When it comes to home TV viewing, a bigger screen is almost always better. Films and sporting events carry far more weight. Performers seem more expressive. Sit close (or buy a larger display) and the connection can be as strong as that of a movie theater.

The only problem: When flat-panel TV screens grow bigger than 70 inches, prices go berserk. An 80-inch high-definition set goes for at least $4,000, and a flagship 84-inch Samsung ultra-high-def TV could cost $40,000. Tagged at $129,999, Vizio's new Reference Series 120-inch UHD is as costly as a Maserati GranTurismo.

But now a roaringly big high-def picture need not come with a colossal ticket price, if you can handle the novelty of a separate video projector and movie theater-grade white (or gray-tinted) screen in your designated viewing room.

As a "Dr. of Home Theater" consultant, Gizmo Guy has been supervising the installation of just such a high-impact bundle, an 84-inch high def delight that has set back its happy owners a mere $1,300 (tax included!) for hardware, plus installation and "trimming out" costs.

And had there been more room and wall space in the couple's tidy new townhouse, we could have blown up the screen size to 100 or 120 inches for a few dollars more.

Gizmo envy. Yours truly got the ball rolling by inviting these would-be converts over to enjoy a movie in my upgraded home theater. Ironically, it's fitted into a first-floor, formerly commercial space once devoted to selling (made-in-Philly) Philco TVs!

Now a ceiling-hung Epson Home Cinema 3500 HD projector blows a razor-sharp and color-accurate images onto a wall-mounted Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 - a black-velvet-framed screen that measures a "mere" 108 inches (or nine feet) on the diagonal.

"Wow, it's almost as big as screens at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute," cracked one guest. "More like the PFS Roxy on Sansom Street," her hubby corrected.

My friends loved how this combo of a "2500 ANSI Lumen" (light output measurement) projector and "1.3 gain" screen (reflecting 30 percent more light than a painted white wall) are bright enough that you can enjoy a flick in the daytime or with room lights blazing.

But the duo bristled at the price: $1,500 for the Epson (not bad) and almost $2,500 (double ouch) for a Stewart screen fine enough to be used at the Academy Awards.

Bargain alternative. After weighing options, we fixed on a more affordable installation that makes their living-room video system virtually disappear when not wanted.

While sticking with Epson - which offers the broadest and best-priced line of serious video projectors - we went with a new high-definition model, the Home Cinema 1040, that outputs an even-brighter 3000 lumens picture, yet costs just $599 to $699.

For its dancing partner, I tracked down another sharply priced piece: a motorized, remote-controllable, 84-inch Elite Screens Saker Tab-Tension Electric Drop Down Projection Screen that Amazon.com sells for $616.51.

The Home Cinema 1040 is like David slaying Goliath, a small, lightweight thing with a "short throw" zoom lens. You can plop it on a coffee table (or hang it) close to the projection screen and still throw a big, powerful image up there. Like, 300 inches, max.

The projector's color is well-tuned, and it has four viewing modes. I prefer Cinema and Bright Cinema.

Compromises were made to hit the lower price point on this Epson, though none is a deal-breaker. The contrast range (quoted as 15,000 to 1) isn't as finite as on the HC 3500 (70,000 to 1). Eagle eyes will sense less detail in shadowy, nighttime scenes.

Also, you don't get the "super resolution" circuitry found on the HC 3500.

And instead of mechanical lens shifting - an aid in 3500 projector placement - the 1040 offers automatic (digital) keystone correction. Position this projector above or below the screen and you can still get a "square cornered" image with little loss of resolution.

Easy come, easy go. Supplied with three remote controls (two wireless, one hard-wired), the motorized Elite screen is one cool operator. It disappears into a white cylindrical metal case, clinging close to the ceiling and hidden (at the decorator's behest) behind crown molding.

Electrical Wizardry Inc.'s chief electrician, John Siemiarowski, did the hanging and wiring, leaving space in back so that when the screen rolls down (takes 48 seconds), it doesn't brush a framed piece of woven art that's visible when the screen is up.

To ensure that the screen hangs flat, Sakar models use a fiberglass backing and unobtrusive system of side-mounted wires.

This 1.1 gain screen shows well in brightness, uniformity and off-axis viewing. Move to either side of the screen and you still enjoy a great picture, with virtually no "drop-off" in color or brightness, a feat beyond flat-panel LED/LCD screens.

So in this home theater, there will be no bad seats.


215-854-5960 @JTakiff