LCD projectors run the gamut in size and power

LCD projectors run the gamut in size and power

A tower of power: The lab rated the Epson PowerLite 713c, third from the top, the best overall projector.

Balancing image quality and weight remains an issue

A couple of years ago, the GCN Lab predicted that digital projectors would become uniformly tiny and bright. Were we ever wrong.

Eight vendors responded to our call for travel-ready projectors with eight state-of-the-art but different LCD or digital-light-processing projectors.

Some models sacrificed brightness to light weight, others concentrated on color balance. Some had everything in one package but were so huge no one would want to carry them.

So the projector market is anything but standardized. On the flip side, there's a projector out there for every purpose.
We rated the eight projectors for weight, brightness, color balance, extra features, manageability and price.

Using a portable LX-101 light meter from Lutron Electronics Co. of Coopersburg, Pa., we measured incident brightness in lumens at 10 feet from the projector of a mostly white image. The projected image was the same size for each unit's test.
We tested color balance with a stock image for which GCN's art department verified all the colors.

We burned in each projector for 10 hours prior to testing. In the past we have noted a significant drop-off in brightness at 10 hours of use and again after a few hundred hours. The typical lamp life is 1,000 to 2,000 hours, so our post-10-hour-burn testing shows the realistic brightness users can expect over most of a lamp's lifetime. Our long initial burn, however, accounts to some degree for the discrepancy between our test results and the vendors' marketing specifications.

Fairest is best

The Epson PowerLite 713c LCD projector, one of the first units we tested, seemed to strike a good balance among size, weight and features. We thought it would get a good grade but not wind up as the top performer.

Oddly enough, as we went on to other projectors, none beat the PowerLite's reliable performance. Smaller projectors were too dim to be functional in all environments; brighter ones were huge by comparison.

The PowerLite 713c weighed in at 5.8 pounds, but its design minimized its bulk. At 10 feet, it could project an image at 700 lumens. The corners of the screen dropped off to 620 lumens, negligible to the naked eye; most people can't distinguish a 100-lumen difference. Color tolerances were acceptable, images crisp.

The PowerLite's remote control was something special. It lit up in the dark, and it could substitute for a laser pointer'or appear as a cartoon hand via a small joystick. We could even spawn a new pointer and leave the old one in place.

The PowerLite got an A grade and our Reviewer's Choice designation for scoring high in all categories. It wasn't the No. 1 performer in every area, but it had no weak points and would be an all-around good choice for any environment.

The InFocus LP 130, the lightest projector in this review, was also the only small DLP projector that could pump out enough brightness for either dark or bright rooms. Producing 750 lumens in the center of a 10-foot image, it peaked higher than the Epson. And the InFocus weighed only 3 pounds.

Light drop-off from center to corner, however, was noticeable to the naked eye.

The remote control was ordinary and did not light up for use in the dark. Also, when we turned the unit off, there was no power-down cycle for the hot bulb. That will drastically shorten bulb life.

Another negative was the InFocus' $6,500 price tag. But if you need a projector for the road, this one is light and bright enough to work almost anywhere. It earned another Reviewer's Choice designation.

The Canon LV-S1 was the only projector in the review that looked like designer furniture for a high-end conference room. The 6.1-pound LCD had a dark blue front vent and a greenish control panel. There were inputs for VGA, digital video and high-definition TV. At 10 feet, it produced 550 lumens that fell off little at the corners.

But it wasn't terribly bright and probably would be effective only in dim rooms.

Where the Canon shone was in color depth. It projected the sharpest images in the review. Colors looked great and were accurately reproduced. The unit autodetected its own best settings. The small remote control didn't light up'a disadvantage because this projector needs a darkened room.

It would be a solid performer in an executive conference room and was among the least expensive projectors in the review. Its high color quality let it squeak by to earn a Reviewer's Choice designation.

The CTX PS-6180, one of two LCD heavy hitters, topped the lumen chart by projecting a 780-lumen image on screen at 10 feet. Drop-off at the corners was just 20 lumens, so images looked bright and consistent.

