Installing a Projector on a Ceiling [49]

Watching your favourite movie on a projector is a completely different experience to watching a TV. It’s not as expensive as you might think – in this job I’m installing a projector on the ceiling and I’m going to talk you through the whole job!

Watch the full video here:

Why have a projector?

Let me just go off on a little tangent – if this is of no interest just skip to the next section. Watching a movie or your favourite football team on the big screen is a totally different experience to watching the TV. It’s the closest thing to putting an actual cinema in your living room and is genuinely one of our best household purchases. It may surprise you that it’s a substantially cheaper alternative to buying a new TV! The motorised screen I installed cost around £90 and the projector itself cost about £450. Cables, mounting bracket etc. cost about £35 – I’ll talk you through all that later on. So £575 for a 90 inch HD viewing experience! To put that in perspective, a 75 inch TV would cost you about £4,000 (at the time of writing).

Although projectors have come on a lot, you still need a relatively dark room for the best viewing experience. At the end of the day the blackest black will be the colour of the screen when the projector’s switched off. The projector can’t magically make the screen darker. HOWEVER it’s all about the contrast ratio and projectors have come on a long way – movies are quite watchable in a lit room so don’t worry if you can’t make your room 100% dark… but they look MUCH better if you close the blinds and curtains. For that reason and for general convenience we still have the normal TV for watching the news, kids TV etc. Also, we try to keep the projector for special occasions so we don’t get too used to it. That said, we still use it at least 2-3 times per week. The kids absolutely love it and movie nights have taken on a whole new meaning in our house!

Installing a projector screen

I’ve already covered installing the projector screen over here. You need to do your homework and make sure your projector is suitable for the screen you’re buying – and by that I mean looking at the throw distance. Most projectors allow you to ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’ but there will still be a lower limit and upper limit so you need to check that. I briefly talk about that in this install so hopefully it will make a bit more sense if you read on.

Installing a projector

1. Buy everything you need

I went for the BenQ W1070 projector which is hard to get hold of now but I’ve linked to a similar one – the W1050 and there’s a Richer Sounds review here. A half way decent projector will set you back around £500. Here’s a list of everything I purchased for this install, including the screen:

In a nutshell, if you’ve got money to burn and have budgeted more than ~£600 for this entire install, then spend it on a better projector or screen. Not on fancy cables or brackets.

2. Work out the centre of the screen

You’ll need to mark the wall opposite the screen with the centre point of your projector screen – i.e. measure the width of your screen and divide it by two. Ultimately you want the lens to be central (width-wise) to the screen. By marking the opposite wall you can then use a large square to draw a light line on the ceiling towards where the projector will be installed. There are various ways to do this, I’ll not cover all that in this article – just look up the ‘3-4-5 triangle rule’ and you should be fine from there. You don’t need to be millimeter accurate so don’t over-think this… but if you’re miles out your picture will be skewed.

3. Calculate the throw distance

The key thing you need to get right when installing a projector is working out the throw distance. This is different for different projectors and you should be able to find this out before making your purchase. Most projectors are fine for most ‘average’ size rooms but if you live in a castle you might want to double check the specs.

For this particular projector (see 4m 8s in the above video) you can see from the instruction manual that for a 90″ screen the projector LENS needs to be between 2.3m (2278mm) and 2.9m (2962mm) from the screen. So I’ve measured from the projector screen and marked the ceiling at 2.3m and 2.9m –  put these marks on the line I drew in step 2. The projector needs to be installed so that the lens is somewhere between these two marks.

PRO TIP: Remember when installing a projector that we measure everything relative the lens, not the centre of the projector itself!

If I had a 120″ screen the projector would need to be at least 3m (3038mm) from the screen (for this projector), which is bigger than our living room unless I knocked a wall down. Also bear in mind, the further the projector is from the screen the dimmer the image will be. For a small living room like ours this projector is absolutely fine but, again, for your castle you might want something a bit more powerful.

4. Work out projector height

Before you panic, if your ceilings are under 2.4m high this probably won’t be a problem and you can skip this section – ours are 2.3m high so the top of the projector screen is pretty much at the same height as the projector, which is perfect. However if you’re mounting your projector particularly high up, for example if you live in a house with incredibly high ceilings, then you’ll need to account for the maximum lens height. For example with my projector used with a 90″ screen the maximum lens height is 56mm above the top of the screen, which isn’t far. Again, this varies between different types of projector. If you do have really high ceilings you either need a mounting bracket that will bring the projector down to screen level OR you’ll need a projector that can throw the image down at a more extreme angle.

5. Attach the projector to the ceiling

The Luxburg bracket I bought for £10.99 is perfectly adequate for this projector – it’s made of solid steel and supports 15kg. I suspect it would support WAY more than this before failing – in all seriousness the ceiling would probably fall down before this bracket would fail. I might test that at some point! Anyway, the projector weighs about 3kg – this bracket is fine. Don’t get me wrong, you can pay WAY more for prettier brackets and if you want to do that be my guest, but I don’t see any physical way this bracket could fail. If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket buy a better projector.

The first thing you need to do is attach the bracket to the projector using the supplied mounting screws. This can be a bit fiddly but if you’re good with Meccano you should be fine. It took me about 10 minutes to put the bracket together and get all the screw holes aligned. The bracket came with 4 mounting arms however my projector only has 3 mounting screw holes so I could get rid of one of the arms. Try to get the bracket as central to the projector (not the lens) as possible since you want the centre of gravity to be on your side. I talk about this in more detail on the above video.

Then work out where the bracket needs to go on the ceiling relative to the required lens position. You should find the bracket is NOT in line with the centre mark – it should be off-set to account for where the lens is on your projector (unless you have a projector where the lens is central).

