Lighting up the darkness

How GCN tested projectors

For this review, the GCN Lab used an image-benchmarking suite from DisplayMate Technologies Corp. of Amherst, N.H. The suite generates specific, highly detailed images that pinpoint flaws in image uniformity, white saturation, pixel tracking and registration.

Each projector was configured to identical settings before running the benchmarks. Each projector was connected to the same video card and used an analog signal.
The comprehensive DisplayMate benchmark suite, which can also test LCD, plasma and CRT monitors, and can even help with color printer reviews, costs between $69 and $795, depending on specific needs. Visit www.displaymate.com for more information.

Portable projectors must be more than just light; the GCN Lab looks for models that display bright images.

There is still no better tool for sharing information with a group than a digital projector. Only a clear image on a large screen guarantees that everyone in a conference room can see the information.

More and more, travelers who need to give presentations are looking to throw a projector into their computer bags. The GCN Lab looked at nine portable projectors to determine which one to hit the road with.

Projectors were judged based on portability, including both weight and size. They were also graded on how much light power, measured in lumens with an LX-101 light meter, they could throw onto a screen at 10 feet. We measured at the center of the screen and at the corners, where images tend to fade. A projector needs to be above roughly 650 lumens to work in brighter environments. Anything greater than a 100-lumen drop from the center of an image to the corners is noticeable to the naked eye.

We judged the actual quality of images produced using the DisplayMate Technologies Benchmark Suite [see box].

What we found

Eight of the nine projectors we tested use digital light processing, today's most common technology, which generates images using tiny mirrors. One, the ViewSonic PJ400, is an old-school LCD projector, while another, the Sony VPL-CX20A, employs a unique system of three LCD panels to produce better image quality than traditional LCDs.

Most of the projectors we looked at have nice feature sets, including control buttons that light up in the dark, remote controls and functions such as keystoning, which adjusts an image to appear flat even when the projector is at an angle.

Any of these projectors can be moved from location to location, but some are more portable than others. The Hewlett-Packard mp2210, Lenovo M400, NEC LT20 and ViewSonic PJ256D weigh less than three pounds each. Others'including one of our favorites, the InFocus LP600'weigh five pounds and up. Clearly, how often you'll travel with a projector will help determine your definition of portable.

In the end, we found the majority of these projectors to be merely decent. Only two, the mp2210 and LP600, have the combination of features, portability and superior performance that make them Reviewer's Choice products.


Hewlett-Packard mp2210 (GCN Lab Reviewer's Choice)

Performance: A+

Features: A

Ease of use: A

Value: B+

Pros: Small footprint; bright, accurate colors

Cons: None significant

The $1,499 HP mp2210 is a tiny (8.2 by 6.6 by 2.5 inches) projector that puts out big light'without sacrificing color accuracy. During testing, this 2.4-pound model threw out an incredible 1,125-lumen image from 10 feet, which nearly made it the brightest projector in the review. In fact, it is more powerful than competitors twice its heft. This makes the mp2210 good for almost any lighting condition, from darkness to full daylight. In addition, the image strength only dropped to 1,035 lumens at the corners of the screen, so nobody will detect faded edges.

Not only were the mp2210's images bright, they were also sharp. The unit accurately rendered very small details. Text was a pleasure to read on-screen, and there were no registration errors in our testing, meaning the mp2210 is also perfect for displaying movies or television feeds.

The mp2210 features an illuminated power button and a nice, credit card-size remote. For presenters on the go, this is a top pick.

Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., (650) 857-1501, www.hp.com

InFocus LP600 (GCN Lab Reviewer's Choice)

Performance: A

Features: A+

Ease of use: A+

Value: B

Pros: Perfect control scheme and status display; bright, accurate colors

Cons: Too heavy to be highly portable

The $1,699 InFocus LP600 is more a conference room projector than a true mobile unit. Still, the 5.2-pound projector marries accurate color display with good brightness, making it one of the best products we tested.

The LP600 was able to generate a 1,040-lumen image from 10 feet with little drop-off at the corners of the screen, which still were at 980 lumens. It also produced perfect color rendering and registration across the spectrum, making it a great projector for video or moving graphics.

But the best part of the LP600 is its wonderful control features. One of the leading causes of early failure in projectors is incorrect handling, such as unplugging the power before the projector is properly cooled. A display on the LP600 tells users exactly how long they need to wait. There is even an audio cue, similar to when you boot up or shut down your computer.

