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The NEC LT240 & LT260: Simply Great Price/Performance

With the release of the LT240 and LT260 this month, NEC Solutions makes further strides in establishing itself as a leader in cost effective high performance video projection systems. These are commercial variations of the recently announced HT1000. However, though they are built for the commercial marketplace, they produce such superb video that many home theater enthusiasts will want to use them as dedicated home theater projectors.

The LT240 and LT260 are in fact the same projector internally. The only difference between these two models is that the LT260 has a brighter lens which gets more light onto the screen. That accounts for its higher ANSI lumen rating. That lens also has a longer throw distance for a given image size. So the model that is most appropriate for you will depend upon your throw distance restrictions and ambient light considerations. But from an image quality perspective, they are identical.

Product Overview

The LT240/LT260 are DLP-based products using Texas Instruments' new high contrast, 12 degree DDR DMD chip. They are native 4:3 format XGA resolution, and both carry a sparkling 1300:1 contrast ratio. The LT240 is rated at 1600 ANSI lumens, and the LT260 with its brighter lens is 2100 ANSI lumens. Both have an eco-mode which drops lumen output by about 20%, and drops fan noise from a whisper to virtually dead quiet.

The light engine features a four-segment RGBW color wheel that rotates at 120 Hz, commonly referred to as a "2x" rotation speed. All of NEC's LT series projectors use this wheel. (Note: readers who automatically correlate color wheel rotation speed to rainbow artifacts should note that NEC engineers have incorporated new electronics to reduce rainbow artifacts as compared to earlier products like the LT150z.)

The RGBW color wheel produces higher light output and lower contrast than the six-segment RGB-RGB color wheel used in the HT1000. (By the way, the HT1000's wheel also rotates at 120Hz or "2x", but because each rotation of the wheel delivers two complete RGB refresh cycles, this implementation is commonly referred to as a "4x" speed wheel.)

The optical system is environmentally sealed, which means that it will operate well without being affected by the presence of smoke and dust. Few projectors in this price range have this feature.

The LT240/LT260 is easily portable, weighing just 6.5 lbs, and measuring 10.2" wide, 11.8" long, and 4.7" high. A hinged handle folds into the casework and becomes invisible when not in use.

Connection panel inputs include two VGA 15-pin D-subs for RGB and component video, one composite jack, one S-video port, a USB Type A, a USB Type B, and two audio inputs, one for the video jacks and one for the VGA ports. There is also a monitor loop-through port, and audio out. For those who want to load presentation material onto the projector itself, a PCMCIA PC card slot is provided.

This product will take HDTV 1080i, 1080i/50, 720p, 480p, 480i, and PAL progressive/50. Color systems compatibility includes NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL, PAL-N, PAL-M, PAL-60, and SECAM.

There is no DVI input on these models. Though some videophiles will consider this to be unfortunate, it really isn't much of an issue. The projector does a stellar job with analog sources. So any improvement in image quality that might be gained via DVI would be very subtle at best. Therefore considering the LT240/LT260's image acuity and stability, as well as the prices these models are selling for, the absence of DVI is in our opinion a non-issue.

NEC has given you the ability to tweak to your heart's content. In addition to preprogrammed color temperature and gamma settings for presentation, graphics, video, movies, and so on, there are four user programmable settings as well. You have the ability to adjust gamma, perform color correction via independent red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow controls, set color temperature from 5000 to 10,000 degrees at preset increments. (One small complaint--there is no preset increment between 5000 and 6500 degrees. Classic B/W films are ideally viewed at 5400 degrees rather than the NTSC standard of 6500 degrees. But you can't quite get there on this projector, and 5000 degrees is a bit too warm.)

In terms of throw distances, if you have a small projection room the LT240 may offer the better solution. It will throw a 100" diagonal 4:3 image from a distance of between 10.25 to 12.3 feet lens to screen. The LT260 needs to be moved back to between 13 and 16 feet to produce the same 100" diagonal image. If you are installing it yourself, make sure to allow plenty of space around the unit for heat dissipation (this is true of any projector). Also plan an extra six inches behind the projector for cable connection since that is where the connection panel is.

Format and Set-up

Though this projector is native 4:3, you can set it up in either 4:3 or 16:9, and use a screen of your preferred format. If you aren't sure which set-up fits your needs, read the article on 4:3 vs. 16:9 before ordering your screen. But you have the option to install a 4:3 screen, and display 16:9 material with black bars at the top and bottom. Or you can use a 16:9 screen and display 4:3 material in the middle with black pillars on each side.

Performance

NEC has done a beautiful job with the LT240 and LT260. The high contrast DLP chip delivers solid black levels and ample contrast to produce a thoroughly satisfying and well-balanced image. Though the use of an RGBW color wheel usually tends to reduce color saturation, the contrast performance of the DLP chip makes up for the loss. The net result is that color saturation is quite sufficient, surpassing that of most DLP projectors and almost rivaling that of the best LCDs.

The color decoding has minor errors, but none that cause visibly erroneous representations on the screen. Flesh tones are entirely natural and well saturated. Reds are very close to ideal reds with very little of the irritating orange bias that is found in many competing units.

