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Optoma ML500 LED Projector Review

Performance
4
Features
Ease of Use
Value
Intended Use:
Mobile Presentation
Optoma ML500 Projector Optoma ML500
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3000:1 Contrast Ratio
500 Lumens
PC 3D Ready
Street Price: n/a
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Optoma ML500 LED Projector Review

Marc Davidson, February 14, 2012
ProjectorCentral.com

The DLP-based Optoma ML500 is part of a new generation of long-life LED projectors. At 2.5 pounds, it's slightly heavier than the heaviest pocket projectors, but it boosts brightness the next step up the ladder, to a rated 500 lumens. It also ups the ante on claimed native resolution, to a widescreen 1280x800.

Despite being too big and heavy for a pocket, the ML500 is light enough to serve as a constant traveling companion and small enough to fit in a briefcase. And because it can read files from internal memory, SD cards, or USB memory keys, you can lighten the load even further by leaving your computer or other image source at home.

If you must use an external source, the ML500 offers the convenience of full size, standard connectors, making setup much easier than with pocket projectors that depend on proprietary connectors plus adaptors. Just put the projector in place, connect the cables, and focus the image.

Another nice touch is that there's no power block to worry about, so there's no hidden additional size and weight. The 2.5-pound projector plus the power cord is all you need to carry to have a capable business projector at hand -- and one that's noticeably brighter than any pocket projector as well, for not much more, at $649 street price.

Key Features

Good data image quality. The ML500 scored well for data image quality overall. It delivered fully saturated, vibrant colors in our tests along with good color balance, with suitably neutral shades of gray. I noticed a slight greenish-blue tint in some mid-tone shades, but the tint was so slight I could almost convince myself I was imagining it.

Also on the plus side is that with data images I saw very few rainbow artifacts. These artifacts are always a concern for DLP-based projectors. With the ML500 I saw them only on a single test image that makes the breakup of the white areas into red-green-blue rainbows particularly easy to see. And even with that image, the artifacts were fleeting and subtle. If you're not sensitive to seeing rainbows, you may never see them in the ML500's data images. Even if you are sensitive to them, as I am, you probably won't see them often enough to find them bothersome.

Taking a little of the shine off the image quality is an issue that suggests the ML500's native resolution isn't really 1280x800. On graphics with large areas filled with repeating patterns of closely spaced lines or dots, I saw unwanted added patterns that appeared to be scaling artifacts.

By definition, the native resolution for a DLP chip is the resolution that gives a 1-to-1 correspondence between the number of pixels in the image and the number of pixels that the display can physically produce. Scaling artifacts result from a lack of that 1-to-1 correspondence, so the projector has to add or drop pixels to fit the image to the number of pixels available on the chip.

Because Optoma could neither confirm that the chip has a different resolution nor supply another explanation for these artifacts, we tried contacting Texas Instruments. TI hasn't been able to explain the artifacts in any detail either, as of this writing at least, although the company insists that the chip doesn't scale the image. On the other hand, it says that the issue is likely at least partly due to the chip's architecture, which would explain why I've seen the same issue in other projectors that use the same DLP chip.

Fortunately, unless you use patterned fills rather than solid blocks of color in graphics, you won't see scaling artifacts on very many images. However, you may notice a soft focus effect that I also saw, which likely results from the need to apply anti-aliasing to counter the apparent scaling artifacts.

Here again, the saving grace is that this won't create a serious problem for most images. The soft focus shows most obviously in highly detailed line drawings and small text sizes. On the 92" diagonal 16:10 image I used for testing, I found text smaller than 9 points hard to read from any distance. For 9 points and above, it wasn't a serious issue.

Highly portable. With its 2.5 pound weight and 1.7" by 8.7" by 6.7" size (HWD), toting the ML500 around is roughly equivalent to carrying a book. To make it even easier, Optoma supplies a soft carrying case complete with a handle and a pouch large enough for the power cord, credit card size remote, and any cables, SDcards, USB memory keys you want to bring with you. Even in the case, the projector is easy to carry and small enough to put in a briefcase.

