Though it lacks the advanced features found in interactive classroom projectors, the NEC UM383WL's HLD LED light engine and UST lens that puts 3,800 lumens on screen from just a few inches away makes it an affordable solid-state option for schools and corporate conference rooms.
- Inexpensive for its brightness class
- Includes zoom lens
- 5-year warranty
- Only Wide XGA resolution
- Lacks interactive features and other classroom amenities
Using an innovative LED illumination engine, NEC breaks new ground in solid-state short throw projectors with its UM383WL. In addition to never needing a replacement lamp, the UM383WL is capable of filling a large screen from inches away with pinpoint sharp optics and no shortage of brightness.
Though an excellent ultra-short throw projector for business and education, the UM383WL is not packaged as an interactive classroom projector and remains a step or two behind the times for connected schools. It not only does without interactive wireless pens for marking up classroom material but lacks built-in Wi-Fi or any curriculum software to assist in teaching. On the other hand, the UM383WL does include apps for managing and connecting the projector to tablets or phones as well as a five-year warranty with next-day replacement.
At $2,299 list price and $1,849 street for its 3,800 lumen output and WXGA (1280x800) resolution, the UM383WL competes with less expensive lamp-based models like Optoma's new W340UST (4,000 lumens, $1,500 street), although the UM383WL's solid state illumination has the advantage of never needing a replacement lamp. Most laser-driven, non-interactive UST models in this brightness class start around $2,250 (street) for WXGA or higher resolution according to ProjectorCentral's Find a Projector database.
Rather than focusing on interactive capabilities, curriculum software and other classroom-centric features, NEC has chosen in the UM383WL to concentrate on delivering an affordable and solidly performing ultra-short throw projector with a pioneering light source. Based on the Philips ColorSpark illumination engine, the system uses light emitting diodes (LEDs) rather than a laser or lamp. The patented Philips technology, commonly marketed as HLD LED (for High Lumen Density) collects the wide light spread that comes off individual LEDs to drive more brightness than can be had from typical LED light engines.
HLD LED projectors have LED modules like those shown in the images below. Rather than using arrays of LEDs and attempting to focus their spreading light with a lens or other means, blue or red LEDs are mounted inside of the module's tube and their concentrated energy emerges from the light tunnel with great intensity. To create the required green primary, the light from blue LEDs excites a phosphor rod to generate green. Thanks to reduced light loss, this set up could yield better brightness, color balance and longevity. NEC rates the light engine at 20,000 hours of use and provides a 5-year warranty on the entire projector. In typical use, it should last more than ten years.
The HLD beams are sent to the projector's three 0.76-inch liquid crystal panels that deliver Wide XGA resolution of 1280x800 in a 16:10 aspect ratio. Beneath the surface, the imaging chip uses micro lens array technology to create a sharp image with minimal lines between pixels. While WXGA falls short of the full HD and WUXGA detail that's becoming increasingly more common in schools and boardrooms, it should be more than enough for most mid-sized conference rooms, classrooms and small lecture halls, for everything from showing a series of bar graphs or the pages of an ebook to a Web page or a Kandinsky print for an art class. The UM383WL accepts signals up to WUXGA (1920x1200) and downscales them to the projector's native resolution for display.
When installed, the UM383WL can fill screens from 70- to 130-inches (measured diagonally) when the projector's back is set up between 16- and 30-inches from the screen. For the exact dimensions and throw distances, check out the Projector Central NEC UM383WL Throw Calculator.
The UM383WL is among those rare UST projectors with an optical zoom lens. It's got fairly small range and can only move in and out by 1.05x (0.27-0.29:1 throw ratio), rather than 1.1x or larger that's common on conventional throw projectors. But it gives you an inch or two of leeway in placing the projector and can help with making the image fit perfectly to the screen, particularly if it gets set up and stored with each use. Whether it is zoomed in or out, the UM383WL has an ultra-sharp focus that makes just about any source look good. On the downside, like other USTs, if you get too close to the screen the top edge can look bowed.
In addition to a four-way pad for navigating the projector's menu, the UM383WL's controls are simple and easy to maneuver, with buttons for turning the projector on and off, setting up Eco mode and auto-adjusting the image. There are dedicated buttons for Source, Exit and Enter as well as LEDs for Power, Status and Light. The projector can be turned on or off with an outlet that's connected to a light switch for quick room changes, and as a lampless projector it shares the quick-on/quick-off benefit that's also common to solid-state laser models.
The UM383WL has all the connection ports most will need, though it lacks a cosmetic cover to hide its cables as is sometimes found on USTs. In addition to a pair of HDMI and VGA inputs, the projector has a potentially helpful VGA output for feeding an additional monitor or other display. A pair of RCA right and left audio inputs drives two 10-watt speakers that should fill most mid-sized rooms, but there's no microphone input that can help make any presenter's voice fill a large room.
