Casio has been making slim-profile projectors for a few years now, and their previous examples have been great presentation machines. Now, Casio's new line of "Green Slim" projectors combines the dimensions of their earlier Super Slim line with a new light source. The XJ-A130 uses Casio's new proprietary Hybrid Light Engine, combining an LED and a laser to create a picture that is brighter than other purely LED-based projectors. The XJ-A130 is the entry-level product in this line, and is rated at 2,000 lumens with 1800:1 contrast. This XGA projector features a 2.0:1 powered zoom lens and instant-off technology, potentially making a presenter's life much easier - especially when they can pack it into their briefcase, rather than a separate bag.
As Casio's new light source is still young, the XJ-A130 is a first-generation product in many ways. Light output is not where it's supposed to be for some projectors early in the production run. There's a lot of fan noise, and the projector gets hot during operation. We also noticed quite a few rainbows during use, which bodes ill for those sensitive to the artifact. Despite all of this, it has a great picture for data display, and at $799 it is priced competitively.
Low maintenance. The big buzz around this projector is Casio's new hybrid light source, which uses a combination of a red LED and a blue laser to create an image. As a result, it is supposed to be much brighter than many other LED projectors but also much longer in life than traditional metal halide lamps. While the technology is far from perfect (see the section on light output under Limitations), it shows some promise. The XJ-A130 is indeed brighter than most LED-based projectors we have seen, and is certainly far smaller than the few brighter examples which exist. Since the projector uses Texas Instruments' DLP technology, there is no air filter to clean or replace. In theory, the XJ-A130 will run until the light source finally gives out, which is estimated to take 20,000 hours.
Highly portable. The XJ-A130 is one of Casio's Green Slim projectors, with external dimensions of 11.75" x 8.25" x 1.675". That last dimension, as you might imagine given the "Slim" moniker, is height. The XJ-A130 is small enough to slip into a laptop bag or briefcase, making it easier to travel with than a portable projector in a traditional form factor. For portable presenters who are always trying to reduce baggage, especially with current baggage fees for air travel, having one fewer case to carry is a welcome improvement.
Instant off. The XJ-A130 has an instant off function, so you can start packing up immediately rather than waiting for the projector to cool down. "Instant" in this case is about two seconds, after which the fan shuts off and it's safe to unplug the power. This does not mean, however, that the projector is cool; it will still be quite warm for a few minutes afterwards. This is not a problem for most people; just make sure you don't place it in the same case as your prized wax figure collection or a bunch of chocolate bars.
Placement flexibility. The vast majority of portable projectors have very limited lensing. When shopping for a portable, it is common to see a zoom of 1.2:1 or less with manual adjustments and a fixed throw angle. Casio's XJ-A130, and indeed all of their Green Slim projectors to date, use a 2.0:1 zoom lens with powered zoom and focus. Over the entire range of the zoom, light output is only decreased by 23.5%, which is far less than the 40% which is not unusual for a 2.0:1 zoom. The XJ-A130 has a fixed throw angle offset of zero, so the bottom edge of the image will appear at the same height as the lens centerline. Still, compared to its peers, the XJ-A130 is head and shoulders above the others when it comes to placement flexibility.
There's also a feature called Zoom Memory. When enabled, it remembers the last used position of the zoom lens, which is ideal when you intend to use the projector in the same environment every day - such as in a conference room. However, the projector also has the option to turn this off, which resets the lens to its maximum wide angle setting each time upon startup. If you are on the road and trying to get your projector set up in a hurry, this removes any doubt about the current position of the zoom lens, which can save you a few seconds.
Image Quality. Technical limitations aside, the XJ-A130 produces a nice data picture. The inter-pixel gap is minuscule, so there is no screen door effect to speak of, even when standing right next to the screen. The standard operating modes do not overly emphasize highlights, as do many other DLP presentation projectors. Brightness uniformity is excellent; we took several readings and our minimum was still an impressive 86%. In the end, the projector has a smooth, evenly-illuminated image that is great for presentations and data graphics. Contrast is decent, though not among the best in its class; for the display of high dynamic range photographs, our recommendation would tend towards a higher-contrast projector. The XJ-A130 certainly has problems with light output and color accuracy, but the data picture it produces is not unpleasant or otherwise flawed.
Connectivity. The XJ-A130's connection panel doesn't look like much. The engineers at Casio opted to keep things simple, with an HDMI port, a VGA port, a small A/V jack for composite and L/R stereo (a breakout cable is included), and a serial port. There's also a Kensington lock point, in case you want to use the projector on a rolling cart. This simple arrangement keeps the projector small and easily portable while not depriving the user of possible connections. HDMI can take an adapter and display DVI, while VGA can take a breakout cable and display component video. About the only connection not covered by a breakout cable or adapter is s-video.
