Advice for upgrading low budget home theater room.

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
9,192
758
126
I need advice for my low budget "home theater" room.

My wife and girls enjoy having a large screen for playing games and for watching movies and anime. I enjoy it as well, but if I got what I wanted, I would probably be spending a LOT more than the proposed budget for this project, and they use it a lot more than I do since they frequently play games while I am at work.

We currently have a boring Epson PowerLite 99W projector and a 7-foot wide (96-inch diagonal) Da-Lite pull-down screen of unknown model, but it's old enough that it's actually a 4:3 screen that we only pull-down part way to make it 16:9. The front of the projector is 13 feet 6 inches away from the screen. There is room to expand up to a maximum of an 8-foot wide (110 diagonal) wall painted screen which I probably want to do at some point. Distance from the projector to the screen can be reduced by installing a ceiling mount for the projector, but it cannot be increased by more than about 6 inches at most. The room is in the basement and does not have any windows so it's easy to get complete darkness simply by closing the door.

I'm using a multiple input HDMI switch that automatically switches between inputs (multiple gaming systems) and sends the signal to the projector.

The girls are perfectly happy with the mediocre image quality of the Epson projector, but it is starting to die so I have permission from "the boss" to shop around for other options.

Although it drives me nuts, they actually prefer to play games and watch movies only using the built-in speaker in the Epson projector, because external speakers are "too loud" and having to remember to turn them on is too much of a hassle.

Before the Epson, we had an Optoma ML1000 LED projector that I liked for the simplicity and low power use (and low heat production) and not having to worry about replacing the bulb. Brightness was very good, but color quality left a lot to be desired, with far too much red tone. The fact that the Epson doesn't have that red tone problem is a big part of why my girls think it is good enough, but I am hoping to make them say "wow" with the replacement, without making my wife say "wow" with the cost. :)

So...my goals:
Total cost of less than $1000.

1: A projector that is not loud as it will be directly behind the primary seating area in the room, and that will produce a better image than the Epson at a throw distance of 13.5 feet and screen size between 7 and 8 feet wide (96 to 110-inch diagonal). 4K would be a nice bonus, but is not a priority at all, since most of the content they view is 1080p or lower (anime).

2: A sound bar or surround system that fits within the budget and that will automatically turn on when it receives a signal (or just stay on) to provide better quality sound but that doesn't draw attention to itself by not allowing very low volume levels when desired, and that doesn't take up a lot of space. Something that can take audio directly from the HDMI switch or the projector would probably be the best option for this situation since a separate audio receiver definitely won't fit in the budget. The gaming consoles and HDMI switch will sit on shelves a few feet away from the projector, on the opposite wall from the screen/speaker(s) if that makes a difference in the options.

3: Suggestions for inexpensive wall paint to use for a wall screen that will be as good or better than my current very old pull-down screen. Or we can just keep using the pull-down screen if screen paint will take too much away from the rest of the budget.
 

Fallen Kell

Diamond Member
Oct 9, 1999
6,064
438
126
Well, for the audio issue, what do you have now? I think the real problems they complain about can be easily resolved with modern audio receiver and/or programmable remotes with a 1 touch macro to turn things on/off and map the volume controls on the remote to control your current speaker system. I loved the older logitech remotes from the 880/890/One line, but was not a fan once they removed most of the physical buttons and moved to a large touchscreen (I also remember complaining to them to bring them back to the older styles with physical buttons, but instead they decided to not listen to customers and went out of business... I mean seriously, the physical buttons were there so that you didn't need to look at the remote to do most of the common things as you simply had muscle memory and could tactically feel the button layout and could adjust accordingly to hit the right button without looking, unlike the LCD touchscreen in which you had to look at to hit the touchscreen pixels that aligned with the button function you wanted... but what do I know, I'm only the paying customer with a degree specializing in human computer interaction and they had to shutdown their entire business line in remote controls).
 

