Lighting Up the Big Screen
Posted: 09.04 - By Mary Ann Marshall

Gone are the antiquated days of bulky, immovable overhead projectors and warped transparencies that smear. Today, the sophisticated, technological expertise among small business owners, educators, at-home cinephiles, computer experts and music lovers requires higher-quality and more-advanced options on portable projectors. Standards have risen while costs have fallen, with many of the new models being sold for less than $1,000. That’s a reasonable cost (hear that, CFOs?), considering most projectors usually last a full five years.

The market demanded more for less, and the manufacturers of portable projectors responded. One major development is brightness, which has increased by an average of 200 to 300 ANSI lumens. Brightness helps viewability and makes images easier to see when the ambient light is bright. The best projectors let you see the images on the screen even with the lights on. BenQ and Toshiba are each offering new projectors that improve on the technology of their predecessors while costing the same or just slightly more. Lamp technology and production have also improved, driving down costs, and manufacturers have passed some of those savings on to purchasers. Lamps cost less today, and they also last longer.

Something else to consider is the contrast ratio. Large contrast ratios help the blacks appear blacker and the whites whiter. Though this is mostly appreciated with high-quality video, high contrast ratios help viewers by providing better color representation on the screen.

Last but not least, one must consider resolution, or the number of pixels (image information) depicted on the screen. The higher the resolution, the better the image quality, though even the best projectors have their limits, given a certain screen size. Higher resolutions let you use bigger screens without noticeable degradation in image quality. HP recently announced the development of a technology that offers twice the resolution of digital projection displays without increasing cost. This resolution enhancement technology, dubbed “wobulation,” allows for a digital image to be projected at double its resolution when combined with digital light processing (DLP) technology. HP plans to unveil front and rear projection products in 2005 based on this wobulation breakthrough.

Experts add that these factors, along with availability, have caused sales to jump. Projectors are now available at mega-retailers like CompUSA and Costco, enabling customers to buy projectors along with their CDs, DVDs and sundries. Small and medium-sized businesses and educational facilities have contributed to the increased demand for projectors that are ready-made for travel.

Brighter, longer-lasting lamps and new resolution technology aside, what is it that really makes a portable projector portable? Weight. Eight years ago, projectors weighed 20 pounds and were impossible to casually carry to a meeting. Now, the latest projectors weigh as little as two pounds. Heft in the handbag is a major concern, especially if, like most mobile professionals, you have not only your projector but a laptop slung over your shoulder.

The best approach in selecting a portable projector is to take all the specs into consideration, but most importantly how the projector will be used. If the projector will make two or three trips per year and sit on the passenger seat of your car to the meeting, then it’s OK to sacrifice weight for brighter lamps, higher resolution and other weight-adding features. If, however, your projector will be used in weekly sales pitches, and you’re shuttling between airport terminals with it in your briefcase, then weight is more likely the the crucial criterion.

Below, we’ve highlighted some of the most promising portable projectors, each illuminating the industry trend of more options for less dough.

BenQ PB6110

Featuring DLP technology supported by proprietary BenQ video-processing, the BenQ PB6110 is in the ever-increasing under-a-grand category of “crossover” products—its low price appeals to at-home sports and movie watchers who want a giant screen, and it appeals to businesses that need a cheap way to project PowerPoint presentations. And a bargain it is: Part of the best-selling PB6000 series, this projector is a tweaked update of the low-priced 6100 model, but is offered at the same price of $999.

Due out this month (September), the PB6110 uses Texas Instruments’ .55 DDR DLP chip, has a high contrast ratio of 2000:1 and is rated at 1,500 lumens for brightness. SVGA and XGA-capable, this six-pound model works for both professional and at-home theater environments. It’s HDTV-compatible (480p, 720p and 1080i) and features a direct YPbPr/component (through VGA port), S-Video and composite video inputs. And the 6110 improves upon the 6100’s throw ratio offering 60 inches at 6.6 feet. It also includes the same three-year warranty. Although it’s marketed as “sturdy and lightweight,” the PB6110 weighs nearly 6 pounds. But that’s still not bad for under a grand. If you’re a small business or educator, catch this model as soon as you can.

Dell 3300MP

At 3.9 pounds and 3.3 inches thin, the Dell 3300MP is small, bright and extremely mobile. With a brightness of 1,500 ANSI lumens and a high 1,700:1 contrast ratio, the 3300MP projects bright and captivating images from anywhere in the room. It features DLP DDR technology and native XGA (1024 x 768 pixels) resolution with auto sync to SXGA+ for sharp, clear projections. Its 1.2x manual zoom and auto vertical keystone correction help you get that perfect picture.

