Data projectors are dropping rapidly in price and improving in function. Which of the latest models best suits your needs?
Put simply, projectors are becoming cheaper because vendors are moving more projectors. A relatively well-featured portable data projector can now be had for around AU$3500, whereas a year ago a similar unit would have been more than AU$5000.
A year ago the major players were utilising the traditional LCD panel projection technology; now more of them are using digital light processing (DLP). Another changing feature can be seen in the overall rated ANSI lumen output (lamp brightness) and contrast ratios. Most portable data projectors are able to produce approximately 1500 lumens; a short time ago, par was around the 800 to 1000 lumen mark.
Resolution is also a critical consideration. All the sub-AU$3000 projectors we looked at are SVGA (or 800 x 600 native), and while this may be acceptable for video playback, if you are seriously considering buying a projector for data projection then you need to ensure that you have a XGA unit. Many SVGA units are advertised as being "XGA capable", but this is a relatively rough-and-ready software interpolation that can end up making images looked distorted. So ensure you look at a minimum of true XGA (or 1024 x 768 native) resolution data projectors before investing.
There are quite a few different types of lamps. The most common lamps used today are UHP (ultra-high performance) lamps. There are also metal halide (UHM), ultra-high energy (UHE), ultra-high brightness (UHB), video projection (VIP) and mercury arc (NSH). Lamp life hasn't really increased since the last time we tested data projectors -- you can still expect to get anywhere up to 2000 hours on average. Brightness does tend to drop off with many of them as they near their end of life. On the cost side, lamp prices have come down a little -- though it will still set you back around AU$700 to replace a lamp (compared to around AU$800 last year).
It's worth finding out what the warranty is on a replacement lamp. Some vendors won't give you any sort of warranty on a replacement lamp as they feel there are too many variables involved like individuals trying to install the lamp themselves. Even more staggering: some vendors might not give you any warranty on the original lamp as they see it as a consumable.
A good screen will also make your projector's image look far brighter and crisper than a wall. The way in which a surface refracts light is what differentiates one screen fabric from another. Most fabrics have ratings next to them which should help you chose an appropriate screen. When looking to buy a screen you should also choose one that's going to be appropriate in size taking into account the throw distance of the projector.
And if you're unlucky enough to have to cart around a screen you do have some options. There are portable screens that fold into compact cases and are ready to use in seconds. They are smaller, of course, but might be the way to go if portability is a big factor.
Now this was a surprise submission considering Acer has never sent us a projector for testing. We always had the understanding that BenQ was looking after this area and Acer would stay out of projectors. In any case, we are now aware they know how to make an ultra-portable projector.
The PD321 was the second smallest projector coming in at 1kg. It features standard connectors on the back an easy-to-use menu system and is capable of doing Picture in Picture (PiP).
The PD321 is rated at 1100 lumens same as the Infocus but it happened to be a lot brighter and sharper. The only real issue we had with it was that it was noticeably brighter on one side of the screen.
The BenQ is rated at 1700 ANSI lumens, which puts it in the middle of the pack in terms of brightness. BenQ claims the PB2220 has a contrast ratio of 2000:1 which is extremely high. In our tests, we found that the unit didn't measure up to those claims.
The unit has a standard set of connectors and a basic menu system. It offers PiP, which not many of the test units had. A presentation wizard was bundled, which is a second remote control that is used to do slide shows and comes equipped with a laser pointer.
The BenQ didn't live up to our expectations in terms of brightness. There were lower-rated projectors that were brighter. We found we had to play around with the colour settings and crank up the contrast. There was also a noticeable flicker on the screen.
The LV-X4 is Canon's latest micro portable projector and we were told we are the first to review this product.
The X4 comes with two RGB ports, service port, USB, composite, RCA-type, and mini-jack audio ports. The front zoom ring can be a little frustrating to use as you can't get a good grip on it and the on-screen menu was hard to follow at first as it uses icons to denote adjustments.
The X4 was reasonably bright and uniform. Its sharpness was better than average and its contrast was excellent.
Not known to us for their projectors, Casio is another vendor that submitted a projector to us for the first time. The Casio had the second-highest lumens rating of 2200 but it wasn't able to live up to its high rating. In fact there were a few projectors that recorded higher lux values and had lower lumens ratings.
The menu system is quite thorough and includes plenty of adjustments. You can even do Picture in Picture (PiP) with this unit. It had fairly standard connectors on the back and remote that resembled the Viewsonic's and Hitachi's.
The XJ-350 was bright overall and had good colour; however, it did display some slight ghosting when displaying plain text on the screen. We also noticed this projector takes quite a while to turn off after it's been on for a while.
