NEC's new MultiSync LT155 deserves all of the attention that it will undoubtedly get in the coming months. Why? Well first, it has broken a couple of significant barriers. The LT155 is the world's first sub-5 lb LCD projector. And at the moment its 1200 ANSI lumen output makes it the world's brightest sub-5 lb projector.
Furthermore, it is one of the very few projectors in its weight class to offer an on-board PC card reader. So you can download presentations and go to your presentation PC-free. All of that is enough to make the LT155 a strong contender for the traveling presenter.
However, the LT155 adds yet another dimension. One can reasonably assert that, at the present time, it delivers the best video quality of any projector in its weight class. So good in fact that many home theater buyers will want to ceiling mount this little gem and use it as a dedicated home theater unit.
It is rare to find a projector that can compete well in both the portable presentation and home theater markets independently without relying on a dual-application requirement of the user. But if there ever was such a product, the LT155 is it.
Size. The LT155 is at this writing the smallest LCD projector on the market. Only 9.6" long and 8.2" wide, it is smaller than a standard notepad. And with a height of only 2.5" it can fit easily into any reasonable sized briefcase.
Light engine. The light engine consists of three 0.9" native XGA resolution LCD polysilicon panels and a 130-watt lamp. In its High-Bright mode, the system produces 1200 ANSI lumens of brightness. And if run in High-Bright mode exclusively the lamp has a 1000-hour life. However, you can choose to run in Eco-mode, which reduces the lumen output by 30%, but doubles the lamp life to 2000 hours. Most home theater users will want to operate the unit in High-Bright. But presenters will often find that the economy mode is more than adequate for a Powerpoint or Excel spreadsheet presentation to a small audience.
Inputs. The LT155 takes an impressive array of input signals. It accepts VGA through UXGA (1600 x 1200), compressing both SXGA and UXGA into its native XGA format. It accepts both interlaced and progressive component video, NTSC, PAL, SECAM, and NTSC 4.43, and HDTV (1080i, 720p, and 480p).
Aspect ratios include both 4:3 and 16:9. DVDs can be displayed in anamorphic format in cinema mode.
Digital keystone. There is a digital keystone adjustment to a maximum of 45 degrees upward and 15 degrees downward. The feature is quite usable for Powerpoint presentations. For detailed financial data, you will want to avoid aggressive keystone adjustments as they tend to blur some of the image detail. Home theater users interested in optimum video quality should never use this feature on this or any other projector.
Zoom lens. There is a manual zoom lens, but it has a very modest 1.15x zoom factor. In practical terms, that means the size of your projected image will be determined almost exclusively by the distance of the projector to the screen. The zoom will help you make slight adjustments to get the image to fit just right on a screen, but that's about it. Based on the focal length of the lens, a 60" diagonal (4:3) image can be thrown from 8.5 feet, and a 100" diagonal image requires a throw distance of 14 feet.
PC Card Reader. The LT155 has a small PC card reader that takes a CompactFlash memory card. A CompactFlash card holds 1/4 the volume of a standard PCMCIA card. So keep in mind that there is more of a file size restriction on this system that there is on larger projectors with standard PCMCIA readers. On the other hand, most projectors in this weight class don't have this feature at all.
Connection panel. The connection panel includes a mini 15-pin D-Sub for RGB and component video input, an audio input jack, an S-video and composite video jack, an 8-pin PC control port, a USB terminal and the card reader slot.
Auto-sense. The LT155 does what I wish many other projectors would do-it automatically senses the type of incoming signal that its getting adjusts accordingly. For example, when I flip the toggle switch on my DVD player from 480p to 480i, the LT155 recognizes the shift from progressive to interlaced, makes the adjustment and continues on with the display as if nothing happened. On many competing units one has to go into the menu and physically select the new signal format in order to get the projector to understand what's going on. For those who will be feeding a variety of computer and video formats into the VGA port, this is a very convenient feature.
On-screen annotations. For presenters who want to highlight and annotate the screen in real time during a presentation, the LT155 can do this but you must attach a USB mouse to accomplish it.
Audible noise. The manufacturer's spec indicates a 35 dB rating for audible noise, which is very quiet. However, the projector achieves this only in Eco-mode. In High-Bright mode the fan noise is more apparent. Overall it is not objectionable and may be described as low to moderate. The fan noise in High-Bright mode is fairly typical of machines in its weight class. For permanent home theater installation, users may want to install a sound damping enclosure or semi-enclosure to muffle its operation. This is all relative to one's sensitivity however. I watched several movies on the LT155 with the unit perched on a shelf three feet behind my head. Most of the time I was not conscious at all of the fan noise even from that distance.
Audio. There is a single 0.5 watt speaker on board.
Service and support. NEC covers the LT155 with a three-year parts & labor warranty. During the first two years, the product is also covered by NEC's Insta-Care which provides either repair and return within three business days, or overnight replacement service. And if time is very critical and overnight is not fast enough, they'll put a replacement unit on the next available flight out.
The Contrast Issue. Good contrast is obviously important. And the LT155 is among the new breed of LCD projectors that are showing significant improvements in contrast compared to previous generations of LCD technology. DLP technology still delivers higher contrast as measured with a light meter. But the subjective visual difference in the performance gap between LCD and DLP has closed considerably.
