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A Theater That Hides in Your Closet

By Cliff Edwards


Reviews below)

Editor's Review

The Good The ticket for bargain hunters

The Bad Lamp really heats up the room

The Bottom Line This all-in-one system offers big-screen viewing at a budget price

One of the big problems with getting a big-screen TV is where to put it once you get it out of the box. Those glitzy plasma and LCD sets sure look great hanging on a wall, but few owners actually install them there. And many new sets are too large to fit into the entertainment centers you already own. RadioShack's (RSH) Cinego D-1000 Instant Theater DLP Projector offers a great alternative to ripping out walls or buying pricey new TV stands.

The sleek, seven-pound projector is about the size of a toaster oven, at 4 inches high by 11.5 inches wide by 10 inches deep. The $1,299 device includes a built-in progressive-scan DVD player and speakers that offer separate bass, along with a seven-pound subwoofer to hear the deep booms of action movies. Out of the box, you get S-video, composite, and component video adapters to connect the unit to other home devices. A simple, credit card-size remote control is included to adjust sound and move through menu options.

INSTANT GRATIFICATION. This new class of all-in-one multimedia projectors offers a native resolution of 854 by 480 progressive, the equivalent of only so-called enhanced-definition TVs. But they represent great space- and money-saving alternatives to their big-screen brethren. You can project images as small as two feet and as large as a giant 140 inches diagonal. When not in use, simply tuck it away in a closet or cabinet.

The great thing about the Cinego is its no muss, no fuss setup. It took me about five minutes to get the unit out of the box, hooked up to its subwoofer, and projecting a DVD of Alias on a 55-inch white wall in my kitchen. For an additional $99, RadioShack sells a 55-inch screen, or for $150, a 92-inch screen.

The Cinego projector uses the digital light processing (DLP) technology from Texas Instruments (TXN) now becoming common on large-screen rear-projection sets from Samsung, RCA, and others. The unit is capable of rendering 16.7 million colors in the widescreen 16:9 format. It includes a single audio and video-in connector to connect a satellite or cable receiver, video-game console, or digital still camera, as well as a 5.1 surround-sound out jack for hooking the unit to a home stereo setup.

JAGGED EDGES. I was surprised that such a relatively inexpensive device could produce such clear pictures. The big downside, as I learned when watching just before sunset in my glass-enclosed kitchen, is one common to all projectors: You need a dark room. After trying again when it was dark, the third season of Alias looked nearly as good using the Cinego as with my Panasonic progressive-scan DVD player and LG big-screen plasma set.

That's in no small part due to the integrated DVD player. As with all such units, there is no analog-to-digital conversion that occurs when shuttling data from a DVD player to a TV set, so the image quality sometimes looks even better at a lower native resolution.

With its 200-watt lamp and 1,500:1 contrast ratio, images looked bright, and blacks were true and deep. The picture suffered the occasional jagged edges from fast-moving images, but the effect didn't appear enough for me to take offense.

HOT SEAT. While the fan blew relatively quiet, I'd recommend placing the Cinego a good distance from where you sit. Rated at a maximum 350 watts, this energy hog puts out quite a bit of heat when running in performance mode, which offers maximum brightness. Also, it takes a bit of trial-and-error to achieve optimal image quality with the optical zoom, manual focus ring. It would have been nice to include a motor and accessibility from the remote, but that likely would have added to the unit's price tag.

Even without the bells and frills, the Cinego's nice design, nearly effortless setup, and great picture quality would make it a welcome addition in almost any home. And what a nice way to bring home theater to the masses!

Edwards is a correspondent for BusinessWeek in Silicon Valley

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