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Projectors and Console Gaming

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Projectors and Console Gaming:
Finding a match for your gaming habits

Bill Livolsi, September 16, 2008
ProjectorCentral.com

Last month we published a review of several candidates for PC gaming projectors. During the course of that review, we came to two conclusions. One, 1280x800 is a versatile resolution for PC gaming, and two, PC games and console games are not the same. Personal computers have several unique features that separate them from console games. PCs typically output via VGA or DVI, while consoles are more likely to use component or HDMI. Game consoles are typically limited to video resolutions, such as 480p, 720p, or 1080i/p, and PCs are much more flexible in this regard.

Moreover, even the consoles themselves are different from one another. The three current generation consoles (Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii) have different optimal resolutions, meaning that a projector good for one will not necessarily be good for another. In this article, we'll discuss matching your game console to a suitable projector, as well as what to do if you own more than one console system.

Overview

Games of today are miles beyond the games of yesterday. Gone are the days of pixelated graphics and bleep-bloop sound; today's games normally feature lifelike HD graphics and 5.1 stereo output. Today, video games are more similar to movies than they are to, say, PowerPoint presentations -- they require a projector with good color accuracy and contrast, while lumen output is less important. This makes choosing a projector for console games fairly simple, as most projectors that are suitable for video are likewise suitable for console games.

The trouble comes when one wants to decide on the resolution of their future projector. While 1080p projectors are currently the top of the line, and have come down in price sharply in recent months, they still remain out of reach for some consumers. With this in mind, realize that not everyone necessarily needs a 1080p projector to get maximum enjoyment out of their gaming console.

Microsoft Xbox360

As the first of the "next-generation" systems to be released, the Xbox 360 enjoys a comfortable market share in North America and Europe. All games are displayed in high definition, with the most common resolution being 720p. The system had an add-on HD DVD drive, though this has been discontinued with the death of that particular format.

All models of the Xbox 360 are capable of component output, and newer models have an onboard HDMI 1.2 port. While some games are indeed native 1080p or 1080i, most games are still 720p. On the movie front, the Xbox 360 has a reputation as a subpar upscaling DVD player, and Microsoft has not stated any intent to manufacture a Blu-Ray add-on player to replace the now-defunct HD DVD add-on. As such, you will likely end up using the Xbox 360 primarily for playing video games.

With the prevalence of 720p content and the relative absence of 1080p games and movies, the Xbox 360 is a perfect match for a 720p projector. A native 1280x720 projector allows you to match the native resolution of your display to most games in the Xbox 360's library, and what few games are not 720p are rescaled by the game console itself. Fortunately, 720p projectors are widespread, and some now cost less than $1,000, like the excellent Mitsubishi HC1500 (unfortunately discontinued, so get yours while you still can). Others, like Panasonic's AX200, Sanyo's PLV-Z5, and Epson's Cinema 720, cost about $1,300 and offer longer zoom lenses and lens shift capability. All of these projectors have both component and HDMI inputs. If you're not in a hurry, consider waiting for the Sanyo Z60 to become available, which is Sanyo's new 720p projector and the successor to the Z5. It should be shipping in a few weeks.

Making the most of your Xbox 360 does not need to be an expensive proposition. With high quality 720p projectors available for less than a grand, it's easy to enhance your Xbox 360 gaming experience without completely emptying your wallet.

Sony Playstation 3

Sony's Playstation 3 is the most advanced, and most expensive, of the current available consoles. At the heart of the system is a Blu-Ray drive, allowing playback of Blu-Ray movies without the need for an add-on drive or accessories. And while previous systems required the purchase of a special DVD remote to enable playback, the PS3 can play movies right out of the box (a remote is offered, but not required).

All models of the PS3 released have HDMI 1.3 as well as the option for component video. Thanks to a firmware update, the PS3 now supports 1080p/24 for Blu-Ray movies. And while most games are still 720p, there are a significant number of games in native 1080p - as well as the entire catalog of Blu-Ray movies. In addition to all of this, the PS3 is an excellent upconverting DVD player by all accounts, and it can also play back many video formats from the onboard hard drive. As such, you may find yourself using the PS3 as an all-around media center, as I did.

