3M projector tries to be all things to all conference rooms

Confusing setup makes SCP716 difficult to work with

Pros: Good rendering of red and blue; intuitive Digital Annotation software.
Cons: Difficult setup; confusing indicator lights; too many cords.
Performance: B
Features: C
Ease of Use: D
Value: C
Price: $1,599

Four mysterious packages showed up at the GCN Lab one day recently. After opening the packages and laying out their contents, I realized it was the SCP716 projector system from 3M.

But I was still a bit baffled as to what kind of projector it was supposed to be.

3M SCP716 projector

Unfortunately, the SCP716 has yet to discover what it wants to be.

It weighed 9.9 pounds, so it was definitely not something you could sling into your backpack as a peripatetic lecturer yearning to give PowerPoint presentations on the fly. It had a wall mounting piece, so perhaps it was something to set up in a permanent classroom situation. But it had an electronic pen and boomerang-shaped device that affixed to a blank wall with magnets, so perhaps it was designed to give impromptu slideshows on the office refrigerator. It had another piece that the accompanying literature described simply as an “accessory,” which acted as a go-between input device between the computer and the projector.

This seemed to be a projector that was trying to please all of the people all of the time. And you know how successful that usually is. Because we weren’t quite sure what the SCP716 was trying to be, it was a challenge for us to figure out how to test it. For instance, the GCN Lab checks projector brightness at a distance of 10 feet from a white screen. The problem with the SCP716 is that, at 10 feet away, we couldn’t get the image to shrink down to fit our test screen, a standard enough 66-inch-by-42-inch screen. The projector image was spilling all over the ceiling and walls.

The gentleman at the 3M technical support number told us to use the included remote control to increase the zoom, which made the image a few inches smaller, hardly a noticeable difference. Then he said to decrease the resolution on our monitor, which made no difference. Finally, he said to move the projector closer to the screen. This was the only thing that worked. In fact, the SCP716 is designed to work best at a distance of three feet from the screen. I guess that’s why SCP stands for “Super Close Projection System.”

But this left us in a quandary. Because we test projector brightness at 10 feet from the screen, an image from three feet would be invalid. We decided to skip the lumens test. On the product information sheet 3M sent us, it said the maximum brightness was 2400 lumens.

The projector has a big round “on” switch on top of it, so at least it was easy to turn on. The button would turn a steady green when it was ready to beam, but sometimes it flashed red for no discernible reason. Was it overheated? Was it just irritable? Embedded in the documentation disk, on Page 29 of the 32-page PDF document, it decodes the meaning of the projector indicator lights. Turns out a rapidly blinking red light is a “thermal error,” which sure sounds like overheating to us. That’s the sort of thing that should have a warning diagram on the projector itself, not on Page 29 of the user guide.

We ran the DisplayMate Technologies benchmarking suite to see how the projector handles colors, contrasts and text. Again, as we had to run these tests at three feet from the projector instead of our usual 10 feet, the results have to be taken with a few grains of salt. We noticed a little fuzziness in the rendering of fine details — the center and bottom of the screen tended to blur a little compared to the edges. Also, the grays seemed very smooth, with little or no moiré distortion. As far as colors go, red, blue and magenta were rendered as pure, clean washes of color. But at the green and yellow end of the spectrum, the colors were a bit muddier. Text came out fairly crisp, too, in black text on a white backgrounds as well as white text on black.

The middle “accessory” device, called the I/O Control Panel Accessory, connected to the projector on one end and to the computer at the other, with outlets for video and audio connections. The problem was that by the time we had hooked up the accessory to the computer and the projector, there were no less than four cords snaking around the floor. Three cords and you’re pushing it; four cords is just unacceptable.

The SCP716 also came with a package of portable whiteboard tools: 3M Digital Annotation software, an electronic pen and a boomerang shaped device that affixed to a smooth surface, either with magnets or foam tape (hey, this is 3M, after all). Sensors in the electronic pen work with the Bluetooth boomerang so that users can mark digitally on the whiteboard. Somewhat unexpectedly, the electronic pen turned my HP Pavilion laptop PC into a touchscreen PC. The electronic pen could “talk” to the Bluetooth on my laptop. I could use it to scroll back and forth in a PowerPoint presentation.

I can’t in good conscience recommend the 3M SCP716, especially when there are a number of options available, even full whiteboards, that are easier to use and cost less. Most people know what they want a projector to be: bright, easy to use, safe. Unfortunately, the SCP716 has yet to discover what it wants to be.

3M, 877-515-1470, www.3m.com/scprojector

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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