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Cheaper Alternative to high-priced HDTVs


Cheaper Alternative to high-priced HDTVs

Excerpted from article
Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) -  In April, I purchased a Dell 2100MP multimedia projector for $999 that is capable of displaying HDTV.

I'm now happily using the 2100MP to watch DVD movies with progressive-scan playback, producing image quality that seems better to me than the average movie theater, as well as big-screen regular TV.  But I'm not watching any broadcast HDTV because there are still too many issues with receiving and recording local HD broadcasts.

The one thing I wanted was digital television, but I wasn't planning to make the transition until next year when I figured prices would be low enough.

Then Dell changed my mind in April with the 2100MP, which resembles one of those old carousel slide projectors and throws its image across the room onto a screen.

Such "front" projectors, which connect to computers as well as any video source such as a cable or satellite receiver or a video game deck, were prohibitively expensive until early this year, typically costing $3,000 or more.

The lure of front projectors, aside from their small size, is their gigantic picture. I've got the 2100MP against one wall of my family room and a Da-lite Deluxe Insta Theater 100-inch roll-up screen against the other wall, separated by 14 feet. The projected image nearly fills the screen, giving me a picture 6 feet wide by 4 1/2 feet high.

This is bigger than any bleeding-edge LCD or plasma flat-panel TV, which now top out at 60 inches, for a fraction of the price.

The 2100MP was introduced at $1,299, more than I wanted to spend but low enough to catch my eye. Then, a few days after I wrote my review, the price was briefly slashed to $999 and I pounced.

By mid-summer, competitors were also hitting the $999 price point, including Epson and InFocus. Dell then went a step further, introducing the slightly improved 2200MP at $899.

Hooked to my existing Dolby Digital surround-sound system and Dish Network satellite receiver with built-in digital video recorder, I only need to add a progressive-scan DVD player to get a stunning viewing and listening experience. I picked the Pioneer DV-363 for $99.99 in May; progressive-scan DVD players now cost as little as $49. One important note: To watch progressive-scan playback, which gives a sharper picture, you need an HD-compatible TV or projector.

As happy as I am with the new set-up, I'm not recommending it for everyone. There are several drawbacks:

First, front projectors require a room that is dim if not completely dark. If you want to watch TV during the day, you'll need heavy drapes or shades on any windows.

Second, if you want a big picture, you need enough room for a screen and enough distance to put the projector 10 feet or more away.

Third, front projection requires everyone to sit still. Moving in front of the projector puts giant shadows on the screen. I got my 3-year-old daughter Sara an inexpensive 20-inch TV to use elsewhere in the house because she's too active for viewing the 2100MP in the family room.

Fourth, front projectors require cooling fans. Although the noise level on new models is much less than a few years ago, it can still be noticeable during quiet scenes.

Fifth, the bulbs in front projectors don't last forever and are expensive to replace. The 2100MP and 2200MP each get about 2,000 hours from a bulb that costs $300.

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