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IRL: Three weeks with Philips' Screeneo projector

Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: Three weeks with Philips' Screeneo projector

You'd never mistake me for an A/V geek, since I'm far more interested in what's on TV than how it gets to me. That said, I always felt like I was missing out on being able to try out projectors since they required a complex ceiling mounting process and needed me to know about things like lumen counts, aperture correction and blooming. That's why, when I first clamped eyes on Philips' Screeneo, I thought this was my chance to right that wrong.

Unlike projectors (as most of us would imagine them), Screeneo is a short-throw unit, designed to sit at the base of a wall and beam images straight above it. That meant all I had to do was stick this on my TV table, and instantly I'd get a personal cinema. In practice, if you sit it 10 centimeters away from the wall, you'll get a 50-inch screen, and if you pull it back to 45cm, it'll stretch as wide as 100 inches. In short: wow.

Setup is ridiculously simple, since all you have to do is plug the thing in, select which way the screen needs to be oriented, and your job is done. All-in, it took about 10 minutes to tweak the picture settings to get my Xbox 360, Roku and Chromecast hooked up. What's brilliant about the Screeneo is that it's Android-powered, with 4GB of on-board storage, WiFi with built-in web browser and even an SD card slot, making it a lot more flexible than your average TV. Even better, there's a beefy pair of 26-watt speakers built into the hardware, so there's no need to hook up an external pair.

Projectors are ideally meant to be used in pitch-dark rooms that compensate for the weak bulb. In fact, I was still able to use it through a long weekend without having to draw my blinds during the day. It was in those moments, with the Xbox hooked up, that the Screeneo really came into its own. Wandering around the streets of Columbia was so much better on a 100-inch screen, and my little team made the Champions League Champions Cup in FIFA 13. In fact, I'm reasonably sure that the bigger picture actually helped improve my ability in both games, since there was a definite upswing in my fortunes after I'd installed the unit. Then there are the space savings: if you don't fancy the idea of a 50-inch TV cluttering up your lounge, this stout box is a compelling proposition indeed.

So, what are the downsides? First up, like all projectors, it's prone to running hot, and after a long Netflix session, might surreptitiously power down in order to rest its burning bulb. Then there's the output quality, which tops out at 720p. Neither of those are deal breakers for the casual users this is is aimed at. What might be non-negotiable, of course, is your budget. Considering you can get a normal projector for less than £500, the fact that the Screeneo is priced at £1,500 ($2,505) in the UK instantly makes it a "fantasy" purchase rather than one you might legitimately splurge on. When it comes time to replace my aging Bravia, I'll remain in the land of HDTVs. Were Philips to knock £500 from the price, though, I'd be back in a heartbeat. In the meantime, I think I'm a bit of an A/V convert -- someone bring me a gold-plated aux cable, I've got a lot of catching up to do.