A portable home theater at a nice price

Set up your own screening room with the inexpensive Cinego Projector System

September 24, 2005|By Kevin Hunt | Kevin Hunt,Kevin Hunt writes for the Hartford Courant

A real home-theater pro would never consider putting a plasma or LCD or any other kind of wide-screen HDTV set in his luxurious screening room. No, true gearheads use a projector and an oversize, drop-down screen. It's the closest they can get to a real movie theater.

Not long ago, these projectors cost $8,000 and upward. With improvements in Texas Instruments' Digital Light Processing technology - which uses a spinning color wheel and thousands of micromirrors to create a picture - a high-definition projector now costs half that.

But here's something that will make your head spin, DLP-style: a projector with two built-in speakers, a DVD player and a flat, fit-in-the-palm remote control for $1,300. The Cinego D-1000 Instant Theater DLP Projector System, made by Texas Instruments and sold by RadioShack, has all that - and a scrawny subwoofer - to let you create an instant home theater. It's an ambitious product that, with its price and availability through the vast RadioShack retail network, could turn budget DLP projectors into a home-theater contender.

Where else, for $1,300, can you get an 8-foot (measured diagonally) picture? And no heavy lifting. The Cinego weighs less than 8 pounds (without the subwoofer), and because it's less than a foot wide and only about 4 inches high, it's portable. Splash Hide and Seek against a garage door, under the stars, and call it a drive-in. The next day, display images of your new line of widgets in a multimedia presentation at work. Then pack it up and take it for a week to the cottage on the lake.

Kevin Hunt writes for the Hartford Courant.

Set-up and use

The basics: The Cinego D-1000 isn't a high-definition projector, but its 854-by-480 resolution is DVD-quality, or similar to an enhanced-definition plasma set. Its lower contrast ratio sacrifices brightness to achieve acceptable blacks, so it's critical to set up the Cinego in a dark room. For best picture quality, a screen is mandatory (RadioShack sells screens, starting at $100 for a 55-incher).

After taking maybe 45 seconds to set up the Cinego in a makeshift basement home theater, I locked into a 75-inch (diagonal) picture by placing the projector about 7 feet from the screen. (The closer the projector is to the screen, the smaller the picture.) The picture was duller, the color flatter than on, say, a 42-inch plasma. But the size -- 75 inches! -- overwhelmed.

The picture: The Cinego puts its money into the picture. Picture size starts at 27 inches and displays an image up to 100 inches, measured diagonally. If you sit too close to the screen, you'll notice a grid pattern called a screen-door effect. Those are the individual pixels you're seeing. The projector uses a lamp that must be replaced every 2,000 hours, or 3,000 if using an economy mode, which dims the picture. A replacement bulb costs $230.

The sound: The audio system is not great. But the Cinego easily connects to your own sound system, cable box or satellite receiver with a series of minijacks on the side panel. Connect the subwoofer to the projector, plug both into a wall outlet and it's ready to go. The top-loading DVD player has a pop-up door and a few basic push-button controls. The volume control is built into the rear panel between the two speakers.

Noise note: The projector generates a lot of heat and requires cooling by a built-in fan. Unlike most fans in DLP television sets, this one is noisy enough to interfere with low-volume listening in a small room.

Added attractions: The Cinego also connects to an Xbox or any other video-game console and accepts a high-definition TV feed using component-video connections, though it displays HDTV images in the DVD-quality 480p mode.

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