Business & Pleasure
5 Projector Shootout

David Colin, March 4, 2004

As of this writing there were 11 projectors in the market that met the following specifications:

  1. Dual Purpose - business and pleasure
  2. Bright - 1500 ANSI lumens or more
  3. High Contrast - 1000:1 or more
  4. XGA Resolution - 1024 x 768
  5. Zoom Lens
  6. Mobile - under 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms)
  7. DLP© - Digital Light Processing display technology ( DLP© is a copyright of Texas Instruments )
BenQ PB2220 Projector
BenQ PB2220


HP mp3130 Projector
HP mp3130


Mitsubishi XD50U Mini-Mits Projector
Mitsubishi XD50U Mini-Mits
aka PLUS U4-136


NEC LT170 Projector
NEC LT170


Philips bCool XG1 Projector
Philips bCool XG1

We took a look at the 5 on the left for data and video quality, did a detailed comparison of form, function and feature and rated our findings.

Producing a quality image is the primary purpose of a projector. To that end, we spent considerable time testing and evaluating performance in this area. We also looked at other projector aspects that add to the viewing experience such as ease of use, audible noise, and features.

We can separate the good, the bad and the ugly, but when viewed among their peers, best of breed should be defined by the total viewing experience.

We know that viewing two quality projectors individually is different than viewing them side-by-side. Individually all would get a nod of approval from everyone in the room; yet, if we set them up side-by-side, we know each person would have a preference of one over the other, and interestingly, they might not all agree. This is the intangible of visual preference.

So, we went beyond the visual preference and factored in the value. In other words - what do you get for your money?

Scoring

Unlike reviews in the past, we gave a numerical rating to the key features of each projector. Each attribute was judged relative to the other projectors making the ratings relative rather than absolute. We fed them the same source material, then viewed the images at factory settings. We tuned the images to optimize performance and, lastly, exercised every feature of each projector.

When we were done, we gave each projector a score by attribute and added up the score giving image quality the greatest emphasis. As the performance results indicate, each projector has its strengths and weaknesses. Depending upon your needs, some projector characteristics may be more important to you than others. Take that into consideration when making your purchase decision.

The rated categories included:

  1. Analog and Digital Image Quality
  2. Remote Control
  3. Menu System
  4. Features
  5. Packaging

Recognizing that these highly mobile projectors will find multiple uses, we looked at them from the perspective of business and home theater.

Test Equipment

We used a variety of equipment for testing including, but not limited to:

  • Draper Shadowbox Clarion with the M1300 screen
  • Bravo D1 using composite video and S-Video in NTSC and PAL, component video, and 480p, 720p, and 1080i in digital and analog
  • Denon DVD-1600 using composite video and S-Video with NTSC, component video, 480p, 480i
  • DishNetwork HD 6000U using composite video and S-Video with NTSC, 480i, 480p, 1080i
  • Dell Inspiron 7000 notebook computer operating at 1024 x 768 (native mode) and 1280 x 1024 resolution
  • Dell Dimension XPS B1000 computer with DVI-D and RGB at 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 1024
  • AVIA, Video Essentials, various movie DVDs, satellite television, INFOCOMM Shootout (1999/2000), Internet, games, computer presentation, and data applications including spreadsheets and word processing.

There are 2 more pages to this review. Each page includes discussion, explanation of terms where necessary, and summary tables. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with projection technology, we have attempted to explain some of it as it is introduced. For those of you conversant in projection technology, much of this content will be familiar rather than informative.

Use the page selector below or at the bottom of the page to quickly guide you to the information that interests you most:


5 Projector Shootout
Basics
David Colin
March 5, 2004

These are highly portable, bright, high contrast projectors for business or pleasure. They can easily deliver a presentation to a 120 inch (305 cm) diagonal screen with some room light present while still maintaining readability of small text at 36 feet (11 meters). For video or movie watching in a dark room a 150 inch (381 cm) diagonal screen would work well for any of these projectors.

The pixelation, or "screen door" effect, that is common with SVGA projectors is non-existent with XGA DLP when viewed at twice the screen width. At closer viewing it is more evident with data images than video. The higher resolution gives crisper and cleaner images than equivalent projectors at lower resolution. If your projected content has a lot of detail, uses small text or numbers similar to what you're reading now, or you're looking for theater quality video, consider XGA or higher resolution projectors such as these.

