Light fantastic

Introduction

Five years ago, a portable digital-projector cost around £5,000, would have made a mockery of the word of portable, and had a brightness of around 400 ANSI lumens. Modern projectors’ specs have improved greatly, but the price hasn’t shrunk much. We took a look at some of the most recent models – the smallest, lightest and most expensive end of the market, and also some lower-specification lower-price models. The latest ultra-portable projector from InFocus is now smaller than a laptop, and pumps out 1,100 ANSI lumens. Epson has a comparable projector. Though not quite as tiny as the InFocus LP130, the EMP703 offers similar specs at a similar price. Size matters
Even the entry-level models are considerably smaller than their predecessors. We took a look at Epson’s EMP-50 and the Ask C60. Again, both models have similar specs, and the prices are in the same neighbourhood. The entry-level models are bulky compared to the ultra-light class, but, compared to older models, reasonably compact. Neither model is back-breakingly heavy, with the Epson weighing in at 3.1kg and the Ask at 2.6kg. The dimensions are pretty much the same. Both models are based around three 0.7-inch LCD panels, which explains the similar dimensions – though it doesn’t explain where Ask lost 0.5kg. The brightness is 1000 ANSI lumens on the Epson and 1,100 on the Ask. When both projectors displayed an image side by side, the picture wasn’t obviously brighter on the Ask; however the colour seemed slightly washed out on the Epson. Both machines claim a contrast ratio of 400:1, which should mean a greater range of colour. However, claims about brightness and contrast are notoriously difficult to verify. In our tests the Ask came out slightly in front for image quality. Picture resolution is an important measure of a projector, and again, the Ask C60 has the higher resolution of 1,024-x-768 pixels, compared to the Epson’s 600-x-800 pixels. This is understandable, because the Epson is almost £800 cheaper. Resolution is an important measure of quality for an LCD projector – the more pixels you have to play with, the crisper the image will be. If you’re projecting a PowerPoint presentation, for example, small text can be distorted beyond recognition if the resolution is too low. Both projectors have a video input, and video – which is comparatively low resolution anyway – looks terrific on either model. Noise reduction
Both models have a speaker system, but neither is high quality. The Ask comes with stereo 1W speakers, while the Epson has only a single 1W speaker. If you were to watch a movie on one of these projectors, I would recommend connecting your video to some more powerful speakers. In the boardroom, the small speaker works well enough, and if anything will save you from naff swooshing page-turn sound effects that litter so many sales presentations. The other aspect of sound is of course the noise from the very necessary fan. Because these projectors use such bright bulbs, the heat generated is tremendous. Fans are noisy because they churn-up air. The EMP-50 was noticeably noisier than the Ask model, but both were quiet compared to older models. Choosing between the two models is not easy. The Ask model beats the Epson on almost every count, but it doesn’t beat it by much. As far as pricing goes, the Epson is the most affordable at £1,799 (excluding VAT), while the Ask is £2,590. So even though the Ask is a slightly better projector, is isn’t immediately obvious that it’s worth the extra money. Money is probably going to be the deciding factor for these two projectors – by paying for the extra resolution, you’re increasing the useful life of the projector. The lower-resolution model will be outdated much quicker. So, it makes sense to pay the extra for the extra features. However, if your budget is tight, it’s better to have a projector than nothing at all. If you budget doesn’t stretch to £2,590, the EMP-50 is excellent value. Top end
The other two projectors we looked at are definitely not for the budget conscious – the more expensive model is almost four grand. What you’re paying for is the ultra-portability of a high-end projector with no expense spared. The InFocus LP130 is a real show stopper, eliciting interest from anybody that saw it. It’s the smallest projector out there, yet it has the punch of models twice its size. The reason that InFocus can make such a small projector is because it uses a DLP chip. A DLP chip, or Digital Light Processor, is basically a RAM chip covered with microscopic mirrors, on even smaller hinges. As the chip is addressed, each of the mirrors is switched to an On or an Off state. It all seems very fragile, but it’s remarkably sturdy – because the weight of the mirrors is so small, they are largely unaffected by knocks of vibration. As the DLP is a single chip, the size can be brought right down. Epson doesn’t use DLPs in its projectors, most likely because it has so much invested in LCD technology. There seems to be a reluctance to use technology that is developed outside Epson, which is a shame. Consequently, the Epson projector uses three LCD panels, which inevitably make the EMP-703 much bigger. The LP130 weighs-in at a featherweight 1.6kg, compared to the 703’s 2.7kg. The LP130 is smaller too, measuring just 170-x-219-x-51mm. The Epson measures 267-x-213-x-72mm, more than twice the size. It almost seems unfair to compare the two models, but both have similar specifications. The Epson isn’t a particularly large projector by normal standards; it’s just that the LP130 is incredibly small. Both models sport an XGA (1,024-x-768 pixels) output, and both are very bright – with the LP130 claiming 1,100 ANSI lumens and the EMP-703 claiming 1,000 ANSI lumens. As with the other models tested, the difference in brightness is negligible and extremely difficult to measure accurately. Either model would be bright enough to project on to a screen without dimming the lights – though, if there is direct sunlight, it would be necessary to draw the curtains. Portability is a main issue for these models; both are sold as ultra-portable projectors. The Epson is definitely small enough to carry around without breaking backs or slipping discs. This is a major step forward considering the “luggable” 12kg models around only a few years ago. The Epson is still bulky compared to a PowerBook though, and would probably need an extra bag. The LP130, however, is so diminutive that it almost puts the PowerBook to shame. It seems much more suited to the new iBook.
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