The Epson EMP-745 is an LCD projector that has a whopping 2500 lumens rating in high mode and 1500 in low mode. Not bad for a projector that weighs less than 2kg.
On the back are your standard video and audio connectors, and on the front is a PC Card slot for a Wi-Fi Card (supplied).
The focus and zoom rings use short stubs which you can move with your fingers for adjustment. They proved to work quite well and reduced our setup time somewhat.
The on-screen menu includes a large number of predefined colour modes like presentation, theatre, and dynamic to name a few, and it had a great lamp counter which keeps count of low- and high-mode lamp hours.
Its picture quality was outstanding -- especially the contrast. It was also one of the brightest projectors tested.
The Hitachi CP-X328W is one of the larger units tested (some of the other offerings were half the size of the Hitachi). It is still less than 3kg in weight and offers more in the way of connectors. It features additional RGB ports, as well as component and composite video.
The CP-X328W had a lot of similarities to the Viewsonic -- they both had a slightly different chassis but everything else seemed to be in the same position.
The Hitachi does have the higher spec however. It's rated at 2000 ANSI lumens, compared to 1500 for the Viewsonic. During testing we set the picture quality to presentation from standard as it was too dull to look at in standard mode. The Hitachi has a great set of adjustments both vertical and horizontal keystone adjustment, blank or shutter type function, and magnification adjustment, just naming some.
The Hitachi performed was somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of brightness, but we were surprised it was not as bright than the Mitsubishi, which was rated at 1500 ANSI lumens.
Picture quality wasn't too bad; text appeared slightly blurry up close. Contrast was good, especially after we adjusted the projector from standard to presentation mode.
HP lists the MP3222 in its ultra-portable range, but we don't think it's all that ultra-portable, especially since some of the other vendors are sending us sub-1kg projectors to test. It's rated at a high 2000 ANSI lumens and has a contrast ratio of 2000:1. It has a powerful 200W lamp that's good for 2000 hours in standard mode and 3000 in eco mode.
The MP3222 looks quite neat: all the connectors on the back are nicely labelled, and the menu system is easy to use but then it doesn't have too many settings to adjust.
The MP3222 was the second brightest projector, which was impressive when you think about how small this projector is. It did, however, show a big range in brightness across the screen but it wasn't as noticeable like it was with the Acer. Its contrast was very good but it lacked a little in sharpness.
The InFocus LP120 is the smallest and lightest projector we looked at, weighing less than 1kg. With projectors this small there is always some sort of tradeoff: this projector isn't as powerful in terms of brightness and only offers a limited number of video and audio connections.
The InFocus projectors shipped with a LiteShow adaptor. This adaptor features an 11Mbps wireless adaptor card that plugs into the DVI port of the projector and a Wireless LAN Card that plugs into your notebook. Client software was also supplied so you can manage the projector from your notebook.
The LP120 had a broken zoom lens. We couldn't adjust the size of the screen, which caused us some problems during testing. We made do with what we had as we didn't have time to get another unit in.
The remote control didn't offer many features all you can really do is navigate through a slide show, use the laser pointer and program one effect at a time using the effect button (like the shutter/ blank
function to name one). You would have to adjust the picture quality from the projector.
The Mitsubishi XD50U is a DLP projector that has a lumens rating of 1500 and a contrast ratio of 1500:1. The lamp has a normal mode as well as a low mode, and it sets the brightness to 80 percent.
At the rear is a DVI connector and PC Card slot. And to get you up and running as soon as possible, a bundled PC Card with a 16MB Compact Flash Card is included so you can do PC-free presentations.
The on-screen menu is very easy to use but then again it doesn't feature too many adjustments. The XD50U finished in the top half in terms of brightness and showed good uniformity across the screen. Picture quality was excellent being very sharp and its contrast wasn't too bad either.
This NEC LT245G was the brightest projector in our test and also the largest, weighing in at 3.2kg. It has a powerful 220W lamp that can run for approximately 2000 hours in standard mode and 4000 eco mode.
There are loads of connectors on the back of this projector, too many to mention (see Specifications table). It also has a carry handle that swings out from the projector.
The LT245G has a great menu system with loads of adjustments and it has a nifty lamp usage bar that tells you in percentages how much life you have left in your lamp.
The LT245G display was razor sharp, extremely bright, and the colours were strikingly vivid. If you don't mind carrying a bit more weight with you then this may be what you have been waiting for.
Panasonic's PT-LB10NTE is an ultra-portable wireless LCD projector. It's rated at 2500 ANSI lumens and has a contrast ratio of only 400:1. It has wireless capabilities and standard video and audio connectors. The menu buttons are located in an unusual position at the rear and the projector -- they are also difficult to use because they are so small.
