Cinego D-1000 Instant Theater

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Courtesy of Cinego

The term "home theater in a box" has largely been a misnomer. What usually comes in that box is everything but the TV, a very expensive, very necessary piece of the theater puzzle. RadioShack just introduced a product (which comes in a single, easy to carry box) that truly has everything you need to bring the cinema home. It's a DLP projector with built-in DVD player and stereo speakers, plus a subwoofer. Videophiles might desire a better, more complicated rig, but I was impressed with the simplicity of the set up and the quality of the movie-watching experience.

Last Saturday, I showed up in Washington, D.C. at a friend's house with the unopened box. I didn't have any access to my own tools or my rat's nest of spare wires. Nor did I have hours to figure out how everything fit together. It didn't matter; in no time my friends had set up the projector and were aiming it at a white wall where a picture had been hanging. My only chore was to pull the remote control from the box and press the power button.

The built-in speakers point backward from the projector, so the ideal place to put the unit is on the coffee table in front of you. Bear in mind that the farther back the projector is from the wall or screen, the larger the picture will appear. We were able to get a picture roughly equivalent to that of a 65-in. big-screen TV, and didn't have to adjust much for "keystoning" (the tapering that occurs when you point the movie's rectangular picture up at an angle). Once we turned out the lights, and played with contrast and brightness settings, the wall itself sufficed for our triple-feature ("Big Lebowski", "Fellowship of the Rings," and "The Empire Strikes Back").

Videophiles wouldn't be happy with the resolution. This DLP projector is 480p, which means it shows typical widescreen movies in 480 horizontal lines. This resolution is the same as DVD movies, but a real video geek would pay the $2,000 or more for a high-definition projector with a resolution of 720 lines or even higher (which can upscale DVD content for a sharper look). Also, the Cinego has a fairly low contrast ratio, which means that you can't really get a deep black without losing brightness. On the picture front, though, I was amazed at how quickly I forgot about these deficiencies.

It was only the audio that dampened my film appreciation. In a cozy apartment near Dupont Circle, the 12-watt subwoofer was okay, but there wasn't enough power or clarity coming from the built-in 5.6-watt speakers. The good news there is that the Cinego has analog and digital audio outputs, so you can connect your own stereo pair, or even a 5.1-surround sound amp and speakers if you like. But then you'd lose the ability to watch-and-dash (or, at home, watch-and-stash). In the morning, to my host's chagrin, I packed everything back into the box and walked out the door.