Bringing the 'drive-in' movie experience home

Posted: July 18, 2014

THE DRIVE-IN theater is virtually extinct. But it's easier than it's ever been to sit under the stars on a warm night with family and friends, sharing ice cream and a great flick on a portable screen (or garage door or tacked-up bed sheet).

Give thanks to the high quality and affordable prices of today's video projectors, which put on a really big-screen show indoors or out when fed a diet of DVD and Blu-ray discs, a connected cable/satellite box or content stored on a USB thumb drive or computer.

FIRST IN LINE: No brand's putting more effort into the cause than Epson, the world's leading maker of video projectors. In the U.S. alone, the company now offers more than 100 models.

Just as LCD/LED TV tech has buried plasma sets by putting on more impressive, brighter demonstrations in showrooms, Epson's ever-improving 3LCD display engines run circles around the competition (DLP) in "shoot outs" comparing brightness, clarity, color and overall value.

THE BACKYARDIGANS: An entry-level, standard-definition Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 500 home theater projector (about $370) delivers the goods with a whopping 2,600 lumens of full-color brightness. You still need to wait for twilight to stage a show outside, but indoors this torchbearer throws a strong image on wall or screen with room lights on. It has an HDMI input for entertainment devices, a built-in speaker and modest, 2 watt amplifier.

Outdoors, you better connect a louder audio source.

Wide-screen, higher definition (720p) images are yours to enjoy with the Epson MovieMate 85HD projector, a very portable entertainment partner boasting a built-in DVD player and decent stereo speakers powered by 10 watt amps. This 9-pound cutie sells for about $850 from B&H and Amazon.

We found it "refurbished" for $549 at Epson.com, labeled for the school/business community as the PowerLite Presenter.

Whatever you call it, it also has an HDMI connection for video game systems and Blu-ray players (downscaled pictures look quite nice). It can blow up a 60-inch wide-screen image from just 6 feet away, and image quality is reasonable up to 120 inches.

SCREEN GEMS: While a light-colored wall will suffice, a well-designed Epson Duet 80-inch Dual Aspect Projection Screen reflects images sharper and brighter. Amazon sells a Duet for $143.55 and also offers the grey-tinted (for truer blacks in the image) Camp Chef 120-inch Outdoor Movie Theater Screen. It stakes down and costs about $200.

THE FULL MONTY: Looking for a true high-def (1080p) entertainer for 2-D/3-D movies and sporting events?

The 6.4-pound Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 home theater projector gets you into the game for $849 from Dell.com (3-D shutter glasses extra). Boasts 2,000 lumens, decent contrast, a modest speaker and two HDMI inputs. The jack with MHL (two-way power) connectivity works with a Roku Streaming Stick to wirelessly pull in Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus within Wi-Fi range.

For a really serious home theater setup, check out the weightier Epson 3020 (stereo speakers and 10 watt amps), 4030 and 5030 projectors, all capable of projecting a punchy image up to 200 inches.

The $1,400 to $2,600 tags might seem pricey, until you compare a Sharp 90-inch LED TV selling for $5,600, or a 103-inch Panasonic Plasma discounted (at TigerDirect) to a mere $36,000!


Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

Online: ph.ly/Tech

 

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