The reason is this. It used to be that LCD delivered contrast ratios in the range of 100:1 to 200:1. DLP technology meanwhile was able to produce up to 400:1. At contrast ratios of 200:1 and lower, blacks tend not to look quite black but rather dark gray. So earlier LCD machines with lower contrast ratios produced images that did not sparkle with crisp black and white contrast quite like the DLPs did. Also, at low contrast ratios, the displays could not separate details in the shadows very well-they were muddled in various shades of dark gray. Hence the frequent comments that LCDs looked rather muddy compared to DLP.
With today's current crop of digital projectors, contrast ratios have improved across the board. LCD machine such as the LT155 are up to 400:1, and competing DLP machines are at 600:1, and in some cases there are claims of up to 800:1. However, a contrast ratio of 400:1 delivers a rather solid black. And even though a machine with contrast of 800:1 will render a statistically blacker black, the eye cannot as readily distinguish between "black" and "blacker black" as it can between "dark gray" and "black."
So in practical terms, the newer LCD projectors with 400:1 contrast ratios produce images with just about as much subjective "snap", or crispness as the DLPs. The DLP with a 600:1 or higher contrast ratio will still separate shadow details a little better than LCD at 400:1, but again the subjective difference in this regard has also been reduced to the point that it is not nearly the issue that it was in previous generations of these two technologies. LCD no longer looks muddy compared to DLP.
Competitive consequences of improved LCD contrast
At this writing all projectors under 5 lbs, with the exception of the LT155, are DLP-based machines. But the LT155 can match them in the sense that both technologies now have adequate contrast to deliver sparkling data presentations and emotionally pleasing video. So the factors that go into the buying decision focus on elements other than the "snap" of the image.
The other primary competitive strength of DLP technology has always been its comparative lack of visible pixelation. For any given native resolution both LCD and DLP machines produce the same number of pixels in creating the image on the screen. But on a DLP machine it is harder to see them. They are more visible on LCD, and the visibility of the pixels is what is commonly known as the screendoor effect.
For data presentations, pixelation is not really an issue. In fact LCD technology tends to deliver a slightly sharper data image due to the fact that the pixels are a bit better defined. But LCD technology's screendoor effect is much more objectionable in video. And this is one of the primary reasons DLP technology has been embraced by the home theater marketplace so enthusiastically in the last couple of years.
However LCD has more recently closed the gap in this regard as well. First, the higher resolution XGA machines have 64% more pixels per square unit of image area than do the SVGA machines. Since there are more pixels and each pixel is smaller, their visibility is reduced and the screendoor effect is mitigated somewhat. However, in addition to the increased resolution, some LCD-based XGA projectors such as the LT155 have Micro Lens Array (MLA) technology. MLA serves to boost the light efficiency of the engine and get a brighter image onto the screen. But a noticeable by-product of MLA is a further softening of the pixel structure.
In short, the LT155, as an XGA resolution product with MLA, has a reduced pixel visibility as compared even other LCD-based XGA products that do not have MLA. It is therefore capable of projecting a smooth, almost pixel-free image. Thus another traditional weakness of LCD as compared to DLP is no longer the problem that it once was.
Video performance. Perhaps the strongest competitive feature of the LT155 is the very high quality video that it produces. The image quality derives from several contributing factors. First are the attributes of good contrast and minimal pixelation just mentioned. Second, NEC's proprietary VORTEX image enhancement system produces outstanding color accuracy and saturation. Third, the unit is precalibrated to deliver relatively optimized video without the user needing to make a lot of adjustments after the fact.
In particular, many projectors (and televisions) need to be hand-adjusted for contrast and brightness to find the true optimal settings (see Getting Good Video for more info.) Most of the time this hand-calibration requires the brightness to be reduced considerably in order to achieve good blacks and shadow detail. This adjustment reduces the effective lumen output of the machine, sometimes by as much as 30% or more.
However, the LT155 came straight out of the box with the pluge (black level) setting calibrated perfectly. No reduction in the factory preset brightness control was required. So there was no need to sacrifice lumen output in order to get a properly balanced picture. The result is that the image you get on the screen from this 1200 ANSI lumen projector is brighter than the image you get from competing units with comparable lumen ratings that need to be recalibrated after the fact.
The strongest competitive benefit of LCD over DLP has always been color accuracy. The LCD system enables independent control of red, green, and blue, allowing for more precise color calibration. In addition, many of the single-chip DLP products tend to manifest a slight greenish-yellow bias to the image that is absent from LCD-based machines. Accordingly, the natural, well-balanced color produced by the LT155 is, due to the LCD technology and the VORTEX enhancement system, superior to that which has yet been achieved on any of the portable single-chip DLP products.
The LT155 is HDTV compatible, and will accept both 1080i and 720p. It will also accept 480p, making it compatible with any progressive scan DVD player and external line doubler. The finest quality DVD images will be achieved by using either a progressive scan DVD player or a home theater PC. And with a projector of this caliber, the investment in a progressive scan DVD player (no longer a significant cost item by the way) is strongly recommended.
Overall, the video quality of the LT155 can be summed up as follows: outstanding color, very good contrast, surprisingly muted pixelation, and outstanding lumen output for a projector in its weight class. For home theater it is an excellent price/performer regardless of weight class. At this writing it is a price/performance leader for both portable presentation and home theater. For those who need high performance in a 5 lb package the LT155 should not be overlooked.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our NEC LT155 projector page.