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The new Samsung F10M is an eagerly anticipated presentation projector combining traditional LCD-based projection technology with LED illumination. The result is a 1,000-lumen XGA projector with a 30,000 hour estimated lamp life--a notable accomplishment. The 1,000 lumen mark makes the F10M the brightest LED-driven projector yet released, bar none. What's even more notable is that the F10M has an MSRP of only $1,099. Combined with a three-year warranty and a solid feature set, the F10M is perfect for small to medium conference rooms.
Light output. The main reason that LED projectors are not more widespread is the problem of light output. LEDs thus far have not been able to match the performance of traditional metal-halide lamps in terms of sheer light output, which is why these traditional lamps still see use despite their relatively short lives.
The F10M is a step in the right direction, for certain. Rated at 1,000 ANSI lumens, our test sample measured 837 lumens using the Bright image preset, which was the maximum measured on this unit. In a conference room, this is a good amount of light for a 60" to 80" diagonal image with the lights dimmed or a 50" diagonal with all room lighting at its maximum. Compared to many other LED projectors, this is an incredible improvement.
Bright mode, as one might imagine, is the ideal choice for simple, high-contrast documents that need to be displayed big and bright. If your presentation involves material that is better served by a more subtle treatment, the F10M's other image presets can provide that. Dynamic, the default, measured 745 lumens. Its black level is deeper than that of Bright, though not by much; it is an incremental improvement that will make documents look subtly more colorful and will emphasize shadow detail slightly. The F10M has several other presets, each suited for a different application. At 684 lumens, Presentation is a step down in brightness from Bright, but it has a cooler color temperature, better black level, and more open mid-tones. Standard mode continues this trend at 679 lumens. Movie mode has superior color saturation and shadow detail, as well as the best contrast to be had from the projector in any operating mode. It measured 667 lumens.
Brightness uniformity. The difference between the brightest and dimmest areas of a pure white test image was quite small, and overall the F10M had a measured brightness uniformity of 85%. A smooth, evenly-illuminated image is crucial when it comes to photography and video, and even text documents look better when the "sheet of paper" on screen is not noticeably dimmer in one corner.
Contrast. Compared to other LCD projectors, the F10M has a very wide dynamic range. Black level is deep for a projector in this class, partially thanks to the use of LEDs instead of a traditional lamp. Light emitting diodes are far more variable and have much faster response times than traditional lamps do, so their output can be changed whenever necessary. And while the F10M is not a video projector, it does include a "dynamic contrast" feature that functions like an auto iris would--except it is entirely digital. Its effect on a image of a starry sky is impressive and immediately visible.
Color. While some data projectors struggle with color balance, the F10M has all of the accuracy and saturation one could ask for. Photographs and data graphics appear vibrant and well-saturated, and the "warm1" color preset used in Movie mode is free of any significant bias or tint. The Bright and Presentation presets have a slight green and blue tint, respectively, as one would expect from modes designed for ambient light use. However these tints are not as prominent or distracting as one might expect given experience with the competition. In some instances, the blue cast of Presentation might even be desirable, inasmuch as the blue will help to cancel out some of the yellow cast imbued by room lighting.
LED Engine. LEDs, unlike traditional lamps, last for a very long time; in the case of the F10M, estimated lamp life is 30,000 hours. If you are anything like me, you have trouble wrapping your head around big numbers, so: you can use this projector for four hours at a stretch every single day, starting today, and the lamp will not expire until early April of 2030 - over twenty years from now.
What makes this projector so different from others is its LED-powered LCD light engine, the first of its kind (previous LED-based projectors have used LCOS or DLP engines). The most obvious effect of the use of LCDs is increased brightness. While 2,000 lumen LED-powered projectors are still a ways off, the F10M's 1,000 lumens are already a huge step in the right direction. It has the highest light output of any projector solely using LEDs for illumination. Considering this fact, its rock-bottom price is impressive indeed.
Picture quality. Tech details aside, the F10M looks great. Its bright, high-contrast image is punchy enough for film and video and more than enough for simple text documents and Powerpoint slideshows. The focus mechanism is precise and crisp, and on top of that edge-to-edge sharpness is consistent, so the resultant image is high in detail and looks wonderful. The long and short of it is that the F10M has a smooth, consistent, bright, colorful image with above average contrast for a data projector. To top it all off, the lamp will last for years and years. There is not much more one could reasonably ask of a sub-$1100 data projector.
