Portables handle the spotlight

The GCN Lab's latest look at lightweight projectors

How we tested portable projectors

For this review, the GCN Lab used an imaging benchmark 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 consistency, color registration and color accuracy.

It takes about 20 steps to get each projector set correctly so that every DLP projector goes through the same tests with the same criteria. This way, each unit has an equal chance of properly displaying test images'and an equal chance of failing.

The comprehensive DisplayMate benchmark suite can be used to test LCD or CRT monitors, LCD televisions, DLP projectors, plasma monitors and even printers. The suite can be ordered or downloaded off the Internet for between $79 and $995, depending on your configuration and needs. Visit www.displaymate.com for more information.

In addition to the DisplayMate benchmarks, the brightness of images was recorded with the smallest possible screen size for each DLP at 10 feet from the lens using an LX-101 Lutron light meter. Measured in lumens, readings were taken in the center of the screen and also at the corners. A drop of more than 100 lumens from center to corner is visible to the naked eye. Also, images need to be at least 600 lumens to overcome standard office lighting, which might be a consideration for some users without the ability to dim the lights or close the blinds in their presentation environment.

Budget presentations, training videos, even messages from the agency's new CIO all look better on a big screen. But if you want more than a handful of people in a room to get the picture, you need a display bigger than almost any monitor can offer. The obvious choice is a digital projector.

'Well,' you might think, 'we've got a conference room and it's got a darn good projector hanging from the ceiling already.' To which we say, 'How about your other conference rooms? How about the conference rooms in your other offices, or at your partner agencies, or at your mobile command post?'

These days, as technology gets better and prices drop, it makes sense for agencies to offer mobile workers a pool of portable projectors for a variety of presentation needs.

The GCN Lab took a look at six of the latest portable projectors from Dell, Hitachi, InFocus, Lenovo, Mitsubishi and ViewSonic. Each uses digital light processing, which has become the most prevalent projector technology.

DLP employs tiny mirrors on a semiconductor chip to generate images, while helping keep the size of the unit manageable.

We did invite a pair of vendors'Epson and Sony'to submit LCD projectors, but they haven't refreshed their lines recently and couldn't get us new units in time, an indication that most new development is taking place in the DLP space.

What we found

Because many users still think of stationary, conference room-style projectors when they think of projectors at all, we decided this year to bring one into the lab and compare it to the portable projectors we tested. The control we picked was the Panasonic PT-DW5000U.

As you might expect, a stationary projector has a slew of features (including a digital visual-interface port, something we wish five of the six portables had included).

But you might be surprised to learn that in terms of sheer brightness'a critical projector characteristic'most of the portable systems we tested were better than the Panasonic.

The Dell 1800MP, InFocus Work Big IN26 and Lenovo M500 weren't just a little brighter than the Panasonic. They were a lot brighter. And the Lenovo included the digital input we craved (though it didn't include any other inputs).

In the end, we ranked a pair of projectors above the others. The Lenovo is our top choice for agencies that want an ultraportable (2.5-pound) projector and don't mind spending a little extra money for it.

The budget conscious would do well with the Dell 1800MP, which displays accurate colors and comes with a potent built-in speaker.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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