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Published: 2007-06-20 - 14:34:00
Home Theater : Ask The Expert

Why is My Home Theater Projection Image So Dark and Washed Out?

By Chris Boylan

Question:

Good Morning, Big Picture Big Sound

I read your article on DIY Projector screens. The information was very helpful. I have a couple of questions that I can't seem to get answered anywhere. No one seems to be able to help.

OK, here's the situation. I purchased a used Dell 1100MP (rated at 1400 lumens) from a friend. The bulb has less than 100 hours left on it. The projector is ceiling mounted and projecting onto a wall. I have 2 coats of primer followed by 2 coats of Behr's silver screen paint. The issue is that the image simply isn't that bright. I can brighten up the image with the brightness setting, but then the whites get washed out.

The bottom line is, will purchasing a new bulb increase the brightness? (in other words, do the bulbs dim over time?) Or should I get better paint such as ScreenGoo? I'm trying to save money, but at the same time, I host a movie night once a week, and I want the picture to look good. I would appreciate any advice you could give me. Thank you very much.

-Marco O.

PS - Are they any good sites that you know of that can walk me through tweaking the image settings. I've spent hours trying to get the picture right, but it's never quite what I'm looking for.



Answer:

Hi, Marco,

Some projection bulbs do dim gradually over time and others are designed to maintain a fairly uniform brightness over their life until they dim significantly (usually right before they burn out). A new bulb might improve things, but if you bought the projector used, a new bulb might end up costing nearly as much as you paid for the projector itself, so try a few other less expensive options first.

A rated brightness of 1400 ANSI lumens is actually fairly bright, but these settings are typically taken with the brightness and contrast set much higher than they should be. Actual lumen output when the screen has been properly calibrated may end up being half the rated number or less. That said, we've been able to get great results with projectors that have brightness ratings below 1000 ANSI lumens.

The first thing you should look at is light control within the room itself - in other words, how is your room's natural lighting helping or hurting the image? Do you have lights on while watching the movies? If so, are they as dim as they can be? For best results, most projectors require a viewing room that is a dark as possible. If you're watching a projector during the day, you generally need to get black-out drapes, or set the projector up in a room that gets very little sunlight (like a basement). But even during the evening, excessive room lighting can wash out a projected image significantly.

One thing that can help quite a bit (if you have not done this already) is to put a black border around the screen area. This enhances perceived contrast - it makes the image look less washed-out, makes blacks look blacker and whites look whiter. The border should be black, and it really needs to absorb (not reflect) light. We've done this with wood moulding (painted flat black) but that was a little labor-intensive. We have seen great results with Visual Reality's "Flok" tape. It's a matte black cloth-based tape that's very easy to apply. This might be a little tricky for your specific projector because your projector's aspect ratio is 4:3 and most widescreen DVDs are 16:9 or wider. Even a black border around the full 4:3 screen area would help, but it's better to put the border right at the edges of the most commonly watched screen ratio.

We have tried Behr Silver Screen paint in one installation and were not overly impressed with it. It did enhance contrast a bit (which is important on many LCD projectors), but if did not provide the same brightness or color saturation as our Goo painted "screen." With DLP projectors like yours, typically the contrast and black reproduction are a little better than on a comparable LCD projector, so the best screen paint for you might actually be Goo's "CRT White" color. This formulation has a higher gain than their grey colors, and gain is what gives you higher light output.

At this point, if I were you, I'd try the suggestions above. If none of them help then, rather than investing possibly $200 or $300 into a bulb for a projector that only cost $700 new, put the money instead toward a 720P high def projector (DLP or LCD) which you can currently find in the $1000 range (or even less). This will allow you to get a true widescreen output, higher resolution and a new bulb to boot.

As for how to set your projector, you should visit AVS Forum and do a forum search on "1100MP settings" or "1100MP calibration." If you're lucky you'll find someone who has professionally calibrated this projector sharing their settings with others on the board. Of course, these settings can vary based on your lamp's current light output. Your best bet is probably to buy a calibration disc such as the Avia Guide to Home Theater DVD. This DVD includes test patterns and filters as well as clear instructions on how to get the most accurate picture out of any display.

I hope that helps.

Regards,

-Chris

Keep those cards and letters coming! if you have a question for one of our home theater experts, shoot us an e-mail to "Ask The Expert." We'll select among these for future installments in this column. Due to the volume of requests we receive, we cannot reply to each question personally.

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