Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
Since the introduction of pico projectors, people have looked at them as solutions for home entertainment. We can see why; they are highly portable, very inexpensive, and the lamp never needs replacing. However, they have some downsides, such as low resolution, minuscule lumen output, and the inability to adjust color. An exciting alternative to the pico for home entertainment is the NEC NP115. This SVGA (800x600) DLP projector costs only $399, which is no more than a decent pico projector. But it has higher resolution than most of them, a much brighter 2500 lumen picture, better contrast, adjustable color, a 5,000 hour lamp life, and a seven-watt speaker. The NP115 is inexpensive, fully-featured, and video looks great. If you want the big picture experience for not a lot of money, look no further.
Image quality. Since the NP115 was designed to be used with text and data graphics, you might be wondering why we are discussing it for video. The short answer is "because it looks good." Our preferred preset for film and video is Movie mode, which tones down highlights and uses a warmer color temperature setting than the more presentation-oriented selections. In Movie mode, our test unit put out 1030 lumens, which is bright enough for a 100" diagonal image even with significant ambient light. Highlights do not appear blown out. Contrast is such that shadow detail is maintained very well, and there is no crushing of deep shadows. Color is well saturated and vibrant. Standard-definition DVDs are sharp and detailed, and the NP115 compresses HD signals without making a mess. Though the projector has only native 800x600 resolution, it will take up to a 1080i signal from a Blu-ray player. The resulting picture is much tighter and cleaner than standard DVD, and it is an excellent value for the money.
Light output. The NP115, as a presentation projector, is plenty bright. Out of a rated 2500 lumen maximum, our test sample measured 2343 lumens using the High Bright image preset. For video, we preferred Movie mode, which brought white balance closer to the ideal 6500 degrees Kelvin. Movie mode measured 1030 lumens with the lamp on full power, and eco-mode reduced it to 887 lumens, or a 14% drop. This is still plenty of light for a 100" to 120" 4:3 screen, and even some ambient light is permissible if required. Running in eco-mode not only produces plenty of light, but it extends lamp life to 5000 hours and reduces fan noise to boot.
On a smaller screen or in a dark viewing room, 887 lumens might be too much light. On the other hand, in a brighter room, you might require even more light. The NP115 has image modes suitable for several viewing environments. For rooms with excellent light control, sRGB mode boosts contrast, deepens black levels slightly, and produces 492 lumens in eco-mode. Presentation mode, on the other end of the spectrum, produces 2034 lumens with better color fidelity than that found in High-Bright. For photos, Graphic mode combines a bright picture, at 1364 lumens, with good color saturation. Eco-mode can be applied to any of these image modes, reducing output by 14%. As you can see, the NP115 covers a wide range of lumen output, from 423 (sRGB, eco-mode) up to 2343 (High-Bright, high lamp).
Contrast. The NP115's great video image is not the result of any one factor, but contrast certainly plays a part. The image on screen has plenty of depth and dynamic range, giving it a very three-dimensional appearance. Black level is not as deep as you'd find on more expensive home theater models, but shadow detail is not crushed, either. The end result is a great-looking picture that pops off the screen.
7W speaker. In case you're looking for a truly portable solution, the NP115 includes a hefty 7-watt monaural speaker. This speaker is adequate for applications like slide shows or children's video games, but the lack of stereo would be a hindrance for movies. When pushed to maximum volume the speaker is quite loud, though it takes on a tinny character at the upper end of the volume range. For consistent home entertainment use with film or video games that don't cater to children, we would recommend an external speaker system.
Inexpensive. The NP115 is inexpensive not just to purchase but also to maintain. Sure, at purchase it will only set you back about $399. But one of the reasons people have been turning to pico projectors for home entertainment is for their LED light sources, which last many times longer than a high-pressure lamp. The NP115 does not have an LED lamp, but it does have the next best thing: its lamp lasts 5,000 hours in eco-mode. That amounts to one two-hour movie per day, seven days a week, for almost seven years. And if you ever use up this lamp, replacements cost only $179. The bottom line is that very low purchase price, a 5000 hour lamp life, and inexpensive lamp replacement means very low cost of ownership. It is an excellent, price-competitive alternative to pico projectors.
