Upgrading my Home Theater to 4k, Part 1

The picture quality is all down to the projector, not the signal!

I have for a long time been planning and wanting to upgrade my Home Theater especially on the picture side. Not that I do not want to upgrade the sound side as well, but that will take much more DIY and I do not have the time right now.

The old Projector was a Sanyo PLV- Z700, a Full HD 1920 x 1080 with a contrast ratio of 10.000:1. I have been very happy with this projector, the picture is film like, but it lacks the lush colors, the sharpness and the deep blacks of modern projectors.

The Screen was a Elitescreen Diplomat (same as QualityScreen and Draper) motor screen of 76″.

I bought the screen on sale before I had finished the Home Theater and chose a size which I was sure would fit in width the rather narrow room between the two main speakers. It turned out there was probably room for a little wider screen and this has been on the whish list for many years.

Time flies and it turns out I have actually had the Sanyo and the Elitescreen fro 15 years! I have changed the bulb on the projector 2 times at around 1500h each time and I was at around 750h on the third lamp already. So in all fairness I think it is high time to make the change.

So firstly choosing the projector. To follow the development it needs to be 4k and need to have quite good contrast ratio and I’m not prepared to spend a real fortune, as it needs to be balanced with the use so it does not turn out to be 100 € per film watched!

I’m unfortunately very sensitive to the rainbow effect on DLP projectors, seeing a trailing edge on moving objects in the 3 main colors RGB. I know this to most sounds religiously as they have never experienced this, but no matter how fast the color wheel is spinning on the top models I still see it and it’s quite annoying. So this limits the field somewhat, and unfortunately as there are some really good DLP choices with their inherent high contrast ration, out there.

Now everything also seems to go towards Laser, which gives high light output and getting rid of the need for changing expensive bulbs as the laser have a lifetime of around 50.000 hours. But these are still quite expensive and still over my limit.

Sony, Epson and JVC makes some awesome projectors. Sony with their XSRD panel technology, and JVC with the renowned D-ILA panels. On top of this JVC incorporates Tone Mapping, calculating brightness of pictures frame by frame and mapping (calculating) the dynamic range to the limited dynamic range possible with the projector. This gives higher contrast ratios and a deeper image. Today a lot of advance has been done with coding the mapping into the picture information using HDR, HDR+ and Dolby Vision, so that the information can be used by the projector or screen to show as optimal picture as possible.

Another trick which has been used for a long time is the automatic Iris lens which based on the picture brightness either opens or closes more to match the picture and there by applying the right amount of light allowing for a higher contrast ratio. Both Sony and JVC has quite high inherent contrast ratio, and does not use an auto Iris, whereas Epson and my old Sony does.

Sony and JVC makes formidable projectors, but they are in my view too expensive.

Epson overall makes some of best bang for the buck projectors. The newest Laser projectors EH-LS11000W and EH-LS12000W are hot choices, but I was not able to get a good enough deal to make it happen. I therefore ended with the Epson EH-TW9400, which offers 4k resolution, 2000 Lumens brightness and a contrast ratio of 1:1.200.000. I got a demo model which had only run for 8 hours and saved some 20%. Not bad at all.

Epson EH-TW9400

Now for the new screen. As mentioned I have found that I might have room for a bit larger screen size than the old 76″. The room is very narrow and I only have ca. 226 cm between the main LR speakers, so this is the maximum size of the

Now for the new screen. As mentioned I have found that I might have room for a bit larger screen size than the old 76″. The room is very narrow and I only have ca. 226 cm between the main LR speakers, so this is the maximum length of the boom weight which needs to fit down between. The problem with the room is also the door which leads to the next room and which therefore need to be accessible. Therfore no possibility for either a fixed frame or a bit size flat screen TV.

Researching a little on best viewing distance and screen size published by THX I basically end up with 100″ being too large and the current 76″ being a bit too small. The viewing distance is only around 2.6 m for the two front seats which is used for the calculation as these are by far the most used.

Elitescreens makes some overall affordable and very good screens and the choice has fallen on Shaker Premium in a motorized version.

These can be had in 84″, 92″ and 100″ (and larger) and using the THX viewing distance the 84″ might be ideal for first row but the 92″ will also fit the second row, and 100″ will be a bit too large overall.

Checking the physical size of the screen we find that the boom weight on the 92″ is 221.7 cm wide … a near perfect fit between the speakers. Of course I could maybe opt for smaller speakers but I also might want to go a bit bigger, so not really an option. Therefore the overall choice falls on the SK92XHW-24.

I had a few days with the new Epson projector running, first on the old 76″ and then on the new 92″. So on the picture above you see the image sized for the old screen, but projected on the new. Here it is quite clear that this is for sure a larger screen. Success.

Watching a movie on the front row now is a big step up, both in size and picture quality, and by now I haven’t even tried this in 4K as a miss the player/source (look for Part 2 on this).

Size wise, I think THX is a bit conservative, I actually think a 100″ would have been good too, but I’m quite happy about the overall result. So now time for movies and popcorn.

First impression of picture

With the projector in Eco mode, the lowest light output setting, the picture is stunning.

Black is really black, picture is really sharp and it is a pleasure having the larger picture.

First impressions where made with a HD signal to the projector, and having the projector du the upscaling to 4k.

Later I installed the new UHD 4k blu ray player (Panasonic) and a surround receiver capable of passing through 4k (Denon), and overall impression with a 4k blu ray disc that the picture is even sharper, but not by much.

Actually I’d say that 80-90% of the improvement is with the new projector. I think it matters a lot with the better contrast ratio, but also the much better resolution. But I think that the improvements, of providing a 4k source or just a full HD source, is minimal.

Whether HDR, HDR10 or Dolby Vision, is making any real difference is still to be investigated, but I think that with a projector, the nits value is simply way to low(light output) for this to really matter.

What is clear though, is now how much the room color, and thereby the reflected light now matters. Also the displays on Blu ray, Receiver and amp will have to be dimmed a lot or even better turned of or hidden. This is now more what limits the contrast level now, and what needs to be worked on.

So bottom line, get yourself a new 4k projector with high contrast level. You for sure will not regret that investment.

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