How-to: Install a Front Projector & Screen

vw40As far as I’m concerned nothing says home theater like a front projection system, there’s just something about a 2-piece system that really captures the magic of going to the movies. The beautiful thing about front projection is that even in this day a 50” Kuro plasma’s and a 40”- 1080p LCD’s for under a grand, front projection still provides the best bang for the buck in screen size, and with fuel prices continuing to climb that trend will likely continue.

As much as everyone around here loves projectors, it’s obvious that they aren’t for everyone. There are multiple reasons for this but two of the biggest are the need for a relatively dark environment and the fact that installing a projector really isn’t seen as a do-it-yourself project. Well, I can’t help with the dark room but I assure you that if you’re even moderately handy around the house, you can install your own front projector and screen.

First things first, I like to start with the screen. The screen should be your anchor, not the projector. Think of it this way, the screen is what you’ll actually be looking at, so it’s important to have it where you want it in the room and then worry about how to get the projector where it belongs. I fully acknowledge that there are other schools of thought on which comes first (the projector or the screen) but after having installed an upwards of 125 front projection systems over the years, I have come to know, love and embrace the path of screen first.

So with that we need to establish the proper height to mount the screen at. Even though we’re installing the screen first, take a quick look over your shoulder at the area where you’ll mount the projector and look for any obstructions. If you see a heating and air vent, smoke detector, ceiling fan or anything else that might be in the path of the projector or mount, you’ll need to factor that in. i.e. if the true center of your room is offset by 2” to the right due to an obstruction, you’ll want to shift your screen over to the right by 2”.

Ok back to height, it’s tough to talk in general terms here as we all have different rooms but I can give you a starting point. In my nearly 18 years of doing home theater and specifically front projection I’ve rarely mounted a screen lower than 30”. By this I mean the bottom of the viewing area (not the frame) in my installations is almost always higher than 30”. This is due to many reasons, ceiling height, equipment racks, center speaker stands, etc., etc., but for whatever reason, unless you have a pretty unusual circumstance the bottom of your screen should be at or over 30” from the floor.


Now that we’ve established loose criteria for how low to mount your screen we should talk about how high. Unfortunately this one isn’t as easy to nail down as again, we all have different needs, rooms and expectations. The best general rule of thumb I can give here is to try to aim for the bottom three-fourths of the screen at eye level. Let your sore neck (hopefully lack of) be your guide. Yes, we need factor in things like seeing over the front row’s head, if you have two rows that is, and making sure that your own feet don’t obstruct your view while reclined, but I want to strongly suggest that you don’t go for the mile-high installations we’ve all seen in magazines. Those installs just aren’t very practical in the long run.

We’re far enough along now to draw some distinctions, if your projector of choice has lens shift you’ll enjoy a lot of flexibility that a fixed-lens projector won’t afford you. Or in other words, a fixed-lens projector really has one exact spot in relation to the screen where it should be installed, whereas of course a projector with lens shift has quite a bit of play as to where it can be installed. Ok, so for the rest of the article I’m going to assume you have a fixed-lens projector. You may or may not but a fixed-lens install is a bit more demanding and requires more explanation.

A Quick List of Recommended Tools and Materials:

  • Basic Hand Tools
  • Cordless Drill / Screw Driver
  • Long Nylon String / Pencil
  • Carpenters Level
  • Decking Screws or Anchor Bolts
  • Step Ladder (One Minimum, Two Recommended)
  • Adult Beverages Upon Completion of Project

By this time we’ve narrowed down where on the wall to mount the screen now it’s just a matter of how. Again just like projectors and rooms, very few are exactly alike but they do share a lot of things in common. With the screen frame assembled and the screen itself attached to the frame (typically with Velcro or snap-on buttons) it’s time to mount it to the wall. Often times the included hardware acts as a cradle or perch for the screen frame. Or in other words, picture a wall-bracket that attaches to the wall and then the screen-frame attaching to it, very few screen manufacturers deviate from this method and as long as you read the included directions before! you start you’ll do just fine.

In essence you’ll mark the walk where you want to install the brackets and use the included anchor bolts to lock them into position, once that’s finished you and your helper will place the screen into position and then secure the screen to the brackets. I’d liken the difficulty of this task somewhere on the order of a little harder than hanging a picture on a wall but not as hard as painting a room. Just make sure you have a helper and you’ll be fine. Caution: The vinyl screen material is delicate, once its punctured, stained or smudged it’s tough to get it back to prior pristine state, so take your time hanging the screen and be careful, it’ll be worth it in the long run.