On top of an RS-232 serial connection, the UM383WL has a USB 3.0 port for displaying .jpg images held on a flash drive. Note that several competitors take this a step further with the ability to project videos and some Office documents from a flash drive. There's also a USB Type B port for service. There's an RJ45 jack for connection of a wired network, though no HDBaseT functionality for long cable runs.
The UM383WL lacks onboard Wi-Fi communications or the ability to add it with an optional dongle, as is found among some competitive products. You can use an outboard wireless presentation system plugged into one of the HDMI connections to allow participants to share content. NEC's MultiPresenter HDMI add-on ($300) allows the teacher or presenter to stream any participant's screen or put four together for everyone to see.
Once the projector is online, you can remotely control it by typing the projector's IP address into a Web browser. At this point you can see what ports are being used, adjust many of its parameters and see if there are any current errors. The projector comes with NEC's NaviSet Administrator 2 software (Windows only) that allows remote monitoring of a fleet of projectors and display and the powering up or shutting down of any or all at once. The networked devices can be set to send out email alerts for things like overheating.
The UM383WL's mid-sized infrared remote control feels cramped with 36 buttons, but it does provide a high degree of control besides just power on/off, source selection, and menu access. You can use the Zoom button to digitally move the image in or out as well as adjust or mute the volume and Freeze the video. It had a range of about 30 feet.
Under the surface, the system's Menu has categories for Source, Adjust, Setup and Info; there's also a Reset area to bring its settings back to the way it left the factory. In addition to adjustments for Sharpness, Brightness and Contrast, there's a control for the image's gamma setting and the choice of six color temperatures.
At 6.2- by 17.7- by 16.2-inches and 24 pounds, the UM383WL is relatively compact but surprisingly heavy for its size. To be on the safe side, plan on having two people on hand to muscle it into place when hanging it from a wall or ceiling.
With two adjustable feet up-front, it can be set up on a floor, cart or tabletop next to a screen and its five attachment points mate up with generic mounting hardware. NEC's NP06WK1 wall mount adds only $100 to the price of the projector and securely holds the projector, yet it allows precise adjustments in and out, right and left as well as up and down.
In addition to compensating for horizontal and vertical keystone distortion, you can pull any of the corners in or out to create a perfect rectangle. It also has pincushion correction. There are two doors next to the lens, one of which has a manual focus ring for getting to the sharpest image, while the other has recessed knobs for shifting the image slightly vertically or horizontally (±3% V, ±2% H)—another feature that will be helpful when the projector is frequently set up for temporary installs.
It took me about 15 minutes to set up the UM383WL on a cart with a whiteboard screen. The company's Web site has lots of set up help, including an extensive FAQ section on troubleshooting a problematic image. A Wall Color option in the setup menu optimizes the image for projection on anything from a conventional screen, whiteboard or blackboard to walls painted yellow, green, rose, pink or two shades of blue.
The projector displayed an image 12.1-seconds after turning it on and took 2.8 seconds for its fan to shut down after turning it off. This makes it ideal for rooms that will be used by different participants throughout the day.
The projector more than lived up to its spec by delivering 3,893 lumens in its High-Bright mode, 2.5 percent above NEC's claimed brightness. As with most projectors, the brightest mode used to make spec exhibits an obvious color bias; in this case the color balance in High-Bright was pushed to the yellow part of the spectrum, making faces look ghoulish. But it should be fine for projection material like sales charts, maps or an online calculator.
When set to Presentation mode, the color tilted towards the pink and purple hues that would also make this mode fall short for images of people or artwork. It put out 3,604 lumens. The output drops to 2,825 lumens in Video mode and 3,054 lumens in Movie mode, both of which are warmer and do better with rendering flesh tones. The Graphic setting drops the brightness to 1,974 lumens, while the UM383WL's output in DiCom Sim mode was 2,181 lumens.
As is often the case, the best balance between brightness and color balance was achieved with the projector's sRGB mode. Flesh tones were realistic and the projector supplied 2,867 lumens of light, which should still be more than enough for the typical classroom or boardroom with moderate lighting.
The UM383WL has a Light Mode function that can be used to reduce brightness and power consumption in any given Picture Mode. When it was blasting light with full power onto a screen, the UM383WL used 438 watts of power with its ECO power mode turned off and the projector's full brightness applied. Happily, this dropped to no power use at idle. If the projector is used for 8 hours every day for 200 days a year and you pay the national average of 13 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity, the projector's estimated annual operational cost is $72.
With ECO mode off, users have the ability to adjust the power/brightness from 100% down to 16% in 1% increments. There's also a Constant Brightness setting that can be applied to maintain brightness at 66% of the factory default setting for a given Picture Mode, though at the sacrifice of some potential long-term drifting of color.