The LP600 combines high-quality images with excellent control features that help users protect their investment. InFocus also makes lighter units, such as the $1,599 LP120 (less than 2 pounds), but the superior power and performance of the LP600 make it an excellent choice.

InFocus Corp., Wilsonville, Ore., (800) 294-6400, www.infocus.com

Lenovo M400

Performance: C

Features: B+

Ease of use: B-

Value: C

Pros: Highly compact

Cons: Dim, expensive, washed out

The $1,644 Lenovo M400 still carries the IBM brand name on its side but turns in performance far below what we've come to expect from Big Blue.

The M400 is the smallest unit in our review and at just 2.4 pounds, it's one of the lightest. At only 1.9 inches thick and 6.4 inches wide, it will fit easily into a laptop carrying case and take up less room than most portable computers.

You need to know, however, what kind of lighting you'll en-ounter at your destination. We measured the center of an image 10 feet from the projector at just 650 lumens. That's barely acceptable for dimly lit rooms. With standard fluorescent lights on, any image on the screen would be washed out.

That said, the M400 did fairly well in a completely dark environment, displaying good details on small images. Reds were a bit washed out, though, and there were some pixel tracking and other errors that caused distortion of complex images.
The M400 is an acceptable projector if portability is your primary concern. But if you're stuck in a room where you can't dim the lights or shutter a window, your presentation is going to suffer.

Lenovo Group Ltd., Purchase, N.Y., (866) 428-4465, www.lenovo.com/us

Mitsubishi XD450U

Performance: A-

Features: B

Ease of use: B

Value: B-

Pros: Bright, good color accuracy

Cons: Heavy, expensive

The pricey, $2,136 Mitsubishi XD450U projector is the bulkiest in the entire review. At 6.5 pounds you could call it portable, but it's better suited as a conference room fixture.

Not only is the XD450U the biggest projector we reviewed, it is also the brightest'just barely edging out the HP MP2210 (which, to HP's great credit, is four pounds lighter).

Interestingly, it is the only projector we've ever tested that produced images that were brighter at the corners than the center. Still, with a center lumen count of 980 and 1,180 at the corners, the XD450U will work in almost any environment short of broad daylight.

Image quality is also good. Text looked fantastic, easily the best in the review. As far as color accuracy goes, the XD450U did well at the cool end of the spectrum, reproducing greens and blues perfectly. Reds were a little washed out. This is probably because the projector may be tuned for video by default, which requires better blues than reds.

The unit comes with a variety of ports, including two analog and one digital connector, an analog pass-through port, and composite and S-Video connectors. It also has a neat picture-in-picture feature for displaying two images at once. Had this been a conference room projector review, the XD450U would have been a top performer.

Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America Inc., Irvine, Calif., (888) 307-0349, www.mitsubishi-presentations.com

Mitsubishi XD60U

Performance: A-

Features: A-

Ease of use: B

Value: B+

Pros: Portable and thin design, bright

Cons: Digital-only input, expensive

The $1,895 XD60U is well designed for portability without sacrificing power. At 3.5 pounds, it isn't the smallest or the lightest projector in the review, but its dimensions (7.6 by 2.6 by 9.9 inches) make it among the easiest units to fit into a travel bag.

The light produced by the XD60U was very bright, hitting the 1,150-lumens mark at the center of an image with only a slight drop to 950 lumens at the corners. In fact, the white light it produces is more hyper-white in that it makes text easier to read and graphics better to view. The only disadvantage is that some colors, such as green and blue, are a bit washed out, especially when shown very faintly.

Oddly enough, it has only a digital DVI input port. While you can use a conversion cord for analog input, it tends to degrade the image. Digital is obviously the way to go if you can, but a traveling employee might not have a digital feed available on the road. On the plus side, if you plan to use a projector for high-quality video, the DVI interface will support HDTV.

The XD60U is a good projector for the road. A nice password protection feature and hefty three-year warranty (extensive for a projector) are attractive touches. If you go this route, you won't be disappointed.

Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America Inc., Irvine, Calif., (888) 307-0349, www.mitsubishi-presentations.com

NEC LT20

Performance: B-

Features: B-

Ease of use: B-

Value: B-

Pros: Good brightness, fine detail

Cons: Runs hot, some registration problems

While not the best in its class, the $1,463 NEC LT20 is a compact travel projector that turns in decent performance. ViewSonic sells an identical unit, the $1,495 PJ256. Both are 2.2 pounds with good but varying projection quality.

