In May of this year, PLUS Corporation of America announced the U2-1130. At 5.7 lbs and 1300 ANSI lumens, it was the brightest projector yet in its weight class. It represented a notable performance breakthrough, although it was upstaged by the even more buzz-worthy release of PLUS's 2.9 mini-projectors (to be reviewed on this site soon).
One month later, InFocus Corporation responded with its own announcement of the LP350. The LP350, also rated at 1300 ANSI lumens, comes in a slightly larger 6.7 lb package. Both of these products commenced shipments in August. ProjectorCentral is pleased to bring you the first showdown, side-by-side comparison review of these two hot XGA products.
The U2-1130 and the LP350 are similar in a number of respects. Both are single-chip DLP machines with 0.9" diagonal native XGA resolution (1,024 x 768, 4:3) chips. They are both rated at 1300 ANSI lumens. They both have manual zoom/focus lenses and digital keystone correction. And they are priced the same with MSRPs just under $7,000.
That's about where the similarities end. Notable differences include the following:
Lamps. The U2-1130 has a 150-watt UHP lamp with a life of 1,000 hours. Conversely, the LP350 has a 270-watt SHP lamp with a life of 2,000 hours. So keep in mind that the PLUS's smaller lamp will throw of noticeably less heat in a small conference room. However the U2-1130 will use twice as many lamps over its life as will the LP350. Users who plan to put a lot of hours on their units should price the lamps and factor lamp replacement costs into the cost of ownership.
Fan noise. Neither of these projectors is silent. On the other hand neither is excessively loud. However, relatively speaking, the LP350 fan is both quieter and lower in pitch than that of the U2-1130. Thus the LP350 is by a noticeable difference the more audibly unobtrusive of the two.
Carrying weight. The U2-1130 projector itself is spec'd at 5.7 lbs to the LP350's 6.7 lbs. However, nobody carries just the projector. Actual carrying weight figures should include, at minimum, the weight of the soft case, the power cord, the remote, and the signal cable. When these items are factored in, the total carrying weight of the U2-1130 is 7.8 lbs, and the LP350 is 10.0 lbs. even. The LP350 gains an extra 1.2 pounds due to the larger carrying case and the heavier custom signal cable. So there is a 2.2 lb difference in real traveling weight rather than the one pound difference that you find on the spec sheets.
Video signal compatibility. The LP350 is compatible with all standard NTSC, PAL, and SECAM formats as well as HDTV 1080i and 720p, whereas the U2-1130 is not HDTV compatible. Furthermore, the LP350 has DVI (digital video interface), while the U2-1130 does not. For those serious about getting the very best video quality possible, the DVI feature on the LP350 will be of particular interest.
Digital zoom and laser pointer. Some presenters want the ability to zoom in on a particular section of the projected image, and then pan from one section to another. If you are one of them, you will want the U2-1130 because the LP350 does not have this feature. The U2-1130 has it and it works quite well. Small details of text or financial data can be blown up to four times their standard size. Expansion of the image is smooth rather than in discrete steps, so you can expand the image to exactly the size you want it. Another presenter's feature on the PLUS unit is the laser pointer built into the remote control. The LP350 does not have this either.
SXGA Compression. If you want the ability to feed your projector an SXGA signal, you will need the PLUS U2-1130. It will accept and compress an SXGA signal whereas the LP350 won't take it.
On-board audio. The LP350 has one 2.5-watt speaker. The U2-1130 has a single 1-watt speaker. If you plan to use audio in small conference room presentations, the LP350 delivers more substantive sound for this purpose. If you plan to use these products in larger venues or for home theater, don't bother with the on-board audio on either of these products.
Warranty. InFocus offers a standard two-year warranty on the LP350 with overnight replacement during the first year. PLUS offers a three-year warranty on the U2-1130 with overnight loaner service during the first year.
Data Performance. For data presentations, whether Powerpoint-type sales material, spreadsheets, or whatever, both of these units perform quite well. Overall, they are on par with one another. The LP350 had a very slight advantage in sharpness, but nothing you would notice unless looking at them closely side by side. The U2-1130 on the other hand had a slight advantage in contrast, equally insignificant. The U2-1130's small advantage in contrast disappears if the presentation is being delivered in a room with low to moderate ambient light.
Both of these products have digital keystone correction, but the U2-1130's adjustments lend greater control with more satisfactory results. On our LP350 review sample it was difficult to achieve intermediate settings. As noted above, the U2-1130's digital zoom and pan, as well as the built-in laser pointer, give the user some presentation tools that are not available with the LP350. And for some frequent travelers, the fact that the U2-1130 is two pounds lighter in carrying weight may make some difference.
On the other hand, the LP350 has an advantage with its lower fan noise. It is the more comfortable unit to live with during a long presentation in a small conference room. And its longer-life lamp may make cost of ownership less expensive if you plan to put a lot of hours on the unit.
In our opinion, those would be the relevant buying factors in judging between these two projectors. There is no significant difference in the quality of the data image that would warrant a buying decision of one over the other.
Video Performance. Now although the LP350 and the U2-1130 deliver comparable data images, video is another matter. The video processing electronics in the LP350 are superior to those in the U2-1130. InFocus claims "Home Theater Quality" on this unit, and they aren't kidding. In fact, the LP350 is the strongest video performer that we've seen in the portable XGA category so far.
The LP350's internal deinterlacer produces a video image from a standard S-Video signal that is remarkably free of interlacing artifacts. This is one of the few projectors that has such a comprehensive internal doubler that the addition of the DVDO iScan line doubler as an accessory is not recommended for anyone but the most critical of viewers. The DVDO iScan does sharpen the image somewhat. But most buyers of this projector would probably judge the incremental $600 expenditure not to be worth the relatively marginal improvement.
