Creating Your Own Home Theater With the Epson Megaplex MG-50

The Muppets on our backyard big screen. Image credit: Ruth Suehle

Lately when I’ve gone to the movie theater, there’s been an extra ad stuck between Fandango puppets and exhortations to turn off my cell phone. It starts by showing big, beautiful, epic movie scenes. As they play, the screen size shrinks down to the size of a TV, and a voice says, “No movie deserves this.” It’s a movie theater ad for going to movie theaters. Meta. And the reason it exists is the increasingly affordable availability of building your own home theater.

“Home theater” sounds like a large-scale, expensive project, and that’s certainly an option. But it doesn’t have to be. (I do not-so-secretly covet the Star Trek themed version.) In our house, it’s now as simple as an Epson Megaplex MG-50 (MSRP $699) with a $50 window shade from the hardware store.

This particular projector is also a one-stop dock for your Apple devices, as in addition to its HDMI, component, and VGA inputs, it has an iPod/iPad/iPhone dock. You can use the MG-50 to project video from those devices or just as speakers. (It even charges them while docked.) The menu system is easy to navigate, and it’s a reasonably portable size if you need to take it with you. That makes it not just a projector, but an entertainment center in a box, particularly if you already own Apple devices. (And if you’re more of an Android fan and the Apple doesn’t interest you, the dock pushes into the machine so you’ll never ever remember it’s there.)

Image credit: Epson

Specifications

  • Projection: Front or rear
  • Brightness: 2200 lumens
  • Native resolution: 540p (960×540)
  • Projection size: 30″-350″
  • Aspect ratio: 16:9
  • See full specs

Using the Megaplex MG-50

Setup was easy. We did have an initial issue that I believe was actually a problem with our PS3, not with the projector, and we were able to quickly correct it. What that does mean, however, is that I can tell you how friendly and helpful their customer service line is–and that’s a big plus compared with a lot of other device manufacturers.

For a screen, I started out using the white backdrop I use for photography. It was functional, but absorbed a lot of light. After some quick research on home theater forums, I replaced it with a $50 rolling window shade from the hardware store. Not only is it significantly cheaper than a real projection screen, but it works well. The picture is incredibly bright, and the color is great.

What I really recommend this projector for, however, is not your kids’ Saturday morning cartoons or even pizza-night movies, but for creating your own backyard theater, as pictured above. Another trip to the hardware store for a painter’s dropcloth to use as a screen, and we were able to call our friends over for movies on the lawn. It was also a great test of the device’s power. The two ten-watt speakers built into the MG-50 were loud enough for everyone watching to hear, even outdoors, and the picture was bright enough that we were even able to start watching before the sun had really gone down. (Plus my kids got to see Star Wars for the first time on “the big screen” with their own snack kitchen and the post-movie walk to bed just yards away.)

The negatives are minor. This model is only 540p. Epson does offer another model, the MG-850HD, at 720p with MSRP of $799. It also bumps up to 2800 lumens. Did I really miss it, though? Probably not. The projector also does get rather hot if you’re particularly close to the right side of the machine. (Don’t leave your chocolate bar there.)

The only other problem we encountered was not with the device itself so much as our own home theater setup. We bought a house with a room that was already wired for surround sound, but the jacks for it are built-in where the TV would naturally go. Running a 25′ cable to the projector to make that work made the picture cut out periodically. But we’re working on solutions.

In all, this is a great device to get your home theater (big or small) started. When you start adding up the price of movie tickets now, plus the price of a babysitter, followed by the risk that the people next to you in the theater weren’t nice enough to get their own babysitter, resulting in screams during Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter when there aren’t even any blood-suckers on the screen… the case for spending a little money on a projector gets strong. And not only will you enjoy the movie experience from the comfort of your sofa, your kids will think you’re the best mom ever when Phineas and Ferb are three feet tall.

Disclosure: I received an Epson Megaplex MG-50 for review.

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By day, Ruth works to make open source software communities better. The rest of the time, she makes things, which means her husband and kids know to watch out for stray sewing pins and to ask before eating anything made of fondant.