Large video screens for many houses of worship have been more the rule, rather than the exception, for many years now.
When working with assembling a good projection system on a budget, there are times where going cheap will hurt you.
In most cases, the mere mention of a big screen conjures images of megachurches with large theater-grade screens, gracefully descending from the ceiling, displaying imagery from a battery of projectors that are each comparable in cost to a new automobile.
Obviously, this will not be an option for smaller, neighborhood churches and small community congregations. Rather than settling for second rate quality, though, here are some viable options for sanctuaries and classrooms that will perform well, look nice, while not being an unnecessary burden to acquire.
Smaller displays are suitable in some cases
A quick online search will reveal that flat panel TV screens up to 70 inches in diagonal size can be obtained for less than $1,000 these days. In many cases, such sizes can even be found for around half that price. While these may be too small for most sanctuaries, they are perfect for classrooms and small meeting halls.
For those of you who may want to go larger than that, I have good news. For less than $1,000, a quality projection system can give you a larger-than-life video display that will look great. When I say “larger than life” I mean that a projection screen can and should be anywhere from 100 inches to 200 inches for small to medium sized sanctuaries.
My church uses a pair of 150-inch wall screens and the picture quality that we experience is exceptional. A frame screen of such dimensions can be had with a good matte white material in the neighborhood of $100 to about $1,000. Pair that with a decent projector that is now available for around $500 to $1,000, and you have a solid combination.
However, before we go down the path of “what will work best,” let’s look at some of the pitfalls you should certainly avoid.
Avoid cutting corners
When working with assembling a good projection system on a budget, there are times where going cheap will hurt you. Being thrifty will find you a good buy at a great price. Going cheap will ensure you will spend the least on your project, but the return on your investment will not pay off. Remember the old adage: “Good product isn’t cheap and cheap product isn’t good.”
Here are three major rules to follow.
Always check online reviews
A sad fact of life is that there are as many vendors out there peddling low-quality gear, as there are honest businesses, that have an interest in seeing you come back again and again.
Take the time to do a little homework. Look up any reviews or product articles featured in the audio-visual (AV) publications (print and/or online). An established and trustworthy product should have some degree of media history. This however, may not apply if the product you are interested in is simply brand new.
A second precaution is to check the online customer reviews. These present honest opinions (good and bad) about a projector or screen. If the product seems to have nothing but five-star reviews, it’s probably too good to be true. When in doubt, there are sites like Fakespot, ReviewMeta, and The Review Index that use algorithms to determine if all those reviews are likely real or not. If not, give that product a hard pass.
Never try to substitute a projection screen
Projection screens are made of specialty paints designed to aid your projected content with wide diffusion uniformity and neutral color temperature. In the name of economy, stay focused on a matte white screen, and you can’t go wrong as long as you have reasonable control over your interior lighting.
Don’t project on walls. A lot of the projected content is not adequately presented, or wall texture diminishes the image resolution. Don’t try to project on a bedsheet. They never lay perfectly flat and that will distort the image. Also, bedsheets don’t look remotely good for color saturation, contrast and black/white levels unless you are in a pitch-black environment. Even then, it looks amateurish at best.
Screen paints seem like a great idea, until you try to paint it yourself. I have never seen a DIY screen paint job that rivaled a decent projection screen in quality and the brush strokes or spray lines are usually visible. As someone with experience in selling screen paint, I recommend hiring a professional painter to put it up and that will cost more than just buying a nice frame screen.
Projector brand names matter
The big brand names are not only the most trustworthy, they also come with good service policies, in case your projector is a lemon. Many of the big-name products cannot afford to get a bad reputation through shoddy product and poor service.
If there is a problem, they’ll want to resolve it for you quickly and to your satisfaction. With 4K being the norm now, 1080p quality brand-name projectors that sold for five-figures 10 years ago, are now available for around $500 to $999. Make sure the projector has an output of about 2,500 lumens or more if you need it for a church or any commercial environment for that matter.
What does an affordable projection system look like?
Picture a good name brand projector that easily links with media players (e.g., USB thumb-drives, DVD players, laptops, etc.) It should be from a trusted manufacturer who is established and wants to remain that way, so reputation means everything.
For the screen, it can be either a portable free-standing model, a manual (nonelectric) “roll-up” design hanging on your sanctuary wall, or a simple frame screen. There are a lot of expensive “specialty materials” out there, but I recommend that you stick with a matte white screen. It is the most versatile and reliable.
As long as you have decent interior lighting, you cannot go wrong. As a final note, don’t be afraid to reach out to the manufacturers. The projector companies can give you the product specs and projector’s “throw distance” (distance between the projector and screen required to create a certain image size). The screen makers however, need to know the whole enchilada.
From talking with my colleagues and competitors, we all agree that selling the screen means knowing the business backwards and forwards. Without a doubt, we can provide you with the best answers and our consultation cost is free.
Check out our websites and you will find a plethora of information, pictures, videos and data sheets that will expand your knowledge and help you get the best bang for your buck.