Quick and easy setup. The ML500 lets you go from unzipping the case to fully set up in well under a minute. Setup can consist of no more than putting the projector in place, pointing it at whatever you're using for a screen, plugging in the power cord, turning it on, and focusing. If you're using external memory, add a step for plugging in the memory card or USB key. If you're using a computer or video source, substitute a step for plugging in the cable.

Low running costs. As with other LED-based projectors, the ML500's light source is meant to last the entire life of the projector, with a 20,000 hour rating for the LEDs. Considering that lamps can cost $200 or more, with lifetimes as low as 2000 to 3000 hours, this represents a significant savings in running costs compared to lamp-based projectors.

Usable video image quality. The ML500's video quality is best described as usable, which is more than you can say for many data projectors. I saw some posterization (colors changing suddenly where they should change gradually) and a moderate problem handling shadow detail. However, these issues showed up only in scenes that tend to cause the problem, and the ML500 did better on both scores than many, if not most, data projectors. I didn't see the same problems in scenes that were more carefully lit.

Depending on how critical an eye you have, you may consider the quality good enough to let you watch a full-length movie, but only if you don't mind seeing rainbow artifacts.

Usable audio. The 2-watt speaker in the ML500 is necessarily limited, but it's also good enough to be a pleasant surprise. Loud enough to fill a small conference room, with quality good enough to let you make out spoken words easily, the ML500 delivers better audio than you'll find in many larger projectors.

Test Results and Connectivity

Brightness. In its brightest mode, the ML500 came in at 431 lumens in our tests, or about 85% of its rating. I found it suitably bright for a 92" diagonal image at the 16:10 native aspect ratio in a dark room. The image can even stand up to moderate ambient light at that size, although it's a little washed out. Various other modes came in at an assortment of levels, between 307 and 344 lumens, with Eco mode dropping the level in the brightest mode by nearly 40%, to 255 lumens.

Good brightness uniformity. The ML500 also does a good job maintaining uniform brightness across the screen. I measured the uniformity at 82%. The difference was just enough to notice on a solid white screen, with a little warmer white towards the bottom. Add some graphics or text to break up the background, however, and the difference becomes impossible to see.

Connectivity. Connection options on the ML500 are another pleasant surprise, with more choices than you might expect. The available connections include a VGA port for a computer or component video source, an HDMI port for a computer or video source, both S-video and composite video ports, and a miniplug AV jack for audio or audio plus composite video in. The AV in port works with a $20 optional adaptor, with the other end plugging into the AV output minijack that you can find on many smartphones, for example.

In addition, there's an SDcard slot, a USB Type A port for a USB memory key, and a mini USB port for sending a data image from the computer as well for as transferring files to the 2GB internal memory. I tried the projector with a small sampling of file formats on a USB key, including PDF, JPG, and Microsoft Word and PowerPoint files. According to Optoma, it can also read BMP and Microsoft Excel files and most common video and audio formats, including AVI, WMV, MPEG1, WAV, WMA, and 16 more.

Limitations

No zoom. The only way to adjust image size with the ML500 is to move the projector. This shouldn't be a problem given the light weight, however. Also, once you've used the projector a few times you should have a good feel for how far to put it from the screen to get the size image you want. As a point of reference, I measured a 92" diagonal image from just over 9 feet.

Rainbow artifacts for video. Although rainbow artifacts aren't an issue for data images with the ML500, I saw them often enough in video to suggest they could be annoying to people who see them easily. That makes it best to limit the ML500 to short video clips.

Conclusion

The emerging new category the ML500 is part of, and the ML500 in particular, fills a niche that needs filling, with an appealing balance of size, weight, price, and brightness. Compared to pocket projectors, it's only a little bigger and heavier, but it's a lot brighter. Compared to traditional lamp-based portable projectors, it's significantly lighter and smaller than all but a few, and less expensive. And although it isn't as bright as most lamp-based projectors, it's bright enough to throw a reasonable size image that can stand up to ambient light.

In addition to small size and low weight, the ease of setup adds to the projector's portability, as does its ability to read files from memory. And the long lifetime for the LEDs promises to save lots of money in running costs compared to lamp based projectors. Add in the good performance for data image quality, its high level of brightness uniformity, and even the surprising good audio quality, and the ML500 is an excellent choice for anyone who both needs a portable projector and needs to travel light.

(05/26/19 - 05:18 PM PST)
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