Help me pick a projector


Well-Known Member
I'll keep this as short as possible.

We are a community theater (read: poor) We do most shows here at our blackbox (50 x 60' room) and two large musicals at a big proscenium theater. Proscenium is 24' H x 40' W x 32' D. We can use the cyc to shrink the depth to whatever we want.

Some backdrops we can make; simple patterns or things that can be painted, but for more realistic backdrops we usually rent. Renting a 24 x 40' backdrop for a month is ridiculously expensive.

So, I'm writing a grant for a proper shorter-throw projector so that we can "make" whatever backdrop we want. Grant will likely be in the $10k range, but not all will be earmarked for the projector. I need to shop to see if I can fit a proper projector in the grant. I'm looking for a throw of somewhere in the 10-20' range to fill a 24 x 40 cyc. I would likely hang it on a pipe just either upstage or downstage of the cyc pointing down at an angle so actors don't cast shadows. Needs to be bright enough to saturate with light spill from typical stage lighting.

LED preferred, mostly because lamps will likely be pricey. I don't want to lose a lamp 4 years from now and not have the $600 liquid cash to replace it in a timely fashion. Or, to use a metaphor, we can afford a $6000 used Mercedes, but we don't have the cash flow to replace a $1600 radiator or a $4000 catalyst. We would rather pay $10,000 for a used Toyota and spend $150 on maintenance.
I recommend Epson Pro LCD projectors. There's always 2 models. HD + 1024x768.
The low resolution models are cheaper and brighter, but not being even 1080p when projecting at 20' diagonal is rough to look at.
I also 100% avoid DLP because I'm one of those people who can see the rainbow effect associated with the color wheel spinning, so I don't want to impart that on my self or anyone else.
Also - lamp vs laser - they all have a lifespan, so weather the Laser or Lamp dies is irrelevant, as the laser will last longer and cost waaaaaaay more to replace than a lamp that you'll probably be able to find a 3rd party alternative for.
While you have to balance image size vs throw, resolution, and cost, the most obvious shortcoming that you and the audience will notice is brightness. It is surprising difficult to overcome spill and reflections from the stage lighting and make the image bright enough. I would not consider anything
less than a 8500 to 10,000 lumen unit. Use the Projector Central website to select a projector model/lens combination and plug in your throw, screen surface, and image size to get the resultant "screen foot-lamberts" which is where the rubber meets the road. You want something that goes as high into the "rooms with high ambient light" scale as possible. Vast difference between showing movies in a dark auditorium and what you are trying to accomplish.
My geometry is different but I ended up getting 2 epsons and stacking them side by side. They have a nice grid alignment utility built in.
so 2 6500 lumen projectors stacked for 13k lumens together give us adequate coverage on about a 12x24 or so flat cyc. For your geometry.. I'm thinking stitching side by side might be the best coverage.

The epson online calculator is great.. screen size distance lens etc can all be altered with GUI sliders.

Always want more, and you really have to watch your lighting and modify it to control spill. I shoot from overhead and we have a really low proscenium height, but still
have a relatively small "exclusion zone"

If you look it seems like the epson line has the least expensive bulb replacements I think these are about 150-200 for the OEM version. Some cheaper available but word on the street
says not as bright.

I got these used with standard lenses for <500 each... made up my own hanging rig with iron pipe and ply.

All that said, we did Singin in the Rain with heavy reliance on projections... and it looked pretty sweet with additional roll ons etc.
Also did oz.. complete with Glenda arriving in her bubble animation of our actress.. and smoke writing "Surrender dorothy" Along with snow on the poppy field.

Not bad for an investment of just north of 1.5 k with projectors and incidentals and spare bulb. These can be controlled via cat5 utility to turn on and off.. I supply signal with vga to cat5

Our audience is a good 30 feet back... but even from 20, high resolution isn't that important... which any good scene painter would tell you as well.
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The lens to do what you need exceeds your budget.... You are looking for used gear and you are looking for a real deal. Call your local AV companies and see what they have in the back room they want to get rid of cheap. Check auction sites. Projectors are stupid expensive until they are not. Eiki and panasonic both make great products. See whats out there. To cover 40' you are looking for at least a 15k-20k projector... better yet two of them.
I'm looking in the 10k range. We just did a show using four borrowed 5k InFocus hitting four different zones and it did fine at our smaller venue. I have a feeling it would be like a candle at the big venue. The venue in question has an 8k with a long throw lens, and it does fine during low-light times - like during presentations where we can dim ambient light a bunch. It's also focused on a 16' dedicated screen, not a 40' muslin cyc. The muslin alone will soak up 30%.

My concern is that I'm not finding much used, and new ranges from $20k up to $80k. Even the $20k blows our grant out of the water tenfold.
What kind of power will you have available for the projector? Many high brightness projectors will need 30a service. If you are limited to 15 or 20, then you are likely going to use multiple projectors to get the output you need. This isn't always a bad thing. Most often the desire is to fill an entire cycle which is not the same proportions as the aspect ratio of any projector. That means you end up throwing away even more light by increasing the image size for the appropriate width.

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