At this moment, the two most popular ultra-portable projectors in the XGA resolution class are the InFocus LP335 (MSRP: $5,999), and the Epson PowerLite 710c (MSRP: $7,999). Since they are both popular a lot of people are asking which is the best product and which is the best value? So here we will take a close look at both of them to see how they stack up.

The Similarities

First, let's consider what they have in common. The LP335 and the 710c are both native XGA resolution machines rated at 1000 ANSI lumens. Both have manual zoom lenses (the Epson's zoom ratio is 1.2:1, and the InFocus is 1.25:1). In addition, they each have one data input, one S-video, one composite video jack, digital keystone correction, and a single 1-watt audio speaker. Both are driven by a 120-watt UHP lamp.

Physically, the Epson is a bit larger in size and weight. At 5.8 lbs, it is a pound heavier than the InFocus which weighs in at 4.8 lbs. And the Epson's dimensions are 10.5" x 2.8" x 8.4" (W x H x L) or 247 cubic inches, whereas the InFocus is 8.7" x 2.5" x 9.75", or 212 cubic inches. In the large scheme of things, both qualify as compact lightweight units that are designed for frequent mobile presentation use.

From a distance, these two products look about the same. They both deliver good clean data images at the same brightness level, and they are both capable of producing very good video images as well. So are there any differences? Yes, and they are significant.

The Differences

The feature and function differences between these two projectors are as follows:

1. Light engine. These two products are very different under the hood. The Epson 710c is a 3-panel LCD system, whereas the InFocus LP335 is a one-chip DLP. That means there are qualitative differences in image quality (more on this later).

2. Electronic features. For the extra money you will pay for the Epson, you'd expect to get additional features. And you do. The Epson comes with an assortment of on-board presentation tools that enable the presenter to highlight, underline, and circle particular areas of the image during a presentation. It has picture-in-picture and digital zoom/pan. The LP335 does not offer these features. And although these products are both native XGA (1,024 x 768), the Epson is able to accept SXGA (1,280 x 1024) and UXGA (1,600 x 1,200) signals and display them in compressed form. The InFocus cannot do this.

3. Lamp life. The 710c will deliver 2,000 hours of viewing time on each lamp, whereas the LP335 will deliver only 1,000 hours. As replacement lamps can run around $400, this may be a significant cost factor for those who plan to put a lot of hours on their projector.

4. HDTV compatibility. According to the manufacturer's specifications the InFocus LP335 is compatible with the HDTV 1080i format and the Epson 710c is not. However, these two manufacturers have a difference of opinion on what qualifies as "HDTV compatible." In reality, no XGA resolution projector can display a 1080i signal in its native high-definition format since the display device needs to be able to produce 1080 discrete lines of signal information to do this. An XGA-resolution machine only has 768 lines. Therefore a digital XGA projector will usually render the 1080i signal in 540 progressive lines. The result is a picture that looks better than standard definition TV, and not as good as true HDTV.

Both the LP335 and the Epson 710c will display a 1080i signal in 540p. It is legitimate to claim HDTV compatibility based upon this, but Epson refrains from doing so. So the difference is not in the physical capability of the projectors, but in how the manufacturers choose to represent the products.

The LCD vs. DLP showdown

The competition between the Epson 710c and the InFocus LP335 is one manifestation of a spectacular technology battle raging behind the scenes in the projector industry-that of LCD vs. DLP. Epson and Sony are committed to LCD technology and are the major proponents of LCD in the industry. On the other hand, Texas Instruments' reflective technology known as Digital Light Processing®, or DLP®, has come on strong as the leading competitor to LCD in light engine technology. The good news is that this competitive battle of the giants is driving image quality up and prices down at a rapid pace. Better products are being produced with both technologies today than ever before.

