Hitachi AW250N WXGA 3LCD Projector
Projector Central Highly Recommended Award

Highly Recommended Award

Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.

  • Performance
  • 5
  • Features
  • Ease of Use
  • Value

Surprisingly small and light for an ultra short throw interactive projector, the Hitachi iPJ-AW250N is also unusual in being built around an LCD, rather than DLP, engine. The relatively small size makes it a better physical fit than most for keeping on a cart or even carrying it by hand from room to room rather than mounting it permanently on a wall. In most other ways, however, it's typical for the breed.

As you'd expect, the iPJ-AW250N lets you project large images from just a few inches, so you can interact without worrying about casting shadows. Except for the short throw and the interactivity, though, it's decidedly mainstream for a projector aimed at small to mid size conference rooms and classrooms, with a 1280x800 resolution and a 2500 lumen rating. It costs more than most DLP-based competitors, at $1,799 estimated street price, but if you prefer LCD to DLP technology, you may well feel that it's worth the extra cost, particularly if you want a projector you can move around easily.

Advantages

Surprisingly portable. The iPJ-AW250N's small size is a clear advantage if you want to use it in more than one location. At 9.1 pounds and 3.4" x 13.6" x 12.0" it's small and light enough to easily move from room to room, whether on a cart or by hand. It's even light enough to carry with you on the go, although you probably wouldn't want to lug it through an airport on a regular basis. Having to calibrate the pen each time you set up is a minor chore, but with only nine calibration points, the key word is minor.

Ultra short throw. Of course, one of the most important features for any ultra short throw projector is its ability to throw a big image from a short distance.We measured a 92-inch diagonal image at the native 1280x800 resolution with the front of the projector about 14" from the screen and an actual throw distance, from the mirror at the back of the projector, of roughly 25". The full range of image sizes, according to Hitachi, is 60" to 100" with the front of the projector 4.7" to 16.8" from the screen.

It's interactive. Interactivity is the main reason for getting any interactive projector. It increases the price by at least a third compared to comparable non-interactive models, so the only good reason to pay for it is because you really need the feature.

As is standard, the projector comes with one interactive pen and a driver that will let you use the pen both as a mouse and as a drawing tool with virtually any annotation program. If you don't already have a preferred program, however, Hitachi supplies its own StarBoard software.

Reasonably fast reaction time. For interactive projectors, the time lag between moving the pen and seeing the result on screen ranges from instantaneous to slow enough that it takes practice to get used to. The iPJ-AW250N falls between these extremes. Despite a slight lag, the reaction time is fast enough so that using the pen felt natural from the first time I picked it up.

Small, easy to handle, interactive pen. The iPJ-AW250N uses a combination of infrared and ultrasonic signals to track the position of the pen, a choice that allows the pen to be much thinner, smaller, and easier to handle than the pens that come with most DLP interactive projectors. Anyone may find the smaller size welcome, but this is particularly relevant for classrooms, where children with small hands may find large size pens awkward to use.

 

Suitably bright image with wide brightness range. Most recent data projectors aimed at small to medium size conference rooms and classrooms offer ratings of 3000 lumens or so, which makes a 2500 lumen rating seem a little low. However, the iPJ-AW250N came close to its rating in our tests, which makes it brighter than some projectors with higher ratings.

We measured the brightest mode at 2438 lumens, which is easily bright enough for the 92" diagonal image we used in our tests to stand up to the ambient light in a typical conference room or classroom. Other presets offer a range of brightness levels, as well as color corrections for blackboards and greenboards. The least bright choice is the Whiteboard setting, at only 1251 lumens. In addition, the Eco mode lowers brightness by almost 40%, at a measured 1501 lumens with the brightest preset mode. It also raises the rated lamp life by an impressive 66%, from 3,000 to 5,000 hours.

Good brightness uniformity. The iPJ-AW250N did unusually well for an ultra short throw projector at maintaining uniform brightness across the entire screen. We measured the uniformity at a relatively high 74%, which simply confirmed what I already knew from looking at the image. With a solid white screen, I could barely make out slightly cooler areas in the upper left and right hand corners. With text or graphics breaking up the image, I couldn't see any difference at all.

Excellent data image quality. Data image quality counts as another strong point. Colors in our tests were vibrant and well saturated, and both white and black and black on white text was crisp and readable at even the smallest sizes we test with. I saw a slight color balance problem, with neutral grays showing a slight brownish tint, but this didn't create any important issues for real world data images.

Better than par video quality. Despite the dulled down colors that go hand in hand with a low contrast ratio, the iPJ-AW250N does better with video than most data projectors. The color balance issue, with grays taking on a brown tint, is at its worst with Cinema mode, but it's obvious only in night scenes dominated by shades of gray.

I saw a slight hint of posterization (colors changing suddenly where they should change gradually), but only in scenes that tend to cause the problem. More important, I saw no motion artifacts or other issues worth mention, and the projector handled skin tones and shadow detail far better than most data projectors. Although the video quality falls far short of home theater projector level, it's good enough to watch a full length movie comfortably.

No rainbow artifacts. The lack of rainbow artifacts on LCD projectors is worth mention because most ultra short throw interactive projectors use single chip DLP engines, which can show rainbow artifacts. For those who see these artifacts, or worry about people in their audience seeing them, this alone can be a strong argument for choosing the iPJ-AW250N.

Good connectivity. The projector's side panel offers any connector you're likely to need, including an HDMI port for a computer or video source, two VGA ports for computers one of which doubles for component video, a VGA passthrough port, and both S-video and composite video inputs. For audio, in addition to the HDMI input, there are two stereo miniplug jacks, a set of stereo RCA phono plug jacks, a miniplug for a microphone, and a set of stereo phono plug jacks for output. Menu settings let you pair any audio input to any image input.

In addition, there's a USB B port to connect to your computer for the interactive feature as well as for mouse control from either the pen or the projector's remote and a USB A port for a USB memory key to read JPG, PNG, BMP, or GIF files directly. Finally, there's an RS-232 port for controlling the projector through a computer or third party controller and a LAN port for data as well as for controlling the projector.

Limitations

Requires calibration between pen and projector. Every time you move the projector or change resolution, you have to calibrate it. This is a bit of a chore compared to projectors that don't need calibration. However, it's also quick and easy. It consists of touching the pen to only nine points on the screen, and takes less than 30 seconds.

The pen must touch the screen. The pens for some interactive projectors only have to point to the screen rather than touch it, which lets you use literally any surface as a screen. The iPJ-AW250N's interactive pen doesn't allow that. The front of the pen is a switch, much like a key on a keyboard. To interact, you have to press the pen against the screen to activate the switch. This limits what you can use as a screen to hard surfaces only.

Can't use for interactive table top applications. The iPJ-AW250N's cooling system isn't designed to work with the projector facing straight down towards a table top. If you try mounting it that way, it will overheat and shorten the lamp life. Hitachi says it plans to replace the iPJ-AW250N with a new version (and the new model number CP-AW2519N), that will let you use it to create an interactive table top.

Low volume audio. The projector's 10 watt speaker offers acceptable audio quality, but at a volume that isn't suitable for anything much larger than a small conference room. If you need more volume, be prepared with an external sound system to plug into the stereo output.

Conclusion

Although the iPJ-AW250N loses some points for not being suitable for interactive table-top applications, that's not an issue if you're sure you'll never want to use it that way. On the other hand, its small size makes it uniquely appropriate among interactive ultra short throw projectors for portable use, even with the need for calibration. Beyond that, its balance of brightness, connectivity, and image quality for both data and video make it a more than an attractive choice, whether you need the small size or not.

For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Hitachi CP-AW250N projector page.

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