I used 4 x expanding hollow wall anchors to attach the bracket to the ceiling – I installed these using a proper Fischer setting tool. If you want to know whether it’s safe hanging a projector using these fixings then please read the note at the bottom of this article. Use a spirit level to get your projector hanging as level as possible. This will make set-up easier later on.

6. Install the cabling for the projector

There are a number of ways to crack this nut but the diagram below shows how I did it. Essentially the projector needs two cables connected to it – a power cable (comes with the projector) and an HDMI cable (doesn’t normally come with the projector) to receive the video signal from whatever you’re going to watch (Netflix etc.). How you route these cables to your projector is up to you – just don’t mess with electrics if you don’t know what you’re doing! Get an electrician to install a socket near your projector and you might even be able to pay them to install the HDMI cable neatly for you. Alternatively if you want to save your pennies just run the cables in trunking up the wall.

For me life is made considerably easier by having an amp that switches all the HDMI signals for me and gives me a single HDMI feed to the TV that I can then split off to the projector:

Installing A Projector - Cabling

If you don’t have an amp that can switch HDMI signals you can buy a cheap little HDMI switcher from Amazon for about £11.99 – I haven’t used this particular one but the reviews look fine so it should do the job. If you could find one with two outputs instead of one it negates the need for the HDMI splitter. I had a quick look and couldn’t find one though.

You need a way of getting a TV signal to your projector. The easiest way is generally to use some sort of splitter so that you can send a signal to your TV AND projector at the same time, that way you don’t have to mess around with switch boxes and you just switch your TV off when you’re using the projector. I used a Sowtech splitter for this install but it’s hard to get hold of now. This splitter here looks like it does the same job. The splitter normally needs to be powered – either via the mains or USB. Once your power and HDMI are all connected up you’re ready to set up your projector!

7. Set up your projector

Close the blinds and curtains ’cause you’re ready to power things up for the first time! I’m assuming your projector screen is down at the correct height and your projector is level and ready to rock… oh, and don’t forget to take the lens cap off.

Don’t worry about the zoom for now, just get the focus right so you can read what’s on the screen. The first thing you’ll probably need to do is invert the image from the projector. You’ll need to go in to the menu system to change this, or you’ll get a very sore neck. On this BenQ projector I needed to select the option that says ‘Projector Position’ and change it to ‘Front Ceiling’ – in other words the projector is in front of the screen on the ceiling.

You then need some sort of test pattern so that you can adjust the zoom and everything else. Again, on this projector it was simply a case of selecting ‘Test Pattern’ from the menu. With the test pattern displayed you can then adjust the zoom to get the image as big as possible on the screen. Every time you adjust the zoom you’ll need to re-focus the image. Then make any minor tweaks to the mounting bracket to get the image perfectly central on the screen, double check all of the screws are tight, do a final re-focus of the image, switch the test pattern off and you should be ready to rock!

We’ve been using this set-up for about 18 months now (at the time of writing) and it’s genuinely one of the most awesome family purchases we’ve made! We all love our movies and the projector is used about 2-3 times per week so it’s been a worthwhile investment. Our biggest problem is not over-using it since we don’t want the novelty to wear off! 🙂

A note on cheap vs expensive a/v cables & accessories

A lot of retail outlets will try to sell you the benefits of buying expensive HDMI cables and ceiling mounts for your projector. That’s because they need to pay for their retail outlet. When I bought my projector the salesman tried to sell me a £200 bracket and a £150 HDMI cable. They said, and I quote, “the cheap £10 HDMI cables you get off Amazon won’t work for this”. This is complete and utter bo**ocks. As much as I don’t want to see the total demise of retail outlets I also don’t appreciate being lied to and ripped off. The reason some stores come out with this rubbish is since they make WAY more money selling pointlessly expensive accessories than they do selling (in this example) the projector. If you’ve got spare money to invest in a project like this then I strongly recommend putting it in the direction of a better projector or screen, not a cable.

Throughout my life people have tried and failed to sell me the benefits of better cables for my audio gear. I’m a qualified audio engineer (on paper… it was a long time ago) and honestly can’t tell the difference between cheap and expensive cables in a blind test – especially when it comes to DIGITAL signals. If you can tell the difference there are plenty of stores who will happily take your money.

A note on HDMI cable lengths

Although there are no defined limits for HDMI cable length in the various HDMI standards, the general consensus is that you might start having problems with runs over 50 feet – that’s around 15m. For my install I’m using a 12.5m HDMI cable and it cost £12.99. It’s been fine since February 2017 and if that situation changes I’ll update this article (still fine – July 2018!). Do your own homework here – there are companies selling 30m HDMI cables on Amazon and most of the reviews seem fine but obviously you are pushing the limits slightly.

A note on hollow wall anchors and their strength

I’m using Fischer metal cavity fixings (or equivalents) installed using a proper Fischer setting tool. A few people have commented that these are insufficient to hold something as heavy as a projector. Normally these are people with limited experience of installing stuff who don’t bother to read the manufacturer’s own reference guides and data sheets.

Fischer have carried out extensive testing of their products and produced data sheets to tell you all this information – this is done by engineers who know all about this sort of stuff. By checking the data sheet, instead of just guessing, you can find out whether or not something is going to work for the intended purpose. According to the data sheet, these fixings can handle a load of 0.2kN (tensile, shear or oblique) in 12.5mm plasterboard – that’s around 20kg for a single fixing and includes a safety factor of 3. In other words a single fixing might be able to handle up to 60kg (don’t do that, the safety factor is there for a reason).

In this particular installation I’m using 4 of these fixings… the projector weighs approximately 3kg. It’s not I repeat NOT going to drop on my head. If you don’t want to take it from me then take it from the clever engineers who have done the maths!

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