Anyone who believes that a good video projector is expensive should look back 25 years.
by Bob Kovacs
In 1985, there were almost no choices for projecting data, even at pre-video graphics array (VGA) resolutions of 640 x 350 pixels. You could project National Television System Committee (NTSC) video, but a 1,000-lumen projector would set you back a cool $75,000, and it required hours of training to learn to adjust and maintain (in comparison, in 1984 I purchased a four-bedroom house in New York City for $63,000, although it needed a little work).
The LG HS201G uses a light-emitting diode for the light source, providing exceptionally long lamp life. Real portable projection at affordable costs came in the early 1990s, and has been improving incrementally since. Projectors now can project all manner of high-resolution images and high-definition (HD) video, while maintaining easy portability and simple setup.
How small and how cheap can a video projector get?
How about the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj digital camera (available for $190 on Amazon.com) which fits into a shirt pocket, and has a built-in 10-lumen projector to play back the camera’s images. Providing modest projector resolution and brightness, the Nikon S1000pj is not the sort of thing anyone would want to use in a conference room, but it shows how small a projector can get when one is built into a camera as an engineering afterthought.
Modern projectors use two technologies for creating images: liquid crystal display (LCD) and digital light processing (DLP). With LCD projectors, a bright light is shined through a liquid crystal display, which acts as a gate to control the light. DLP is a trademark of Texas Instruments, and it uses a semiconductor chip covered with tiny mirrors (called a digital micromirror device or DMD) to reflect and manipulate light from a bright lamp.
There are a few variations of these two technologies used for video projectors, but those are the basic operating principles. Neither is necessarily better than the other, so the most important selection criteria is to get a projector that best meets your needs.
BRIGHTNESS, SIZE AND COST
The InFocus IN1100 is a DLP projector with rated light output of 2,100 lumens, and it weighs 2.8 pounds. With a native resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, the IN1100 can handle computer displays up to a maximum resolution of 1600 x 1200. InFocus has several other models with a variety of sizes and capabilities, including native resolution up to 1280 x 800.
Those who are willing to trade cost for size, the NEC NP216 weighs 5.7 pounds. Also a DLP projector, the NP216 has a native resolution of 1024 x 768, and can display signals up to 1600 x 1200, and has a brightness rating of 2,500 lumens. For a little more money, the NEC NP410W uses LCD technology, is a bit brighter than the NP216 and has a native resolution of 1280 x 800.
For really high brightness in a portable projector, the Eiki LC-XB43N produces 4,500 lumens from a three-LCD projector with XGA (1024 x 768) resolution. With a weight of 7.7 pounds, the LC-XB43N is on the bigger end of the portable range, but it packs the brightness of a larger projector.
A little lighter and a bit less bright is the Panasonic PT-LB90NTU, which weighs 6.5 pounds and produces 3,500 lumens. The PT-LB90NTU uses three LCD imagers with a native resolution of 1024 x 768, and features a dust-resistant design as well as a LAN port for remote control on an IP network.
There’s portable and there’s REALLY portable. The Optoma Pico PK301 DLP projector has a native resolution of 854 x 480 and can display images up to 1280 x 800 pixels with a maximum light output of 50 lumens. Weighing just eight ounces, the PK301 can run from either batteries or an AC power adapter. For those who need a brighter image, the Optoma EX330 weighs 2.4 pounds, outputs 2,200 lumens and has native 1024 x 768 resolution.
Weighing in at a bit less than seven pounds, the Sony VPL-TX7 projector produces 2,000 lumens from a three-LCD imager. The VPL-TX7 has a variety of control capabilities, including a wireless remote, RS-232 control and an Ethernet LAN port. For a little more light output, Sony offers the similar VPL-TX70 projector.
With its super-slim profile and modest weight, the Casio XJ-S43W projector has a native resolution of 1280 x 800 from its DLP imager. Weighing less than four pounds, the XJ-S43W produces an output of 2,500 lumens and can display images up to 1600 x 1200 pixels.
The Epson PowerLite 1735W shines 3,000 lumens from its small, less-than four-pound package. The 1735W has native resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels and the ability to display 1600 x 1200 images from its three- LCD imager, as well as a wireless connection system consisting of a small device that plugs into a computer’s USB port.
For those who might need to give presentations and run, the Hitachi CXP5 three-LCD projector has a novel feature called “Direct Power On/Off” that lets you pack the unit away immediately after finishing your presentation. Producing 2,500 lumens, the CXP5 has native resolution of 1024 x 768, can display images up to 1600 x 1200 pixels, and it weighs 3.8 pounds.
Looking ahead to 3D presentations, the ViewSonic PJD6531w is a DLP projector with an output of 3,200 lumens. The PJD6531w has a native 1280 x 800 imager, weighs 5.9 pounds, has integrated 10-Watt speakers and provides IP control through an Ethernet port. In addition, ViewSonic claims the PJD6531w can display 120-Hz 3D images, which would be handy in the event a screening of “Avatar” is on the schedule.
The Panasonic PT-LB90NTU has a dust-resistant design. For a further exploration of portable projector technology, the LG HS201G is a DLP unit that uses LEDs to provide the light. Weighing just 1.8 pounds, the HS201G produces 200 lumens of light and has a native resolution of 800 x 600 pixels. Since the HS201G uses LEDs as the light source, it has a lamp life rating of 30,000 hours and the unit draws just 80 Watts.
Although a few specific projectors are highlighted here, the above manufacturers and others have many more models in a wide range of sizes, capabilities and prices. For those who need something just a little off the beaten path, there is a good chance that a vendor has exactly the product needed, so long as the right questions are asked.
Projectors have come a very long way from the few large, power-hungry and maintenance-intensive units available 25 years ago. Whether a projector is needed on the road, or it sets on a table mostly forgotten until needed, today’s projectors continue to push limits of size and performance that would have been off the wall in 1985.