Warranty. The XJ-A130 has what might be the best warranty in the industry. The projector is fully guaranteed for three years from the date of purchase. No big deal, you say. I've seen that before, you say. Well, this warranty includes the light source as well. For three years (or 6,000 hours, whichever comes first), your projector is covered, including the LED/laser. This shows confidence on Casio's part that their new hybrid LED/laser engine will stand up to presentation use without giving out.
Pointer function. Pointers are fairly common in presentation projectors, whether they are laser pointers or simple graphics added to the projected image. The XJ-A130 uses the latter type, with the default being a yellow arrow. However, there are other options available: the cursor can be changed into a crosshair, a white gloved hand, or (and this is particularly useful) a simple horizontal rule, useful when looking at spreadsheets. It is much easier to draw the audience's attention to a particular line of text when you can underline it on-screen.
Brightness. The most obvious flaw in the XJ-A130 is light output. The XJ-A130 is advertised as a 2,000 lumen projector. Thus far we have tested four samples of the A130, two provided by Casio's marketing department and two acquired through retail purchase. Maximum measured brightness on the two samples provided by Casio marketing was 1098 and 1630 lumens, respectively. The two purchased samples measured a maximum of 1134 lumens and 1228 lumens. So three of the four samples have fallen over 40% short of the official spec.
Casio informs us that a lumen shortfall was seen on some of the initial production units due to a "slight misalignment of the mirrors in the light path." Casio believes this has been corrected, and states that each unit produced is tested according to the ISO 21118 protocol for lumen measurements.
Most projectors will "warm up" to their full light output over the course of 15 to 20 minutes, at which point they stabilize. We test projectors after this warm-up period, with ambient room temperature normally in the range of 72-74 degrees Fahrenheit. As it turns out, Casio's Green Slim projectors actually get dimmer, not brighter, as they warm up. After 10 minutes of operation, the XJ-A130 measures approximately 10% less bright than it does immediately after startup.
We also discovered that ambient temperature affects the lumen output of the Casio hybrid light engines. Casio notes that the ISO 21118 standard stipulates that testing be done in an ambient temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, or 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit. This is colder than our test facility, and colder than most typical conference rooms and classrooms. When we cooled our test area down to 64 degrees and remeasured, we found brightness was boosted by 5%.
The ISO 21118 procedures call for projectors to be measured after they have stabilized. Casio interprets stabilization as occurring on its solid state light engine immediately upon power up. Therefore, they take their measurements "within the first minute" of power-up. This enables them to record the brightest possible output, prior to the degradation that occurs after it warms up. This is another factor that has contributed to the wide range of measurements we have seen on these units. If our 1630-lumen test sample were measured in a cold room within one minute of startup, it would measure 1917 lumens--very close to the published specifications.
The problem with these measurements is that few people will be using these projectors in a 64-degree room, and presentations do not occur in the first minute of operation. So the ANSI lumen spec, when measured under these conditions, does not accurately reflect the actual brightness the user will get in normal operation.
Lumen degradation. While Casio claims that their light source is not subject to the degradation over time that normal metal halide lamps undergo, our test samples indicate otherwise. Over the course of 200 hours of use on two test units, lumen output degraded by 25% on both of them. The unit that initially measured 1228 lumens was putting out a maximum of 949 lumens after 200 hours, and the unit that initially measured 1630 lumens degraded to 1216 lumens.
It is important to note that this extended test was done running the units 24/7 until they accumulated 200 hours. We do not know whether the degradation we have seen would occur in more typical duty cycles where the units are turned on and off frequently. The tests simply indicate that this hybrid light engine is indeed subject to lumen degradation over time. More testing is required to determine how big of a problem this will be for the average user.
Color. Fresh out of the box, the XJ-A130 is nowhere near color balanced. Our test samples had a clearly visible green or purple cast, depending on the scene and the content. The projector has only rudimentary color controls, with one slider each for red, green, and blue. These can be found under the color temperature adjustments in the Image Adjustment 1 menu. The color controls are limited in their ability to correct the inherent color deficiencies.
In Eco mode, there are four color presets available: Standard, Graphics, Theater, and Blackboard. Each gives the image a different "feel;" Standard boosts saturation but has a bluish tint while Theater has more open midtones but looks greenish. These presets are not accessible in Eco Off mode, so those looking for slightly better color should stick to the Eco modes. Obviously, this comes at the expense of lumen output.