One of the nice features is the index window. What this function does is split the screen into two and allows you to use the left-hand screen as your index screen and the right-hand screen as your work area. The shutter or blank function is also a handy function when giving presentations.
Picture quality wasn't bad but it did appear a little fuzzy up close. There were no complaints about contrast or brightness -- both were very good.
The Sharp is one of the three ultra-portable projectors we looked at (the others being the InFocus and Acer). The Sharp looks more like the Infocus -- quite wide -- but it also has the lens and connectors in the same area. The Sharp is rated 100 ANSI lumens more than the Infocus and Acer, however our results showed it to be less bright.
The XR-1X uses the same mechanism as the Infocus to adjust the zoom and focus. The focus ring is quite small and you have to fiddle around with it a little to get your focus right.
The XR-1X has an impressive lamp life. In standard mode the lamp can run for 3000 hours and in eco mode it can run for 4000 hours. It has standard connectors and menu settings with a brightness boost option.
The XR-1X was the least bright projector in our roundup if you take the average brightness across the screen. However in dark conditions it worked quite well and in fact we rate it just as high as the Acer in terms of sharpness. It also displayed good contrast.
The Viewsonic has a lot of similarities to the Hitachi. The Viewsonic is rated at 1500 ANSI lumens and has a contrast ratio of 400:1. It has an eco mode which pushes the lamp life out to 4000 hours and has component video on the back.
The PJ551 had pretty much the same menu system as the Hitachi CP-X328W but when it came to picture quality the Viewsonic really let us down.
It was quite dull and our lux meter proved that. It was one of the dullest projectors, along with the Sharp. The only thing going for it was the picture quality was even across the screen.
|Model||Acer PD321||BenQ PB2220||Canon LV-X4||Casio XJ-350|
|Distributor||Acer Computer||Benq Australia||Canon||Shriro Australia|
|Phone||02 8762 3000||02 9714 6800||02 9805 2000||02 9415 5040|
|Warranty||2 years||2 years||2 years||2 years|
|Lamp warranty||6 months or 1000 hours||3 months or 500 hours||90 days||90 days or 500 hours|
|RRP (inc GST)||AU$3899||AU$3849||AU$3190||AU$3495|
|Lamp RRP (inc GST)||AU$749||AU$789||AU$688||AU$715|
|True native resolution||1024x768||1024x768||1024x768||1024x768|
|Throw distance (metres)||53in@2m||10||7.7||5.3|
|H-Sync range (kHz)||15-70||30 ~ 70||15 ~ 100||15 ~ 92|
|V-Sync range (Hz)||45-80||50 ~ 100||50 ~ 100||50 ~ 85|
|Built-in speaker||No||1 x 0.5W||1 x 1W||1 x 1W|
|Lamp life (hours)||2000||2000||2000||2000|
|Connections (ports)||RGB, S-Video, video||RGB, component, S-Video, video, audio, presentation wizard||RGB x 2, S-Video, video, audio, USB, service port||RGB, S-Video, video, audio, USB|
|Model||Epson EMP-745||Hitachi CP-X328W||HP MP3222||Infocus LP120|
|Phone||1300 361 054||1800 032 689||13 13 47||1300 666 099|
|Warranty||2 years||2 years/2000 hours||3 years||2 years parts & labour|
|Lamp warranty||3 months or 500 hours||12 months / 500 hours||90 days or 500 hours||90 days or 500 hours|
|RRP (inc GST)||AU$4799||AU$3999||AU$2899||AU$3999|
|Lamp RRP (inc GST)||AU$769||AU$765||AU$683||AU$499|
|True native resolution||1024x768||1024x768||1024x768||1024x768|
|Throw distance (metres)||12.1||11||12||5|
|H-Sync range (kHz)||15 ~ 92||15 ~ 91||NA||15 ~100|
|V-Sync range (Hz)||50 ~ 85||50 ~ 120||NA||43.5 ~ 130Hz|
|Built-in speaker||1 x 1W||1 x 1W||1 x 1W||1 x 1W|
|Lamp life (hours)||2000 High, 3000 Silent||2000 avg||2000, 3000 in eco mode||2000|
|Connections (ports)||RGB, S-Video, video, audio, USB, PC Card, Wi-Fi card||RGB, component, S-Video, video, control terminal||RGB, S-Video, video, audio, USB||DVI, S-Video, audio, LiteShow|
|Model||Mitsubishi XD50U||NEC LT245G||Panasonic PT-LB10NTE||Sharp XR1X||ViewSonic PJ551|
|Distributor||Mitsubishi||NEC||Panasonic||Sharp||Ingram Micro/ Synnex|
|Phone||02 9684 7777||131632||02 9986 7400||1300 135 530||02 9701 4500/ 1300 880 038|
|Warranty||2 years||2 years||2 years||2 years||3 years|
|Lamp warranty||90 days or 1200 hours||2000 hours or 6 months||N/A||N/A||1 year|
|RRP (inc GST)||AU$4290||AU$5274||AU$3999||AU$3999||AU$3599|
