Six Digital Projector Comparison- Overview
8/14/2006 - Art Feierman
This review has just been posted (8/13), Additional links, additional proofing, and minor changes and additions will be completed over the next few days.
We recently completed individual reviews of six projectors brought in from six major manufacturers, for a comparison review. In this Comparison, we will look at how these six, often very different, projectors, stack up. The goal is to help you decide primarily what type, or class, of projector will best serve you, rather than which is the best overall projector.
The six projectors cover a wide range of capability, and price. All weigh in, between four and seven pounds, so are true portables. Four are DLP projectors, and two are LCD projectors. From a price standpoint, the least expensive, sells for less than $700, and the most expensive between $2500 and $3000.
Here are our contestants - with a brief description -, which for no particular reason, are presented to you from least expensive to most:
Epson Powerlite S4 - An entry level SVGA resolution LCD projector
Optoma TX-700 - An entry level XGA projector - smallest and lightest of the six
InFocus IN26 - Another entry level XGA DLP projector - big on ease of use
Dell 2400MP - A more powerful XGA DLP projector, with an almost entry level price
Panasonic PT-LB60NTU (and "U"), XGA, wireless networking (NTU only), very bright
Mitsubishi HD4000 - Widescreen; WXGA, DLP projector, dual use - biz or home
The images below, are not to scale.
Epson Powerlite S4 LCD projector:
Optoma TX-700 DLP projector:
InFocus "Work Big" IN26 DLP projector:
Dell 2400MP DLP projector:
Panasonic PT-LB60NTU LCD projector:
Mitsubishi HD4000 widscreen DLP projector:
I'm not going to attempt to duplicate the ton of information found in the individual reviews, but rather focus on the similarities, differences, and what type of users they would best serve.
Digital Projector Comparsion: Physical Attributes
Portability - Size and Weight
From a physical size standpoint, the Optoma is the smallest and lightest at 4.5 lbs. The others all weigh between 5.5 and 6.5 pounds and have roughly the same size footprint. The Panasonic's footprint is a bit larger (as is the Mitsubishi), but the Panasonic is the least tall.
All are easily portable enough to travel with regularly, although heavy travellers, can opt for a number of projectors a size or two smaller than even the Optoma, although typically not as bright, and definitely more expensive per lumen. We had intended to have seven projectors, the smallest and lightest was a no-show, the brand new, under 3 pound, BenQ CP120.
The Optoma, even in it's shoulder case (which is not much larger than the projector), has to be regarded as a very small package, one that not even the most frequent flyer could object to. it's case has about half the size and bulk of any of the other projectors, in their cases. This makes the TX-700 a favorite for those needing a bright XGA projector but demand one that is very small, light and portable.
The Dell, InFocus and Epson are a size larger. Two of them, the InFocus and Epson should be very popular in K-12 schools where really small size is considered a liability, as in very small projectors are too easy to steal. Sad but true. The Dell projector will appeal to those wanting a still very portable projector, but seeking maximum lumens. The Panasonic projector is only slightly larger, but represents the most advanced projector in a number of ways. Lastly the Mitsubishi HD4000 is one of the very few widescreen format (1280x768) WXGA projectors to reach the market, and is as small as any without spending 3 times the price. It is still, easily, a highly mobile portable projector.
Ceiling mounting the projectors
All six can be ceiling mounted. Several however has some extra features that may make them more desireable in some permanent situations:
All of the projectors but the Mitsubishi have at least a small internal speaker. When it comes to sound, however, the InFocus and the Panasonic are the only two with audio out, to drive external powered speakers. The Panasonic also offers three sets of stereo audio inputs, while the others all have just a single stereo audio input. Only having one set makes life a bit more challenging when wiring them up if you want separate audio sources, say one coming in from a computer and another from a video source. The Panasonic's audio output, is also variable, allowing you to control the sound levels of the external speakers from the Panny's remote control.
For example, the NTU version of the Panasonic, the PT-LB60NTU offers advanced wireless networking which may have great appeal in corporate boardrooms, allowing multiple laptops and desktops to be interfaced simultaneously. It also means the projector can be set up through the wireless network to advise IT of problems with the unit, such as lamp failure, overheating, etc.
Another feature that might be critical for some (ceiling mounting or otherwise, is having a monitor out. You normally need this for working with desktop computers, so that the user can have the image on the projector, and on the monitor on their desk. Of the six projectors, only the Mitsubishi lacks a monitor out.
For further flexibility some projectors are equipped with two computer inputs, so two computers can be hooked up at the same time. In this case, there is a lot of variation, especially since a couple of these projectors also have digital inputs.
Only the Panasonic LB60NTU and LB60U have two traditional analog computer inputs, although if you need the monitor out, that is a shared connector with computer two - so you can have two inputs or one in, one out.
The Optoma TX700 and the Mitsubishi HD4000 offer digital inputs. In the case of he Optoma, it has a DVI-I connector (which can be used for a digital input - or as a 2nd analog computer input, or for component video). That actually makes the Optoma the most flexible of the group, in terms of inputs. The Mitsubishi comes very close, since it is the only one with a dedicated component video input. It just can't have two analog computer sources, but it does have an HDMI digital input as well.
