So you're upgrading, moving, or you just have money burning a hole in your pocket and you're going to remodel your living room/games room/den, or whatever you call it. (Just please don't use that god-awful word "man cave." You're gay. A) "Man cave" is too gauche for us homos, and B) You're gay. You'll never have a wife, so every room in your house, apartment or condo qualifies as a man cave - unless you live with your mom, in which case refer to point A.)
If you're like me, you've heard people bandy about the idea of getting a digital projector for their home theatre system. The idea of playing some Mario Galaxy or Uncharted on a big screen - you know, one measured in feet or metres, not puny little inches - sounds pretty good. In fact, it is. Playing on a projector varies between being cool to being face-meltingly awesome. So what should you do to make sure your investment pays off?
Well, there are a few key points to consider, and they may not be ones you'd think of right off the bat. Follow us after the jump to explore your options!
How Big Is Your Space?
Projectors need space; they are, after all, projecting the image. It's right there in the name. That means that there has to be unobstructed space between the projector's lens and the screen. This is all well and good if you live in some cavernous suburban home, but if you're rocking a pad in the city or a cute little cottage in the country chances are your living conditions will be a bit more cozy. Anyone who's tried to play Dance Central or Wii fit in some tiny little spot will understand what I'm driving at. The world inside the game may not have serious restrictions, but the world in your living room does.
When you're shopping for a projector keep in mind the distance between where you want to mount it and where you want your screen. In fact, measure it out before you buy, and make sure to figure out what your potential projector's minimum throw distance is - and how big the image will be at that distance. The closer the screen is to the projector the smaller the image will be, and while minimum throw distances are getting closer and closer, they're still significant.
How Much Light Do You Get?
You need some serious darkness to play on a projector at high noon. The light from even a small window can obliterate some finer detail from the image on the screen. You may want to put some money in to black-out curtains, consider a basement room, or just go nocturnal. Just remember, a projector's performance can heavily depend on the sun.
You'll also want to consider your potential projector's lumen output when considering how bright your gaming space will be. "Lumen" is the measurement of the amount of light your projector throws - if I remember my high school physics correctly, one lumen is the brightness of a single lit candle. So, 1000 lumens is pretty good for a small screen in a dark room, but the brighter your room or the bigger you scale your screen the more lumens you'll need to get out of your projector.
If you're having trouble with why you need more lumens for a bigger screen, think of it this way: The bulb provides a finite amount of light at any given time, and that light has to get spread out across the entire screen. The bigger the screen, the less light there is in any given square centimetre. It's much like paint. You can only spread X amount of paint on a surface so big. If the surface gets too big the paint will be thin and patchy.
How Handy Are You?
Sure, you could keep your projector in a closet and set it up on a table every time you want to use it, but trust me when I say that gets old fast. Plus, it means no one can sit between the projector and the screen. No, hang it from the ceiling, where it belongs. If you don't know how to do this you can hire help, but bear in mind that will affect your budget.
How Much Are You Willing To Spend?
Yeah, you can get pretty reasonable projectors for a pretty reasonable price now. There's a caveat to that, though, and that's bulb burn-out. Projectors have traditionally come with high-wattage bulbs (hence the fan noise that you may have noticed from digital projectors), and those bulbs have traditionally cost a pretty penny. So while a TV is a one-time expenditure, expect to spend money on replacement bulbs. Check out how much they cost before buying.
Alternatively, you can pick up an LED projector. They can be a little more initial outlay, and they come with their own array of issues, but they also come with their own benefits. It's worth comparison shopping.
How Motion Sick Do You Get?
Seriously. If you got sick from the shaky camera in Cloverfield you may want to reconsider getting a projector. Seriously. This warning isn't even about games that are basically guaranteed to give you motion sickness, though you do have to watch out for those. The first time I played video games on a projector was F Zero for the Nintendo 64 and everyone in the room but me got sick. Playing Mario Galaxy on a two-metre screen made my husband ill too. No surprise there. However, the bobbing and weaving in most FPS games can also get to be too much on such a big scale. You should probably try one out before you commit.
For Goodness Sakes Get A Real Screen.
For real. Don't use your wall - or, horror of horrors, a white sheet. Screens are designed to reflect nicely, and to reflect detail. A wall just doesn't work as well, and sheets actually let light go through them. Besides, if you're going to invest in the joy of gaming at such bombastic proportions, you clearly want the finest experience possible. Spring for a screen.
If you've got a tonne of money you could dump it in to one of the fancy remote-controlled ceiling-mounted units out there. They're slick, and bound to impress your friends. Of course, if you're reading this you're probably a homosexual, so you'll understand that going for élan and kitch are just as worthy pursuits as good old-fashioned conspicuous consumption. There's something both fun and satisfying to pulling down an old-fashioned 8mm projector screen. Even better, they can often be found cheap on line, and that 50s/60s utilitarian style really pops. Also, they can be wall-mounted or free-standing, so if you really do need to maximize the space you have you can take your screen down and stow it somewhere.
New Or Used?
Speaking of buying cheap online, the market is flooded with the inexpensive, gently-used digital projectors of yesterday. Universities, schools and businesses often find it cheaper to buy new rather than keep up their old projectors. Most of these units still work perfectly well, though you may have to spring for a new bulb in short order.
Regardless of what you buy, I strongly recommend that you become familiar with projector terminology; however, this is especially important if you're buying used. Check out reviews of what you might be putting your money in to, and see if the specs stack up to what modern HD consoles and computers require. You don't want to find out after the fact that your $20 projector can produce no better than 10 lumens and a 640x480 resolution.
Other Things To Watch Out For
Try to ensure your projector has good colour contrast. You're playing video games, after all, and the last thing you want is a muddy picture - even if all you play are grimcore gray-on-brown palette space marine/dystopian future operas. The thing is, trading colour and clarity for price is all well and good if you're just using your projector for business presentations, and that's what a lot of projectors, new and used, are designed for. This is not, however, what you want. You want something more nimble and more versatile than that.
Finally, be sure to double-check the maximum resolution your prospective projector can do. A lot of lower-end business models and used projectors have very limited resolutions - again, because they were only meant for PowerPoint presentations. You want something that is, at the very minimum, HD capable. To that end, always be careful when a cheaper projector says it can do "1080" pixels. You want 1080p - "p" for pro-scan. 1080i - "i" for interlace - is an older standard that is not nearly as pretty. For modern units 1080p is pretty standard, but keep an eye out anyway...especially with if you choose to buy used.
There's a lot more reading you can do before picking up a projector, but hopefully this guide can help point you in the right direction. Gaming with a projector can be an amazing experience, though, so don't let any of our warnings or suggestions dissuade you. However, as with any big purchase it's important to do your homework first.
Feel free to chime in with your thoughts or experiences below!