Projectors handle multiple resolution sources by scaling information to fit the native or physical pixel resolution of the projector. Four of these projectors will scale resolutions up to SXGA (1280 x 1024) and one, NEC, can scale up to UXGA (1600 x 1200). When projecting data, the best performance is achieved when the computer resolution matches the native resolution of the projector as this avoids scaling which invariably introduces scaling artifacts.

Projectors are rated in ANSI lumens, a standardized measurement of projector brightness that averages light output at 9 points on a square meter image. The normal lumen rating is the maximum lumen output of the projector with a new lamp. The economy lumen rating is the maximum lumen output from a new lamp when the projector is in economy mode. Economy mode also extends lamp life and, with the exception of the HP, reduces audible noise as noted in the table below.

One of the most common questions we get is "How many lumens do I need?". There isn't a quick answer to this, but there are some rules of thumb. The lumen output you need is determined by the image size, screen gain, contrast, and room light. Multiply the square foot area of your projected image by 20 and divide by the screen gain to determine a good lumen rating for a dark room. If you're using a projector in varying locations or don't know the screen gain, assume a gain of 1. As the room light increases, increase the multiplier, but do not exceed 50 as this could make it too bright in a dark room. Since lamp brightness diminishes with usage, error to the high side and use economy mode in the early life of the lamp if normal mode seems too bright. Room light diminishes contrast so the higher the contrast rating of your projector, the more it will tolerate room light.

Here's an example of what the equation looks like for a 150" diagonal screen (90" x 120"), with a 4:3 aspect ratio and a screen gain of 1 in a dark room:

(7.5 ft (h) x 10 ft (w) x 20) /1 = 1500 lumens

Native aspect ratio defines the physical aspect ratio of the display. The number is calculated by dividing the horizontal resolution of the display by the vertical resolution. For example, XGA is 1024 x 768 so the aspect ratio is 1.33. Aspect ratios are also shown as ratios, for example, 1.33 is the same as 4:3. Projectors will usually show the native aspect ratio of the source material and allow you to change that aspect ratio. These options are discussed later.

If you are a mobile presenter, an optical zoom lens is the only way to easily and quickly adapt to various room, screen and audience sizes. In a home theater setting, an optical zoom lens gives you greater flexibility on the placement of the projector. The higher the zoom ratio, the greater your ability to control image size at a given distance. For example, a 1.2:1 zoom means you can vary the image size 20% at any given distance. Projectors are available with powered and manual optical zoom and focus. The projectors in this review all have a manual zoom and focus.

If a projector is not perpendicular to a screen, the image will have a trapezoid shape. This is called keystoning. Vertical keystoning occurs when the image is too high or too low relative to the projector. Horizontal keystoning occurs when the image is left or right of the projector. Projectors can remove keystoning through several methods including digital keystone correction and lens shift.

Digital keystone correction is found on almost all projectors these days and our test projectors are no exception. The advantage of digital keystone correction is the ability to "square the image". The disadvantage is that it will create scaling artifacts and cause some reduction in light output because the image is actually made somewhat smaller than the native resolution of the projector. The loss of light is minor and scaling artifacts will be visible when viewing small text, but will not likely be noticed in video. The greater the digital keystone correction, the greater the distortion and loss of light. Our advice is to avoid digital keystone correction when doing small text presentations. Some projectors come with an auto keystone correction that will automatically adjust for keystoning. This is a handy feature for quickly setting up a projector in a new setting and is supported by HP and NEC. All of the projectors in this review support vertical digital keystone correction. The HP projector also supports horizontal keystone correction

Lens shift is an optical keystone correction. Unlike digital keystone correction, lens shift uses optics to "square" the image rather than digital scaling. Lens shift is the better solution as there are no scaling artifacts, but from a manufacturer's point of view, it costs more to implement; therefore, expect to pay a little more for this feature. None of the projectors in this review have lens shift.

Like the zoom lens, the ability to adjust keystone correction either digitally or optically gives you greater flexibility in the placement of the projector.

Security comes in four forms including password access, mechanical lock, keyboard lockout, and network monitoring. Password access allows you to assign a password to gain access to the use of the projector. This can allow restricted use or be a theft deterrent provided the potential thief understands that the projector is inoperable without the password. A mechanical lock is usually a Kensington type lock interface on the projector that allows you to attach a cable (sold separately) to the projector and secure the projector to another object such as a table. Keyboard lockout allows you to lock out the projector keyboard which means that only the person with the remote control can make changes to the projector setup or turn the projector off and on. Network monitoring allows a computer system to detect the connecting and disconnecting of the projector. All of our test projectors support a Kensington type lock interface. NEC and Philips also support password access and a keyboard lockout. None of our projectors are designed for network use.

