Victoria Ferrari with tools, tips and advise toward making a better projection install.
Video projection doesn’t have to be all about wizards and magic.
Why is it that so many conference rooms have LCD/LED panels? I’ve personally always been a fan of 2-piece projection. (Yes I call it 2-piece projection because the screen is just as critical as the projector – more on that later.) I’ve heard so many end users say projected images are “ugly,” or “My flat panel at home looks better than the projector in our expensive executive boardroom.” Sad but true.
I’ve seen so many projection systems that look horrible. The image is always washed out. Too many integrators have been putting in the wrong projectors, the wrong screens, in all the wrong places (sounds like a country song). Surprisingly, I firmly believe that with the right environmental factors in play, a projected image can look better than a flat panel. I always lead my sales with 2-piece projection and I can say my team is designing approximately 60 – 70% of my jobs with projection.
There are several reasons why I use 2-piece projection; size for one. You get a bigger screen for the money. Really, the largest physical sizes of flat panels that currently make economic sense are 80” or 90” diagonals, but are they the right size for the room? When selecting the right display size, I like to reference a recent blog post from Mark Coxon that talks about the right size display for a room.
In Mark’s post, he makes great points as to why clients push us for a flat panel where they really could have used a projector. Some factors he mentions about why integrators are using more flat panels are the initial client budget, long term maintenance, ambient light control, and ceiling height. He also goes on to explain the human eye, viewing distances, resolutions, and more. It is a great post with useful information in correctly specifying the size of a display based on environmental factors.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Size is just one small aspect (pun intended) to designing a great 2-piece projection system and there are benefits for both the integrator and the client. I’m sure most integrators realize that if you sell a screen and projector that you get more revenue up front both in hardware, installation, lighting control, and also future service calls to change out lamps and filters, which in the end gives you account control and more opportunities to uncover.
What’s in it for the client? They get a display that is sized appropriately. They don’t have to deal with glare from overhead lights, they get a professional commercial integration that is more appropriately suited for their needs, and so on and so forth.
What’s the first thing you ask when designing a room with a projector? How high is the ceiling? How big of a screen can I fit in here and still achieve 4’ above finished floor (AFF)? My first question is, “what’s behind this wall?” I’m always looking for ways to lead with rear projection!
I won’t delve into all the reasons why rear projection is better, and the few cons relating to space and cost, but for front projection the first question I ask is, “how much ambient light is in the room?” Raise your hand if you have heard of the PISCR standards? Hmm not too many hands?
ANSI/Infocomm 3M-2011 Projected Image System Contrast Ratio (PISCR – pronounced “piscar”). Basically, the standard says forget everything you thought you knew about contrast and that marketing people that talk about lumens and contrast ratio are a BUNCH OF LIARS! Ok not really, it says a lot more than that.
“Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.”
PISCR is a standard all about image quality and complete system contrast ratio taking into account projector, screen, and, TA-DA: ambient light (gee, what a concept). You all know what contrast is (the difference between black and white) and you all probably realize that contrast is the most important factor when perfecting an image, right? Those washed out projection images we see everywhere? Yeah, that’s a lack of contrast and I hope you also know that complete system contrast is most affected by ambient light.
“Wait a sec,” you may be thinking. My projector says it has 5000:1 contrast ratio! Yeah, that was measured by some magical wizard in a deep dark cave that took his magical contrast measuring wand, turned off of the projector, rammed his rod in, and turned the projector on. “Kalabazam!” the wizard exclaims. “The deep dark abyss of ‘off’ compared to the blinding light of a thousand suns ‘on’ is measuring 5000:1.”
The PISCR standard measures true total system contrast ratio and sets out 4 categories based on the type of viewing you are trying to achieve. InfoComm put together a committee of subject matter experts who got together projectors, screens, lighting, test and measurement equipment, and over a period of time, trials, blood, sweat, and tears they came up with the following measurements.
7:1 Passive Viewing – Looking at basic Power Point bullet points, maybe this would fit well for small K-12 classrooms.
15:1 Basic Decision Making – This should be the benchmark for most business/corporate applications and higher education. Viewing excel spreadsheets, reading text on screen, etc.
50:1 Analytical Decision Making – This is where users would need to analyze finite details in the image like in the in medical or manufacturing fields. Viewing mission-critical images.
80:1 Full Motion Video – This benchmark would be more for like studio quality video editing and/or high-end home cinema.
“Wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them.”
So, how does one achieve these true system contrast ratios? It can be done manually, and if you download the ANSI Infocomm specification it goes into some detail as to the calculations, or you can work smarter and take advantage of some tools out there. The one I like to use is Stewart Filmscreen Contrast Calculator.
I’m sure there are other manufacturers who have similar tools, but I am most familiar with Stewart. Also, some of their employees were on the committee who helped create these standards, so I trust their tools and I’ve seen first-hand the theoretical contrast their calculator generates vs. the real world results.
The Stewart Contrast Calculator is an excel file that allows you to manipulate the image size, projector ANSI lumens, select the PISCR standard you are trying to achieve, input ambient light in foot candles both at the screen and over the viewers, and more.
The calculator will then make recommendations on screen materials that will work best taking into account all the environmental factors. Pretty cool, huh?
Stewart Contrast Calculator Screenshot
There is actually science behind integrating a projector and screen. There is no magic wizard, we don’t have to put LCD’s in every room. You must feel out your client, but I’ve actually explained foot lamberts, ANSI contrast ratio, and PISCR to some of my clients, and they get it! It puts their mind at ease that we, as their trusted advisor, have metrics and measurements; that we’re not just making stuff up.
So download the ANSI InfoComm standard (it is $60 for non-members but FREE for members), use it, and use the other manufacturer’s tools out there to make your projected image systems look better than a flat panel. No more washed out ugly projection images….PISCR it, if you will.