Image quality from digital projectors continues to advance and prices continue to drop. This happy trend puts inexpensive home theater in easy reach for many people who never would have considered it before. Among the latest entry level offerings is the NEC HT410. Selling at this writing for under $1,300, the NEC HT410 gives consumers on limited budgets another option for bringing big-screen video into their homes. The HT410 is designed for first time projector users, and delivers the ultimate in ease of use.
In addition to the HT410, NEC has released a higher resolution edition of the same projector: the HT510. The only difference between these two models is that the HT510 uses a 1024x576 resolution DLP chip, whereas the HT410 has an 854x480 chip. The HT510 is more expensive, but its 576-line display is an advantage when it comes to displaying PAL-format video without vertical scaling. So if you live in a PAL area you may want to give the HT510 a closer look.
Specifications. 1000 ANSI lumens, 1200:1 contrast, native 16:9 widescreen format, 854x480 DarkChip2 DLP chip (WVGA) with a 2x rotation speed, five-segment color wheel.
Compatibility. HDTV 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, and computer resolutions up to SXGA. NTSC, PAL, SECAM.
Lens and Throw Distance. 1.20:1 manual zoom/focus lens. Throws a 100" diagonal image from 12'-14'2", depending on zoom.
Lamp Life. 2,000 hours standard, 3,000 hours in eco-mode.
Connection Panel. One composite video, one S-Video, one set of component inputs, one VGA port, one 1/8" audio input, two RCA left/right audio inputs, one RS-232 port for external control.
Installation Options. Table mount, rear shelf mount, ceiling mount.
Warranty. 2 years, 90 days or 500 hours for lamp, whichever is first.
Overall, the HT410 produces a good picture with standard definition sources and a superb HDTV image considering its entry-level packaging and cost. Furthermore it is one of the easiest projectors to set up and operate that we've seen. To make this projector easy to use for first-time projector owners, NEC offers a selection of pre-calibrated color profiles designed for use with different media formats, such as DVD (movie), Video, Computer input, et cetera. While these are useful for those who have never experimented with adjusting the picture controls on a TV or projector before, we found that some manual tweaking of the color, contrast, and brightness controls produced an incrementally more satisfying image.
The HT410 is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens, and can output anywhere from 250 to 815 lumens depending on settings. In a darkened theater, 250 lumens is adequate for the proper display of video. However, the presence of ambient light requires greater lumen output, which the HT410 can deliver if you need it. However, boosting the lumen output comes at the expense of black level and color saturation, so it is still wise to control the lighting in your viewing space for optimum results.
Many of the latest DLP projectors feature contrast ratios of 2000:1 or greater, while the HT410 is rated at 1200:1. Despite the lower rating, this projector delivers a good amount of shadow detail. Black level is sufficient to give the picture good snap. However, shadow detail does becomes marginal in dark or poorly lit scenes.
Furthermore, in low-light scenes the HT410 exhibited some solarization in the image, making colors block together and causing dark areas to appear "ghost-like" by adding gray. However, this effect was not noticeable very often and only proved to be a minor distraction when it occurred.
Color accuracy is one of the HT410's strong suits. Color looks natural and well balanced, with excellent, realistic flesh tones. On the other hand, color saturation is average to good--certainly adequate to produce an attractive, balanced image, but not the best we've seen, even in this general price range.
Visible pixelation can be an issue with lower resolution projectors like this one. However, on the HT410 we found that visible pixel structure disappeared at a viewing distance of just 1.7x the screen width, which is quite good for its resolution class.
NEC is known for building quality video processing electronics into its commercial projectors, and to no surprise we find the same here. Scaling and deinterlacing capabilities are first rate for standard definition video, and the processing of 1080i and 720p HDTV was nothing short of sensational. The picture clarity and detail that it renders with 1080i and 720p inputs is truly remarkable considering the low resolution of the light engine.
When the HT410 was fed a high-definition signal from a game console (in this case, Microsoft's Xbox with optional HD-out), the picture was sharp, with excellent detail and color saturation. Overall the HT410 performed admirably as a video gaming projector.
The HT410 is ideal for what could be termed an informal setup - on a coffee table aimed at a wall, as opposed to ceiling mounting and projecting to a fixed screen. Instead of adjustable feet used to level the projector, the rear stand simply tilts left and right to accommodate for leveling irregularities. The front foot is standard - push a button to extend the foot - but it has been rounded on the bottom so as not to interfere with the rear tilt bar.
There is an option in the menu system that we found particularly useful for this sort of installation - the HT410 allows the user to choose the color of the wall being projected onto from a list, and then compensates by boosting the opposite end of the color spectrum. This can be combined with one of the HT410's preset color profiles (Movie, Video, Data, etc.) to generate good image quality with minimal calibration.
The HT410 also has a vertical lens shift that likewise decreases setup time and may eliminate the need for vertical keystone adjustment, which introduces undesirable scaling artifacts into the image. The vertical shift allows the user a range of 0.5 screen heights from top to bottom. This is not great range compared to other projectors with vertical lens shift, but it is plenty adequate for placing the image on the wall at the desired viewing position, and it is much more versatile than competing units which don't have any lens shift capability at all.
