Six Portable Projector Comparison: Summary, Pros, Cons
Why review these six digital projectors?
It's important to understand how I ended up with these six projectors. Mutliple projector reviews can be done one of two ways:
I could compare a number of very similar projectors that are direct competitors of each other, or I could choose a cross section demonstrating a wide range of capabilities. Unlike other comparsion reviews I have done in the past, I have chosen the later - most of these projectors fit different types of buyers (including budget constraints.
Four of these six projectors have received our Hot Product Award. Since I selected these projectors as not direct competitors, I had hoped to end up with all six having performance that would give them all the award. To win the award, the basic concept, is that a projector needs to be sufficiently good in a number of areas, that it would make a top or excellent choice for at least a significant, if small market segment.
INote: There were originally to be seven projectors, BenQ was unable to deliver their new sub-3lb. wireless portable projector in time, and Optoma could not deliver their new widescreen EP1690. Fortunately Mitsubishi jumped in with their HD4000, a competing widescreen projector to replace the EP1690, which is still on my short list to review.
At this point, I'm not going to go into a feature by feature summary, with the Pros and Cons, but rather Summarize each projector, as to where it sits in the field, and what type of users it should attract. I've placed them in order of typical selling price, starting with the inexpensive Epson.
Epson Powerlite S4
The Epson S4, a true entry level projector really does not compete with the other five, except that many buyers will need to decide to go with an SVGA projector, or spend another $200-$300 for an XGA model. The S4 will be extremely popular with K-12 schools. It will also attract other buyers that are on a really tight budget, and those who are, that are mostly doing things like Powerpoint presentations, with large type and graphics, will hardly notice the slight degradation due to the lower resolution of the Epson. The fact that Epson has an excellent warranty, plus their almost legendary reputation for reliability and support in the projector industry, should provide plenty of piece of mind.
The Epson S4 has no zoom, a relatively minor drawback, since they devised their digital zoom in and out, to serve as an alternative. Since the image quality loss is minimal, especially if you are already starting by feeding it an XGA signal, it is a reasonable solution. And, the digital zoom has more range than the optical zoom on any of these other projectors.
The Epson's strengths include tons of brightness - even more than they claim, brilliant colors, and a razor sharp image, when dealing with it's native SVGA resolution. Epson's remote is one of the most full featured, and the Epson has a pointer system, and remote mousing. Hard to beat features, and impressive for a sub-$700 entry level projector.
And on the subject of brightness, I seriously doubt that there is a brighter projector at it's price point.
The Epson is a solid choice, and easily earned it's Hot Product Award.
The next three in the re view do compete more closely with each other, the Optoma TX-700, the Dell 2400MP, and the InFocus IN26. All are XGA,and all are priced agressively, with the Dell, being the most expensive, but by less than $200.
I'll start with the InFocus IN26, which normally is the least expensive, but only slightly so, compared to the Optoma TX-700, and save the Dell 2400MP for the last of these three.
Truely an entry level priced projector, it is normally under $900. It's tested 1200+ lumens makes it more than capable of handling small and medium sized rooms, with full lighting if screen size is six feet or under. It is designed for ease of use, and succeeds.
Teachers will really like it, as will those who dread complicated remotes. Just slap it down on the table hook up your computer or video, powerup and use. Despite the ease of use, there are plenty of adjustments available in the menus, It's just that the appeal of this projector is it's simplicity.
Color handling is good, it's reds and yellows are better than the Optoma, and just a hair down from the other two DLP projectors. The physical aspects of the projector are typical for an entry level model it's in the 6 pound range and has a footprint of in the general area of 100 square inches, about that of a sheet of standard paper.
As I said, I was hoping that all the projectors would pick up our award. In the case of the InFocus, basically there were two deal breakers - or rather they combined. The InFocus was by far the least bright of the 4:3 aspect ratio (standard) projectors, and the short and very basic warranty. Both the Optoma and the Dell, simply offer more price performance. For example the Dell has a near identical feature set, and is twice as bright for a $200 or so difference.
Like the InFocus, this is a very good projector, that just came up a little short of earning our reward.
What I liked in particular is the compact size - the smallest by a magnitude of these six portable projectors. In addition, it had no shortage of lumens, testing at over 1800 lumens in brightest mode.
Even better, it is one of the most capable in terms of inputs, sporting a digital interface as well as analog. Only the much more expensive Panasonic has more flexibility, and not in all ways (the Panny lacks a digital input).
The TX700 projector's remote is a very good one, with large buttons, and plenty of spacing, and one that is easy to learn, so that you don't have to look at it to use it.
The warranty 2 years parts and labor, is average, so didn't help or hinder overall.
The downsides of the TX-700: First, is that the TX700 has more problems with bright reds and yellows than any of the other projectors. I can honestly say that if the Optoma did as well as any of the other projectors in this regard, it would have picked up an award.
The other downside is that the image is the softest. Small text just doesn't look sharp. Overall, it's just a little softer than the other DLP projectors, so if other factors make the TX-700 look like your best pick, this may not be a real problem. On larger text and Powerpoint type presentations it's softness is not likely to be noticeable.
The zoom lens range is also limited, but in the smallest projectors, the zoom is normally very limited, with few even offering 1.2:1. (The TX-700 is 1.1:1.)
Forget for the moment that it didn't get our award.
The TX-700 has a lot going for it. It should be very popular with those that need to travel by air, or locally, and really want a smaller, lighter projector. For an entry level priced XGA projector it is anything but entry level when it comes to brightness. It will also appeal to those who need more than the basic inputs, especially anyone who needs, or wants to plan for the future, by having a digital input.
Maybe there is something to that "we sell direct" business model that allowed Dell to be the king of computers. Certainly the 2400MP has superb price/performance. It is certainly the brightest projector I have encountered, anywhere near its price.
