Home Theater Projectors
At the top of the screen-size ladder, you'll find displays that don't really qualify as TVs: front projectors. These light cannons can fill 100-inch screens, but they're not for everybody since they require a light-controlled environment and plenty of room. Plus, for optimal picture quality, you'll want to buy a dedicated screen, although you can use a white wall in a pinch. Screen makers such as Da-Lite and Stewart have special, low-gain screens designed to improve black-level performance.
CRTs are also used in front-projectors; think of those three-tube monstrosities that hang from the ceiling in the coach compartments of older airplanes. We won't discuss them here, however, namely because CRT projectors are quite expensive and are generally reserved for high-end, custom installations, where they put the local cineplex to shame.
DLP, LCD, and LCoS projectors, on the other hand, have become increasingly affordable. All three technologies project the kind of huge picture--from units as small as a shoebox--that you enjoy at the theater. They share many of the same characteristics as rear-projection mircodisplays, the most notable being a lamp that needs periodic replacement.
Technology type on front-projectors is less-important than it once was, because new advances have really leveled the playing field. LCD projectors can now produce deep black levels that compete well with DLP, for example, and the "rainbow effect" of DLP (see the rear-projection section) is also much less of a problem than it once was. Differences between front projectors today vary more widely by individual model than by technology type.
For that reason, we won't go into the details and differences between the three types of projectors here, except to say that they're mainly dictated by manufacturer. Sony and JVC are the main makers of LCoS projectors; Sony, Panasonic, Epson Mitsubishi and Sanyo are in the LCD camp (branded "3LCD," but it's the same thing) while Samsung, Optoma and BenQ are the main players in the DLP camp.
No matter which brand or technology you choose, one trend in front-projectors is undeniable: 1080p resolution is getting affordable. The least-expensive 1080p units are going for $2,500 and even less, and in general we recommend going 1080p on a huge screen. Front-projection is one of the few places where the difference in detail between 1080p and lower-resolution displays becomes clearly visible.
For the latest front-projector reviews, check out our best products list.