Engaging the ECO mode offers several fixed options to reduce power along with brightness and fan noise. The ECO-Normal setting cuts brightness by a specified 80% in whatever Picture Mode you're watching, while the full Eco mode reduces brightness by approximately 50%. Engaging the Normal ECO mode reduced power draw in our tests to 348 watts regardless of Picture mode. It also reduced the projector's brightness from 3,893 lumens to 3,439 lumens in High-Bright mode. By contrast, using the full ECO mode, the power draw dropped further to 223 watts and peak brightness to 2,141 lumens. If used consistently, this could reduce expenses by $45 a year.
Without the need to replace lamps, the only maintenance for the UM383WL is that its pair of dust filters needs to be vacuumed every 2,000 hours; total replacement cost for both is $58.
While on the loud side, the UM383WL's fan noise is not likely to get in the way of teaching or a company's presentation, particularly if the projector is mounted on a wall at the front of the room. It registered 44.6dBA of exhaust fan noise 36-inches from the exhaust fan; the room's background noise level was 34.3dBA. Using the High-Bright Picture settings and Normal ECO mode, this dropped to 43.8dBA and 40.4dBA in full ECO mode. It dropped as low as 39.1dBA in DiCom Sim mode.
While running on the warm side, the UM383WL never got hot to the touch. Its peak temperature was recorded in the upper left of the exhaust at 121 degrees Fahrenheit. This dropped to 111 degrees in Eco mode.
By simplifying the internal arrangement of its components and using LEDs instead of lasers, the NEC UM383WL combines brightness with ultra-sharp images and a modest zoom lens. Its straight-line illumination engine puts out more than 3,800 lumens of light without resorting to phosphor discs and should last and last with minimal maintenance.
The UM383WL, however, stops short of being the ideal ultra-short projector for schools because it does without interactive pens for marking up screens, Wi-Fi for connecting with online resources or any curriculum software for actually teaching. Still, at $1,850 ($1,950 with a wall mounting kit), the NEC's UM383WL is the value alternative to solid-state ultra-short throw projectors that cost much more. It may not be perfect, but if you're looking for a way to light up a classroom or conference room and never buy another replacement lamp, the UM383WL fits the bill.
Brightness. Given its LED-based illumination engine, the NEC UM383WL is surprisingly bright with the ability to put up to 3,893 lumens on a screen in its High-Bright mode—though with images that appear excessively yellow.
If you can handle lowering the output to 3,604 lumens, the projector's Presentation mode takes on a pinkish-purple cast that should be suitable for most graphic material but will still make flesh tones look unnatural. At 2,825- and 3,054-lumens, the Video and Movie modes look better with photorealistic content, but the sRGB format, which puts 2,867 lumens onto the screen, does the best for rendering realistic images. There are also Graphics and DiCom Sim modes that deliver 1,974- and 2,181 lumens, respectively.
NEC UM383WL ANSI Lumens
|Mode||Full Power (ECO Off)||ECO Normal||ECO|
Color Brightness. As expected for a projector based on a 3-chip liquid crystal imaging target, the UM383WL's color brightness closely followed its ability to blast a screen with white light. The UM383WL measured total color brightness of 3,845 lumens, just short of the 3,893 lumens in white brightness mode but within the expected measurement error.
Power Use. When it's operating, the UM383WL uses 347 watts of power, regardless of which Picture mode is engaged. When it's idle, this drops to an enviable 0 watts. In other words, it only costs money when you're using the UM383WL. If the system is used for 8 hours every day for 200 days a year, its annual estimated operating costs are about $72.
Temperature. The projector's exhaust fan is on the right side and pushed out 121-degree Fahrenheit hot air to cool the operating parts of the projector. That's significantly hotter than some other UST projectors, such as the recently tested Epson BrightLink 1485Fi, which registered 104.5 degrees F while putting out more than 5,000 lumens with its laser light source (though from a larger cabinet). Similarly the NEC's exhaust temperature dropped to 111 degrees F in ECO mode versus 95-degrees F for the Epson in Quiet mode.
Brightness Uniformity. As is the case with many projectors in this UST genre, the UM383WL had some consistency issues. The left side of the screen was hotter than the right. Overall, it had a uniformity of 68.0 percent.
Fan Noise. In NEC's optimistic soundproof lab, the UM383WL recorded fan noise levels of 37 and 29 dB in Normal and Eco modes. This range was reflected in our tested, although at significantly higher readings in casual measurements from a distance of 36 inches from the exhaust fan. With these conditions in a room with 34.3 dBA background noise, I registered 44.6dBA (in High-Bright mode with 100% power). Using the High-Bright picture setting and Normal ECO mode (80% power), this dropped to 43.8dBA and in full ECO mode (50% power) noise was 40.4dBA. Noise dropped as low as 39.1dBA in DiCom Sim with ECO mode engaged.
- HDMI-In (x2, Version 1.4b)
- Computer VGA RGB-In (15-pin D-Sub)
- Computer VGA RGB-Out (15-pin D-Sub)
- RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
- RS-232 Serial
- USB (Type A)
- USB (Type B)
- Analog Audio-In (x2)
- Analog Audio-Out
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our NEC UM383WL projector page.