Still, even after adjustments, saturation is lacking and there is no way to adjust it--at least, not with the signals we were testing. We fed the projector 1080p over HDMI and native XGA over VGA, and both times the Image Adjustment 2 menu remained unavailable. If you were planning to use the XJ-A130 for photography or video display, you may want to consider other options.
Interestingly, after 120 hours of burn time, the color balance on the dimmer of the two XJ-A130's shifted, showing more red and less blue/green, which pushed it toward a more neutral and natural balance. Even though light output decreases, we preferred color balance after 120 hours to color balance fresh out of the box. We have not seen a similar improvement in color balance in the brighter of the two samples we have subjected to extended use testing.
Rainbow effect. The XJ-A130 is likely to display color separation artifacts, known colloquially as the rainbow effect. This is typically seen on DLP projectors with slower color wheel speeds. Since the XJ-A130 uses a dual light source, wheel speeds are not comparable with other projectors; the red component of the signal comes from an LED and does not use the wheel at all. The blue component comes from the blue laser, which the wheel passes into the blue channel. The green component is produced by the blue laser stimulating a phosphor on the color wheel, the light from which is deflected into the green channel. In the end, we were able to see rainbows even on still images, including on a plain white screen during our measurement of light output. During video, the effect was most pronounced under the usual circumstances, namely bright highlights in motion in a dark scene.
The frequency of rainbows is dependent on content, viewing distance, and the viewer's sensitivity to the phenomenon. When sitting further from the projected image, say at a distance of 2x the screen width rather than 1.5x, rainbows were less frequent. This is due to the fact that less eye movement is required to view the entire image.
Light scatter. Casio's Green Slim projectors share an amazing little lens; it crams the versatility of a 2.0:1 powered zoom into a package smaller than a roll of quarters. This versatility comes at a price, and in this case it is light scatter. Reflections within the lens and/or light engine cause considerable light scatter, which show up as blobs of unfocused light distributed around the projected image. These are not noticeable in rooms with ambient light, but in a darkened room you may notice stray light on the walls surrounding the screen.
Fan noise. The XJ-A130 has three lamp modes - Eco 2, Eco 1, and Eco Off. Eco 2 has the lowest light output of these modes and, consequently, the lowest fan noise. But Eco Off, which is the brightest mode--and the one used to generate the lumen readings above--causes the projector to kick into high gear, and fan noise gets louder to match. In a small room, this can cause distractions during presentations. Many users will want to forgo the maximum brightness and opt for eco modes that reduce the fan noise. Eco 1 mode offers a good compromise in that it does not radically cut lumen output while providing a significant reduction in fan noise. Eco 2 is much quieter, but it puts out less than half of the light that the projector does when in its maximum brightness configuration.
No USB port. Most of Casio's other Green Slim projectors have a USB port, which has a plethora of uses. It can be used with a USB flash memory stick to make PC-free presentations. It can be attached to Casio's optional WiFi adapter, allowing wireless presentation and control. As the XJ-A130 lacks this USB port, some of the advanced features found in more expensive models are missing. Since the next model in the line costs only $200 more and includes a USB port, a mobile presenter may wish to consider making the step up. Being able to use a USB stick rather than a laptop is an easy way to eliminate five pounds or more from your baggage.
The Casio XJ-A130 is exceptionally portable--its very slim design makes it more convenient to pack into a briefcase than just about any other portable projector on the market. Its long-life light source, reputed to be up to 20,000 hours, suggests that users will not be needing to spend another $300 every few thousand hours of use for replacement lamps. So for those who anticipate putting a lot of hours on their projector, total cost of ownership looks like it will be a big plus on this model.
Three of the four samples we tested fell far short of lumen specs, and two of those degraded another 25% after 200 hours of operation. So our tests so far indicate that the user should expect more like 1000 to 1200 lumens rather than the 2000 lumens indicated by the spec. Even at this reduced lumen performance, fan noise is high enough that many users will want to opt for one of the Eco modes, thereby cutting light even further.
Color performance is sub-par, and the projector should not be used in applications where color accuracy is at a premium. But with display material like text documents or perhaps PowerPoint slides where color accuracy is not a big issue, the XJ-A130 produces a clear and sharp image that is quite satisfactory. For those who crave the convenience of the slim design, don't need an exceptionally bright image, and look forward to never buying another replacement lamp, the XJ-A130 may be just the right fit.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Casio XJ-A130 projector page.