical receiver-based surround system. But that's definately a preference thing, some people feel the opposite.
Picked up an used Optoma 106" gray screen yesterday, it's listed as 1.8 gain. without tweaking the picture, I thought the image was a bit too bright for my taste and I already had the projector on low lamp mode and 15' from the screen. but it definitely adds some punch to the contrast and dynamic.

I think I will end up with 2.1 instead of 5.1/7.1 channels just because it's so much easier. I am a tube guy, can't afford to run my expensive tube pre & power to watch movies and that's why I got interested in a better receiver. will go check out some Pioneer Elite and Sony ES over the weekend, but I am sure they are no match to Einstein/Benchmark DAC/BAT 150SE.
Interesting system!
I'm a tube guy too...with Oppo's 2 channel variable output into a 2 channel AES/Cary power amp. It has awesome sound on movies. I just need a projector/ screen I'm thinking of one of Samsungs DLP projector HDTVs instead.
What does your system consist of?
My 2-ch system is pretty much done for now:

VPI SSM Ref w/ rim drive
Einstein phono
Einstein pre or SF Line 3SE+
Computer audio + Benchmark DAC USB
Sony SCD 777ES for SACD
SF Amati Homage or Guarneri Memento
JL F113

If I do 2.1 for movie, will go like HD DVD -> Benchmark -> some SS amp -> Amati/F113. With this setup, subwoofer output will have to be cranked up each time I watch movie.

I am also toying with the idea of HD DVD -> Pioneer VSX-92 -> Amati/F113. With this setup, I can get LFE and maybe add center/surround speakers in the future.

I know I don't care too much about sound quality when I watch movies, but not sure if using a newer receiver with HD audio decoding capability will make watching movies more fun. I had a cheap surround sound system setup in the past, it sure was more fun than 2-ch especially with the subwoofer running LFE.
Very interesting thread; an area I will be researching more towards the end of the year. I've given up fighting with the wife over the den and I'm making the basement into the listening room / home theater. As I'm a multichannel SACD guy, there is going to be a center channel speaker behind the screen. So my question is, how does the audio transparency of the screen enter into the above?

My basement is 13 x 21 x 7 (yeah I know, 7 and 21 are a bad combo) and viewing in darkness, day or night is not an issue. The center channel speaker may be a monitor on a stand, or a full range floor stander. Hhmm, I wonder how seven Carver Amazings will sound? No longer a problem, the WAF factor is out (the basement window). :-)

Hi Semi,
One thing that seems to accentuate the perception of being "too bright" is if you actually have some "hot-spotting", meaning that your picture is brighter in some areas than others. This occurs with higher-gain screens with short projector throw-distances, because the relationship between projection and viewing angles varies more across different points on the screen as the distances get shorter. 1.8 gain is 'high-ish' for a home theater with a DLP/LCD projector, and your throw distance (less than 2x the screen width) is somewhat on the short side. If you can get the projector further away, or even try it temporarily, you might see if this makes an improvement. I'm assuming of course, that you've set up your black and white levels correctly.
Hi Russ,
The modern "microperf" screens are very good in terms of audio quality, especially when they're used in front of the center channel only . . . which to my ear needs more X-curve compensation (HF rolloff) than the other channels for movie soundtracks.

There is also an optical tradeoff with a perforated screen, that is, at the very least, you lose some brightness . . . this really hurt in the days of CRT projectors when lumens were very, very expensive. But you also need be careful of the reflectivity of what's behind the screen, as sometimes this can show through the perforations.

The best-sounding multi-channel system I have ever heard (by far) is the 5.1 system in Transparent Audio's listening studio . . . big Wilsons (Alexandrias?) all the way around, with a custom Wilson sub the size of an average refrigerator. The projection screen was a Stewart microperf that came down in front of the center channel . . . and in several scenes I could catch a glint of the shiney black Wilson through the screen, and it was a bit distracting, especially given how amazing the picture and sound quality was otherwise.
Kirkus- thanks for the input on the micorperf screens, and thanks in general for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us. Right now I'm planning on installing five Eminent Technology LFT-8s. They're great speakers, especially for the money. They can be had with light or dark grills, neither of which looks very reflective.

The best 5.1 system I've heard to date was at the Stereophile show in NY 3 - 4 years ago. It was in the McIntosh room, a full Mc system with huge Martin Logans all around. Wowsa!!