Short Throw Projector Review
June 2, 2011
Let's say that you need a short-throw XGA projector of at least 3,000 lumens. Search our database, and you'll find a total of sixteen projectors that meet those three criteria. If you also need to connect digital inputs from computers and video sources such as DVD players, you are down to nine contenders. And if keeping your cost under $1,000 is required, you are left with only two projectors to choose from. One of them has a minimum throw distance of 2.6 feet with a lamp life of 3,000 hours, but the other, NEC's new NP-M300XS, can put up a 60" image from as little as 1.9 feet from the screen, and its lamp lasts 4,000 hours in Normal mode. The other contender is DLP-based and can handle certain versions of 3-D content which the M300XS cannot, but if 3-D is not a major part of your projection palette, then the M300XS is for you.
Of course, performance is important, and the M300XS does very well in many areas. Short-throw projectors usually exhibit low brightness uniformity (typically 60%) because of their large, compound lenses, but this is one of the nice surprises about the M300XS: uniformity is excellent at 86%, and no brightness variations are visible. Another upside is the video performance. Right out of the box, flesh tones are on the mark and while it does not rival a home theater projector, the M300XS delivers bright, color-balanced video that will impress your audience. If you can ceiling mount this projector, you are assured of casting no shadows on the image, but even if you cannot, it is close enough to the screen that you will be unlikely to get between the projector and the screen. Last but not least, our sample unit delivered far more brightness than its 3,000-lumen rating. In its High Bright mode, our test sample put up an astonishing 3,710 lumens. In all the projector reviews we've done, we have never seen a projector's lumen output exceed its specification by that much.
Image Quality: Often there are focus inconsistencies with short-throw projectors, but the M300XS's compound lens is very well designed. Edge-to edge focus was excellent for data projections, and even small fonts were easy to read with full keystone correction. With factory settings, data characters were not as crisp as some projectors we have seen, but increasing the Sharpness setting produced good results.
Video performance was excellent. With no adjustments, colors were true and saturated, and the auto-iris boosted effective contrast so that highlights and shadows were rendered well. There was no digital noise with an HDMI source, and the images looked natural with no harshness. Movie mode is a bit bright for a darkened room, but in a bright room, you will be happy to have the punch the M300XS delivers. That said, using Eco mode is a good alternative since brightness is only reduced about 30% and fan noise is diminished.
Brightness and Uniformity: The M300XS preset modes delivered the following ANSI brightness levels: High Bright - 3,710 lumens, Presentation - 2,990 lumens, Video - 1,920 lumens, Movie - 2,455 lumens, Graphic - 2,190 lumens, sRGB - 2,385 lumens, and DICOM - 2,090 lumens. The DICOM preset is used for optimizing contrast while viewing medical x-rays. Uniformity was 86% with the center of the image slightly brighter than the periphery.
Connections: The rear panel of the M300XS features an HDMI port, two computer VGA connectors that double as component video inputs, one composite jack, and one s-video port. An RG-45 LAN/Internet connection is flanked by two USB connectors (type A and B), and both a DB-9 RS-232 serial connection and a monitor pass-through are nearby. Audio input for both VGA connections is provided, and there is an audio output if external amplification is desired.
The USB connections are of particular interest. The USB type A connection accepts thumb drives with .JPEG images for direct display without a computer. The Type B connection accommodates a USB cable directly from your PC once a simple software utility is installed.