In the past, LCD was known for highly pixelated, low-contrast images. The notorious "screendoor" effect in the video image as well as soft blacks and muddy shadow detail were characteristic of LCD-based images. So the door was open for alternatives that could do better, and along came DLP. Some once thought that DLP with its muted pixel structure and better contrast could supplant LCD as the technology of choice. But the LCD makers have made substantial improvements of their own in response to DLP, and it remains to be seen how this competition will ultimately resolve itself.

To the question at hand...how does the LCD-based Epson 710c perform against the DLP-based LP335? In a nutshell, the competing claims of both vendors have merit. Epson claims superior color accuracy can be obtained via the 3-panel LCD system which uses one panel each for the red, green, and blue channels. In a side by side comparison, the 710c's colors are indeed more natural and accurate. The 710c has the edge in color saturation as well.

However, one of the strengths of DLP is its superior contrast ratio. And this is evident in the present comparison as well. The LP335 offers noticeably higher image contrast and better shadow detail in video images than does the 710c. This means that with dark movies in particular such as Heat or The Matrix, the viewer gets more picture detail from the InFocus than the Epson.

As far as pixelation is concerned, the fact that both of these machines are XGA means that the visible pixel structure is reduced simply because more pixels are used to make the image. So the screendoor effect is substantially reduced on both products as compared to earlier vintage VGA and SVGA resolution machines. Nevertheless, the LP335's pixel structure is virtually invisible, whereas on the 710c it is slightly more apparent. So DLP's reputation for softening the pixel grid bears out in this comparison.

So which projector delivers the best video?

The simple fact is that this is a matter of taste. The pictures are different. The Epson has better color but the contrast is a little weak. The InFocus has better contrast, but the colors are a little off. So there is a trade-off. Neither machine is perfect for high-end home theater, but that's not what they are intended for. (Actually, the "perfect" home theater projector hasn't been built yet; you can find things to complain about in every product on the market.)

Now...we should hasten to say that these observations fall into the category of videophile nit-picking. For most users who want to get some part-time home theater use out of their mobile presentation projector, either projector will do an admirable job. If you have friends and neighbors who are used to looking at big-screen TVs, the picture quality from either the 710c or the LP335 will be a large step up. Both projectors are capable of delivering a picture that the viewer can get completely absorbed in.

Furthermore, if you really want to turbo-charge the video performance of either projector, add a DVDO iScan line doubler to your home theater set up. This little box (which runs around $600 on the street) works wonders on the video quality of both the 710c and the LP335. Contrast and picture detail are noticeably improved. Once you watch just one movie with the DVDO, you won't ever go back to standard S-video again.

Overall, what is the best value?

At this writing you will pay more for the Epson 710c than you will for the InFocus LP335, probably in the range of $500 to $1,000 at the street price level. You will want extra performance that you can really use for that extra cash. For mobile presenters who will learn to use the on-board presentation highlighting tools on the 710c, the incremental expense is worth it. If you intend to use higher resolution sources, that also would tip the decision in favor of the 710c. Finally, keep in mind that if you are putting a lot of hours on the projector, lamp replacement will be a cost-of-ownership issue to take into consideration. The 2,000 hour lamp life on the 710c means less money down the line when compared to the 1,000 hour lamp life of the LP335.

On the other hand, the LP335 has a definite constituency as well. It produces a beautiful high contrast XGA data image, and delivers higher contrast video as well. It is smaller and lighter than the 710c, so it has the convenience edge for frequent travelers. If you don't plan to use the on-board presentation tools or feed your projector higher resolution data sources, the extra money spent for the 710c is probably not worth it. But check street prices on both before making a final decision.

Getting your best price

The current MSRP and dealer Internet prices are posted in our Current Prices section. However, once you go there you will discover that both of these manufacturers are controlling the Internet prices on these two models.

Therefore, to get the most competitive street pricing, you should solicit bids through the Get Bids! section of the site. Post a request for pricing on both of these units and you will get competitive quotes in a matter of hours. Once you take a moment to register, the online bid request service becomes available to you at no charge. And for projector models whose Internet price is being controlled by the manufacturer, the prices you get through Get Bids! will always be lower than those posted in Current Prices.