Fallen Kell

Diamond Member
Oct 9, 1999
6,064
438
126
Also as for using a painted wall as a screen, I recommend not doing so. It will expose all the imperfections of your basement wall/drywall tape/mud. Nothing is ever perfectly flat with straight 90 degree angles to your ceiling/floor/other walls. You are much better off using a screen, but they are more expensive if you are going to buy a new one (just keep what you have for now under your current budget).

I would also consider changing from using a standard projector to using a laser projector. You will need to make some changes for that to really work, but it is worth it. That said, in your price range, it will be tough. However if you factor in the replacement bulbs over the lifetime of the projector you will probably be looking at only a few hundred dollars difference. The laser systems are much more efficient, and thus don't need as much cooling and are quieter than standard projectors. But the real benefit with the laser systems is that when you do get around to replacing that screen, you can get one that is designed to have a laser projector aim at it from below (using an ultra-short throw projector). These new screens look like a sawtooth wave close up from the side, which provides a surface that the laser projector can hit from the bottom (or top, but more useful from the bottom) and reflect out to the people watching, and at the same time trap the light coming from the other direction (i.e. can lights or spot lights in the room from the ceiling could be pointed right at the screen from above and not wash out the image as they don't reflect outwards to the people viewing the screen).
 

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
9,192
758
126
The current audio source is either the built in speaker in the projector, or an older Panasonic shelf stereo system. Neither one is "theater quality", but the stereo does sound a lot better than the projector speaker. At least, it does to me. My girls say it's too much of a hassle to turn it on every time they want to use the projector, and they think the built in speaker is good enough. And I do have a universal remote for most other devices, but I've tried several different remotes and none of them will control the stereo properly so we have to use its own dedicated remote.

It still wouldn't provide true surround sound, but I was thinking that something like a moderately decent sound bar that either stays on all the time or turns on automatically when it receives a signal would be an option for an upgrade to better sound than the projector speaker, without being a hassle for the girls.

I don't have any plans to buy a new screen. The current one is adequate. I just listed a wall painted "screen" as an option to make the projected image slightly bigger up to the available 8 foot wide area that is between two built in bookshelves where the 7 foot screen is hanging now. I have no problem continuing to use the current screen.

What would you suggest for a laser projector that might be close to my intended budget? Quieter, efficient, and less heat are nice bonuses, but I do have to keep the cost as low as possible...
 

Fallen Kell

Diamond Member
Oct 9, 1999
6,064
438
126
Well, the real problem would be hitting that $1000 budget. The cheapest laser projector that I would recommend would be around $2000 (but like I said originally, these don't typically need bulb replacements ever 4-5k hours and will last 20-30k hours), so you factor in the extra $500-600 in bulbs that you would have spent and it becomes pretty close in price. The real issue is that most of these are ultra short throw projectors, meaning the projector basically sits right in front of your screen (usually between 6 inches and 2 feet depending on the system and the size of the screen, but for ~84" width screen that you have most will be in that 6 inch range, so basically on a entertainment console table or small platform right at the base of your screen).

Something like this would work: https://www.bomaker.com/products/polaris-4k-ultra-short-throw-laser-tv

But it is 4k...
 

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
9,192
758
126
Thank you for the suggestion. Even considering not needing bulbs, that's unfortunately well outside of the allowed budget right now so I'll have to keep the idea in mind for a possible future upgrade.
 

Fallen Kell

Diamond Member
Oct 9, 1999
6,064
438
126
Sorry that it is just a little out of range (not sure if you noticed the $600 off sale, so it is ~1500), but laser systems are more expensive like I said.
 

cellarnoise

Senior member
Mar 22, 2017
730
400
136
I don't know if they make the "Do-Able" board anymore. It has a bit of white screen gain which works great for lower light throw projectors. It is 100" diagonal. I still have mine under my older spandex custom made screen. I would still be using it if I did not want to go larger!

Lots of old threads on the "Do-able" board back in the day... I think I bought mine in 2012?


If you want more work and a bit more research, but without much screen gain you could make your own screen from spandex up to just about any size for under $100 and about $200 in sweat and tears, but they work great!