Sharpness and clarity. The NP115, as an SVGA projector, is going to have more visible pixelation than a higher-resolution projector would. But the inter-pixel gap is quite small and sharpness is excellent. Sitting at 1.5 times the screen width, it becomes almost impossible to make out individual pixels, so visible pixelation becomes a non-issue at this distance. Scaling of higher-resolution content is performed cleanly, so an HD signal looks sharp and detailed even though the NP115 is not an HD projector.
Quiet operation. The NP115's noise rating of 34dB is higher than most home theater projectors and even higher than some presentation projectors. However, during use the fan noise from the NP115 was not a significant distraction. Fan noise is low in pitch, so while it is certainly easy to hear, it is also easy to ignore. It is even quieter in low lamp mode, though the difference between the two is not large and the fan in high lamp mode is reasonably easy to live with. Unless you are watching a movie with the volume turned very low, or sitting within a few feet of the projector, the NP115's audible noise should not cause any serious distraction.
Quick start. This is more a concern for presenters than video enthusiasts, but the NP115 can go from a cold start to an image on-screen in less than five seconds. After this point, the projector warms up and increases in brightness gradually over the next ten minutes. By minimizing the set-up time required for your presentation, you run less risk of boring the people in your audience. At home, it's less critical, but still convenient. Less warm-up time means more movie and less waiting.
Placement flexibility. The NP115 has a 1.10:1 manual zoom lens and a fixed throw angle, as do many presentation projectors. The NP115 can display a 120" diagonal 4:3 image from 15' 6" to 17' 4", depending on zoom. If you wish to sit at 1.5 times the screen width, the projector will need to be placed behind the seats. Due to the fixed upward throw angle, there are some limitations to consider. Placing the projector on a rear shelf or a freestanding shelf behind the seats is a possibility, but the projector will need to be tilted and the image squared up using keystone correction. A ceiling mount will often work out well in a room with normal ceiling height. The throw angle is relatively mild; the bottom edge of the image appears 15% above the centerline of the lens (when the projector is inverted in a ceiling mount, the top edge appears below the centerline). For a 120" diagonal image, this is a little bit less than 11". So, when using a ceiling mount, a drop tube may not be necessary.
Rainbows. Like all DLP projectors with 2x speed color wheels, people sensitive to the rainbow effect can see it on the NP115. The effect is at its most noticeable on a large screen when the viewer is sitting closer than 1.5 times the screen width. In this situation, the viewer's eyes must move across the screen more frequently than when one is seated farther away. The content most likely to induce the effect involves bright highlights against a dark background, especially when those highlights move across the screen - say, in a long panning shot, or a nighttime action sequence.
No digital input. The NP115 lacks a digital input. A digital input isn't necessary to get a great picture out of the projector, but it would be a handy convenience feature. Since most home theater signal sources use HDMI these days, it's an easy thing to connect HDMI to HDMI--especially since it also carries audio. Since the NP115 doesn't have an HDMI port, the best video connection to use is component video. You should end up with the same video quality, but you'll need to use a component cable and a component-to-VGA adapter. If you want audio as well, you'll need to use a separate connection.
4:3. Since the NP115 has a native 4:3 aspect ratio, black bars are present on the top and bottom of the picture when watching widescreen 16:9 content. The good news is that you can use the NP115 on a 16:9 screen and allow the black bars to fall off the top and bottom, creating a very appealing picture. The bad news is that once you do this, you'll need to adjust the zoom before displaying 4:3 content, since there isn't a way to put the 4:3 picture inside the 16:9 frame. This is only really a concern if you see yourself switching back and forth often, and those who plan to stick with 16:9 or 4:3 all the time have no need to worry.
When shopping for a projector for film and video, the best choice is a projector designed for home theater. But when you do not need the deep black levels and high-definition resolutions provided by these projectors, or simply want to put up a big picture on a budget, projectors like the NEC NP115 are great options. The NP115 gives you a big, bright, detailed picture with excellent color for only $399. You can watch Blu-ray movies over component video with the use of an inexpensive adapter, and the result is simply breathtaking for the money invested - a big, bright, bold picture with plenty of detail. Whether you want to watch movies in your back yard or play video games with your children without burning hours on your more expensive projector, the NP115 is an affordable, attractive projector for home entertainment.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our NEC NP115 projector page.