Due to the widespread availability of 1080p content for the Playstation 3, it makes sense to pair the system with a 1080p projector. This allows you to display Blu-Ray movies at their native resolution, play any native 1080p games you have at their native resolution, and upscale any DVDs you play to 1080p very cleanly. With 1080p projectors like the Sanyo Z2000 and Mitsubishi HC4900, 1080p can be had for roughly $2,000. However, if you have the budget for a higher-end 1080p projector such as the Optoma HD80 or Panasonic AE2000, you will likely notice the improvement.

Once again, if you have time to spare, consider waiting for the new offerings from these manufacturers. Sanyo's next-generation 1080p is called the Z700 and retails for $1,995 right out of the gate. It should be available within a month. Panasonic's AE2000 is being replaced by the new AE3000, though pricing has not been established. Even if you don't want one of the new models, their release should trigger price drops on the older generation of projectors.

Sony's Playstation 3 is, in many ways, more than just a game system. The incorporated Blu-Ray drive and impressive hardware capabilities make it a good choice for movie watching, both in standard- and high-definition. It is a perfect match for a 1080p projector and a great all-around media appliance for any theater.

Nintendo Wii

Will Wright, designer of the wildly popular The Sims series of games, said "The only next generation system I've seen is the Wii- the PS3 and the Xbox 360 feel like better versions of the last." The Wii is truly unlike anything that has come before. Instead of focusing on high definition graphics and pure processing power, Nintendo designed the Wii around an intuitive motion control system. While there was some initial skepticism from critics and gamers alike, the Wii has turned out to be a runaway success, with more than 30 million consoles shipped since launch in November 2006 - and it's still hard to find one in a retail store today.

Unlike the other game systems of this generation, the Wii outputs all games at a maximum of 480p over component video, and has options for 4:3 or 16:9 display. It also has no DVD player function, limiting its use to purely gaming. As such, the Wii is a good match for a 480p projector, though there are only two still in production in the United States - the Epson MovieMate 50 and Sharp's DT100. Either of these projectors will display Wii games in their full native resolution. The MovieMate 50 sells for $699 new, while the DT100 is still listed at $949.

While the Wii can reach its full potential using nothing more than a 480p projector, there are still good reasons to make the jump to 720p. If you plan to use your projector with an HD cable box or Blu-Ray player, or have plans to obtain them in the future, it makes sense to get a budget 720p projector like the Mitsubshi HC1500 now. In the world of projectors, 854x480 is on its way out.

The Wii also has some unusual placement requirements. First of all, the Wii lends itself to being played while standing, and doing so with a projector in a rear shelf mount can be difficult - the player ends up standing in the projector's light path. Secondly, the Wii's motion controls require that a sensor bar be placed near the screen, to track the movements of the controller. The included sensor bar is wired to the Wii itself, and while the cable is nearly 12 feet long, this precludes placing the Wii on an equipment rack in the back of the room. Third-party vendors are now selling wireless sensor bars that work very well, but they drain batteries at a prodigious rate. To use the Wii with a projector and the standard wired sensor bar, the logical choice is either a coffee-table mounted projector or one of the new short-throw projectors such as the XL50 from Sanyo or the 400W from Epson. These projectors can display a very large image while being inches away from your screen, and this makes them uniquely suited for use with the Wii. Prices on these short-throw models are $1400 for the 400W and $2900 for the XL50.

Nintendo's Wii is a unique system with widespread appeal, and it has been selling like hotcakes since launch day with no signs of stopping. However, using the Wii with a projector requires some forethought. If you plan ahead and pick a suitable projector, there's no reason why you can't have a Wii and a projector working in harmony.

Conclusion

Console gaming and PC gaming are entirely different animals, and projectors that are good for PC gaming might not be so good for consoles. However, one does not often consider that game consoles all have their own unique specifications, so a projector that is ideal for the Xbox 360 might be terrible for the Wii. Hopefully, we've shed some light on the need to match your game console to an appropriate projector, in order to get the most out of your gaming experience without breaking the bank.


(11/18/18 - 05:30 PM PST)
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