You might not think that the classroom market needs another 2,500-lumen, XGA-resolution DLP projector, but NEC's new NP216 could change your mind. It is loaded with features that many of its competitors lack including mouse control from the remote via an inexpensive adapter. Four signal sources can be connected simultaneously, and with all those connections there is still a monitor loop through connector available. The image quality is stunning, and maintenance cost is low. With a current street price of just over $800, the 5.7 lb. NP216 may not be the lowest cost XGA projector you can find, but its performance makes it a real value.
Brightness and Uniformity: It is not uncommon for projectors to miss their brightness specification by 20% or more, but the NP216 is an exception. With the Hi-Bright Preset selected, our test sample delivered 2,420 ANSI lumens. Other pre-programmed operating modes include Presentation (2,075 lumens), Dynamic (1,365 lumens), Movie (1,015 lumens), Video (950 lumens), and sRGB (750 lumens). Each mode has its own color bias appropriate to its application. Eco mode reduced brightness only 10% in all modes. Brightness uniformity was a respectable 79% with the bottom of the image a little brighter than the top.
Image Size and Position: For a 100" diagonal image, the NP216 must be placed about 14.5 feet from the screen. Image offset is approximately +9" which is fine for cart mounting, but tabletop placement may require some upward angling to get the image where you want it. In that case, there is ±40° of electronic keystone correction available. Elevation is accomplished via a front elevator foot, and the right rear foot is adjustable for horizontal leveling.
Compatibility: The NP216 will accept video signals from 480i to 1080i and data signals from VGA (640x480) to UXGA (1600x1200).
Network Connections and Management: The NP216 has a D-sub 9 connector for remote sensing and control, and it also provides an RJ-45 network connection. With appropriate network protocols established, these connections can control the projector and remotely monitor projector status such as lamp condition and internal temperature. When activated, NEC's Alert Mail can notify maintenance personnel about possible problems.
Fan noise: At 34dB in Normal Mode, the NP216 is a little noisier than some of its competitors. However, Eco mode reduces fan noise considerably. Since the projector can be run in Eco mode with almost no brightness reduction, fan noise is not a problem of consequence.
3D Compatibility: Like many recent DLP projectors, the NP216 is 3D ready via TI's DLP Link™ technology using active shutter glasses and a computer source outputting a 120 Hz frame-sequential 3D signal. The fact that the NP216 is 3D ready does not mean it is compatible with all 3D sources on the market, so if you plan to use the 3D option, ask your dealer about compatibility issues before buying.
Audio Quality: The 7-watt speaker is buzz-free across its volume range, and if you need external amplification, there is a mini-jack audio output whose level can be adjusted from the remote control.
Lamp Life: The lamp in the NP216 is rated at a healthy 3,500 hours in Normal mode and 5,000 hours in Eco mode. A replacement lamp can be purchased from NEC for $179.
Warranty Provisions: NEC provides a 2-year warranty on the NP216, and the lamp warranty is unusually generous. The lamp is covered for 12 months or 500 hours, whichever occurs first.
Image Quality: There are not many projectors that come out of the box and put up nearly perfect video images, but that is exactly what the NP216 did. With no adjustments at all, flesh tones were on the mark, and color saturation and balance were excellent. The 2,000:1 contrast ratio is not home theater quality, but shadow detail was still very good and highlight detail was not blown out.
Data images were crisp and sharp, and small fonts were easily readable even at full keystone correction. Focus was excellent in all areas of the image, and Presentation mode made Powerpoint presentations "pop". If you want to adjust color settings, all the usual choices are found in the Picture sub-menu, but you may never have to use them.
Connections: With everything but a digital input, the NP216 has simultaneous connections for two computers, composite video, and S-video with individual audio inputs for each source. If you have a component video source, you can purchase a $25 accessory cable adapter and connect component video via one of the computer VGA connectors.
Preset modes: The NP216 has an unusually large complement of preset modes. Along with the six presets mentioned earlier, there are nine wall-color compensation and six color temperature settings to choose from.
Eco Mode: When a projector is switched to Eco mode, power to the lamp is reduced and image brightness usually decreases about 20%. Eco mode in the NP216, however, only reduces brightness about 10% . . . an amount virtually imperceptible to the eye. You get the benefit of lower power consumption with almost no perceived brightness reduction while extending lamp life from 3500 to 5000 hours and reducing fan noise.
Remote Control: This is a strong point for the NP216. Even though the on-screen menu system is a bit cumbersome, the remote control is not. It is laid out logically with clearly marked function buttons including direct access to aspect ratio, keystone correction, and Eco Mode among others.
Of particular interest is the mouse capability with cursor movement and left- and right-click functions available on the remote's keypad. An optional $45 USB-interfaced receiver is needed to implement the remote mouse function, but that is a small price to pay if mouse functions are a significant part of your presentation regimen.
Carbon Meter: NEC has taken a proactive position on "green" issues. For example, the Eco mode button on the remote control is green, and the benefit of using Eco mode is reported with the NP216's "Carbon Meter". The Carbon Meter calculates the CO2 reduction that results from reduced power consumption in Eco mode and it displays the carbon reduction in Kg of CO2. That may not translate easily into monetary savings, but it is an intriguing step in the right direction.
Education Discounts: Reduced prices for classroom applications are not unusual, but the range of NEC's education discount programs is broader than most. In addition to preferred pricing, there are Cashback Rewards (currently $20 per NP216), seasonal promotions (e.g., buy five qualified projectors, get the sixth one free), and extended warranty periods (two additional years for a total of four years) for qualified educational institutions.
Maintenance: As with most DLP projectors, there is no air filter to deal with in the NP216. Vacuuming the air intake occasionally is recommended, but other than that, the only real maintenance expense is replacing the lamp. The lamp is accessed through the top of the projector, so it is easy to replace even for ceiling mounts.
No User Memory: If your projector is shared with your colleagues, it is nice to be able to store your favorite presets and color settings in user memory. Unfortunately, that feature is missing from the NP216's repertoire, so you may have to tweak settings when it is your time to use the projector.
Placement Flexibility: With a modest 1.1:1 zoom lens, the NP216 provides limited projection distance variation for a particular image size. For example, when projecting a 100" diagonal image, the NP216 can only shift about ±9" from the screen and maintain that diagonal.
On-Screen Menus: There are 86 menu choices and status indicators, and it takes five main menus and 12 sub-menus to accommodate them all. Fortunately, the menus are intuitive and labeled clearly, but they are still more deeply layered than most.
Color Wheel Speed: If you've read about DLP projectors, you know that lower speed color wheels can cause "rainbow" effects. The NP216's 6-segment color wheel is no exception, and that means that some people may see RGB stripes intermittently when viewing fast moving video scenes. If this is a problem for you or your audience, you might take a look at NEC's NP410 which is the LCD equivalent of the NP216 with no rainbow artifacts.
No Digital Input: Like most competitors it its class, the NP216 lacks a digital input, so you won't be able to connect DVI and/or HDMI signals from your computers or DVD players. From a picture quality perspective, this is not serious limitation on an XGA projector. However it does mean that you need to run both video and audio cables to the projector if you want to use the onboard audio. An HDMI connection would have required just one cable.
While the NP216 is a good candidate for business presentations, it is particularly suited to classroom use. Data images are sharp and clear, but the NP216's video performance is its main attraction, especially since it requires no setting adjustments to put up a knockout image. An HDMI input would have been a nice addition, but all in all, the NP216 has nearly everything a classroom presenter needs, including mouse control from the remote. With its $813 street price offset by generous education discount programs and an extended warranty, the NP216 is an excellent classroom projector choice, and it deserves our highest value rating.