Multimedia projectors show their stuff

The GCN Lab put four of the brightest and lightest units through their paces. One test
consisted of showing to several audiences the Apple QuickTime video trailer of the movie
“Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace.” The high-quality video file revealed
the light sides as well as the dark sides of the four test units.


The Boxlight Corp. MP-30T, at 13.6 pounds the heaviest projector of the bunch, packed
in heavyweight features that made it worth carrying. It earned the Reviewer’s Choice
designation.


Mitsubishi Display Products’ X120 came close in quality except for its slightly
inaccurate colors and speaker.


Even so, its long warranty and low price easily merited the lab’s Bang for the
Buck rating.


The PowerLite 7500C from Epson America Inc. needed a boost in brightness and a longer
warranty. NEC Technologies Inc.’s MultiSync LT100 had variable brightness, and its
colors looked dull and muted.


That said, any of the four projectors would make a welcome addition to any
agency’s conference room or conference center.


Projection display is coming amazingly close to photorealism. The old ghosting effects
and jagged pixelation have vanished. The next generation of high-resolution entertainment
centers promises to have projection this crisp.


Even though three of the four test units used LCD technology, their results looked
better than most LCD monitors because they work differently from conventional full-color
notebook computer displays.


Notebook and desktop LCD displays bend light to certain frequencies as it passes
through a liquid crystal channel. Older full-color LCD panels needed large lamps to push
more light through, which made the projectors pretty hefty.


The new-generation Boxlight, Mitsubishi and Epson units each have three polysilicon LCD
panels the size of a postage stamp. Each panel is responsible for creating a grayscale
image of red, green or blue content that is projected through the appropriate color
filters and combined by a prism into a full-color image.


The triple LCD method admits more light than the older single-panel design.


Unlike the other projectors, NEC’s does digital light processing, or DLP. Inside
the LT100 are three digital micromirror devices. Each DMD contains hundreds of thousands
of mirrorlike switches that cancel or reflect light. A memory cell controls the tiny
mirrors.


Depending on the status of each memory address, the mirrors can rotate plus or minus 10
degrees.


As with the LCD method, each DMD generates a red, green or blue signal, which combines
with the other signals to make a full-color image.


Texas Instruments Inc. developed DLP primarily for digital cinema multimedia. More
information about DLP appears on TI’s Web page at www.ti.com/dlp.


The NEC LT100 was my first experience with DLP, and perhaps DLP limitations caused the
uneven brightness of the LT100’s images. The Epson’s images appeared brighter
than the NEC’s even though the Epson projected at 200 lumens less.


A lumen is a measure of brightness, calculated from an average of several measurements
taken across the light source. A wax candle generates 13 lumens; a 100-watt bulb generates
1,200. The bulbs in all four projectors were higher than 100 watts. Image brightness
varied from 800 to 1,400 lumens.


The NEC projector had the most powerful bulb at 280 watts, but the resulting lumen
rating was 400 less than that of the Boxlight, which had a 160-watt bulb.


The MultiSync LT100 performed well. Its lesser brightness and image quality, however,
kept it out of the same league as the rest of the batch.


At less than 10 pounds with a carrying case, I found Epson’s PowerLite 7500C the
most portable of the bunch. It could have been brighter, but for small to midsize
conference rooms, the PowerLite would serve well.


Epson should extend the warranty, which lasts only a year.


Warranty is a feature buyers should focus on. Before you find yourself on the road with
a projector that doesn’t work, you want to know if the vendor will stand behind it.


Mitsubishi’s X120 warranty was the best by far. If a unit breaks down within three
years, Mitsubishi will ship a loaner overnight while the broken unit is being fixed. NEC
and Epson have a similar program. Boxlight does, too—but at extra cost.


The X120 also was the best value, considering price and warranty. It has most of the
features available in the market, but its color accuracy did vary slightly. Even several
color adjustments never quite made the Mitsubishi image look the same as the on-screen
display. Image quality and overall accuracy were good.


Mitsubishi provided a software driver. Why is a software driver required? If a notebook
PC is connected to the projector on bootup, Microsoft Windows 9x Plug and Play notices
what it considers a monitor and requests a driver. After I had to hit Cancel a few times
for the other projectors, I was relieved to find that Mitsubishi supplied the vital .inf
driver file.


Ultimately, the Boxlight MP-30T gave the best and most intense images. It had all the
qualities a multimedia display needs, particularly sound. MP-30T’s dual 2-watt stereo
speakers performed significantly better than the other three test units’ 1-watt
speakers.


The beginning of the Star Wars trailer has whispery background sounds. The Boxlight
unit had the sensitivity to transmit the whispers; the other three did not. They also
missed many sounds aside from loud bangs or blasts. The MP-30T could convey to an audience
the greatest range of presentation sounds, including restrained cues.


The Boxlight also had more diverse input-output choices, although it lacked the
Mitsubishi’s PC Card slot input.


Boxlight does need to make some improvements, though. The remote control has focusing
and telephoto features, but it is more difficult to use than the other systems’
remotes. The buttons demanded a hard press, and the multidirectional disk often did not
register when pressed.


Moreover, the infrared reception range seemed much more limited than that of the other
three. NEC’s remote had reception points along all four sides, whereas the Boxlight
unit had small ones in the front and rear.


The Boxlight on-screen display also was confusing. On-screen options implied they could
switch between video sources, but it turned out only the remote’s mode button could
make the switch. Image quality, however, was impeccable.


Users who give lots of presentations on the road should seriously consider
Mitsubishi’s X120 or the dimmer but smaller Epson PowerLight 7500C. If you travel a
little, the X120 is an option, but the Boxlight MP-30T will draw more audience attention.
If you need a mostly stationary projector for a conference room, get the MP-30T.  


The GCN Lab invited vendors to participate in a roundup review of ultraportable
multimedia projectors.


The lab required that the units project at 800 lumens or more, weigh less than 15
pounds, and support 1,024- by 768-pixel resolution or higher. Each company could submit
only one unit.


Lab personnel set up each projector as directed in the instructions, verified that the
unit worked, and sent video and audio signals from a variety of sources.


Performance was judged by the following characteristics, each counting equally in the
overall grade:


Lab personnel John Breeden II, Jason Byrne, Donovan Campbell and Michael Cheek
contributed to this review.



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