15th September 2009 - Job got you down? Can’t afford that holiday to Thailand? Sounds like you could do with some good old’ fashioned escapism and your current formula of plonking yourself if front of the console for a few rounds of COD4 just isn’t cutting it anymore. I felt the same way, until I discovered the joys of projection gaming.
What you’ll need:
- Your trusty Xbox 360
- A selection of local multiplayer games (in my case: Left 4 Dead, Castle Crashers, Doom, Call of Duty: World at War)
- 1 – 3 mates that aren’t afraid of pulling an all nighter
- Controllers for all (and a fresh supply of batteries)
- Several hundred to several thousand dollars worth of projector (preferably borrowed, rented or stolen)
- The appropriate cables - be sure to get hold of a VGA cable if your projector doesn’t have the red, green and blue ports for the Component HD cable.
- A preferably smooth, light coloured wall (or a projection screen if you want to get fancy)
- Speakers or a surround sound system
Individual results may vary
Setting things up:
After re-arranging the room so that the couch was the furthest possible distance from the projection wall, I hooked up all the cables and let her rip. After some tinkering with the display settings on the Xbox and the projector I had a nice 16:9 image about 3 meters across and 1.5 meters high.
I played various games to get a feel for the settings. Shadow Complex stacked up really well, and given the fact that your character was about two feet tall on screen, the shooting and general jumping around was pretty damn impressive. Far Cry 2 was even more of a spectacle. Running around in the scrub and having skirmishes with life-sized opponents was immersive to say the least. Hitting the left trigger for precision-aiming also gave an incredibly realistic sensation of looking down the sites of a full-sized assault rifle – you almost forgot that you were playing a game.
Unfortunately, after about 40 minutes the pain started to kick in. My eyes were straining from the constant darting around the giant screen and I was feeling an undeniable wave of motion-sickness. I was starting to think that maybe this whole projector thing was an expensive experiment gone wrong.
After taking a break, I returned with fresh eyes and had a look over all the gear to make sure it was set up correctly. Foolishly, I actually hadn’t adjusted the lens when I first plugged the thing in (I’d only played with the software settings). A twist of the bezel about two degrees to the left and the whole image snapped into beautiful, sharp focus. I’d been blundering around the deserts of Far Cry in drunken vision for the past 40 minutes and now I was seeing things sober for the first time. With the size and the clarity of the image you could just about feel the African heat as you stomped through the dry grass. Needless to say, I started feeling a lot less nauseous and was enjoying myself again.
A few friends showed up and I gave them the tour of Far Cry land. After blowing up a bunch of cars and causing some bushfires we got started on the multiplayer side of things.
First up was Doom, downloaded from Xbox Live Arcade. Four-player split screen was a nice touch, for both co-op and death match. Even with the lo-fi graphics, there was something to be said about playing the game in cinematic scale. The gameplay was also changed for the better as you could see clearly see every detail onscreen, including the distant enemies in the more open areas. We enjoyed reliving the four-player-split-screen experience of our youth (think Golden Eye), but ultimately we could see that the potential power of the projector wasn’t being used. It was time to take things up a notch.
Left 4 Dead played incredibly well. In teams of two, we took it in turns playing through the levels in two-player-split-screen mode. The source engine’s relatively simplified graphics (compared to Far Cry 2) looked extremely crisp, even after we adjusted the throw on the projector’s lens to fill the whole wall. In the end we found that actually shrinking the image slightly yielded the best results, so that we wouldn’t feel too disorientated from the fast pace and rapid camera movements. It was also emerging that the projector served as an enhancement for the less experienced gamers of the group. With the large image it was almost impossible to miss the life-sized zombies running at you.
A few hours in and we were still really impressed with the size and clarity of the image, a huge plus when you’re playing a split-screen game as you could still see what you were doing (even half of the image was bigger than a 54” plasma). We finished our zombie-shooting extravaganza by playing the Nazi Zombies component of Call of Duty: World at War. Again, we felt the benefits of the big screen by being able to pick off zombies at range, a luxury we wouldn’t have had if we’d been playing on my 32” LCD.
Getting hold of a projector is a great move, especially if you’re planning on inviting a few buddies over to enjoy it. It’s probably not necessary to get one if you’re only into single-player games. For one thing, your daily needs are probably better met by a mid-size LCD or plasma TV. It’s also worth considering the fact that bulbs have a limited lifespan (2000 hours if you’re lucky) and can cost as much as the projector to replace.
My recommendation is to borrow or hire one for a weekend and see if you like it. For this write-up I hired an 1100 lumen Panasonic PT-L501E, at around $150 for three nights. Split between four people it’s a highly affordable way of trying out a projector for the first time. Also good news is that projectors are coming down in price, and if you’re willing to try out a Chinese import, you can make further savings on eBay - just make sure that the specs are good and that you can get replacement bulbs at a reasonable price.
Overall, if you’re looking to get a projector for your gaming setup, make sure you do your research so that you understand the specs. As mentioned earlier, make sure you also get the correct cables. Some projectors lack the red, green and blue plugs for component HD. If your projector fits this description don’t settle for composite video (the single, yellow plug) because it’s just going to look like a giant CRT image. For best results, either find a projector that has component HD plugs onboard or invest $40 in the Xbox 360 VGA cable.
Top left: composite video (don’t bother), top right: component HD (very nice), lower left: VGA (also good)
It’s not hard get immersed in a game when you’re looking at an image that occupies your entire field of view. Combine that with surround sound and a room full of shouting players and you’ve got yourself one hell of a gaming experience.
Article Written by Brod Jackson