The trend toward LED-based portable two-pound projectors continues with the announcements of two new WXGA (1280x800) projectors: the ViewSonic PLED-W800 at a street price of $685 and the AAXA M4 at $599. Both projectors are rated at 800 lumens, and both are small enough to fit easily into a briefcase. But that is where the similarities end, and since we have both projectors in hand, we can give you the results of a side-by-side test.
At the outset, we will note that only the AAXA M4 has an internal battery that provides about 90 minutes of operation without the need for an AC outlet. Most movies will exceed that time limit, and the M4 has to drop its brightness in half when the battery is used. Accommodating a battery puts the weight (2.4 pounds) and size (8.3" x 5.3" x 3.1") of the M4 above that of the PLED-W800 (1.8 pounds and 6.9" x 5.4" x 2.0", respectively), but if battery operation is what you need, the M4 is your only choice.
Let's dispense with some similarities before we get into the differences between these two projectors. Both of our test units missed their 800-lumen brightness rating although the PLED-W800 got closer to spec with a 650-lumen measurement, compared to 520 for the AAXA. Connectivity was roughly the same with a slight edge going to the PLED-W800 for its MHL-enabled HDMI and to the M4 for its built-in cable tuner. Neither projector produced spot-on flesh tones, nor did either have adequate color controls to suppress their respective color biases (green for the M4 and red/blue for the PLED-W800). When viewed independently, the video from each projector was acceptable since the brain easily forgives errors in color accuracy, but side-by-side their color biases were definitely detectable. Finally, although the PLED-W800's LED life is rated at 30,000 hours and the M4's is 20,000 hours, both projectors will probably be in a landfill long before their LEDs wink out.
The differences between the M4 and the PLED-W800 generally fell into three categories: A/V performance, ease-of-use, and cost of ownership.
Picture quality: After the usual image adjustments (brightness, contrast, color temperature, and sharpness), both images lacked good color balance. However, we found both gamma and color space choices in the PLED-W800's Settings menu, and switching to the RGB color space setting produced a much-improved image with good flesh tones. The PLED-W800 with its specified 120,000:1 contrast ratio (the M4's is specified at 2,000:1) had better black levels and shadow detail, but both projectors exhibited the rainbow effect common to DLP-based light engines. Edge-to-edge sharpness was comparable in both units although the PLED-W800 had a very slight focus shift after it warmed up.
Sound volume: While both projectors specify dual 2-watt speakers, the volume difference between them was quite surprising. At half volume, the M4's audio was barely above a whisper while the PLED-W800 was easy to hear. At full volume, the PLED-W800 developed a little buzz, but it was clearly capable of filling a small room with sound where the M4 was not.
Sound quality options: The PLED-W800 offers an unusual audio option with its three choices for audio frequency bias. The Standard setting produces a broad range of frequencies while the Speech and Entertainment settings emphasize bass and treble, respectively.
Image positioning: Unlike the M4, the PLED-W800 has an adjustable front foot that allows tilting the projector up if it is positioned too far below the screen. The M4 must be tilted up by placing something below the front edge of the projector.
Input lag: For gaming applications, input lag is a very important consideration as it impacts real-time response to user inputs in interactive games. The lag measurements on the Viewsonic PLED-W800 were outstanding, a mere 16 ms, which is as fast as a projector gets. The AAXA M4 measured a reasonably quick 33 ms. But the difference is enough that if you're into fast gaming, the PLED-W800 is the clear choice between these two projectors.
Lamp settings: The M4 offers three preset image modes (Soft, Standard, and Dynamic) and one mode that can be set for personal preferences (Personal). The PLED-W800 has five preset image modes: sRGB, Movie, PC, Dynamic, and Brightest. These preset modes offer different settings that complement the particular environment for each mode. However, the M4 additionally offers four lamp intensity settings (Economy, Standard, Bright, and Brightest) while the PLED-W800 has no lamp intensity control per se. The M4's Economy setting produced about half the brightness of its Brightest setting, and for small, dark rooms, Economy is a good choice as the other settings tend to emphasize the green bias of the M4 described earlier.
Ease of Use
Remote control: Though the PLED-W800's remote control is less than full-size, it is larger than the M4's credit card size. That may make it less likely that the remote control accidently disappears in someone's shirt pocket. Also, there is more room on the PLED-W800's remote to identify button functions.
On-screen menu: Both menus are relatively easy to navigate, but the M4 presents a real challenge because the on-screen menu disappears after about three seconds if no button is pushed. Unless you memorize where each button is located and can activate it quickly, you will be very frustrated trying to make selections on the M4's menus. Also, while the PLED-W800's menu can be re-positioned around the image, the M4's is dead center and covers a fair amount of the image which further hinders adjustments.
User color mode: Unlike the PLED-W800, the M4 does have a User color mode where individual preferences can be stored. This convenience comes at the cost of not being able to adjust the M4's preset color modes . . . something allowed by the PLED-W800.
Source selection: Changing sources requires three button activations on the M4's remote while the PLED-W800 has one-touch source buttons on its remote.
If battery operation is a must for you, then the M4 is a good choice for a small WXGA projector, and it has an unusual capability with its cable tuner input. Be aware though that using the remote control may be a bit frustrating.
On the other hand, if battery operation is not critical and you don't care about a TV tuner in your projector, then the PLED-W800 offers better video performance in the form of deeper blacks, superior shadow and highlight rendering, better contrast and more image depth. It also has faster action for gamers, and its remote is definitely easier to use. Viewsonic also offers a more robust 3-year warranty compared to AAXA's one-year. So the PLED-W800 is the better performing projector and would be our choice unless you need the M4's battery and/or the TV tuner.
What are the current street prices? Both are under $700 at the moment. Here are the current Amazon listings:
NOTE: Prices are fluid so click the links for the current prices in effect.