NEC UM330X XGA 3LCD Projector
Projector Central Highly Recommended Award

Highly Recommended Award

Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.

  • Performance
  • 5
  • Features
  • Ease of Use
  • Value
Price
$1,209 MSRP Discontinued

NEC was one of the first companies with an ultra short throw projector, but hasn't had an interactive model until now. The UM330X changes that, with an interactive option that you can either buy separately or as part of the UM330Xi-WK1, which also includes the projector and a wall mount. The price for the full package hasn't been determined at this writing, but NEC says it will be about the same as buying the pieces separately, at $1099 for the projector, $489 for the interactive option, and $119 for the mount.

With or without interactivity, the UM330X is a capable 1024x768 model. Rated at 3300 lumens, it was even brighter in my tests. And it's equally bright whether you're using it interactively or not. Being LCD based also means that it can't show rainbow artifacts and that its color brightness matches its white brightness.

Even better, the UM330X delivers excellent data image quality, watchable video, and reasonably good sound quality with high enough volume to be useful. Since you can add the interactive option at any time, it can be a particularly attractive choice if you don't need interactivity now but think you might need it later.

 

Strong Points

Ultra short throw. Any ultra short throw projector will throw a big image from a short distance. For the UM330X, with a 98" diagonal image and its native 4:3 aspect ratio, that translates to a measured distance of 15" from the front of the projector or 13" from the interactive unit, with an actual throw distance from the window near the back of the projector of 28.5". That's consistent with the .36 to 1 throw ratio as well as NEC's claim that the image can range from 61.5" to 116.6" inches diagonally with a throw distance of 17.6" to 33.6".

Interactivity with full Brightness. Like other LCD projectors, and unlike most DLP models, the NP-UM330X doesn't have a separate interactive mode, so there's no loss of brightness when you're using it interactively.

Thin, easy to handle pen. The pen for the NP-UM330X is thinner than most pens for DLP interactive projectors, making it more comfortable to hold. This can be particularly welcome in a classroom, where children with small hands may find a thicker pen hard to work with.

Excellent data image quality. The UM330X's data image quality is excellent, with vibrant, fully saturated colors with all presets and excellent color balance in all but one. The exception was for the brightest mode, with a slightly yellow tint in the brightest shades. However, projectors typically have color balance issues in their brightest modes, and the UM330X has less of an issue than most.

I couldn't get the image into its crispest focus over the entire screen at once, but the focus was still sharp enough to hold detail well from edge to edge, with both white text on black and black text on white crisp and readable at sizes as small as 7 points. Also on the plus side, the images were as rock solid with an analog VGA connection as with digital HDMI.

Better than par video quality. Video quality is well below home theater standards, with the 1024x768 resolution putting obvious limits on sharp detail. In many ways, however, the UM330X does better with video than most data projectors. It held shadow detail well, handled skin tones well, and avoided posterization in scenes that most data projectors have problems with. I saw some moderate noise in large solid areas, and the LCD screen-door effect was fairly obvious sitting about 8 feet from a 98-inch diagonal screen. However, the image was easily good enough to watch a full-length movie comfortably. It also helps that as an LCD projector, the UM330X is guaranteed never to show rainbow artifacts.

Good audio quality. The audio system is another plus, with the NP-UM330X's 16-watt mono speaker offering reasonably good sound quality and enough volume to fill a medium-size conference room or classroom. If you need higher volume or stereo, you can connect an external sound system to the stereo audio output.

Medical imaging. The UM330X's presets include a DICOM SIM mode, named for the DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) standard for images like MRIs. As with simulation modes in other projectors, it isn't fully DICOM compliant and shouldn't be used for medical diagnoses. However it can be useful for medical presentations and educational needs.

Low total cost of ownership. By combining a potentially long lamp life with a surprisingly low $79 lamp replacement cost, the UM330X promises a low total cost of ownership. The projector offers four power settings for the lamp: Eco Mode off, Normal, Eco, and Auto Eco, which works much like an auto iris, adjusting the lamp brightness based on the brightness of the image. NEC rates the lamp life at 3,000 hours with Eco Mode off and 6,000 hours with Eco. There is no rating for Normal.