|Lamp RRP (inc GST)||AU$749||AU$715||AU$600||AU$623||AU$598|
|True native resolution||1024x768||1024x768||1024x768||1024x768||1024x768|
|Throw distance (metres)||7.8||15.9||10.7||4.3||5.9|
|H-Sync range (kHz)||15 ~ 80||15 ~ 100||15-91 kHz||45 ~ 85||15 ~ 78|
|V-Sync range (Hz)||50 ~ 85||48 ~ 120||50-85kHz||15 ~ 70||56 ~ 120|
|Built-in speaker||1 x 0.5W||1 x 2W||1 x 1W||1 x 1W||1 x 1W|
|Lamp Watts||150W||220W||155W UHM||150W||150W|
|Lamp life (hours)||1500 in low mode, 2000 in eco mode||2000, 4000 in eco mode||2000||3000, 4000 in eco mode||4000 in whisper mode|
|Connections (ports)||DVI, S-Video, video, audio, PC Card Slot/PC Card with 16MB CF card||RGB x 3, S-Video, video, audio, USB, Wired LAN, PC Card slot||RGB, S-Video, video, audio, serial||RGB, S-Video, video, audio, USB||RGB, component, S-Video, video, control terminal|
Does the projector have a good range of connectors to work with a variety of different inputs?
Is the projector bright and flexible enough to work in a variety of different lighting situations?
What are the upfront running costs, and how suitable is the projector to the task?
How long is the warranty for the projector and for the lamp?
The test rig used to drive the projectors was a Toshiba PortÃƒÂ©gÃƒÂ© notebook.
Each of the projectors was connected to the notebook and given adequate time for the lamp to heat up and stabilise (this proved to be less than 10 minutes). All the projectors were placed four metres away from the screen. They all projected images on a screen that was 100in in diagonal.
We measured the relative brightness of each projector with a Topcon IM-2D digital luxmeter. The Topcon allowed us to measure the brightness of the display from 13 points around the screen and derive an average, maximum, and minimum range for each projector. Projectors tend to be brightest at the centre and considerably dimmer around the edges, so this test allowed us to judge how uniformly bright each projector's picture was.
We also ran a series of subjective jury display quality tests using DisplayMate for Windows from Sonera Technologies. This series of images is designed to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of a range of attributes, including geometric patterns, colour scales, greyscales, uniformity, and resolution.
The jury tests consisted primarily of examining images from DisplayMate. Jurors rated the monitors first by whether they showed any of these flaws. If they did, the jurors decided whether the flaws were "barely visible", "easily visible but not an issue for real-world use", or "distracting in at least some circumstances".
Company: K&M Advertising
The company wants to equip its sales staff with data projectors to take with them on sales calls to clients. Sales staff have been complaining about the weight of all the gear they have to carry around with them.
Approximate budget: AU$5000 per projector.
Requires: Five projectors weighing less than 3kg each.
Concerns: Weight is crucial, because sales staff are out on the road a lot. The ability to store presentations on CardBus or CompactFlash cards would be a big bonus. 1024 x 768 resolution preferred.
Best solution: The the Mitsubishi XD50U has it all, a PC Card slot for PC-free presentations, it weighed a light 1.5kg, it ranked as one of the brighter projectors and its picture quality was excellent.
Company: Kibara Construction
This company wants to install a new data projector in its boardroom for presentations and videoconferencing.
Approximate budget: AU$5000.
Requires: A bright, high-quality data projector for boardroom use.
Concerns: Image brightness and quality are obviously very important, as is the ability to handle a wide variety of inputs. The other need is the ability to transmit content, like a presentation or a spreadsheet, over a network so that hard copies and computers can be left behind.
Best solution: The projector that best meets this scenario's needs is the NEC LT245G.
We couldn't go past the Mitsubishi XD50U as both our Scenario 1winner and Editor's Choice. It had it all, the PC Card slot for PC-free presentations, it weighed a light 1.5kg, it ranked as one of the brighter projectors, and its picture quality was excellent. Acer, Casio, and NEC also deserve mentions as they were all great projectors in their own right.
This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.