The LT40 was able to produce 950 lumens at the center of an image but dropped off noticeably to 750 at the corners. Rapidly stepping down a color scale tends to wash out or blur some colors, yet this was only noticeable in testing situations, not under common usage. In registration tests with moving pixels, the projector did fine with blue and green, but there were some slight errors producing green and red.

Mostly, we are concerned about the unit's design and construction. The venting on the side of the LT20 is hot because the bulb is so close to the vent exhaust. It's a risk you run when you try to achieve this level of brightness in a package the size of the LT20 (just 7.8 by 5.9 by 2.9 inches). If you leave the unit on for a long time, you need to be careful. While you probably won't burn yourself, it may feel like it if you brush against it.

The LT20 isn't the best ultracompact projector we tested, but it's not the worst.
NEC Solutions America Inc., Itasca, Ill., (800) 632-4636, www.necvisualsystems.com

Sony VPL-CX20A

Performance: C

Features: A

Ease of use: A

Value: C-

Pros: Vivid color, automatic controls

Cons: Dim light, expensive

The pricey $2,399 VPL-CX20A is a prototype system sent so we could assess its innovative features. Sony has packed a ton of perks into the unit that make it easy to operate. Almost everything is automatic, from the zoom settings to the arm that raises or lowers an on-screen image. It's slim but not tiny, measuring 10.7 by 8.2 by 2 inches.

The 4.2-pound projector is also smart. Say you have to raise the lens 20 degrees to hit your screen. When you power down the projector, it will collapse on itself and draw the arm back in. But when you power it back on, it will return to its previous settings, automatically adjusting to the screen. This only helps if the VPL-CX20A is in the same place a lot, but it won't hurt if you move it around.

It produced very vivid colors, probably the best in the review, although they were not always completely accurate. Still, blues and reds seemed to jump off the screen. The VPL-CX20A would be a perfect movie projector.

The main problem is that the light is very weak. The brightness at the center of the screen was only 480 lumens'460 at the corners. Don't even think of using the VPL-CX20A in anything but a dark room. Even a tiny bit of light will wash out images. We expected much better for the price. In the end, the unit's flaws offset its innovations.

Sony Electronics Inc., Park Ridge, N.J., (800) 686-7669, www.sony.com/professional

Toshiba TDP-S25U

Performance: B

Features: B

Ease of use: B

Value: A

Pros: Great price, good color display

Cons: Heavy

The TDP-S25U is one of the best deals in our review, coming in at just $848. But it's also one of the least portable of the units we tested, weighing 6.6 pounds and measuring 11.2 by 10 by 3.8 inches. Still, if budget is your main concern and you'll only move your projector around occasionally, then the TDP-S25U is worth a look.

The unit produced an 850-lumens image, which means it will work under most lighting conditions. Interestingly, the otherwise worrisome 150-lumen drop-off at the corners was only somewhat noticeable during our tests. The TDP-S25U produced good color detail and nearly perfect registration for moving images.

We observed some pixel tracking errors that looked like moir' effects you might encounter on an LCD monitor, although that only occurred with complex images rendered mostly in gray.

The TDP-S25U won't blow you away with innovative features, but it won't leave you wanting, either. For the price, it is a good projector that you could move from conference room to conference room.

Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Irvine, Calif., (949) 583-3000, www.toshibadirect.com

ViewSonic PJ400

Performance: C+

Features: B-

Ease of use: B

Value: A

Pros: Inexpensive yet full-featured

Cons: Screen door effect over images, low light, distortion of complex images

The PJ400 is the least expensive projector in the review. With a GSA price of $795, you could get more than one for the cost of others reviewed here. It's also the only LCD projector in this review and, as such, goes a long way toward proving the superior quality of DLP technology.

The 4.8-pound unit is no lightweight, but is not too heavy to consider for travel, either. It has many of the same advanced features that more expensive models include, with a huge screen area and great registration for moving images.
But it also has a laundry list of flaws. During testing, the PJ400 could only produce a 570-lumen image, just 470 lumens at the corners.

Fine details didn't always render well, but this may not be an issue if you rely on PowerPoint presentations with blocky diagrams. And there was a noticeable screen door effect over images, a by-product of the projector's LCD technology. Under certain circumstances, such as darker backgrounds, you probably won't notice this problem.

Considering its low price, however, the PJ400 offers a significant bang for your buck and we would recommend it to agencies with very tight budgets. If you use it where you can dim the lights and you have little need for projecting video or other complex images, you'll be satisfied.

ViewSonic Corp., Walnut, Calif., (800) 888-8583, www.viewsonic.com n

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above