Behind the Lens: What AV Companies Aren't Telling You

Chance here, with another edition of BMD’s tech blog series “Behind the Lens!” Today, we are going to ruffle some feathers. I get multiple emails every day from clients who have taken our projector specifications to their local AV company, resulting in the AV company calling BMD “crazy” for suggesting our specifications are even a possibility.

Many times this happens because the AV company believes that the projectors we suggest won’t be able to fill the space. They tell our clients that they will need multiple projectors to get an image even close to “large enough”. They are wrong. If they tell you that you’ll need a projector that is upwards of ten-thousand or more dollars, then they are misinforming you. Yes, in an ideal world, you could afford that type of projector. But, instead of providing more affordable options, most AV companies tell you that nothing but the best will work (which is really not true and is a disservice to our industry).

The problem here is that BMD is doing something completely different than most AV companies. We’re breaking the rules.

While it may be desirable to have a projector with 20,000 lumens, it is NOT required! Many of our clients use projectors with as low as 5,000 or 3,000 lumens for their theatrical productions. Not ideal, but it all comes down to your expectation of the hardware and being careful with stage lighting.

For example, with a lower lumens projector, try working with 75-90 degree lighting, utilizing spotlights and keeping light 5-10 feet from the projection surface. It’s doable!

“But, my local AV company told me that it is physically impossible to achieve a large enough image with this projector.”

This is a very common misconception that AV companies try to drive home, and they’re not completely wrong. The manufacturer sets limits on what size the projection should be to ensure 100% clarity. This is really important when dealing with text-based documents, or very fine detail. However, with theatrical projections, we are going for a more grand scale finish, leaving very little “fine detail” to be distorted. With this being said, we are able to push the capabilities of projections! While some of the fine detail may be slightly blurry (which will be left mostly unnoticed from the audience view) it is almost always a worthwhile tradeoff for the thousands of dollars you will save by not going with a higher quality projector.

If you want to do projections, there is almost assuredly a way to do it in your space for a reasonable price.

“My AV tech says that we need at LEAST 10,000 lumens if we want to be able to see the projections.”

Again, this is a misconception. If you want a projection that is going to be as similarly bright or as high-quality as a movie theater, then maybe this is a valid point. However, I have worked with projectors that are only about 5,000 lumens, and it has served many theatres very well! Remember that you keep all of the other lights as far away from the surface as you can. This will keep the projection as bright as possible with some simple technical alterations.

Also, it’s important to mention that you don’t necessarily want something as bright as a movie theater screen behind the actors onstage. Too much projection light can actually be a little distracting for both the audience and the actors. This is a common issue with LED walls or LCD panels. Keeping the lumens count reasonable keeps the projection soft, and will blend nicely into any onstage action.

“Our local AV group has never heard of <Projector Brand Name>. They’re worried it isn’t a good brand, and won’t work well.”

This question comes in rarely, and is always surprising. But some customers are very focused on wanting a well-known brand. Currently we work with some of the biggest names in projectors: Vivitek, BenQ, Panasonic, ViewSonic, etc. A quick google search will prove that they are some of the most reputable projector brands in the world, and make a variety of projectors for different scenarios.

However, you also need to be thinking outside of brands, and more about specifications. Looking only at the brand is exactly what will skyrocket the price in some situations, while the actual specs leave something to be desired. A generic projector with more lumens will almost always perform better than it’s brand-name counterpart, or in other words, 5,000 lumens from “John Doe projector company” is usually better than 3,000 from Sony!

“We’ve been told we’re going to have to include almost no other lights if we want to see the projections at all!”

This is something you will have to work with, but it isn’t nearly as bad as some AV companies make it out to be. What’s important here is that with a short-throw projector you can have it hanging from a light bar and project onto the surface from above the actors. In this scenario, the light doesn’t have to fight through as much stage light because it is physically upstage of a lot of the lighting.

Now this isn’t to say that you won’t have to make any adjustments. You will need to keep the light around five feet downstage of the projections. However, with any projector that is in front of the surface you will need to keep all of the actors and the action the same distance downstage to avoid shadows. So there shouldn’t be any action happening upstage that you would need to light.

This is all subject to fine tuning based on the specifications of each projector and each stage, which is why taking the necessary time with the technology is important.

The bottom line – When you’re considering a projector purchase or rental, please use us as a resource. We can provide information on our inventory, and also look into any other projector you’d like us to. BMD is built around providing awesome customer service. That’s why I’m here on a weekly basis provide tech knowledge, and you can call our office and get a happy account manager weekdays. 6am to 6pm PST. We’re in the projections business, yes. But we’re also in the people business and we want to help you have the best show possible.

Now, if this is all gobbledygook tech jargon, fear not. Call 1-800-277-0343 so we can help. I don’t want to end this blog on a negative thought. While AV companies may be telling you what they know, we know more about what is needed in the field of theatre. We pride ourselves in being the company that is able to make scenic projection possible for small theaters. One way we do this is by cutting down the costs whenever and wherever possible.

If you have any questions about your projector or space please do not hesitate to reach out to our support team at help@bwymedia.com. We’ve worked with hundreds of theatres worldwide, so we probably have an answer to that “unique” situation you may be in. Give us a call and let us help, it’s what we do best!



chance-thumbnail-1.pngCHANCE CROFT, Support Technician

Chance is from Visalia, California and grew up performing in theatre. He attended California State University, Fullerton, where he studied theatre, focusing on theatre technology and education. If he wasn’t BMD’s awesome Support Technician, he’d likely be a voiceover artist (he has a very deep voice). He enjoys video games and finding new restaurants in town. Chance lives in Fresno, California with his girlfriend Sam, his two cats and his dog Lady. His favorite musical is Seussical.