The 3300MP also provides connectivity with support for PC (analog and digital), multiple video and RS-232 inputs and a full range of television and video standards—including NTSC, PAL, SECAM and HDTV (480p, 480i, 720p and 1080i). With only 38 dBA of sound output (36 dBA in Eco-Mode), the projector is extremely quiet in operation, meaning you won’t have to raise your voice to be heard in the meeting room. Users (especially CFOs) will also appreciate the Eco-Mode feature, which extends lamp life up to 5,000 hours, meaning fewer replacement bulbs over the life of the projector. An interactive LCD display provides real-time status and helps with troubleshooting. There is even an optional 6-in-1 card reader for the 3300MP system that supports six commonly used memory cards, so you can share digital photos, pictures and presentations in a snap.

The 3300MP should make the short list for the most demanding business and education customers looking for an affordable, mobile, high-performance projector solution. It comes complete with a drop-tested, hard-foam carrying case and full feature IR remote control and is backed by a limited warranty. Price is $1,849.

InFocus LP 120 Micro-Portable Multimedia Projector

The InFocus LP 120 Micro-Portable Multimedia Projector is the perfect example of portability mixed with high quality and a reasonable price. This tiny, efficient projector weighs a mere 1.98 pounds, fits in the same briefcase as a laptop and, with an available rebate, costs just shy of $1,800. Operating at 37 dB, it’s just quiet enough for smaller meeting spaces without skimping on quality. It has a brightness of 1,100 lumens, 1,024 x 768 pixels resolution and a contrast ratio of 2,000:1.

Projection is simplified with interactive display, an easy keypad and color-coded connections. An optical zoom lens allows you to adjust the picture without moving the projector; a built-in 1 W speaker and remote control ensure a complete multimedia presentation. Additional features include Wireless Interlink Presenter remote control (batteries included); 3-meter (10-foot) power cord; analog, video and audio cables (with audio and video adapters) and an accessory pouch.

HP sb21

At 2.2 pounds, this lighter-than-a-laptop projector is so small it can fit in your purse or briefcase. The tiny size is on par with the likes of the InFocus LP 120, but the HP sb21 is even more affordable. After the HP rebate, it sells for $1,599.99. Even so, this projector, available now, doesn’t skimp on features. It offers computer-screen quality projections at 800 x 600 SVGA resolution, 1,000 lumens and a contrast ratio of 1,800:1 (full black and white).

Easily adaptable, it’s good for at-home entertainment or in-office presentations, as it’s equipped with built-in, full-screen NTSC/PAL/SECAM video capability and is compatible with S-video, composite, component and HDTV terminals plus XGA, SVGA, VGA and Mac from one MD-1 input terminal. Further proof of flexibility is its wireless remote with USB mouse function and a laser pointer, so you can move around the room as you present. The sb21 comes with a one-year repair or express exchange, two-year parts and labor and two years of phone support.

Toshiba T90 Series

Designed for the classroom, courtroom or boardroom, the Toshiba T90 projector series, available since June, offers three versatile, advanced projectors with high-end features such as connecting wirelessly, incorporating 3D objects and detachable document cameras. The new projectors—the TDP-T90U, TDP-TW90U and TDP-T91U—are based on TDP-T90U format and display 2,000 ANSI lumens, native XGA 1024 x 768 resolution and a 2,000:1 contrast ratio to counteract lighting issues.
The TW90U (6.4 pounds) is good to go simply by turning it on. Switching the wireless card with a type II storage device, the unit morphs into an all-in-one presentation device—sans PC or notebook computer. The T91U (8.2 pounds) is all about convenience. Unclip the camera from the projector and place it anywhere to use 3D objects and hard-copy documents. While the projectors are of average weight by today’s standards, you can travel fairly light—the combination of a high-performance projector and the imaging functions of a document camera allow users to travel with only one piece of equipment.

The T90 series also comes with three video input sources to add video clips or movies from TV, DVD or VCRs; audio in/out capabilities (to connect three audio sources at once for heightened versatility); and a special monitor output connector to view content from an external display (especially good for the classroom—users don’t have to turn away from the class to view the screen). The noise level is 35 dB and 32 dB in low mode. The TW90U is priced at $1,899 and the TW90U and T91U at $2,099. All three come with a two-year warranty and portable carrying case.•

Mary Ann Marshall is a freelance writer based in California.


Leisure Publications