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Front projectors: Really big home theater with a shrinking price tag
If you think a 50-inch plasma TV is large, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Imagine watching a movie or sporting event on a giant screen stretching 100 inches or more diagonally. You can do just that with a front projector, with no sacrifice in picture quality. The best high-definition (HD) digital models rival plasma TVs for excellent image quality and price.

As with other types of TVs, falling prices are the big news. Our latest tests turned up some fine HD projectors that sell for $2,000 or so. You will see some models selling for less than half that, but don't be fooled. These are typically lower-resolution projectors that are most suitable for business use. They won't give you the detailed, big-screen TV images most home viewers want.

Projectors designed primarily for conference-room use may not be able to project the wide-screen, 16:9 image you'd want for DVD movies and high-definition TV, or the deep black levels you need for quality entertainment video. Also, they may not have familiar video controls such as color and tint adjustments and aspect ratio controls. In addition, they may not have the HDMI connection used by DVD players, receivers, and cable and satellite boxes.

Here are a few points to keep in mind if you think a front projector might be right for you. With a front projector, you're not locked into a specific screen size, as you are with every other type of TV. You can reduce or increase the image size by moving the projector closer to or farther away from the screen and using the zoom and focus controls. A screen will run you about $400 for a basic model, so factor that into your budget. Other considerations: Most projectors have no audio or TV tuner, so plan to hook up a sound system, a cable or satellite box, and a DVD player.

While front projectors have unique advantages, they aren't the best choice for everyday TV viewing. That's partly because of the setup involved, but even more so because they look best in very dark rooms. Still, for truly big-screen viewing, a front projector can't be beat

For specific recommendations of front projectors designed for home-theater use, see our Ratings (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers).

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