If you are permanently mounting, only the Mitsubishi has a 12 volt trigger for controlling a properly equipped electric screen.
All six projectors do have some degree or another of command and control via a computer (powering up/down, changing menu items). I did not review the capabilities, so cannot advise which are easiest to setup and use. All six also have standard S-video, and composite video inputs, so no issues there.
There are also some differences in lamp life and filter changing, that relate to cost of operation, and convenience, but those will be discussed in the General Performance section.
When it comes to mounting these projectors, the lens, and screen size determines how far back the projector must be.
Lenses - relating to table setup or ceiling mounting
The Epson S4, for example, lacks a zoom lens, requiring the most critical placement for mounting. Of the others, they all have a relatively short amount of range to their zoom lenses, with the Optoma TX-700, and InFocus IN26, offering the least range - 10%. The remaining three all quote a 20% zoom range (1.2:1) - the Dell 2400MP, the Panasonic PT-LB60NTU (and the PT-LB60U), and the Mitsubishi HD4000.
None of these projectors offer interchangeable lenses - that class of projectors tends to start around $3000 and are much larger, and weigh in from abut 12 lbs.
Another lens related issue, is whether the projectors sit closer or further away. Most projectors today, go for a fairly short throw - placing them closer to the screen. Here are the minimum and maximum distances for each, based on a 100" diagonal screen with a standard 4:3 ratio. In the case of the Mitsubishi, the numbers are for a 100" diagonal 16:9 widescreen ratio screen.Distance is measured from screen to front of the projector.
Placement range for a 100" diagonal screen
Epson Powerlite S4: 9.75 feet*
Optoma TX-700: 12.9 feet to 14.2 feet
InFocus IN26: 13.2 feet to 14.5 feet
Dell 2400MP: 13.5 feet to 16.2 feet
Panasonic LB60NTU/U: 9.8 feet to 11.5 feet
Mitsubishi HD4000: 11.9 feet to 14.9 feet
Of the four non-widescreen projectors with zoom lenses, you can see that the Panasonic can be placed the closest to a given sized screen. For many presenters, this is a real plus, as it's often easier to place a projector near the front of the room than, say half way back.
*The Epson offers a digital zoom instead of optical. It actually has more range than any of these other projectors, when using the digital zoom, but it does degrade the image slightly - see the S4 review for more info.
Inputs and Outputs
Since this is explored more in depth in the individual reviews, the goal here is to give you a sense of the differing flexibility of these projectors. The individual reviews each have a photo showing the input panel of their respective projectors.
All (rather surprisingly) have a monitor out for feeding the signal to a separate monitor. This isn't needed for laptop use, but needed if you want the signal also on the monitor of the computer you are working from. In the case of the Panasonic, you can turn off the monitor out, if not needed, toggling it into becoming a second computer input.
Two of the projectors, the Optoma TX-700, and the Mitsubishi HD4000 have a digital input - the Optoma, a DVI-I, and the Mitsubishi, an HDMI. The Optoma's DVI-I can accept digital, or a traditional analog signal. Though few need a digital input for business or education, it is desireable for many specialty uses.
Including those two projectors, three in all can suport two computers, the third being the Panasonic LB60NTU, if you are not using the monitor out. In fairness, however, the Panasonic can actually have 18 projectors hooked up at the same time - with 16 of them wireless. That sounds like overkill, but having several wireless computers hooked up at once has a lot of appeal for many company meetings. This makes the Panasonic the king of computer inputs.
Component video input, the highest quality non-digital video, is accepted by all six, but in all cases but the Mitsubishi, it gets fed through the analog computer port. So if you really needed to input component video, the Epson, Dell, and InFocus could not also have a computer hooked up at the same time. Of course, though, all have S-video and composite video, so that's only an issue where you need that extra jump in image quality.
When it comes to audio, not one of these small projectors can fill a room with quality sound, but are sufficient for voice and lower fidelity music in rooms with, say 20 people or less. Three of these projectors, though can control external powered speakers with their audio outputs, the Panasonic, Dell 2400MP and the InFocus IN26. Only the Panasonic LB60U and LB60NTU, though, has more than one audio input (they have 3), so if you wanted audio from a video source and from a computer source both hooked up, with the other projectors it requires some jerryrigging and compromise. I better note that the Mitsubishi HD4000 is the only one of these four without a speaker.
All six projectors have some degree of "command and control", typically through a USB port, which will allow operation directly from a computer, or also, in the case of the NTU (wireless) version of the Panasonic, from a wireless network.
In summary, if you need more than one computer input, or have specific high quality video needs this would be an area that would easily allow you to narrow the field, with the Panasonic and Optoma TX-700 the most flexibility, along with the audio free Mitsubishi. The other three are pretty standard - one computer input, one out, and have an issue if you need component video and computer. Overall, the LB60 projectors and the Optoma are the most flexible of the six, followed by the Mitsubishi (if you can live without audio).
Time to consider the Image Quality of these six portable projectors.