Pixels & Bits: Why projectors need a dedicated room

Pixels & Bits: Why projectors need a dedicated room

Written by Dan Keener on 6/19/2012 for AV  
More On: Pixels & Bits
Welcome to Pixels & Bits, where the staff at GamingNexus will take a weekly look at the impact of audio and video products (as well as related gear) that enhances the gaming experience.  In this serialized article, we will discuss audio and video products, accessories and opinions on how these work within the confines of the gaming experience.  In this week’s article, we take a look at why the installation location of a projector can adversely affect the quality and performance.

Since we started reviewing projectors at GamingNexus, one question that I have heard several times is “where can I put one in my house?”  Well, the surprisingly simple answer is that you can put a projector in any room in any house, apartment or condo…as long as you have the necessary height and throw distance.  Unfortunately, the question that probably needs to be asked is “SHOULD I put a projector in a room in my house?”  Therein lays the crux of what I am discussing in this article, what constitutes a good place to install a projector.

Where to start?
When you start investigating whether or not to add a projector to your home entertainment toy collection, the first thing you should do is to identify the most likely place that you would want to install it.  Most people will be looking to incorporate it into an existing setup, such as a family room, man-cave, basement or even a den or bedroom.   However, many of these spots are inadequate to get the most out of a projo without some sort of makeover, so you have to take into account the variables impacting the area and how to work within them.  These include lighting, room shape and size as well as the throw distance (distance projector is from the screen.)  Let’s take a look at a few of them:

Lighting is by far the most important obstacle to overcome IMO when choosing a location to install a projector.  Not only do you have to account for direct or reflected sunlight, but any type of light fixtures and ambient light from other rooms can wreak havoc on a projected image.  The worst is direct light that crosses the projected image, such as an overhead light that shoots straight down between the projo and the screen.   Lights can be controlled; usually by flicking off a switch, but if you have recessed lighting or dimmer switches, that would be optimal.  Any type of sunlight should be clocked by contains or window covers and even lighting from behind the projector can create shadows on your projected image if not properly addressed.

Room Shape and Size
The makeup of a room can have a drastic effect on how you utilize a projector.  Outside of a perfectly square room or one that is relatively narrow but deep enough to handle a projected image, rooms usually have nooks and crannies that have to be worked around.  Find the best spot that provides a direct view of the screen location, even if it is a shorter distance than you would prefer and install there.  If nothing seems to be working, maybe the room just isn't ideal to install a projector in.

Throw Distance
The throw distance (distance from projector to screen) is actually the easiest variable to address, but it is directly impacted by the shape and size of the room you choose.  Although rooms come in all shapes and sizes, there are quite a few short-throw projectors on the market that can accommodate tight spaces.  However, if you use a regular throw projector, you will need at least seven to nine feet to create an image above 85”.

Power and Cables
Almost forgot about this one didn’t we.  Well, your projector will need at least one video cable (usually HDMI) and a power plug to work properly.  It won’t work without, so keep that in mind when you decide what room to install this in.  Anything temporary or at a tabletop install location usually can get by with loose wires, but if you go for a clean ceiling mount, you may need to hire a professional to run the wires for you.  Sometimes the cable run can exceed 30 or more feet from your entertainment hub.

What’s good and what is bad?
As I mentioned above, you can pretty much put a projector anywhere where you have the throw distance and height to make it work.  However, there are some ideal, and less than ideal spots you may want to take note of:

What is an ideal Setup?
To simplify it, the perfect room is more than likely a square with high ceilings, recessed lighting and zero external light sources (such as windows.)  Outside of that, your ideal setup for any projector installation is a dedicated room that has complete control of all the environmental variables mentioned earlier.

What is the worst possible setup?
Aside from trying to use a projector in direct sunlight or under commercial grade lighting, the worst place to try and install a projector is in any room with lots of natural light and no way to cover all of the sources.  You can probably make just about any room work (even if you shouldn’t) but sometimes it just isn’t there.

What about some outside-the-box uses of a projector?
Although I talk a lot about the perfect place to put a projo in your home, there are also times when you may want to use it for a less conventional event.  This could be taking it on vacation, hosting folks for an outdoor party or just heading to a buddy’s for some larger-than-life gaming with the projector in tow.  Here are a few of those locations and how to handle them:

Handing into the Great Outdoors
Taking your projector outside, even for a one night stand, is kind of a cool thing if it gets dark enough.  You can actually get a pretty good picture depending on the surface of where you are projecting the image.  I have been to many a party where we have done a tailgate and then watched a big game outdoors.  Heck, one year we even played a bunch of Xbox 360 games outside and then streamed Netflix for a while.  However, like your preferred location, lighting is everything, and a low lumens projector coupled with lights in the area can hurt the image.

On the go Projo
The one instance where I wouldn’t worry about installing is when you take a projector on the go.  Two common portable projectors are small PICO style projos (that have limited Lumens anyways and naturally need a darkened area) like the Vivitek QUMI or something along the line of the Optoma Game Time projectors that come with a travel bag.  In these instances, you will be working with what you have, namely the environment that you are gaming on the go at.  So find a nice clean wall to work with a room that has low light and you should be good for some temporary entertainment.

Best course of action
The key to getting the most out of your projector installation location is to remember the phrase “don’t force it.”  If the location isn’t ideal, then try to find something better.  If there isn’t anything better, than rethink the projector idea or come up with ways to adjust the variables in the room to make it more of an ideal location.  While I understand that it may be rare to have a perfectly square room with 10’ ceilings, no windows and recessed can lights, making any adjustments possible to help the area will make the installation location provide a better viewing experience.

About the Author:
Dan Keener has been on staff at GamingNexus since 2006 and specializes in Audio & Video gear as well as gaming accessories and has over 15 years of Home Theater consulting and sales experience.  If you have a question or comment for Dan or about the article, please leave it below.

Some images above courtesy of J Design Group out of Coral Gables, FL.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

Pixels & Bits: Why projectors need a dedicated room Pixels & Bits: Why projectors need a dedicated room Pixels & Bits: Why projectors need a dedicated room Pixels & Bits: Why projectors need a dedicated room

About Author

I spent the greater part of my informative years glued to the front of a Commodore 64 after we wore out our Intellivision. If you were in the Toledo area surfing C-64 bulletin boards in the mid 80's, we probably have already met. When not running the BBS, I spent countless hours wandering around the streets of Skara Brae, as my life was immersed in The Bard's Tale series on the C-64. After taking the early 90's off from gaming (college years) minus the occasional Bill Walsh College Football on Sega, I was re-introduced to PC games in the mid 1990's with a couple of little games called DOOM II and Diablo. I went all-in with the current generation of consoles, getting an Xbox 360 on launch weekend as well as adding a PS3 and Wii in subsequent years.  I now am into the next-gneration (latest?) of consoles with the WiiU and Xbox One.  Although I haven't taken the plunge on the PS4 yet, it has my interest peaked, especially as my kids continue to grow and their gaming tastes evolve.

While my byline is on many reviews, articles and countless news stories, I have a passion for and spent the last several years at GamingNexus focusing on audio & video and accessories as they relate to gaming. Having over 20 years of Home Theater consulting and sales under my belt, it is quite enjoyable to spend some of my time viewing gaming through the A/V perspective. While I haven't yet made it to one of the major gaming conventions (PAX or E3), I have represented GamingNexus at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in nine of the last ten years.

I have been a staff member at GamingNexus since 2006 and feel lucky to have the opportunity to put to use my B.A. in Journalism from The Ohio State University.


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