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Today's Show:
It's no secret we're into projects; we like to geek out every now and then to see what we can put together without breaking the bank.  We've built our own MythTV server, assembled a Mac based video server and have messed around with whole house audio as well.  Another project we've had in the back of our minds for years now is the infamous DIY Home Theater Projector project.  As we started to do our research, a thought hit us.  Would it be better to build a projector ourselves, or just pay a little extra and buy one on eBay?

Do It Yourself or eBay?

The DIY Projector
There's a great article at inventgeek.com called A Practical Guide to the DIY LCD Projectors.  It lays out, in very simple language the steps required to build your own projector.  One that will come close to HDTV (1024x768) and will fill a 110" screen.  The basic premise is an LCD panel for picture, mounted to an overhead projector as the lens and light source, inside a wooden enclosure for sound and light dampening.  The idea sounds great.  They project the total cost to be $174 based on these assumptions:

  • $17.00: Overhead Projector     
  • $25.00: LCD Projector Panel    
  • $110.00: Screen    
  • $22.00: Construction supplies    
  • $174.00: Total    

We checked the HT Guys store and found the prices to be a bit higher.  If you scour eBay, you can probably get close to what they listed, but we didn't have the patience for that.  Our total was closer to

  • $89.95: Overhead Projector
  • $129.00: LCD Monitor (for panel)
  • $107.00: Screen (Vutec)
  • $35.00: Construction supplies
  • $360.95: Total

The DIY Screen
Then, of course, you could make the screen yourself if you really wanted to.  ProjectorCentral.com has a great article on how to do that called Make a 100" Screen for under $100.  They not only give excellent detail on how to put the screen together, they also compare it with a much more expensive screen and give advice on how to tune your projector to make the DIY screen look its best.  The basic premise with this is very bright white background paper (like the stuff photographers use for photo shoots) mounted to a wooden frame that's been wrapped in black velveteen.  Total cost is $98.50, saving you about $10-12 off the total cost of the project.

  • $26.00: Super-white seamless paper
  • $42.50: Wood and hardware for frame
  • $29.00: Velveteen fabric (3 yards) and glue
  • $98.50: Total

Is it worth it?
So the screen project really got us thinking.  You can spend countless hours and and intense attention to detail to get a screen that doesn't perform all that well and only saves you about $10.  If the total project is going to cost $350 or so, what can we put together on eBay?  How much more would it cost to not have to build anything at all?  Keep in mind that the projector is only 1024x768 (although it is 3000 lumens), and the screen is less than stellar on color reproduction and contrast.  It doesn't feel like there's much lower to go on the projector and screen food chain

Projectors available as of October 16, 2008:
  • NEC LT157 Portable LCD Projector, 1024x768 native resolution, 1500 ANSI Lumens, $249.95
  • INFOCUS Screenplay 5000, Native 720P resolution, 1100 ANSI Lumens, $26 (needs bulb)
  • INFOCUS LP280 LCD HDTV Projector, native 800x600, 1024x768 capable, 1000 ANSI lumens, $319
  • Epson EMP-61 LCD Projector, 800 x 600 native, 1280 x 1024 max resolution, 720p/1080i capable, 2000 ANSI Lumens, $249.99
  • Sony VPL-PX31 LCD Data Projector, native XGA 1024x768, 2800 ANSI Lumens, $20.50 (works, but appears well worn)

Of course a lot of the concept behind DIY isn't the finished product, it's the journey you take to get there.  We get that.  In fact, even considering the prices of some of those projectors on eBay, we may still go ahead with the project just to say we've done it.  But in that case, we wouldn't be setting out to build a great home theater projector, we be setting out to have fun seeing if we could get a DIY project up and running.  Look ma, I made a projector!

Posted by The HT Guys, October 20, 2008 9:55 PM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.