BASICS
  BenQ
PB2220
HP
MP3130
Mitsubishi
XD50U
NEC
LT170
Philips
bCool XG1
MSRP
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price
$2,995 $2,699 $3,995 $2,450 $3,150
Street Price $1,999 $2,599 $2,299 $1,795 $1,995
Warranty
     Projector
     Lamp
3 Years
90 days or 500 hours
3 Years
90 days
3 Years
90 days
3 Years
90 days or 500 hours
3 Years
1 year
Resolution
     Native
     Max Resolution
XGA
SXGA
XGA
SXGA
XGA
SXGA
XGA
UXGA
XGA
SXGA
ANSI Lumens
     Normal Lumens
     Economy Lumens
1700
1200
1800
Not Available
1500
1200
1500
1350
1700
1500
Contrast Ratio 2000:1 2000:1 1500:1 1000:1 2000:1
Lamp
     Type
     Normal Lamp Hours
     Economy Lamp Hrs
     Replacement Lamp
150 Watt VIP
2000 Hours
Not Available
$399.99
180 Watt P-VIP
2000 Hours
4000 Hours
$499.99
150 Watt UHP
1500 Hours
2000 Hours
$475.00
145 Watt NSH
1500 Hours
2000 Hours
$350.00
180 Watt P-VIP
1500 Hours
2000 Hours
$495.00
Weight
     Pounds
     Kilograms
3.8 lbs
1.7 kg
3.8 lbs
1.7 kg
3.4 lbs
1.5 kg
3.9 lbs
1.8 kg
3.5 lbs
1.6 kg
Size
     H x W x D inches
     H x W x D cm
2 x 8.7 x 6.9 in
5 x 22 x 18 cm
2.9 x 7.8 x 9 in
7 x 20 x 23 cm
2 x 7.5 x 9.4 in
5 x 19 x 24 cm
3.4 x 4.9 x 11.3 in
9 x 12 x 29 cm
2.8 x 9.3 x 7.7 in
7 x 24 x 20 cm
DLP Display
     Type
     Segments
     Speed
     Aspect Ratio
0.8" DMD 12° DDR
4
2x
1.33
DMD
Not Available
Not Available
1.33
0.7" DMD 12° DDR
4
2x
1.33
0.7" DMD 12° DDR
4
2x
1.33
DMD 12° DDR
4
2x
1.33
Audible Noise
     Normal
     Economy Mode
34.0 dB
Not Available
37.0 dB
37.0 dB
Not Available
Not Available
38 dB
35 dB
35 dB
33 dB
Optics
     Zoom Lens
     Throw Distance
          Feet
          Meters
     Image Size
          Inches
          Centimeters
     Lens Shift
     Keystone Correction
     Auto Keystone
     Optional Lenses
Manual 1.2:1

2.6' to 32.8'
0.8 m to 10.0 m

22" to 300"
76 cm to 743 cm
No
Vertical ± 15°
No
No
Manual 1.2:1

3.3' to 29.4'
1.0 m to 9.0 m

25" to 295"
64 cm to 749 cm
No
Vert. & Horiz. ± 30°
Yes
No
Manual 1.2:1

6.1' to 25.8'
1.2 m to 7.9 m

40" to 200"
67 cm to 508 cm
No
Vertical ± 50°
No
No
Manual 1.1:1

3.9' to 24.3'
1.2 m to 7.4 m

30" to 200"
76 cm to 508 cm
No
Vertical ± 30°
Yes
No
Manual 1.2:1

6.5' to 33.7'
2.0 m to 10.3 m

40" to 250"
102 cm to 635 cm
No
Vertical ± 16°
No
No
Connectors
    Composite Video
    S-Video
    Data
    Audio
Yes
Yes
RGB
0.5 Watt Mono
Yes
Yes
M1-DA
2.0 Watt Mono
Yes
Yes
DVI-I
0.5 Watt Mono
Yes
Yes
RGB
0.5 Watt Mono
Yes
Yes
M1-DA
2.0 Watt Mono
HDTV 1080i, 720p, 480p, 575i, 535p, 525i, 525p, 576p 1080i, 720p, 480p 1080i, 720p, 480p 1080i, 720p, 480p 1080i, 720p, 480p, 1035i
Agency Approval FCC Class B FCC Class B FCC Class A FCC Class B FCC Class B
Security Kensington Lock Kensington Lock Kensington Lock Password Lock
Kensington Lock
Keyboard Lock
Password Lock
Kensington Lock
Keyboard Lock


5 Projector Shootout
What's Included & What's Optional
David Colin
March 5, 2004

The table below shows what is included with each projector. BenQ, Philips and Mitsubishi include a cable for each of the connectors on the projector. BenQ also includes a separate remote control for presentation use, and Philips and HP include a mouse capability with the projector remote control.