The HT410 lacks two features that have begun to appear on other home theater projectors in this price class. One is a DVI port that allows for direct digital input from sources that have digital output capability. The other is a higher speed color wheel to reduce viewer susceptibility to rainbow artifacts.
The HT410 is remarkably simple to set up. We were able to set it up and start watching a DVD using one of the pre-calibrated profiles in under 10 minutes. To make things easy, NEC has included a cable pack including one cable for each input type that the HT410 can accept. The cable pack includes a 15' component video cable, a 15' S-video cable, a 15' composite video cable, and a 6' VGA cable. It is unusual for a manufacturer to include this wide assortment of cables, especially in 15' length.
The HT410 is ideal for those who don't want to turn their living space into a dedicated home theater. It is designed in such a way that it is simple for a user to place it on a coffee table and aim it at a wall, watch a DVD, unplug it, and stow it under the coffee table or in a closet until needed again. The vertical lens shift helps you place the image where you want it on the wall. Almost no light escapes the casework to cause a visual distraction, and there is very little heat exhaust to cause discomfort to viewers sitting near the projector.
The HT410's fan is nearly silent. At 28dB in high-brightness mode and 26dB in eco-mode, the 410 does not create much noise distraction under any circumstances, even for those who might be sitting quite close to it.
The HT410's remote control is easy to navigate, including direct access buttons for the projector's different sources as well as a backlight for use in light-controlled home theater environments. Furthermore, the button used to activate the backlight glows in the dark, while the others do not, creating a minimal visual distraction while still helping the user find the button.
We compared the HT410 to the recently reviewed Optoma H31 (read that review here) since they share not only the same native resolution, but also the same general price bracket. The question, then, is which one deserves your $1,300? The answer depends on your specific needs.
The H31 is rated at 850 ANSI lumens, but we found it to produce a maximum of roughly 350 lumens. With the HT410 we were able to produce 815 lumens under the same conditions used to test the H31 - in high brightness mode, calibrated for data presentation, using a progressive-scan signal. At settings optimal for home theater, however, the HT410 produced 250 lumens to the H31's 270.
While the HT410 has a clear advantage in maximum lumen output, the H31 has superior contrast. Rated at 3000:1, the H31 produced inky blacks and an impressive amount of shadow detail. It performed well with our favorite test disks for shadow detail (Heat, Men in Black, U-571). The HT410, rated at only 1200:1, struggled with the darker scenes in these films, with shadows losing detail and appearing a bit muddy. As with any projector, this becomes more of a problem the larger you go with the projected image. The lack of very high contrast on the HT410 causes us to suggest you keep the image size from exceeding about 90" diagonal in order to get the best image quality performance.
The H31 has good color accuracy and exceptional color saturation for a DLP projector. The HT410 for all practical purposes matches the H31's accuracy, but falls a bit short in color saturation. Despite the H31's incremental advantage in color performance, the HT410 is still capable of satisfying, lifelike color, realistic flesh tones, and adequate saturation.
For some users an important difference between the H31 and the HT410 will be their color wheel rotation speeds--the H31 has a 4x rotation speed, while the HT410 is 2x. The H31 will update color information twice as often, and will thus reduce the occurrence of color separation artifacts (otherwise known as the rainbow effect) for people who are sensitive to them. If you are thinking of purchasing the HT410, (or any other DLP projector with a 2x wheel rotation speed) be sure that you and any other regular viewer audition it before buying to ensure that the wheel rotation speed does not cause distracting rainbows or other side effects like eyestrain or headaches. If you experience these problems, go with a video projector with a faster wheel rotation speed like the H31 or the InFocus Screenplay 4805.
As far as deinterlacing and scaling are concerned, both units perform comparably and admirably - and both have the added bonus of being able to display 480-line material without vertical scaling. Both produce stunning HDTV images from 1080i and 720p. Users won't know what their projectors are truly capable of until they start feeding them HDTV signals.
Overall, the NEC HT410 and the Optoma H31 are similar in overall image quality performance. However, the H31 maintains an edge in black level and shadow detail, primarily with standard definition sources. It's DVI port gives it an edge in stability and sharpness if you use a digital source. And the H31's faster color wheel will an important factor for those sensitive to DLP rainbows. Conversely, the HT410 can be operated more successfully in ambient light due to its much higher lumen output. In particular, for those who have kids playing video games and don't want to make them sit in the dark, the HT410 has a decided advantage over the H31.
The HT410 has many useful features, solid construction, good standard video and excellent HDTV capability for the money. Video image quality is certainly well above average for this class of projector, and the feature set and ease of use make it a good choice for many first-time projector buyers. The versatility of its lens shift and wide range of lumen output will give it an edge over many other products in the same price range. Anyone who wants to put a big picture on the wall without spending much money should give the HT410 serious consideration.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our NEC HT410 projector page.