(However, since we have DVDO iScan processors in the lab, my choice for optimum performance from the LP350 was to use the DVDO--it sharpened the image, but believe it or not, there was a penalty; The DVDO allowed a few more deinterlacing artifacts to slip through that were not present with the LP350's internal doubler.)
Furthermore, the LP350's internal scaler maps the 480-line NTSC image up to XGA resolution with a virtual absence of scaling artifacts. If you needed any evidence that technology has made amazing advances in scaling, just take one look at the LP350's incredibly stable image. I could not find one flaw that was attributable to a deficiency in scaling.
In comparison, the U2-1130's video processing is rather weak. The onboard doubler and scaler are both average in performance. The picture derived from the Sony DVP-S7700 DVD player's S-Video output was soft, relatively low in contrast, and hampered by delinterlacing artifacts and scaling noise as compared to the same signal being played by the LP350. We should hasten to add, however, that when compared to a typical big screen TV, the U2-1130 looks quite good. So if you are happy with your current big screen TV, you will love the U2-1130 and consider it to be a major upgrade. But video quality is a relative thing. And when the U2-1130 is up against the LP350 it doesn't fare quite as well.
However. Add the DVDO iScan to the U2-1130 and it's a different ballgame. This projector benefits enormously from the DVDO's superior signal processing. True, there are some remaining weaknesses related to the scaling which the DVDO does not address, but the combination comes much closer to equaling the LP350 and produces a very enjoyable video image that most home theater buffs would be happy with. In fact, the U2-1130 + DVDO produces an image that has a bit more snap (higher contrast) than that produced by the LP350. But for a very strange reason...
Light control on the LP350--there ain't any!
Folks, you aren't going to believe this. But InFocus has produced an exceptional video projector with some of the most advanced signal processing electronics that can be found anywhere inside the case of a digital projector. With one little flaw. Extraneous light spills out the front grill of the LP350 like water over Niagara Falls. For data projection, this is no big deal. The LP350 delivers plenty of contrast for whatever sales or financial presentation you want to make. But for a projector that is marketed as "Home Theater Quality" this constitutes a design flaw.
Here is a fact: When the projector is on, if you turn off all the lights in the projection room and block the lens completely, there should be no light on the screen. However, when you do this with the LP350 and move your hand in front of its front air intake grill, you will see the black shadow of your hand move across your screen.
That shadow is telling you that the uncontrolled light from the projector is hosing your contrast ratio. And not by just a little bit. The uncontrolled light from the LP350's front grill is enough to drop the effective contrast ratio by 50%. When you can see the difference between the black shadow of your hand and the dark gray of the area not in shadow, you know this-the blackest any black in your video image will ever be is the dark gray of the unshadowed area.
On the LP350 uncontrolled non-image light also emerges from the lens itself. A larger circle of dim light is visible all around the projected image. When this light reflects off the ceiling, or other objects in the room and happens to bounce into the screen it has the effect of reducing the potential contrast of the image. So the bottom line is this: as good a job as the InFocus engineers did on the electronics, they fumbled the ball on the control of light.
How big of a problem is the light leakage on the LP350?
Well, it is not catastrophic. The LP350's internal DLP light engine is technically capable of producing a first class video image with very high contrast. With the reduction in contrast due to light leakage factored in, the image is still amazingly good--just not as good as it would be without the light leaks. And it's not a flaw that anyone but the serious home theater enthusiast would be concerned with, or even notice for that matter. It's just a shame that a projector of this caliber would have its performance diminished by something as trivial as uncontrolled light.
Furthermore, those who want to use the LP350 for home theater can mitigate the problem to a large degree by installing a blind in front of the projector that will block the scattered light from reaching the screen. (If you do this, make sure not to place it so close to the grill that it inhibits air intake...the projector needs unrestricted airflow to maintain normal operations.)
While we are at it, the PLUS U2-1130 is not free of this problem either. There is uncontrolled light from the front grill of the U2-1130 that hits the screen as well. It is not nearly as bad as on the LP350, but it will cast a dim shadow of your hand in a darkened room as well. However, the U2-1130 does a much better job controlling light that is emitted from the lens itself. The end result is that, with the DVDO, you get an image that is a bit higher in contrast than the LP350 unless you go to the trouble of inhibiting the LP350's scattered light externally.
One final observation that should be made about both of these projectors pertains to color accuracy. Due to the fact that they are single-chip DLP systems, they lack the precise control of color that some home theater videophiles would want. Most viewers wouldn't notice the deficiencies here--your neighbor's reaction to either projector will be "Wow, that's a fantastic picture!" Especially if he has a big screen TV. However, the videophile will want reds to be exactly red rather than a slightly orangish-red. On our test units, the LP350 was better than the U2-1130 in terms of color accuracy, but neither was perfect.
Both the PLUS U2-1130 and the InFocus LP350 will sell extremely well. They are both fine products, each with a slightly different market niche.
The U2-1130 is the right choice for the buyer looking for an excellent presentation tool that is versatile, lightweight, and pound-for-pound the brightest in its class. In a secondary role, the U2-1130 can be used as a very acceptable video projector. If the buyer wants the best possible video performance from this product and is willing to go an extra $600 for the DVDO iScan processor, the U2-1130 will serve the needs of both portable presentation and very good quality home theater.
The LP350 is the better choice for the buyer who needs a portable presentation device, doesn't mind the extra couple of pounds carrying weight, doesn't require a digital zoom feature or SXGA compatibility, but who wants extra performance in video. This product is made for dual purpose portable presentation and home theater use. It is a good home theater projector as it is. The serious home theater user who will go to great lengths to get the best possible video can add the DVDO iScan and some external baffles to block unwanted light, thereby turning the LP350 into an exceptional home theater performer.