Recommended Home Theater Projectors
InFocus LP350 and NEC LT155
Both of the projectors in the "recommended" category are exceptional video performers that nevertheless have an issue or two that keep them distinct from the "highly recommended" machines. The LP350 and the LT155 compete head-to-head at virtually the same price points on the street. This is a comparative commentary.
The LP350 is an XGA-resolution DLP projector that sells on the street for under $4,500 these days. At 1300 ANSI lumens it is a reasonably bright machine, and its 400:1 contrast is good but not exceptional for a DLP. The product has several major strengths. First, the XGA resolution DLP technology ensures a smooth, pixel-free image.
Second, the internal line doubler and scaler are among the best that can be found in portable digital projectors these days. The image produced by the LP350 with an S-video feed from a DVD player is amazingly artifact-free.
Third, the LP350 has digital visual interface (DVI). This enables it to accept a digital signal from a computer with DVI output. Why is that a good thing? The image information is digital on the DVD, and it is read and transferred all the way to the projector's DLP chip without ever suffering a conversion to analog. The result is a jitter-free image that is as sharp as it gets. So if you have a PC with DVD that is set up to output DVI, Dolby Digital, and (hopefully) DTS, you have the perfect match for optimizing home theater performance on the LP350.
Fourth, the LP350 has decent HT connectivity for a projector its size. If you have a home theater computer with DVI, you run the signal into the DVI port. If you have a standard DVD player, you run the signal into the S-video jack. Either way, your HDTV processor can feed its signal into the RGB port. (Feel free to pretend the composite jack is not there. No matter what source you feed through the composite jack, the picture is terrible due to the signal. Not only that, but if you have a source connected to the S-video jack and turned on, even in stand-by mode, you cannot access the composite feed anyway.)
So, what's the problem?
The LP350 has a few flaws that make it less than perfect (all projectors do of course). The primary problem is color accuracy. Since this is a typical DLP machine, you don't have the control over color that you'd like. Everything is relative though. Given how poorly most of the nation's televisions are calibrated, a lot of people are used to bad video. To them the LP350 will look like a stunning improvement. Nevertheless, serious home theater enthusiasts often prefer to have color as accurate and natural as possible, and that elusive perfection is not possible to achieve with most single-chip DLP machines (NEC's LT150 being a notable exception). Whether this is an issue for you is a matter of personal taste.
The LP350 does not accept component video, either interlaced or progressive. This isn't as huge a flaw on the LP350 as you might imagine. First, the major benefit of component video is better color, but with the DLP's color limitations there is only so much the projector could do with that improved signal anyway. Second, the inability to accept a progressive scan signal is mitigated by the fact that the internal line doubler is first rate. So you end up with quite a stable picture from S-video anyway. Third, if you use DVI for your DVDs, that's your progressive DVD signal right there, so there's less of a need for it on the RGB port.
These limitations exist on the lower cost LP340 as well. But for under $3,000 we can accept them as part of a good compromise. For the higher performance LP350, they become more of an issue since the NEC LT155, priced almost the same as the LP350 on the street, does a much better job with color and is able to handle component video, both interlaced and progressive, quite nicely.
The LT155 is a 3-panel LCD projector rated at 1200 ANSI lumens and a 400:1 contrast ratio. Street prices currently run in the mid-$4,000's.
Like the Sanyo PLC-XP21N, the LT155 features Micro Lens Array (MLA) on its native XGA resolution panels. The effect is the same, in that pixel structure is visibly reduced compared to standard XGA machines. On the LT155 pixels can be rendered virtually invisible by setting the focus just slightly off perfect.
To do this, first set focus to optimum, which is where pixels are maximally distinct when viewed close up. Then twist the focus ring ever so slightly, such that the pixels fuzz just a little bit without losing their integrity as discreet pixels. At this setting, from a normal viewing distance of about twice the screen width, the pixels will disappear entirely without creating a noticeable degradation of image sharpness.
The most impressive attribute of the LT155 is the beautiful natural color that can be achieved with a little tweaking and calibration effort. Brightness and contrast controls are provided for the red, green, and blue channels, and the system has selectable color matrices for different component video signal types. A color temperature selector enables you to choose a neutral temperature near 6500 Kelvin for color material. It can be switched easily to a warmer setting that is better for viewing classic black and white films. None of these color controls exist on the LP350.
Contrast is very good compared to most LCDs, and on par with the LP350. Both of these machines deliver solid blacks and crisp whites in well-lit scenes, and tend to lose detail in shadow areas and dark scenes.
The trade-offs are these. First, pixels are purely invisible on the LP350; on the LT155 (an LCD machine w/ Micro Lens Array), pixels are very subtle and can be made close to invisible by tweaking the focus as described above. Yet there is a slight advantage to the LP350 in this regard.
Second, the LP350 has better connectivity. The LT155 has one port through which HDTV and component-progressive DVD must be fed, making an external switch necessary if you want to hook up both simultaneously. In fact, the LT155's limited connectivity is the one limitation that causes us to list this projector as "recommended" rather than "highly recommended."
Third, the LT155 has the decided advantage in color. When properly calibrated the LT155 image has a natural beauty that the LP350 simply can't match.
Fourth, the LP350 has a 270-watt lamp. It will tend to heat up a room more quickly than the 130-watt lamp on the LT155. On the other hand, the LP350's lamp life is 2000 hours to the LT155's 1000 hours. So lamp replacements should be calculated into the cost of ownership.
Throw distance is roughly the same on both machines. You need about 14 feet to throw a 100" diagonal 4:3 image.
Bottom line--both of these products are very strong video performers for the money. Both are recommended. They are different, and one will suit you more than the other based on your personal preferences about what's most important to you.
Prices on all digital projector products, and portables in particular, are extremely volatile. Checking current street prices by talking to dealers directly is always recommended. On average the NEC LT150 sells at street prices somewhat higher than both the LP350 and the LT155. It is both lower in lumen output and higher in contrast than either the LP350 and LT155. If you can stretch your budget a bit more, the NEC LT150 is rated higher than both of these in overall image quality. But each projector has unique offerings, and for the money, the LP350 and the LT155 are solid products.