The Arrival of the Portable Light Cannons Pt. 2

Evan Powell, November 11, 1999
November 11, 1999

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The Current Crop of Super Portables

An overwhelming majority of the products listed in the chart abovehave MSRPs and performance specs clustered in a very close range. Furthermore,it is interesting that they are all LCD technology--not a single DLP to be seenin the bunch. They are so uniform in price and specs that the three vendors marching to a different drum really stand out.

One is Toshiba with the aggressively priced TLP-770, which had an MSRP far below the rest of the pack until today's announcement from ViewSonic. The $9,495 MSRP was so low relative to the competition that one might have wondered, "What's wrong with it?" The answer is--maybe nothing. Historically, Toshiba has been known for their tactics of undercutting prevailing prices in the projector market, and this appears to be just another example of it. (Note: We have not tested or evaluated these units, so we can make no comment on their relative performance, nor can we make any recommendations on best buys.)

The second product offering that looks out of step in this category is the Epson PowerLite 8000i. At 18.3 lbs., it is definitely not as slim and trim as most of its competitors. Of course, if you are looking for a conference room unit that you don't intend to move around, weight may be irrelevant. But if you intend to port it frequently, the extra four or five pounds could be an unnecessary nuisance.

The other Epson 8000i statistic that appears out of line for the category is the MSRP of $15,999, which is several thousand dollars over the category average MSRP. Though the 8000i is on the high side of the ANSI lumen ratings (2200), this is certainly not enough to warrant the incremental cost.

The Epson 8000i may be a clearly superior performer to all other machines in its class. We don't know; we haven't had it in the lab, and cannot comment. All we can say at the moment is we can't find anything in the performance specs that would immediately justifythe magnitude of the price differential. It is possible that once we sawit side-by-side with a few of its competitors, the "Epson color" image quality would stand out in a class by itself. And it may very well outperform many competing units in compression of SXGA and UXGA signals. But we would want to see it up close and personal before shelling out an extra $3,000.

And now we have the sudden entry of the ViewSonic PJ1060. From the specs it would appear to be a dramatic breakthrough in price/performance. Two observations need to be made upfront however. First, almost all of the other products in this category are HDTV compatible, and the PJ1060 is not. Second, since the fundamental cost of technology that goes into these machines is roughly the same between manufacturers, we would not expect to see a product priced as aggressively as this one to experience the same magnitude of street price discounting that occurs with the higher priced units. That means the street price differentials between the PJ1060 and its competitors will not be as great as the gap in their respective MSRPs. Nevertheless, we expect that this move will boost ViewSonic's brand visibility and market share in the projector arena. We won't have to wait long to see what impact it may have on market prices across the board.

Conclusion

When it comes to high-performance portables, it's a buyer's market right now. There are fifteen models to choose from in this niche alone. A lot of vendors are offering very similar machines and jockeying for market share. This week's arrival of three more major players in the category will place a further downward pressure on prices. With a little bit of diligent shopping, there will be plenty of excellent deals to be had.