The latest iterations of the "Do-able" board maybe is called "ThrifyWhite" now. Though I have not researched it. Look it up on AVSform to see if there are any reviews. The old "Do-able" was around 49"x97" or so. A bit larger than 4x8, but worked great without any paint! You just had to make sure you got a good board out of the stack without any scratches or other flaws, but it was not hard to do as it was "Do-able" :)
 
Last edited:

cellarnoise

Senior member
Mar 22, 2017
730
400
136
I don't know if they make the "Do-Able" board anymore. It has a bit of white screen gain which works great for lower light throw projectors. It is 100" diagonal. I still have mine under my older spandex custom made screen. I would still be using it if I did not want to go larger!

Lots of old threads on the "Do-able" board back in the day... I think I bought mine in 2012?


If you want more work and a bit more research, but without much screen gain you could make your own screen from spandex up to just about any size for under $100 and about $200 in sweat and tears, but they work great!
So many video projectors anymore. Even the latest 1080 projectors work great. I don't think 4k is even worth looking at in your price range.

Your crew does not like loud, so maybe a small receiver with cheap surround sound and atmos? speakers, or if you current setup can use a sub-woofer, spend some bank on a good one! And forget all the rest..

A good screen and a powered sub-woofer makes everything better!

I would not go smaller than this for a subwoofer, and this will not do much over an open 12'x15' room..
Klipsch R-12SW 12" 400W Subwoofer

And then it just goes crazy from there! (I have 4 21" home made sealed subs now along with bum shakers, but I started out with a good 12" sub that worked goodish!... I'm in about $4k just on subs and bum shakers alone after 10 years of adding...) Subs are great to add impact after you have the video portion up to your $ level...
 
Last edited:

cellarnoise

Senior member
Mar 22, 2017
730
400
136
I don't know if they make the "Do-Able" board anymore. It has a bit of white screen gain which works great for lower light throw projectors. It is 100" diagonal. I still have mine under my older spandex custom made screen. I would still be using it if I did not want to go larger!

Lots of old threads on the "Do-able" board back in the day... I think I bought mine in 2012?


If you want more work and a bit more research, but without much screen gain you could make your own screen from spandex up to just about any size for under $100 and about $200 in sweat and tears, but they work great!

The latest iterations of the "Do-able" board maybe is called "ThrifyWhite" now. Though I have not researched it. Look it up on AVSform to see if there are any reviews. The old "Do-able" was around 49"x97" or so. A bit larger than 4x8, but worked great without any paint! You just had to make sure you got a good board out of the stack without any scratches or other flaws, but it was not hard to do as it was "Do-able" :)
3rd edit. Research here, or just build a spandex screen.. https://www.avsforum.com/forums/diy-screen-section.110/

Time marches on and it seams that the "Doable" board is no longer the same or available.

Mine DIY spandex has worked great for 10 years and they seem to still be diy rated well, but I have an old Epson 1080 projector that is really bright, especially with a newer bulb!
 

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
9,192
758
126
It's time to revive my own thread. ;)

I ended up not doing anything at the beginning of the year because we discovered some really big repairs that needed to be done on the house and those took priority over everything else, of course.

However, the old Epson PowerLite 99W is actually dying now with very frequent "overheating" warnings and shutting itself down even after very short usage times. I opened it up and confirmed that the fans are working and I cleaned up the very small amount of dust accumulation, but it didn't make any difference.

So...it's definitely time to replace that old beast.

To update and clarify my original post, I'm not looking at doing any audio changes right now since the budget is still very painful after a new roof, new windows, and new furnace/AC. :(

I'll worry about upgrading the sound to something tolerable later. For now I just need a cheap but decent projector that can project up to 112" diagonal (I painted the wall between two bookshelves so 112" is the absolute max it can be) at a throw distance of exactly 14 feet from the front lens of the current projector, and that has a built-in speaker capable of making sound without screeching. 1080P is preferred but not required, with not horribly loud cooling fans. Manually adjustable vertical keystone and zoom is very important due to the installation situation. I really can't adjust where the projector will sit so I need to be able to adjust the image.

