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How To Get The Most Out of The Projector You Already Own

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JVC_DLA-X3_3D_projector_review.jpgWhile flat HDTVs seem to grow exponentially in size with every passing year, front projection is still the most cost-effective and arguably the best way to recreate the movie theater experience at home. However, front-projection-based home theaters aren't quite as plug and play as their direct-view counterparts. While many believe the lion's share of the performance rests upon the projector's shoulders first and the screen second, there are a number of little things you can do in order to maximize your projector's performance. Some of these helpful tips will also ensure you get the most out of your front-projection investment long term. So, without further ado, here are my top tips for getting the most from your front projector.

Additional Resources
• Read more original commentary in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more front projector news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore reviews in our Front Projector Review section.

1. THX or ISF Professional Calibration
Price Range: $350 - $550
There is no better way to ensure that you're getting the very best picture than to have it professionally calibrated by either a professional THX- or ISF-certified calibrator. Generally, I prefer THX calibration, as I've found that not only are their standards higher for methods and tools to be higher than those of ISF, but they also place higher demands on the calibrators themselves. I personally have had all of my reference displays THX-calibrated, and the difference between an out of the box picture and a calibrated one is generally night and day. For front-projection enthusiasts, having your projector calibrated will ensure that you're getting the best picture not only in terms of color, contrast and sharpness, but also brightness, which is arguably the most important factor when discussing front projection.

While an additional $350 to $550 after having already spent a thousand or more may seem unreasonable, it's arguably the best thing you can do to ensure you're getting your money's worth. Furthermore, you can speak with a calibrator before purchasing your first or next projector and potentially save a bit of money, for many of the so-called features that a lot of manufacturers tout as "must-haves" will more than likely be turned off or rendered inoperable by a calibrator, for they actually harm the image rather than help it. A good calibrator can help guide you through the murky waters of manufacture spin and direct you toward the right projector, potentially saving you hundreds if not thousands in the process.

2. Isopropyl Alcohol (99.7 percent, NOT 70 percent)
Price Range: Less than $20
Isopropyl alcohol is a type of rubbing alcohol that can be used to clean your projector's optics and, in the case of JVC-based projectors, the window that rests between your projector's bulb and its display chips. Isopropyl alcohol in its richest form, 99.7 percent, isn't available everywhere, so you may have to do a bit of digging, though once you find it, a properly stored bottle should last you for years. Periodically cleaning your projector's lens and other user-accessible optic parts will ensure maximum brightness from your projector. Just be sure to use as little as possible and apply it either with a cotton swab or microfiber cloth. Never under any circumstances apply it directly to the area being cleaned. Lastly, be sure to consult with your projector's manual before any and all user maintenance, for not following the manufacturer's recommendations may cause you to void your warranty or, worse, damage your projector.

3. Diamond Lamp Replacement Projector Lamps

Price Range: Varies (but less than factory originals)
The heart of any front projector is its lamp and, while many of today's projectors are rated into the thousands of hours, the truth of the matter is that projectors begin to lose light output long before their bulb has reached its reported capability. I recently changed out my projector's bulb, which had just over 1,000 hours on it. With roughly a thousand hours on the clock, my projector was producing an underwhelming seven foot-lamberts at the screen in a totally dark environment - in high lamp mode, no less. For best results, you're more than likely going to want to change your projector's bulb every 500-800 hours to ensure maximum performance at any given time. While 500 hours is a long time (250 two-hour movies or 63 days of straight viewing at eight hours a day), it's not as long or as good as today's HDTVs, which can run for 20,000-plus hours. While I know many front-projection enthusiasts can drag 500 hours out over the course of years, there are those who may need to change bulbs sooner than that.

Instead of buying a new or replacement bulb from the factory, I suggest Diamond Lamps bulbs, which are guaranteed to work as well as factory originals, though they often cost only half as much. Having recently replaced my JVC's bulb, I went with a Diamond Lamp from an online site called Projector Lamp Genie, which is an authorized reseller of Diamond Lamps, and managed to buy mine for $152.90 as opposed to $297.66 for a factory replacement - that's nearly fifty percent off retail. If you're still hesitant, don't be, for Diamond Lamps carry with them a longer warranty than even the factory replacements. The nice thing about Projector Lamp Genie is that they sell original bulbs as well as Diamond Lamps, so that you can see and compare the two for yourself. Also, all orders come standard with free UPS Ground shipping, and who among us doesn't like free shipping?

4. Battery Backup
Price Range: Less than $100
While the idea of running one's components off of some sort of power filtration and/or battery backup system is not really news, you'd be amazed how many don't apply that same methodology to their beloved front projectors. I didn't. A buddy of mine on our forum HomeTheaterEquipment.com alerted me to the dangers of not having my projector plugged into a battery backup. The bottom line is this: your projector, regardless of its make and model, relies heavily on its fan to keep the bulb and it internal architecture cool. Even after you power down your projector, it's not uncommon for the fan to continue to run for several minutes while it cools everything inside down to a safe temperature. In a power outage, that same fan can no longer cool your projector down, meaning it must now do it naturally, which many projectors are not equipped to do.

The result can be anything from cracked/shattered bulbs to melted chipsets and/or optics. Regardless, the fix will most assuredly be higher in price than the cost of a moderate battery backup system available at any big box retailer. I recently bought mine for under $50. The one thing you must keep in mind is to make sure your chosen battery backup system has the requisite power output to support your projector's needs -for me, this meant getting a unit capable of 375 watts of output capacity, which should be good for up to 45 minutes of operation or enough time for my fans to cool my projector down properly.

Additional Resources
• Read more original commentary in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more front projector news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore reviews in our Front Projector Review section.
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