Tiny DLPs are powerhouse image projectors

GCN Lab assistant Arthur Moser ponders the relative quality of black-on-white and white-on-black text reproduction.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Presenters used to dream of tucking the equivalent of a small movie theater under their arm and walking to the next meeting.

Today, LCD and digital-light-processing projectors make that fantasy a reality. As DLPs continue to gain on their larger and generally brighter LCD cousins, look for more presenters to pack ever-tinier projectors that deliver stunning images.

For this review, we asked DLP vendors to submit their smallest, brightest units. We measured brightness in lumens at 10 feet, using an LX-101 meter from Lutron Electronics Co. Inc. of Coopersburg, Pa. For image quality, we turned to DisplayMate benchmarks from DisplayMate Technologies Corp. of Amherst, N.H.

In our tests, each projector displayed the same set of images through a video signal splitter in a darkened room. We factored price into our final grades.

In our view, the ideal DLP should be lightweight, inexpensive, small, vibrant and accurate. One of the best test units was the Boxlight XD-25m. Weighing in at just 2.14 pounds, the 9.5- by 3.5-inch projector was just 2 inches thick and looked more like a toy than a high-tech tool. The rectangular unit slid easily into the accessory slot of a notebook computer case, occupying less room than a notebook.

The controls on top lit up, so we could easily see the buttons even in a dark room.

Users tend to forget that the light from a projector depends on the image it is displaying. If you project a dark image, you might need a little help finding the buttons.

At a distance of 10 feet, with the display as wide as possible, the image was 5 feet, 8 inches across. The center measured 410 lumens'a respectable amount of light for such a small unit. But it could not operate in a well-lit room without a lot of image washout. The lower light power was one of the biggest negatives for the XD-25m, though 410 lumens should be enough for most rooms with the blinds closed.

At the corners, the lumens dropped off to 325. That was less than a 100-lumen drop, so the audience probably wouldn't notice it, though in very bright rooms the corners of images might seem washed-out.

Accurate colors

The XD-25m performed well in quality tests. It displayed the best and most-accurate reds of any projector in the review. And it had a near-perfect white'important for accuracy with almost every other color.

It also passed the high-bandwidth test for display of extremely complex images such as squares on a checkerboard. Almost every other projector in the review made slight errors with those difficult images. Only the Boxlight got them right.

At $2,205 on General Services Administration schedule contracts, this tiny DLP wouldn't put a big dent in the agency budget. It earned an A grade and a Reviewer's Choice designation for packing a lot of power into a small volume.

The Dell 3200MP was a bit larger than most of the other projectors although it maintained a small, 9- by 7- by 2.5-inch form factor. At 3.98 pounds, it wouldn't weigh down a computer bag much, either.

At the center of the screen from 10 feet away, we measured 650 lumens, which tied the score for the brightest in the review. There was a 100-lumen drop at the corners, just barely noticeable.

The screen at maximum size, 10 feet from the projector, was 5 feet, 1 inch wide, which made the image the smallest in the review. The smaller image probably contributed somewhat to the high brightness score, though the Dell measured only a few inches smaller than most of the other projectors. It looked to us as if Dell compromised on screen size for a brighter image.

The Dell was one of two projectors in the review suitable for nearly every lighting environment, including rooms with fluorescent lights.

In quality, the 3200MP had a few surprises, such as the best black reproduction in the review. Every other projector had some black washout, but the 3200MP displayed very close to true black. The lab staff did not expect to find a good black from one of the brightest projectors, but the 3200MP was able to pump up power when needed or turn it off otherwise.

About the only fault we found with the 3200MP was with red tones, which tended to look too dark. The 3200MP earned a respectable A- and a Reviewer's Choice designation.

If you don't mind a little extra weight and size, this versatile projector would perform well in most conditions. It also earned a Bang for the Buck designation for the lowest government price'just $1,529.

The Mitsubishi XD50U measured 7 by 9 by 2 inches. The most striking thing about it was the crispness of its images. But it was also bright, at 650 lumens in the center of the test screen, dropping off to 540 lumens at the corners. The maximum image at 10 feet was 5 feet, 5 inches wide. Like the Dell, the Mitsubishi weighed a little more than most ultraportable DLPs, at 3.82 pounds.

In quality testing, the results were mixed but mostly positive. The Mitsubishi was the only projector in the review that could produce a perfect green and a good blue. It was the best of all at displaying text'something important to most presenters. And it did a good job of accurately rendering fine details on a multicolored background.

Its bad points revolved around red: Whites looked pinkish. Although it displayed vibrant reds, color matching was not accurate compared with original images. Reds looked a little too vibrant compared with the actual colors. That might be terrific for fall travel illustrations but not much else.

If you want a projector that can display fine images and text clearly, the XD-50U would be a great choice. It earned a B+ in this review.

The InFocus LP120 at first glance looked like an upscale cousin to the Boxlight XD-25m. But when we dug deep, we found several differences.

In weight and size, the two models were identical. The LP120, however, had an amazing top display that told what the projector was doing: warming up, shutting down or displaying a certain signal type. The panel was also lit for visibility in a dark room.

Except for some overly red whites, it performed very well in our tests. It could display gray, the most difficult color to render properly, without any flicker or lines running through the image.

InFocus went a little too cheap on the plastic foot stand, which was difficult to adjust and barely able to support the DLP's weight. If we bumped or touched the screen, for example when pushing the top-mounted menu buttons, the unit collapsed on its elevated foot. That happened 90 percent of the time when we were adjusting the projector for various tests. It never occurred with any other projector.

The LP120 would be good for employees who don't understand how projectors work and tend to unplug them before the cool-down cycle, which can harm bulb life.

But the LP120 cost even more than the Boxlight, which had nearly identical statistics and performance levels. The LP120 got a B grade.

The Gateway 210 was a true heavyweight. At 11 inches long, 8 inches wide and 2 inches thick, it looked more like an LCD than a DLP. It was also the heaviest in the review at 4.86 pounds, and some users would not consider it ultraportable.

The size did have some advantages. From 10 feet, the image looked huge compared with many of the others, measuring 6 feet, 2 inches across. But there wasn't a lot of light power for such a big unit'only 450 lumens at the center, only a bit more than the tiny units could supply and not as much as the smaller Dell. We did, however, note no lumen dropoff from the center of the screen to the edges. Images were consistent throughout.

The Gateway didn't do too well with details and was fairly bad at text display. Images, however, were vibrant with good shading between colors.

The 210 would work better as a home theater projector than as a business tool. That's not necessarily bad. If you work with video a lot, it will give you a large, consistent image. But the projector is a bit too heavy and large to carry around and does not perform as well as others at traditional business presentations. It earned a B- in this review, with the caveat that it's much better suited for specific needs, especially video.

The Toshiba TDP-P5-US was a middle-of-the-road performer, outmatched in every area by one projector or another. The 8- by 6-inch by 2-inch DLP weighed 2.8 pounds, also middle-of-the-road for size and weight in this review.

We measured a very good 500 lumens at the center of an image, but the corners dropped to 350 lumens. That 150-lumen drop was visible without scientific instruments, so the corners looked dark.

The Toshiba performed adequately but not up to the level of the other projectors. It had trouble displaying plain gray, and its red was very inaccurate. Text was also difficult to read, regardless of whether it was black on a white background or white on black.

If the TDP-P5-US had been priced half as high as the others in the review, it would have been a good choice. At $2,000, it cost more than some better performers. It earned a C+ as slightly above average.

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