Many people don’t realize it, but it’s possible to buy a TV with a screen much bigger than those on the box-like rear-projection units, which offer screens up to 70 inches. Images up to 100 inches are possible with the two-piece, front-projection TV systems, in which a projector beams an image onto a screen, usually 12 to 15 feet away.
Some such units range in price from $4,000 to $6,000, and some are much more. But Sharp is marketing a front-projection TV that’s a bit less expensive: the year-old, desk top, $3,500 XV-100. And what it has done that the other front-projection manufacturers haven’t is market these projectors aggressively to consumers, as opposed to bars or restaurants or the very rich.
“A 100-inch picture is within reach of many families--upper-middle-class types,” said Tedd Rozylowicz, an executive with Sharp Electronics. “For many yuppies, this is very affordable.”
There are two types of front projection TVs: the “three-gun” system, which uses three picture tubes whose beams converge to create one image and has been on the market for many years; and the LCD (liquid crystal display) projection system, which works via a complex system of mirrors and lenses. The LCD was developed by Sharp and marketed last year for the first time with XV-100. Sharp’s newest model is the XZ-101TU, introduced a few months ago and retailing for $4,500.
The three-gun systems are bulky, hard to set up, have a limited focusing range and can be very expensive--the best ones are at least $9,000. By contrast, Sharp’s LCD projector is rectangular and weighs about 31 pounds. It is easy to set up and move around.
This is one of Sharp’s biggest selling points, Rozylowicz said. “It’s light enough to move from room to room or to put away when you’re not using it--which you obviously can’t do with big rear-projection TV, which is a permanent piece of furniture.”
The three-gun systems generally offer a clearer, sharper picture. But the quality of the Sharp picture, at 100 inches, is surprisingly good--even when viewed close up and from side angles. It is better when projected on a screen, but unlike the three-gun system, it is decent even when projected onto a white wall.
The Sharp LCD system does have some drawbacks. It’s capable of only 280-290 lines of horizontal resolution, compared to more than 400 on laser disc. So even if an LCD is hooked up to a laser disc player, it can never get as clear and sharp a picture as the disc delivers.
Other points to keep in mind with any front-projection system:
* The quality of the projected image is a function of the video source. For example, rented video cassettes, which are generally poor quality, often look grainy and washed-out when projected. An image that looks bad on a small TV screen looks worse blown-up to 100 inches.
* The picture is clearer in a darkened room.
* A big picture requires big sound. Before buying a big-screen TV, consider whether you need to--or want to--upgrade your sound system.