The best summary description of the Acer K520 would be that it's an 8.9 lb., semi-portable 1024x768 DLP projector with a 20,000 hour light engine. The hybrid laser/LED light source offers some important environmental and cost of ownership advantages, most notably that it's mercury free, it uses less power than a conventional lamp, and it's meant to last the life of the projector. But if no one told you about the light source, it's unlikely you'd notice that there was anything different about it.
Like other models with hybrid light sources, the K520 uses LEDs for the red and blue primaries along with a laser shining on a phosphor element to produce green. The one hint that there might be something special about the projector is its low brightness for the $1,199 street price. Acer rates it at 2000 lumens, which is much lower than most recent models that are otherwise in the same class.
The brightness level isn't necessarily a problem. 2000 lumens was typical for a portable business projector just a few years ago and it may be all you need. As for price, since the light engine goes 20,000 hours it eliminates lamp replacement costs for those who put many thousands of hours on their projectors. That means the K520 can easily cost less in the long run than a cheaper projector with a $250 lamp you have to replace, say, every 3000 hours. Add in the more than acceptable image quality for data screens, and the K520 can be a cost-effective, and potentially attractive, choice for a small to medium-size conference room or classroom.
Good data image quality. The K520's data image quality isn't in the top tier, but it's more than acceptable for most purposes. In the brightest mode, colors are a little dark. But colors are fully saturated, and color balance is excellent, with suitably neutral grays at all levels. With every other preset, the colors fare much better, looking both vibrant and well saturated. The trade off is that color balance isn't quite as good as in Bright mode. With most presets, its gray scale is acceptably neutral through most of the range from black to white, but just a little off with the brightest shades.
One issue is that I couldn't get crisp focus across the entire screen. When I adjusted the lens for best focus at the center of the screen, text was easily readable at 7 points in the center area, but hard to read at sizes below 9 points at the top and bottom of the screen. If you don't need to show fine detail, however, this won't be a problem. Very much on the plus side, screens that tend to cause pixel jitter were nearly rock solid with an analog connection, with no obvious improvement when I switched to HDMI.
Eco-friendly and money saving. The hybrid light source in the K520 offers several advantages. Being mercury free is one important plus. So is the 20,000-hour rated lifetime, which lowers the total cost of ownership if you anticipate extensive use of your projector, since you don't have to buy lamp replacements. It also lowers the carbon footprint by eliminating the need produce or ship replacements. In addition, the light source uses less power than conventional lamps, which lowers both the carbon footprint and running costs. I measured the power draw at 106 watts in full power mode, which can be about 1/3 the draw of conventional models.
Better than expected audio. The K520's audio is surprisingly usable, with good quality and higher volume than you might expect from its 2-watt mono speaker. As with many projectors, one test clip with quietly spoken dialog was essentially impossible to hear from more than a couple of feet away. However, the sound in most clips was loud enough to fill a small conference room. If you need a higher volume or stereo, you can connect an external sound system to the audio output.
Acceptable brightness. Although the 2000-lumen rating for K520 is lower than the ratings for most projectors aimed at small classrooms and conference rooms today, it's very much in line with comparable projectors from a few years ago. More important, it is bright enough to be usable, even if you have to settle for a slightly smaller screen size than with a brighter projector.
At its brightest, in Bright mode and Eco off, I measured the K520 at 1900 lumens, a full 95% of its rating. Even with moderate ambient light, that translates to being bright enough for the 98" diagonal image, in the native 4:3 aspect ratio, that I used for my tests. For lower light levels and smaller screen sizes, you can switch to other predefined image modes, which came in at a range of 775 to 1078 lumens.
Turning Eco on didn't affect brightness at all in Bright mode, at a measured 1894 lumens. With the six other predefined modes, however, I measured a consistent 15% brightness drop in Eco mode, for a range of 664 to 928 lumens.
Somewhat surprisingly, the K520's color brightness is substantially lower than its white brightness, at 453 lumens in bright mode with Eco off. This level of difference is typical for DLP projectors that boost white brightness by adding a white panel in a color wheel. It's unexpected for a projector with a hybrid light source, but there are ways even with a hybrid light source to boost white brightness, and the K520 is obviously doing that.
In any case, the difference between the color brightness and white brightness means that color images, like photos or full color PowerPoint slides, won't be as bright on screen as a word processing document or a spreadsheet. It also explains why some colors look dark in Bright mode.
Good brightness uniformity. The K520 did a good job maintaining uniform brightness across the screen, with a 78% brightness uniformity score. I could see a slight difference in brightness on a solid white screen, with the bottom of the screen just a touch brighter than the top, but only because I was looking for it. With text or graphics breaking up the image on screen, I couldn't see any variation.
Good connectivity. The back panel on the K520 lacks a USB-A port, which means it can't read files from a USB memory key. Beyond that it offers only a limited set of connectors, but they include most of what you're likely to need.
- 1 HDMI
- 1 VGA IN (for RGB or component)
- 1 S-video
- 1 RCA composite
- 1 USB B (for mouse control from remote)
- 1 audio mini plug IN
- 1 Stereo mini plug OUT
- 1 RS-232 (DIN connector for external control)
Rainbow artifacts. As with most single-chip DLP business projectors, the K520 shows rainbow artifacts, but they're a potential problem only with video. In my data testing, I saw the red-green-blue flashes strictly with test images that are designed to bring them out. Few, if any, people are likely to be bothered by them. With video, however, I saw them often enough that anyone who is sees them easily probably will find them annoying.
Limited 3D. The K520's 3D is limited to working with a PC only and at up to 1280x720 resolution. However, the key limitation, as with most 3D projectors, is the need buy enough pairs of DLP-Link glasses for your audience, at $70 or more each.
Poor video quality. Video quality is the K520's weakest area. Most bothersome is that movement--whether in the form of the camera panning or a still shot with someone walking across the field of view--showed a jerkiness that's reminiscent of, but more annoying than, silent movies modified for playing at modern day speeds. Combined with the tendency to show rainbow artifacts easily, this makes the K520 best limited to short clips only, if you use video at all.
Surprisingly short warranty. Acer's warranty for the K520 light source is only 90 days. That's common for a standard lamp but unusually short for laser-LED light sources, which usually have warranties measured in years and in thousands of hours. However, Acer says its service department will replace the entire light source--including LEDs, laser, and phosphor element--for $249, so the short warranty isn't a deal breaker. The warranty for the projector itself is one year.
Although the Acer K520 is obviously the wrong projector to get if you need to show much video, and its short warranty makes it less attractive than it could be, there's still a lot here to like. The eco-friendly and cost saving features are among the projector's best points, with its mercury-free light source offering a 20,000 hour lifetime and low power usage.
Also on the plus side is that the projector scores well, or at least well enough, on all the most important issues for any data projector. It delivers good data image quality, a bright enough image for a small to medium size conference room or classroom, the connection options you're most likely to need, and suitable audio for a small room plus an output for connecting to external audio systems if you need to.
If 1024x768 is the resolution you're looking for, you don't need to show fine detail like small fonts, and you expect to use the projector enough to benefit from the potential savings from low power use and long life for the light source, the K520 is certainly a reasonable choice. It may even be the right fit for your needs.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Acer K520 projector page.