Scaling is improved over earlier NEC LT series units, and comparable to that on board the Sharp M20X. With a clean progressive scan signal, the projector will deliver as precise and detailed an image as is possible with XGA resolution. Users will find little need to add an external scaler to optimize performance.

Deinterlacing appeared to be above average by current standards in commercial projectors, but the internal deinterlacer can be bypassed by using 480p input. As is typical with most projectors, the composite video input is the least satisfying of the inputs and should be avoided due to the limitations of the signal itself. S-video is the next step up, but should also be avoided if you have a component video source available. Component-progressive scan input from our JVC XV-D723GD DVD player produced the stunning, sharp, beautifully scaled image that we were ultimately hoping to find. But with good progressive scan DVD players selling for under $300 these days, there is no excuse not to feed any projector a source of at least this quality.

Factory presets for brightness, contrast, color, hue, and sharpness were for the most part fairly close to optimal. So out of the box, the projector already looked impressive. We reduced brightness and contrast a few clicks, and bumped color up a notch or two. The only major adjustment was to sharpness, which we took to zero to get the smoothest, most natural image the projector is capable of. Once those adjustments were made, we settled back and enjoyed some truly beautiful images that just a year ago you'd have paid up to $10,000 for. We just had to chuckle at the fact that large screen front-projection video of this refined quality was now available at the price of a typical big screen TV.

Not all is entirely perfect though. A further word needs to be said about the "rainbow" artifacts that some people can detect in high motion scenes. This occurs when the red, green, and blue refresh rates lag the motion in the image due to the mechanical limitations of the color wheel. The first generation DLP machines had color wheels operating at 60 Hz. Some people were able to see rainbow effects on these machines and some were not. In the second generation, color wheels were accelerated to 120 Hz to reduce the magnitude of the error. This certainly reduced the number of people who were bothered by rainbows, but some still found it to be a problem.

Lately, projectors built exclusively for home theater have incorporated higher refresh rates by using a six segment color wheel. The purpose of this, in part, has been to further reduce the size of the refresh error and minimize visible rainbow artifacts.

What does all of this mean to you? Probably nothing if you are like most folks. Most people cannot detect rainbow artifacts on the latest machines no matter what the color wheel's speed is. However, there continues to be a small percentage of the population that can see them. For those unfortunate folks, single-chip DLP projectors with 2x speed color wheels are not the right solution. They should be considering either LCD or LCOS products that have no color wheels, and thus no rainbow artifacts. Or perhaps a DLP projector with a 4x or 5x wheel, although that does not ensure that the problem will be eliminated for those that are most sensitive to it. The only way to tell if you are among those that are sensitive to this artifact will be to see a DLP projector yourself, preferably the one you are thinking of buying.

With respect to rainbow effects on the LT240/LT260, the viewers in our lab test did not detect any rainbow artifacts. What we did detect in the lab was the best overall video performance we've yet seen in the low to mid $3,000 price range. NEC has made a significant contribution to the home theater industry with these two products that are intended for the commercial market. The LT240 and LT260 set new standards for video price/performance, and we are pleased to give them our strongest "buy" recommendation as dedicated home theater solutions.

NEC LT240 vs. the Sharp PG-M20X

Henceforth we will be advising potential buyers of the Sharp PG-M20X to consider also the NEC LT240. They are within a few hundreds dollars of each other on the street, and we believe the incremental investment to step up to the LT240 is worth it for several reasons.

First, the difference between 1600 and 1900 ANSI lumens is negligible, and not an issue that distinguishes these two units in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, the LT240 has an edge in the all-important areas of contrast, color accuracy and saturation. It has two RGB/component inputs as compared to the M20X's single input. And the fan noise which can be a distraction on the M20X is not a problem at all on the LT240.

The M20X has DVI whereas the LT240 does not. However, if you were to set up the LT240 with a good component-progressive DVD player and face it off against the M20X with DVI, we believe most consumers, not knowing what they were looking at, would choose the LT240 based upon absolute image quality. Thus we believe most buyers will find the LT240's superior image quality, dual component inputs, and quiet fan to be worth the extra money.

NEC LT240/LT260 vs. Piano Avanti HE-3200

The Piano Avanti HE-3200 at its current price of $3,299 is street priced right between LT240 and LT260. At this writing and based on these prices, we would recommend either the LT240 or the LT260 over the Piano for everyone except those who may be particularly sensitive to rainbow artifacts. The Piano has a 4x color wheel that will mitigate rainbows to a greater degree than those you might find on the LT's.

But the LTs have a decided edge in contrast and lumen output over the Piano, making them more versatile with larger screen implementations. Moreover, the NEC units do not manifest the orange bias in the red channel that we saw on the Piano. Fan noise, which is silent on the Piano, is equally silent on the NEC machines. The Piano has DVI, but for reasons noted previous, we do not consider this to be a significant issue on the LTs. And the NEC units have a decided resolution edge in HDTV, since they have XGA resolution chips.

See NEC LT240 specs and dealers
See NEC LT260 specs and dealers



Buy the NEC HT1000 online here:

 

Buy the NEC LT240 online here:

 

Buy the NEC LT260 online here:

 

Buy the PLUS Home Piano Avanti HE-3200 online here:

 

Buy the Sharp PG-M20X online here: