DLPs light up the room

The GCN Lab's three top-rated DLP projectors are, from left, the Dell 3200MP, the HP xb31 and the NEC LT150z.

Henrik G. DeGyor

The projector market, including digital-light-processing and LCD projectors, has split into two camps. About half the new projectors go into the 'lighter, lower performance' category while the others fall into the 'feature-rich but heavy' side.

This review focuses on DLP projectors, which have always weighed less than their LCD cousins. They have also typically had better color quality but have been dimmer because their size denied them enough sheer power to project in brightly lit rooms or over long distances.

The GCN Lab did see a marked increase in DLP brightness levels this year. A few projectors even worked fine under almost any lighting conditions.

Weight also has declined. Several test units were in the three-pound range, and one came close to two pounds.

Color quality varied from unit to unit, but as a whole, the DLP images were better than most images we've seen from LCD projectors. It might not be a problem with Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, but if you need to reproduce a detailed photograph or image for a large audience, DLP projection is better than LCD, depending on the auditorium conditions.

We rated eight DLP projectors on their prowess at placing a bright image on a screen 10 feet away. Screen size was the maximum possible at that distance. We also looked at ease of setup and control, footprint size, weight and quality of multicolored images.

We measured light power in lumens with a handheld LX-101 light meter from Lutron Electronics Co. of Coopersburg, Pa., both at the center of a test image and at the corners.

Units that did not drop off in brightness at the corners earned a bonus. Images with less than a 100-lumen disparity seem uniformly lit because the human eye cannot distinguish that small a difference.

Reality check

We burned in each projector for 10 hours before testing. Bulbs of DLP and LCD projectors alike tend to degrade after 10 hours of use, then glow steadily for the next 100 to 200 hours before needing replacement after about 2,000 hours. In our tests, the distance from the projector and the 10-hour burn produced a much lower lumen rating than marketing specifications would indicate. We think our results more accurately describe real-world use in an office or on the road.

When Dell Computer Corp. submitted its Dell 3200MP DLP projector for the review, we were skeptical. The projector was manufactured by another equipment maker, so we assumed that it would be identical to the maker's own unit. To our surprise, the 3200MP outperformed every other projector we tested in image quality, brightness and even price.

The 3200MP even outperformed the Epson PowerLite 720c LCD projector, featured in the accompanying sidebar. When you come across a DLP that can throw more light than an equivalent LCD, you know it's something special.

The 3.5-pound 3200MP cost $2,199, $400 less than any other projector in the review and $1,000 less than most. On top of that, it was the brightest'at 10 feet, the center of the test image measured 930 lumens. The next-closest projector had only a 650-lumen center. At the corners, the 3200MP's image was 850 lumens, approaching the threshold of noticeability without crossing that line; the image looked even throughout.

Image quality was above average with no real negatives for any color. The 3200MP was the only unit in the review both portable enough and bright enough to work in any lighting environment. For those reasons, it earned unheard-of triple honors: a Reviewer's Choice designation, a Bang for the Buck designation and an A+ grade.

It exemplifies what a DLP projector should be.

The Hewlett-Packard xb31 was a solid performer with some nice extras. For one, it was extremely quiet. We could hardly tell when it was running, even in a very quiet room.

The power button, lit up with a bright-blue outline, was easy to find even in pitch darkness.

The xb31 produced the best images in the review in terms of color contrast. Images were sharp with no color bleeding, even on detailed pictures or diagrams.

The center of the test image measured 650 lumens with almost no drop-off at corners, which measured 620 lumens. The xb31 would be suitable for use in almost any environment, except perhaps a room with sunny windows. Images looked good under fairly bright light.

Costly tastes

Although the xb31 would be the best choice for displaying complex images accurately, it's also one of the most expensive. The 3.4-pound unit earned a Reviewer's Choice designation.

Yet another Reviewer's Choice went to the NEC LT150z, a 3.3-pound unit combining everything a presenter might need on the road. There was even a tiny speaker on top that should be adequate for most needs. It played PowerPoint fanfare just fine, but the audience wouldn't enjoy listening to a long video or film.

Even so, considering how much weight a speaker adds to a projector, we were impressed that the NEC weighed less than 3.3 pounds.

The LT150z's images were vibrant though not quite as accurate as the xb31's. Colors did bleed a bit, but if you seek an effect of images literally popping off the screen, the LT150z is for you. Its images looked better and had far better color reproduction than on the LCD of the lab's test notebook PC.

Images were also bright: 515 lumens at the center and 450 at the corners. Color depth dropped in a bright room, but if lights could be dimmed, the images looked great.

As a bonus, the LT150z accepted PC Cards. Users for whom portability is paramount could travel with presentations stored on a card and leave their notebook PCs at home.

The Mitsubishi XD20A was extremely thin and very portable. Its integrated lens cap slid closed to protect the lens.

Images struck a good balance between vibrancy and accuracy. We weren't disappointed by the image quality no matter which test we tried, from simple text to complex photographs.

The XD20A also was the most accurate in terms of light balance. The test image measured 480 lumens in the center and 480 lumens at all corners. This was the only unit in the review with zero light drop-off.

Projecting noise

We found only two disadvantages. The XD20A was quite loud when powered up, perhaps because its thinness left no room to muffle the cooling fan noise. Second, the XD20A was the most expensive unit in the review, just shy of $4,000.

At first glance, the InFocus LP70 seemed a mirror image of the Toshiba TDP-P5 below. But the LP70 tested better and had a lower price.

Its images measured 450 lumens in the center and 350 lumens at the corners. Drop-off was slight but noticeable to the naked eye. Color images displayed well.

The funky roller-ball remote control took some getting used to, but it did control the screen cursor better than the other remotes. We could also use the remote as a mouse. The LP70 would have earned the lab's Bang for the Buck designation, except that it was trumped by the higher-performing and cheaper Dell.

The Boxlight XD-15c was extremely easy to use: Plug in any input, and it would autodetect the proper settings and begin displaying. The front knob was also easy to focus. A credit card-sized remote control could easily be manipulated in one hand.

The image had good white balance, so all the colors looked as they should. The center of the image measured 470 lumens. There was a large drop-off to the corners, however, which measured only 320 lumens.

The direct route

For someone not experienced with DLP projectors, the XD-15c would be a good choice because of its simplicity.

For its size, the Plus Vision V-1100 was a marvel, weighing just 2.2 pounds and having half the bulk of most of the other projectors.

It was also extremely quiet. Oddly enough, its remote was large and just about as long as the unit itself. Plus Vision should ship the V-1100 with a tiny remote to maximize the size advantage.

Had the V-1100 turned in a strong performance, it probably would have stolen the show. The test image, however, measured only 300 lumens in the center and 280 at the corners.

That would be fine in a dark room, but image quality was lost even in a dimly lit area.
Since presenters can't always control their venue, the V-1100 would be a risky investment. If portability is the chief concern, this tiny DLP is also surprisingly inexpensive.

The Toshiba TDP-P5 was an average performer with a rear-venting design and good-quality images. The center of the test image measured 400 lumens, and the corners, 360 lumens. The difference wasn't noticeable to the naked eye.

The TDP-P5's remote was the same roller-ball type as on the InFocus LP-70.

GCN Lab technician Arthur Moser contributed to this review.


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