Test Results and Connectivity

Bright image and wide brightness range. NEC tends to give conservative brightness ratings, but the UM330X's High-Bright mode was so much brighter than its 3300-lumen rating that I re-ran the test to confirm the 3825-lumen measurement. That's easily bright enough for the 98" diagonal image I used for testing to stand up to ambient light in a brightly lit office or classroom.

For lower light levels or smaller screens, six other presets range from 1996 to 3184 lumens. In addition, the Normal lamp setting drops brightness by about 29%, to 2723 lumens with the High-Bright preset, and the Eco setting drops it by about 42%, to 2201 lumens.

Good brightness uniformity. The UM330X's brightness uniformity was only 62% in our tests. Fortunately, the brightest and dimmest areas are far enough apart, and the change gradual enough, so the difference isn't as obvious as the number suggests. On a solid white or color screen, I could easily see that the bottom was brighter than the top, and the upper right corner in particular was a cold spot. But with the image broken up with graphics or text, I could barely see a difference. Few, if any, people are likely to notice the difference, much less consider it an issue.

Good connectivity. The UM330X back Panel offers a reasonably full set of connectors:

  • 2 HDMI
  • S-video
  • 1 RCA composite
  • 2 USB A (for directly reading files from a USB key and for an $80 Wi-Fi option)
  • 1 VGA OUT (monitor loop-through)
  • 1 USB B (for USB display and for mouse control from the remote, with or without direct USB display)
  • 1 USB B on the interactive module (for interactive control)
  • 1 LAN (for network control and image data, but not audio)
  • 1 RCA stereo IN (tied to the composite and S-video ports)
  • 1 Microphone mini plug IN
  • 1 Stereo mini plug audio OUT
  • 1 RS-232 (for external control)

Limitations

Needs calibration. The UM330X's interactive module is a customized version of Luidia eBeam. Unlike the generic version, it mounts on the front of the projector, instead of a wall. One minor issue is the need to calibrate. The process goes quickly, with only 9 points on screen to touch with the pen. However, you have to recalibrate whenever you change resolutions, move the projector, or switch computers.

Can't use multiple pens simultaneously. Although the UM330X lets you use multiple pens so you don't have to pass a single pen back and forth, you can't write with more than one simultaneously. Additional pens beyond the one supplied with the projector are $99 each.

Not suitable for interactive tabletop. The UM330X isn't designed for interactive tabletops, with the projector facing down towards the table. NEC says that mounting it vertically will shorten the lamp life.

Have to touch the screen with the pen. Unlike the interactive feature in most DLP projectors, the UM330X pen has to touch the screen to add annotations or give the equivalent of a left mouse click.

Hard to learn software. The Luidia annotation program is a challenge to learn, with no text to identify the icon-based commands. However, the pen should work with any other annotation program if you have one.

No 3D. As with almost all LCD projectors, the UM330X lacks the 3D support that's becoming standard in DLP projectors. This shouldn't matter in most cases, but if you want to use 3D content in the near future, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Conclusion

As an ultra short throw projector, the NEC UM330X offers lots of capability, with a suitably short throw, excellent data image quality, good video quality for a 1024x768 data projector, and robust onboard audio. To top it off, our test unit exceeded its brightness spec by a good margin. With all of this and a low operating cost, it is an excellent value in today's market.

As an interactive projector, it's a little less attractive, but only in ways that may not matter. It's the wrong choice for an interactive tabletop, it doesn't support 3D, and you can't interact with two pens at once. And although the annotation software is a little hard to learn, it works well enough once you've learned it.

These may or may not be issues of importance to you. Keep in mind that almost all business projectors that support 3D are DLP-based, which means that to get 3D, you'd almost certainly have to give up the LCD advantages of being guaranteed rainbow free and having matching color brightness and white brightness. By any measure, the UM330X is highly capable, and unless you must have one of the features that it lacks, it could easily be the right choice for your needs.

For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our NEC UM330X projector page.

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