Get the picture on digital projectors, plasma displays

Get the picture on digital projectors, plasma displays

Most people who address meetings and group discussions know the panic of a slide show or projected presentation gone awry. You stare into the abyss for a long moment while you desperately wonder: Will I ever get it to work?

Digitizing presentations can vastly simplify life, and today few computer-literate road warriors, managers or educators would attempt one without a trusty piece of hardware.

That often means a digital projector. Dozens are available. They range from 100-pound behemoths for auditoriums to 3-pound units that are perfect for conference rooms.

I asked product managers and Eric Haruki, research manager for industry analyst International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., what to look for. The most important specification, they said, is brightness in ANSI lumens, a yardstick set by the American National Standards Institute.

Some of the cheapest microportables'under $3,000 and 6 pounds'compromise on brightness, with lumens in the 600 to 800 range. That's likely to produce a washout in rooms with too much ambient light. If you can't control a room's light levels, go for at least 1,000 lumens.

Contrast ratios also are important. High ratios, exceeding 400-to-1, can help avoid dull colors and fuzzy images. But beware: Some ratios are inflated by use of an on/off test comparing an all-white screen and a dark one. 'The on/off [test number] will always be higher,' Haruki said.

Other shopping tips:

  • Never buy without a demo, preferably viewing side-by-side images from comparable projectors.

  • Match computer and projector resolutions. Your snazzy notebook's pinprick-sharp display will be somewhat wasted on a low-resolution'800 by 600 pixels'SVGA projector. Be prepared to pay a $1,000-plus premium for XGA resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels.

  • Compare lamp lives. Replacement lamps cost several hundred dollars each.

    Other less portable devices can display digitized computer output and video. Flat-screen plasma displays can take most types of input and offer generally sharper images than projectors. But even at sizes approaching 61 inches diagonally, plasma screens are usually smaller than projected images, and they cost at least twice as much as projectors.

    David Essex is a free-lance writer in Antrim, N.H.
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