Image isn't everything

With portable projectors, size, weight and features also count for a lot

In America, everyone says bigger is better ' at least until they pack their suitcases.

Frequent fliers know business-trip survival means traveling light, taking just what they need and not getting bogged down with extra pounds that limit mobility. But getting caught empty-handed is worse, so road warriors need tools they can rely on.

To that end, we rounded up some of the most popular ultraportable projectors on the market and tested them for brightness, color quality, portability, ease of use, features and value.

A truly great projector would be light and easy to carry, not much bulkier or heavier than a laptop PC ' perhaps even less so. But travelers usually don't know where they will be making presentations, so their projectors have to be bright enough to handle rooms where the lights can't be dimmed or the curtains closed.

And of course, color accuracy is also essential, especially for jobs where red or pink can signal the difference between a tornado and light rain ' or an enemy division and platoon.

Ease of use is also important because our traveling heroes can't waste time figuring out how an interface or remote control works. They have more important work to do.

And finally, these elements should come together in as inexpensive a package as possible.

A high-performing product can cost more than a stripped-down model without penalty, but if all else is equal, the product with the lower price wins.

As a group, the tiny powerhouse projectors impressed us, but we were perplexed that none of the five contenders had a Digital Visual Interface port, which offers flawless video when set to a projector's native resolution. Instead, each had a standard analog port, from which pixels' appearance can be affected by adjacent pixels, electrical noise and other forms of analog distortion. This was recorded in some in our tests, even though we did our best to minimize it in the lab environment.

To get around this, every company added an S-Video port, which works well, though we don't think it makes up for the lack of a DVI, which would be perfect for a portable projector. Only Dell went one step further by including a High-Definition Multimedia Interface port on its entry.

HDMI certainly looks like the future of digital video, though it's a little odd that the intermediate step of DVI was skipped. No unit had it so nobody was penalized, but Dell got extra credit on its features grade.

Each projector was set up 10 feet from a screen and calibrated using the Displaymate Professional Benchmark Utilities from Displaymate Technologies. We went through more than 20 steps to calibrate each entry for maximum brightness and color accuracy, a process that normally places the brightness level at around 85 percent and the color contrast between 75 percent and 80 percent. Brightness was measured in lumens at the center and in the corners of a white test image with a bonus if the drop-off was not more than 100 lumens ' the level at which the naked eye can see the difference. Performance also took into account color accuracy and fine detail display of test images, patterns and text.

Features included extras such as wireless network access, useful functions on the remote and controls that light up in a darkened room.

The ease of use/portability score was based on the size and weight of the unit (without supporting cables) and usability features, such as automatic keystoning of an image or an audio clue when the projector's mandatory shutdown phase was complete.

Finally, value was graded based on the other factors relative to the price of the unit and the price and grades of others in the review.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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