Brilens Technology LS1280 Laser/LED Hybrid Portable Projector
Brilens Technology Co. is a relatively new projector maker based in Changsha, China. They don't have any distribution in the United States other than through Amazon. Their latest DLP-based 1280x800 projector, the Brilens LS1280, has drawn attention due to an attractive array of specs: a hybrid laser/LED light source with a 50,000 hour predicted life span, a 3800 lumen brightness rating and 50,000:1 contrast. It has a slim, portable "carry in your briefcase" type design that weighs just over 5 pounds. For the asking price of $999, it appears to be a reasonable value proposition. So when the Brilens marketing folks took the proactive step to send it to us for review it we decided to take a look.
At the outset we must note that there is some confusion about several of the specs. Though this projector is advertised on Amazon as having a 50,000 hour light source, a Brilens manager quoted it as 20,000 hours in a recent video interview. We have seen the contrast ratio quoted in Brilens materials at both 50,000:1 and 100,000:1. The warranty has been quoted as either one year or two years. And though the brightness rating is a whopping 3800 lumens, our test unit measured a maximum of 750 lumens, leading us to conclude that there is an error in the official lumen spec.
Last summer we reviewed several of the very cheap $200 projectors coming direct from China and being sold on Amazon under brands such as Digital Galaxy, Fugetek, and HTP (see review). These products are as bad as it gets when it comes to quality and performance--junk projectors at the bottom of the barrel. The Brilens LS1280 is definitely not in that junk class. Using a DLP engine with a hybrid laser/LED light source, it represents a much more serious attempt at designing a viable projector. And once it is tuned up properly it can deliver a solid, watchable picture. Moreover, the fact that the Brilens team sought us out for review indicates a level of professionalism that we have not seen from other Chinese brands. As will become evident, we were not quite as enthused by this particular product as they are. But this is a group that has the potential to produce some interesting products going forward once they get beyond their initial learning curve.
The Brilens LS1280 came elegantly packed in a glossy white clamshell box which gives an initial impression of quality and company pride. It is compact and slim, standing at a height of just 2.7 inches, with a footprint of 10" x 7.5". The projector itself weighs 3.5 lbs., and a separate outboard power supply with cables is an additional two pounds. So the whole rig including a quality fabric carrying case brings total tote weight up to 6.5 lbs. For some reason the published specs on Amazon list the LS1280's weight at 7.7 lbs, which is wrong, but it is quite refreshing to see a spec err on the conservative side for a change. Most manufacturers would call this a 3.5 lb. projector and hope you don't notice the power brick. (As an alternative to AC power, the LS1280 apparently has a battery option, but the battery did not come with our test sample so we can't comment further on it.)
The Viewing Experience
Right out of the box, the LS1280 does not look particularly good. In its preset color modes (Dynamic, Standard, and Movie) the picture is oversharpened, oversaturated, and way out of color balance. And you have no access to picture controls in any of these operating modes to fix it--all settings for brightness, contrast, color, tint, and sharpness are locked and grayed out. Thankfully there is a fourth choice that does give you access to the picture controls - User mode. This gives you the freedom to adjust the picture and tune it up to where it looks a lot better than it does under the factory default settings.
Once you are in User mode, significant adjustments need to be made to sharpness, color saturation and RGB color balance, but once these are made the LS1280 is capable of producing a smooth, clean image with very high contrast and impressive three-dimensionality and shadow detail. It also delivers reasonably decent black levels, and acceptable if not fully accurate color balance. One needs to keep in mind that this is not a home theater projector. It is only 1280x800 resolution and it does not have the more extensive color and gamma controls required to dial in high performance home theater quality. But the picture that it can produce after some tweaking is quite acceptable for relatively inexpensive consumer movie and gaming use. Stop signs look red, grass looks green, and flesh tones look acceptably natural. Serious home theater enthusiasts will notice the inaccuracies, but most typical consumers probably won't.