Great Home Entertainment for $399
August 17, 2010
Since the introduction of pico projectors, people have looked at them as solutions for home entertainment. We can see why; they are highly portable, very inexpensive, and the lamp never needs replacing. However, they have some downsides, such as low resolution, minuscule lumen output, and the inability to adjust color. An exciting alternative to the pico for home entertainment is the NEC NP115. This SVGA (800x600) DLP projector costs only $399, which is no more than a decent pico projector. But it has higher resolution than most of them, a much brighter 2500 lumen picture, better contrast, adjustable color, a 5,000 hour lamp life, and a seven-watt speaker. The NP115 is inexpensive, fully-featured, and video looks great. If you want the big picture experience for not a lot of money, look no further.
Image quality. Since the NP115 was designed to be used with text and data graphics, you might be wondering why we are discussing it for video. The short answer is "because it looks good." Our preferred preset for film and video is Movie mode, which tones down highlights and uses a warmer color temperature setting than the more presentation-oriented selections. In Movie mode, our test unit put out 1030 lumens, which is bright enough for a 100" diagonal image even with significant ambient light. Highlights do not appear blown out. Contrast is such that shadow detail is maintained very well, and there is no crushing of deep shadows. Color is well saturated and vibrant. Standard-definition DVDs are sharp and detailed, and the NP115 compresses HD signals without making a mess. Though the projector has only native 800x600 resolution, it will take up to a 1080i signal from a Blu-ray player. The resulting picture is much tighter and cleaner than standard DVD, and it is an excellent value for the money.
Light output. The NP115, as a presentation projector, is plenty bright. Out of a rated 2500 lumen maximum, our test sample measured 2343 lumens using the High Bright image preset. For video, we preferred Movie mode, which brought white balance closer to the ideal 6500 degrees Kelvin. Movie mode measured 1030 lumens with the lamp on full power, and eco-mode reduced it to 887 lumens, or a 14% drop. This is still plenty of light for a 100" to 120" 4:3 screen, and even some ambient light is permissible if required. Running in eco-mode not only produces plenty of light, but it extends lamp life to 5000 hours and reduces fan noise to boot.
On a smaller screen or in a dark viewing room, 887 lumens might be too much light. On the other hand, in a brighter room, you might require even more light. The NP115 has image modes suitable for several viewing environments. For rooms with excellent light control, sRGB mode boosts contrast, deepens black levels slightly, and produces 492 lumens in eco-mode. Presentation mode, on the other end of the spectrum, produces 2034 lumens with better color fidelity than that found in High-Bright. For photos, Graphic mode combines a bright picture, at 1364 lumens, with good color saturation. Eco-mode can be applied to any of these image modes, reducing output by 14%. As you can see, the NP115 covers a wide range of lumen output, from 423 (sRGB, eco-mode) up to 2343 (High-Bright, high lamp).