Video Performance. The F10M is built with the business presentation market in mind, but as it is a reasonably bright LED projector some people will want to know how it fares for video and film. Luckily for them, the answer is "quite well." The F10M has an HDMI port, so you can connect your Blu-ray player or HTPC without the need for a breakout cable. It is only 1024x768 (or XGA) resolution, so high-definition movies will need to be compressed. The F10M does an admirable job of re-processing 1280x720 and 1920x1080 signals to fit its native 1024x768 pixel matrix without introducing compression artifacts. Since it is a 4:3 projector, widescreen movies will leave black bars at the top and bottom of the image; the image itself will be either 1024x576 for 16:9 or 1024x428 for cinemascope.
As far as the image itself, dynamic range is very good, as previously mentioned, compared to other data projectors. What's more, the F10M includes a "dynamic contrast" function which acts like an iris, stopping down to lower black levels in low-illumination scenes. Color is vibrant and mostly accurate, especially using the Movie preset. Even compressed, Blu-ray movies retain much of their sharpness and detail clarity. This is not to say that the F10M is the equal of a home cinema projector when it comes to home cinema; it isn't. It lacks somewhat in the areas of dynamic range and most importantly resolution. An XGA projector will never appear as clear and sharp as a 1080p projector, even when it is as capable as the F10M when it comes to video. If you're looking for a gaming an entertainment projector, the F10M might just fit the bill; however, if you want a [i]home theater[/i] projector and just cannot wait to get your hands on an LED model, it would be best if you were to suppress your excitement and wait a little longer.
Connectivity. In addition to the standard VGA, S-Video, and Composite connections, the F10M also has an HDMI port for all of your high-quality video or data transmission needs. There's also an RJ45 network jack, so the F10M can be tied into the organization's internal network and monitored remotely. Your IT department will appreciate the help.
Audible noise. The F10M has low audible noise, which is somewhat surprising. LEDs are famous for putting out a lot of heat, so LED projectors are generally either small and not very bright (pico and pocket projectors) or very large and loud (home theater projectors). As the first of its kind, the F10M sets the standard by which future products will be judged, and that bar has been set very high. In Eco mode the fan is even quieter, so no matter how small your conference space you will not find yourself annoying the audience with excessive fan noise.
7W Speaker. The F10M has a seven-watt speaker, which is a good size for small conference rooms and not much else. Since there is only one speaker there is no stereo support, and cranking the volume too high results in a touch of tinny, rattly distortion. For any serious music listening or movie watching, an external set of speakers would be ideal, but the onboard equipment is certainly better than the usual anemic one-watt speakers seen far too often on data projectors.
Placement flexibility. The F10M has a 1.2:1 manual focus lens, which is more or less standard in XGA data projectors. What is unusual is its throw angle offset, which does not follow the typical pattern set by similar competing projectors. Most conference room projectors have a lens that places the image either entirely above the lens centerline or such that the bottom edge is flush with the lens centerline. The F10M instead places roughly 15% of the image below the lens centerline. If you want to avoid keystone correction, you will either need to offset the screen relative to your conference room table or use a drop tube in your ceiling mount. This offset does open up the possibility of a rear shelf mount, which is not often possible with data projectors because of the lack of lens shift. Of course, with a relatively limited zoom range and no lens shift, such an installation would need to be meticulously planned--there is little room for error.
Weight. The F10M is heavy for a conference room projector at just over nine pounds. In the age of netbooks and smartphones, this more or less relegates the F10M to fixed installation use only, since carrying a nine-pound bag of projector does not constitute portability anymore. In a pinch, it is certainly svelte enough to fit in a bag; external dimensions are only 3.6" tall by 9.1" deep by 11.7" wide. If your primary use for the projector is as a traveling unit, though, you may want to pick a lighter, smaller alternative.
Shared audio input. Usually, a projector with a relatively beefy onboard speaker like the F10M will have separate audio inputs for each video input, allowing an installation where each device has a discrete set of connections. The F10M has a shared audio input--two RCA jacks for stereo input. HDMI can still carry audio, of course, but VGA, DVI (via HDMI adapter), S-Video, and Composite must all share a single audio input. If you have a lot of devices to connect simultaneously, such as an office media room, you may wish to consider adding an audio switching device into the loop.
The Samsung F10M is something of a revolutionary projector, though one might not think that by looking at it. Outwardly, it looks like just another me-too XGA business presentation machine, albeit with some nice features like a decent speaker and RJ45 networking. Instead, it is the brightest pure LED driven projector to hit the market thus far, and it comes at a bargain price. Does the F10M cost more than other, similar XGA LCD projectors? Yes, of course. The trade-off, though, is that you will never need to replace the lamp in the F10M. While that might not seem important now, in several years when the projector is still going strong you will look back on your initial purchase and smile.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Samsung SP-F10M projector page.