PLUS Corporation is the undisputed leader in projector miniaturization. It was the company to first introduce the very popular 3-lb projectors in 2000, and in 2001 they went even further in the mini-projector market with the new 2-lb units. And with the release of the new 4.4 lb. HE-3100 "Piano", the company takes its miniaturization skills into the home theater market.
This unique little projector has a retail price of $2,995. It is clearly targeted to the economy-minded home theater enthusiast. It is not loaded with every conceivable feature the videophile would ever want. But for the money it delivers a superb DVD picture.
At the heart of the HE-3100 is the new 848 x 600 dual-mode DLP chip. "Dual-mode" refers to the fact that it can be used in two native formats, either standard 4:3 SVGA (800 x 600), or a native 16:9 which is 848 x 480. This is an ideal video format since DVDs are encoded in 480 lines per video frame. The benefit is that there is no compression required to force 480 lines into 450 lines, which is what is required to maintain the 16:9 ratio on a standard SVGA chip. No compression means no compression artifacts, and a very clean picture.
The HE-3100 has a 4x speed color wheel which largely eliminates the color artifacts on the edges of moving objects that are typical of many DLP projectors. Color accuracy is remarkably good when properly calibrated.
The HE-3100 has a brightness rating of 450 ANSI lumens, which is quite low compared to any other digital projector currently on the market. That means several things to you. First, you must set it up in a fully darkened viewing room. Any ambient light at all will compromise the image quality.
Second, low light output means there is a practical limit to the screen size that it can illuminate effectively. In this case, six feet wide is the maximum we would suggest you stretch it on a typical 1.3 gain screen.
Third, it is questionable whether you would want to use the lower gain Stewart Grayhawk screen to boost contrast (recommended with most digital projectors). The Grayhawk does indeed boost contrast on this unit, but as usual it is at the expense of overall image brightness. The Grayhawk works so well with most digital projectors because they have more than ample light output. So a reduction in image brightness is not a concern. Not so with the HE-3100. Thus if the Grayhawk is deployed, we would further reduce the recommended screen size to a range of 5.0 to 5.5 feet in width to achieve optimum results. (Practically speaking the HE-3100 + Grayhawk is an unlikely match anyway. The HE-3100 is built for the economy-minded user, and it is the exceptional buyer who would invest in a Stewart Grayhawk screen while limiting funds for the projector itself.)
Thus far, every projector we have recommended for home theater has been HDTV compatible. The HE-3100 is not. In actuality, image quality is compromised a great deal by compressing an HDTV signal into 480 physical lines of display anyway. So even if it were HDTV compatible, the resulting picture would not be the clean, high resolution image you might otherwise have come to anticipate.
In terms of signal formats, the other thing you should be aware of is that the component inputs do not accept 480p, or progressive scan signals from DVD players that output them. So your sources need to be in interlaced format. This is not much of a compromise however, since the HE-3100 has an outstanding line doubler on board.
For those going the route of home theater PC's with DVI (Digital Visual Interface) output, the HE-3100 is ready to receive digital input through its standard 24-pin DVI-I port. DVI keeps the signal entirely within the digital domain from the moment it is read from the DVD to the moment it hits the screen. The benefit is that the image is free of jitter that might otherwise result from D/A conversions in DVD players and either external or on-board line doublers.
However, it should also be noted that in the latest good quality DVD players and line doublers, digital to analog conversions have gotten so clean that the incremental benefit of DVI is not what it used to be even a year ago. So the question is--do you want to mess with booting up your computer, deal with Windows icons on your home theater screen, and launch your DVD application to get to your DVD signal? Some have no problem with this. Others think it detracts from the "movie theater" experience. Currently we are neutral on the subject when it comes to recommendations.
(I personally prefer a good DVD player to a home theater PC, simply for the ease of use. Also, I don't like Bill Gates invading my personal entertainment world--I want to leave him at the office. But there are those who want DVI and don't mind the computer. And there are those who prefer the use of a computer as the heart of a multimedia room, for data, Internet, etc., as well as video, and would rather forego the expense of a DVD player since they already have one on-board the PC. All of these positions are legitimate. All I can say is that if your objective of installing a PC in your home theater is to get DVI, the picture quality advantage of DVI it isn't nearly as noticeable as it once was. But either way (getting back to the subject at hand) the PLUS HE-3100 is ready to accept both DVI from a computer and component interlaced signals from a DVD player. Your choice.)
Fan noise. Well, there isn't any. The HE-3100 is almost pin-drop silent. Having no fan noise is of course a great feature for any home theater projector, and very few of the portable machines have achieved this so far.
Image controls. PLUS has loaded up this unit with all manner of video controls for those who like to tweak a picture up to optimum. Color temperature can be calibrated to D6500 to zero in on the best possible NTSC color display.
Fixed lens. The HE-3100 has a fixed lens with a relatively short throw distance. It will fill a 6-foot wide screen at a distance of 10 feet. However, since it has no zoom capability, you must position the projector at the exact distance necessary to fill your particular screen.
Lamp life. This projector has a lamp life of 1000 hours. So make sure to get quotes on replacement lamps, and factor them into the cost of ownership based upon your anticipated usage.
The HE-3100's MSRP is $2,995, and you can find it on the street for less than that. It is designed for one thing. That is to produce a superb image from enhanced widescreen DVDs played in 16:9 format. It does this extremely well as long as you (a) use it in a totally dark room and (b) keep the image size from exceeding six feet in width.
As far as economy-minded buyers are concerned, the HE-3100 is a good option. But it's not the only option on the market in this price range. In the last few months we've seen a variety of brighter, higher-resolution, HDTV-compatible projectors fall below the $3,000 mark in street prices. None of them are "perfect" home theater solutions as measured against videophile standards. But then we've not yet seen anything close to a perfect home theater projector in this price range. Some don't have the contrast performance that the HE-3100 has. Some have scaling defects that impact image clarity, which is not a problem on the HE-3100. Some have more evident color artifacts in motion sequences than the HE-3100 has. Some have more visible pixelation than the HE-3100 does.
However, though the leading competitors in this price range are not perfect, they are capable of producing very exciting big-screen images. We have recommended several of them and continue to do so. They are within the budget realities of those who want the big theater experience without the financial burden. One of them may be ideal for you.
So who needs the HE-3100? Easy. There are people out there who don't give a hoot about HDTV. All they want is to experience DVDs, particularly enhanced widescreen DVDs, in all their glory. They want to view them in the dark, just like a movie theater. They think a six-foot wide screen is perfect for their viewing space. And they don't want to spend more than $3,000.
There are many thousands of folks that fit this description. If you are one of them, we would not hesitate to write you a prescription for the PLUS HE-3100 "Piano." It is the right one for you.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our PLUS Home Piano HE3100 projector page.