This week NEC is releasing the VT46, a powerful portable with an estimated street price of just $995. The VT46 is NEC's competitive response to the recently released Epson S1. We will do a feature comparison of these two units at the end of this review.
The VT46 is an SVGA resolution (800x600) projector with three 0.7" LCD panels at the core of its light engine. It is rated at 1200 ANSI lumens and 400:1 contrast. The unit is a very portable 6.6 lbs., and is about one foot wide, 10" deep, and 3.5" tall.
The VT46 is compatible with computer signals up to UXGA, and video formats including HDTV 1080i and 720p, as well as 480p and 480i.
The connection panel offers one 15-pin VGA connector for computer and HDTV signals, one S-video port, one composite video jack, two pairs of audio inputs for the video and S-video inputs, and a stereo mini jack for computer audio. There is also a DIN 8-pin port for PC control.
The lens is manual zoom and focus with a 1.2x zoom range. Throw distance is relatively short. A 100" 4:3 diagonal image can be produced from a distance of between 10 and 12 feet.
Vertical digital keystone delivers a wide +/- 30 degrees adjustment. The rescaling looks great on PowerPoint type presentations and graphics, and actually pretty good on textual subject matter too. (You never expect detailed text to look too clean when rescaled).
Overall the VT46 is a very solid, impressive product. Coming out of the box it looks and feels like a substantial projector with superb workmanship. It's hard to believe it is only $995.
Once you power it on, the image does not disappoint. The VT46 puts out a bright, very sharp image computer image with exceptionally even brightness uniformity-no distracting hotspots! Contrast is more than ample for presentation use, and sufficient if not ideal for very pleasing video.
Though it is SVGA resolution, pixelation is reduced compared to previous generations of LCD products, so the screendoor effect is not as big an issue as it once was.
On many NEC products there is an eco-mode that reduces fan noise, cuts light output, and extends lamp life. There is no eco-mode on the VT46, but it is not needed. Fan noise is already amazingly low, especially for a 1200 lumen projector-it simply doesn't need to be any quieter. And as far as extending lamp life goes, this unit has been designed to deliver a standard lamp life of 3000 hours. That's a lot more than competitive units in its class--enough lamp time to let you deliver a 2-hour presentation or watch a 2-hour movie five days a week, every week, for almost six years.
The video capability on the VT46 is surprisingly good. If you want it to double as a part-time home entertainment machine, you can certainly use it that way. First time home theater buyers on a small budget may wish to use it as their starter system. You will get the best video image out of it by not stretching it too far. If you use a high contrast screen material and limit your image size to about 80" diagonal, the VT46 will deliver a very engaging image with plenty of brightness and contrast. NEC has included an aspect ratio control button on the remote so you can easily format various video and film sources for proper viewing.
There are a variety of precalibrated settings for presentation, graphics, movies, and video, so you can easily switch from one to the other to get maximum snap for a presentation, or best color and flesh tones for films and video.
All things considered, NEC's VT46 is a lot of projector for $995. For part time business use and part-time home entertainment, this is a solid product that is a pleasure to highlight and recommend.
NEC VT46 vs. Epson PowerLite S1
The big question for most buyers will be which of these two outstanding entry level machines is the better choice? Both are rated at 1200 ANSI lumens and 400:1 contrast. Both are functional for combination business and home use. Both can serve well as entry level projectors for first time home theater buyers. They are about the same size and weight, and the same price. So how do you choose between them?
Each of them has an advantage or two over the other. One advantage of the VT46 is its 1.2x zoom lens. The S1 has a fixed lens. That means if you want to fill a 100" screen with the S1, you must place it exactly 10 feet from the screen. With the VT46, you place it anywhere between 10 and 12 feet from the screen and use the zoom lens adjustment to fit the image to the screen. For those who need to move their projector and set it up in different locations, the VT46's zoom is a very handy feature.
Having said that, we should point out that the S1 has a digital zoom feature that gives you somewhat similar flexibility. However activating the digital zoom reduces the number of pixels you use, rescales the image, and blocks a portion of the light output. So it is not really as good a solution as a manual zoom lens.
The VT46 also has a more extensive range of keystone adjustment, which is +/- 30 degrees compared to the S1's +/- 15 degrees. This may or may not be an advantage to you. Many users don't find too much need for going beyond 15 degrees-the more aggravated the keystone adjustment the less pixels you use and the less light you get out of the projector. But for those who want to have the extreme keystone range as an option, the VT46 has it and the S1 does not.
With respect to fan noise, the VT46 is a bit quieter than the S1. This is not a big issue in deciding between them since the S1 is not very loud either. But for those looking for the quietest machine available, the VT46 is it.
Replacement lamp cost is a wash. The VT46 has a 3000 hour lamp that costs $299 to replace. The S1 has a 2000 hour lamp that costs $199 to replace. So lamp cost per hour of usage is the same on both of them.
Video quality on these products is comparable. Neither one noticeably outperforms the other, and we would not consider differences in video performance to be a factor in deciding between them. Pixelation is reduced on both of them as compared to earlier generation LCD products, and they are both capable of producing very engaging video images.
Having pointed out a few of the VT46's advantages, we must point out that the Epson S1 does have a couple of advantages over the VT46. For some users a mandatory feature is RGB out, or monitor loop through. For those who need this feature the decision between these two projectors is easy-the S1 has it and the VT46 does not.
Second, while both of them come with a two-year parts and labor warranty, the Epson warranty includes overnight replacement service as standard with the product. (Those whose projectors are inventory tagged may find this service difficult to take advantage of because it involves a swap of hardware). NEC offers this service also, but it is not included in the base warranty. The difference could mean being down for a couple of days vs. a couple of weeks. If you want the VT46 and you prefer the extra coverage for fast service, consult your dealer for more details.
The NEC VT46 and Epson S1 are both impressive entry-level products. They are both sturdy, well-constructed units with similar performance characteristics. After examining them in the lab, we cannot say that one is better than the other in overall quality. They each have some advantages that we've tried to highlight to make the selection easy for the reader.
We are confident that users of either the VT46 or the S1 one will get more than their money's worth. They deliver outstanding projection power for the price. We recommend them for combination business and home entertainment use. For home entertainment purposes, the video image will be best if the screen size is not pushed to extremes. Smaller screen sizes will give you brighter, higher contrast images and keep visible pixelation to a minimum-all good things for great home theater.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our NEC VT46 projector page.