I know I'm limiting the options a lot with this, but I really need to keep the price as low as possible, so I'd like to stay around or under $500. I can go a bit higher if there's a really good reason to do so, but $1000 isn't going to happen for something where the girls have been happy with the ancient PowerLite, especially when I just spent WAY too much money on the house repairs.

Online searches for budget home theater projectors gave me these suggestions that fit the budget and have good reviews, but I don't know how to decide They aren't all 1080P, but honestly that's not a high requirement if the rest of the projector is good quality since they are mostly just playing games on older generation consoles so they aren't really 1080P content anyway.

I'm using throw distance/size info from the calculator at ProjectorCentral and it seems that my main difficulty will be getting the right image size (cannot be any bigger, but smaller is OK) at the throw distance (cannot be any longer and can only maybe be a few inches shorter).

Viewsonic PA503W

$399 from Amazon.
WXGA 1280x800 resolution. 3800 lumens.
+/-40 degree vertical keystone.
112" image at 12' 3" - 13' 5".

BenQ TH575

$499 from Amazon.
HD 1920x1080 resolution. 3800 lumens.
+/-40 degree vertical keystone.
112" image at 12' 1" - 13' 4".

Optoma HD 146X

$597 from Amazon.
HD 1920x1080 resolution. 3600 lumens.
+/-40 degree vertical keystone.
112" image at 11' 11" - 13' 2".

Xiaomi Wanbo TT

$299 from Amazon after a $100 off coupon.
HD 1920x1080.
LED lamp, so no bulb replacements. But only 650 ansi lumens (about 1560 lumens).
+/-30 degree vertical and horizontal keystone. 50-100% zoom ratio.
No throw distance info on ProjectorCentral
Best price by far and really nice specs on paper, but very few reviews, significantly less bright than the others, and no throw info that I can find...
 

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
9,192
758
126
A lot of the online reviews I've found say it's absolutely worth paying a little more than the projectors I listed to get a BenQ 2050A for much better input lag, image quality, quiet fans, better color accuracy, better focus.

Sounds good to me, but the throw distance calculator says the 2050A can only do a 112" diagonal image at 9' 4" - 12' 2", so I'd have to do a ceiling mount since there's no way I can extend the current shelf mount location forward a full two feet, which could be hazardous to people walking by. A ceiling mount isn't an option for any of the other projectors because they don't have horizontal keystone adjustment that would be needed due to a really annoyingly place light fixture. But it looks like the 2050A does have both vertical and horizontal keystone so I think I probably found my answer.

Now if I can just find it on sale.. ;)
 

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
9,192
758
126
Continuing the conversation with myself...

I bought the BenQ 2050A and I am very satisfied with the results for the most part. Brightness is excellent on the "normal" setting and pretty close to LCD/LED TV levels with all of the room lights on. With the lights off, it's quite stunning and definitely approaches big theater quality in brightness and color quality. Changing to Eco mode to save the bulb (the projector estimates about 3X life doing this) does make things noticeably less bright, but still usable with the lights on, and still excellent with the lights off. The picture sharpness and focus is consistent across the whole image. It is slightly better in the center, but even the extreme corners are still good. The fans are much quieter than the old projector, and only noticeable at times when audio from the movie/game/whatever is very quiet. The built-in speaker is surprisingly good. It's not theater quality by any means, but for a very small cone that's tacked into a projector, it's not bad at all.

The only things that bother/disappoint me are that the manual keystone adjustments are only up/down and left/right directional and that the throw distance is not what the ProjectorCentral calculator says it should be. The throw distance is OK, but even with the zoom turned out as far as it can go, the picture on the wall still overlaps beyond my intended area by about 6-8 inches on all sides, so I'm going to have to get a ceiling mount so that I can move the projector forward enough to make the image fit properly. And I was hoping that the keystone adjustments would be like the settings in the old Epson projector, where it was possible to manually move each corner in or out individually to make the projected image fit perfectly in the desired space. With only left/right and up/down options on the BenQ, it's harder to make things line up perfectly, especially if the projector itself is not lined up perfectly.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Saylick