What's Included
  BenQ
PB2220
HP
MP3130
Mitsubishi
XD50U
NEC
LT170
Philips
bCool XG1
Carrying Case
     Type
     Cable Case
Soft
Side Pocket
Ruggedized
Case Pockets
Soft
Removable Bag
Soft
Removable Bag
Soft
Removable Bag
Remote Control Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Presentation Remote Control Yes No No No No
PC Card N/A If Smart option purchased. Yes N/A N/A
Cables
     Composite Video
     S-Video
     Data
     Audio
     Audio Adapter
Yes
Yes
RGB
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
M1-DA
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
DVI-I
Yes
Yes
No
No
RGB
No
No
Yes
Yes
M1-DA
Yes
Yes
Power Cable 110V, 220V, 240V
6 feet (1.8 m)
Domestic Only
9.8 feet (3 m)
110V, 220V, 240V
5.9 ft (1.8 m)
Domestic Only
9.8 feet (3 m)
Domestic Only
6 feet (1.8 m)
Quick Setup Card 14 Languages 18 Languages No Native Language Native Language
User's Manual Print & CD
Native Language
CD
18 Languages
Print & CD
6 Languages
Print & CD
6 Languages
CD
Native Language

All of the projectors can support component video and HP, Mitsubishi, and Philips also support digital data and digital video. Digital and component video cables must be purchased separately. Ceilings mounts are also available. You might find these items less expensive buying from a dealer rather than the manufacturer. SCART connectors are used primarily in Europe to interconnect satellite receivers, television sets and other audiovisual equipment.

What's Optional
  BenQ
PB2220
HP
MP3130
Mitsubishi
XD50U
NEC
LT170
Philips
bCool XG1
Replacement Lamp $395.95 $499.99 $475.00 $350.00 $495.00
Ceiling Mount $195.00 $199.99 Not Available Contact Peerless
1-800-729-0307
$250
Component Video Cable Yes $49.99 Yes Yes - adapter $40.00
DVI-D Cable Not Applicable $49.99 Yes Not Applicable $20.00 adapter
SCART Cable Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes


5 Projector Shootout
Setup
David Colin
March 5, 2004

Perhaps the most important thing of note with setup is the OSD (On Screen Display), better known as the menu. This is important because many changes to the image will be done using the menu and the ability to see the changes on the screen are important. BenQ seemed to understand this best as they not only kept the menu small, clean and organized, but they allowed you to define where it appeared on the screen. HP had the largest menu and although it was translucent, it was not ideal for some types of changes. To their credit, they did offer a quick menu that allowed most changes to be done with very little information on the screen. Mitsubishi's menu system was well organized, easy to use, and the most feature rich. NEC and Philips used a very straightforward menu solution that was well organized, but both could use some refinements to make navigation easier.

Setup
  BenQ
PB2220
HP
MP3130
Mitsubishi
XD50U
NEC
LT170
Philips
bCool XG1
Auto
     Setup
     Power Off
     Source
     Keystone Adjust
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
10 to 60 Minutes
Yes
No
Yes
5 Minutes no Signal
No
Yes
Yes
1 to 180 Minutes
Yes
No
Reset
     Factory
     Lamp Hours
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Projection Front
Rear
Ceiling Front
Ceiling Rear
Front
Rear
Ceiling Front
Ceiling Rear
Front
Rear
Ceiling Front
Ceiling Rear
Front
Rear
Ceiling Front
Ceiling Rear
Front
Rear
Ceiling Front
Ceiling Rear
Lamp Mode Normal Normal/Economy Normal/Economy   Normal/Economy
Languages 10 11 9 20 8
OSD
     Positions
     Timeout
9
Up to 60 Seconds
1
Up to 2 Minutes
2
No
1
Up to 45 Seconds
1
30 Seconds

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