The Hitachi BZ-1 stands apart from the rest of ultra short throw interactive crowd in more ways than one. To begin with, most are DLP-based, while the BZ-1 is LCD-based. That's enough to make it of interest to anyone concerned that people in the audience may be sensitive to DLP rainbow artifacts.
Second, it detects the pen's position through a combination of infrared and ultra sonic signals. Compared to TI's approach, which most DLP projectors use, this gives the BZ-1 the twin disadvantages of having to calibrate the pen and having to touch the pen to the screen instead of just point at it. However, it also gives it the advantage of maintaining full brightness in interactive mode. In our tests, it fully lived up to its 2500 lumen rating.
More generally, the BZ-1 is a particularly capable member of the breed, with 1280x800 native resolution, excellent data image quality, and better video quality than most data projectors. It's also a near bargain for what it delivers, with a $1795 estimated street price and widely available for about $1,500.
Ultra short throw. A key benefit for any ultra short throw projector is the ability to throw a big image from a short distance. In my tests, the BZ-1 needed only a little over 13" from the front of the projector, or a little over 24" from the mirror, for a 92-inch diagonal image at 1280x800. This is consistent with Hitachi's claim, with a full range of a 60" image at 4.7" from the front of the projector to a 100" image at 15.4".
Interactivity. As is typical, the BZ-1 comes with one interactive pen. The pen's driver will let you use the pen as both a mouse and as a drawing tool with any annotation program, including the Hitachi StarBoard software it comes with. Hitachi's choice of interactive technology limits you to screens with a hard backing, since the pen needs to press against the screen, but it also lets you interact without any loss of brightness.
Reasonably fast reaction time. Interactive projectors vary in how quickly they respond to pen movements. The BZ-1's reaction time is slow enough to notice the lag. However, it's fast enough so that using it felt comfortable from the first time I tried it, without needing practice to get used to it.
Easy to handle interactive pen. The BZ-1's interactive pen is much thinner than the pens for most DLP interactive projectors, making it more comfortable to hold and easier to handle. This is welcome in any situation, but particularly helpful in a classroom, where children with small hands may have problems using an overly thick pen.
Excellent data image quality. Data image quality for the BZ-1 is excellent. Colors in my tests were vibrant and well saturated in all preset modes, and both black on white and white on black text was crisp and readable at sizes as small as 7 points. I saw a slight color balance problem, with some dark shades of gray showing slight tints, but the key word is slight, and I didn't see the problem in any real world data images. Also worth mention is that the image was rock solid with an analog connection, even on screens that tend to show pixel jitter. The projector's auto-iris also kicks in to make dark images darker with no annoying lag.
Better than par video quality. The BZ-1's video quality isn't great, but it's good for a data projector. Color was a little dull, as you would expect from a low contrast ratio; I saw a slight loss of shadow detail; and black and white scenes had a sepia tinge in Cinema mode. However, the video is still better quality than most data projectors offer, and it's good enough to let you watch a full-length movie comfortably. It doesn't hurt either that as an LCD projector there is zero possibility of being annoyed by rainbow artifacts.
Can use for an interactive tabletop. Unlike Hitachi's earlier generation models, the BZ-1 is designed to mount either horizontally, facing a screen, or vertically, using Hitachi's $199.95 mount, for interactive tabletop applications. (You can't simply rest the front of the case on a tabletop, which would block the front vents and interfere with cooling.) Also worth mention is that the fan is loud enough -- Hitachi rates it at 34dB -- that it could be annoying to sit right next to at a table. In Eco mode, however, the noise drops to a far quieter 28 dB.
Surprisingly portable. The BZ-1 is unusually portable for an ultra short throw projector. At 9.1 pounds, it's light enough to carry easily by hand from room to room or even bring with you on the road, at least occasionally.
Reasonably good audio quality. The BZ-1's audio isn't the best I've ever heard from a 10-watt mono speaker, but its good enough to make out words easily, and loud enough to fill a small to medium size conference room or classroom. For larger rooms, you can easily connect to an external sound system.