The PS-6180 was large and heavy at 8.2 pounds, 12 inches across and 3.4 inches tall. The remote, also large and shaped like a wedge, did not light up. But the projector was bright enough to illuminate everything in a pitch-black room, including the remote.

We encountered some power problems with the PS-6180.

It had to be unplugged completely before it would restart, even after minutes or even hours of cooling time. We couldn't decide whether this was an undocumented feature or a defect, but it certainly was annoying.

The PS-6180 would make a good choice for stationary use in a conference room or on a rolling cart. The weight and size was unwieldy for travel, but the price was reasonable for an entry-level conference room unit.

The Benq SL705X DLP was one of the lightest projectors in the review at 3.8 pounds.

Its images were accurately color-balanced and did not have the screen-door grid effect seen with some projectors.
It also was one of the quietest in the review. According to the company, the noise level is less than 36 decibels when powered. Even in a silent room we had to listen hard to tell when it was powering up.

The wide-angle lens could make huge images, but at a cost in brightness. At maximum size and 10 feet, the projector produced a 500-lumen image with only a 20-lumen drop at the corners. Reduced to the same size as the maximum for most other units, we measured 650 lumens with no corner drop-off at all.

The SL705X had two remotes, one credit card-sized with projector controls and one that served as a laser pointer and screen blanker.

Take it anywhere

The Benq SL705x makes a great travel projector. Under varying conditions, you can expand the screen tremendously or reduce it to gain more raw light power. The price, however, is high at almost $5,000.

The Plus U3-810z was one of the lightest projectors in the review and, surprisingly, the least expensive. The tiny, 3.2-pound DLP unit had some nice features, such as an integrated lens cap that can't get lost and a functional 0.5-watt speaker'not bad, considering the low weight.

The U3-810z produced a 580-lumen image at 10 feet that dropped to 530 lumens at the corners. The remote had a built-in trigger, which is a favorite with military users and should be functional for just about everyone else.

The controls were somewhat difficult to use, however, because the menu tended to click off after a short time. If the U3-810z were just a little bit brighter, it would have easily been the review's superstar. As is, it offers good performance in a light frame, and it easily earned the lab's Bang for the Buck designation. It just didn't do too well in a bright room.

The tiny, 3.3-pound Boxlight XD-17k DLP projector could throw an impressive 600 lumens onto the screen at 10 feet. At the corners, a 70-lumen drop-off was unnoticeable.

Any image with text, such as a word processing file, was easily legible. In fact, we found text easiest to read with this unit, which had no 'screen door' effect.

The tiny remote had a laser pointer but no illumination.

The only real problem we found was that the projector controls were difficult at best and completely unresponsive at worst. It took two company technicians more than an hour to get the menu up on screen. Even then, the Menu button, marked with a big M, did nothing when pressed.

The remote was no better. The XD-17k just did not want to do anything we told it to do. Even getting a simple reading such as the lamp burn time was a chore, and the documentation didn't help.

If Boxlight can clear up the control problems, the XD-17k would be a great purchase for travel. It performed beautifully when it obeyed our commands, which unfortunately didn't happen often.

Big, big, big
Everything about the Sharp Notevision XG-C40XU LCD was huge. It was 10.6 pounds and had a large $6,300 price tag to boot.

On the plus side, its 850-lumen image at 10 feet was the brightest in the review, and that was at the largest possible screen size'about double that of any other projector. We measured an almost unnoticeable 90-lumen drop-off at the edges.

At normal screen proportions, the Notevision could generate a 1,250-lumen image with no drop-off.

The entire control menu was on the back of the main unit and lit up, so it was the easiest of all to use. Even the screen size and focus were easy to control via two levers mounted on the front of the lens.

The XG-C40XU would be great for a brightly lit conference room or one with unshaded windows. But the high price and weight render it unsuitable for travel despite the built-in carrying handle.

Each of these projectors excels under certain circumstances'make your choice based on the environment in which it will be used. As for that standardized digital projector of the future'it's still in the future.

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