The biggest strengths of the Dell include:
Excellent color handling with very good reds and yellows for a DLP projector
The brightest XGA projector around in terms of lumens per dollar, with about 2350 lumens in our test. (3000 claimed).
The image is nice and sharp
I also really liked the Dell's remote control, too.
The downsides are far less significant. From a performance standpoint, those looking for high quality video, will find the Dell does a very good job in most ways, but has visible noise in bright areas, that hurt it for more critical use, including doing duty as a "bright" home theater projector. That same noise should not be an real problem for normal business video use, or educational video use.
Only that one video issue prevents this from being a near flawless projector in areas of performance. But let's move on.
The inputs are very basic on the Dell, a single computer input (and an output), so no way to have a computer and component video source hooked up at the same time, so some users needing a little more flexibility, may scratch the Dell 2400MP in favor of the TX-700 or the Panasonic LB60U (the non-networking version of the LB60NTU). Mind you, this group of six projectors are particularly well endowed in terms of inputs and outputs compared to the other competing projectors on the market. Remember, I was looking for exceptional projectors to start with.
Lastly, there is the warranty issue. For the Dell's great price, you get as good a one year warranty as can be had, but I would suggest their $169 extension to 3 years. That still leaves the Dell 2400MP with excellent price performance.
I really was blown away, overall with, the Dell's price performance. Before receiving it, I was already aware of it's inputs, etc. I knew I was going to be reviewing a very bright, and very affordable projector, but expected some compromises.I had anticipated that I would find those possibly in sharpness or (quite commonly for DLP projectors) color handling. The Dell, instead performed extremely well in both areas.
The combination of price, power and image quality, make the Dell 2400MP an excellent choide for a wide range of users.
The last two projectors are the most expensive. The Panasonic PT-LB60NTU, sells for more than $1500, while the Mitsubishi has dropped in price (literally while writing this). With a new MAP price of $2495 (yes I'm revising the review), pricing should be in the low $2000 range.
These wo are definitely not in competition with each other, or the others. The Panasonic PT-LB60NTU is definitely the most feature laden, and although not quite the brightest, and offers the best overall performance, while the Mitsubishi, as the only widescreen projector in the review will appeal to mostly completely different buyer than the other projectors. Those buying the Mitsubishi HD4000 will be doing so, because it is a widescreen projector. (more on this, below)
Panasonic PT-LB60NTU (and LB60U).
The LB60NTU is a truly impressive projector. On top of everything else, it offers wireless networking that is amazingly capable and works easily once set up. In addition you get "remote mousing" features when working wirelessly.
I should take a moment first to speak of the non-networking version - the PT-LB60U, which sells for about $200 less. It is worth thinking about here, because it becomes a somewhat more price competive competitor to the Dell 2400. In that regard, it probably sells for $300+ more than the Dell, for similar brightness, but has the various advantages mentioned below. If you consider those pesky warranties, you need to spend $169 for the extended warranty for the Dell, to match the three year loaner program of the Panasonic projectors. That cuts the price difference in half. By comparison, with the networking version, you are starting with a 50% higher price compared to the Dell, so still a significant price differnce even if buying a Dell warranty.
OK, to the LB60NTU, I've already raved about it's wireless networking capabilities. If you need wireless networking, theirs is fast, easy, flexible, carries audio as well as video (rare), and can do a fairly large sized video, at frame rates that are smooth.
Combine that with rich, saturationed colors across the whole spectrum. Add the sharpest image of the six projectors, and it keeps getting better. Inputs are as good as any, with two computer inputs, one which can be a monitor out. I would have liked to see a digital interface, but most can easily live with the Panasonic's capabilities, and having a full set of three audio inputs, plus variable audio out, make it by far the most flexible in terms of audio.
Video performance is very good for business and education videos, but contrast levels and black levels are only average for LCD projectors and not really suitable for home theater type viewing.
Don't forget Panasonic's Daylight View feature, a nice touch that automatically senses the ambient light in the room and adjusts the image to best deal with it. It's not a "killer app" that makes a world of difference, but it does improve performance slightly, and, easily (the whole point of Daylight View).
The Panasonic's are pretty light, in fact, they are second only to the Optoma TX700 in this review, at 5.7 pounds (NTU) and 5.5 pounds (U). Their footprint is not much larger than the other projectors, and the unit is lower profile, for simliar bulk (except for the TX700).
I want to point out again, that the Panasonic's have a great 3 year warranty, with a loaner program for all three years.
If you desire wireless networking, lots of power, plenty of flexibility, and a great image, the LB60NTU is hard to beat, and certainly earns it's Hot Product Award.
The LB60U, gives you a high power LCD projector for a lower cost, and is equally worthy of consideration, especially if you need more flexibility than the Dell 2400MP. For those who like the overall aspects of the LB60 projectors, but don't have the budget, I should note that Panasonic's LB50 series projectors are almost identical, but smaller, lighter, and not as bright.
Since XGA widescreens can cost around twice the price per lumen compared to standard XGA projectors, it's not likley anyone will buy the HD4000 projector for business purposes, unless they see the advantages of widescreens. That said, the HD4000 performs very well overall, and should find a great many loyal owners.
Perhaps the most dissapointing aspect of the HD4000 is it's relatively low lumen output. It significantly underperforms its 2000 lumen claim, with only 1341 lumens. Still this is plenty of brightness for small and medium sized rooms.
The HD4000 offers the best color handling of the four DLP projectors but can't quite match the excellent bright reds and yellows of the two LCD projectors. As a DLP projector, though, it has excellent contrast and very good black levels, that are so coveted by home theater types and those needing excellent video overall.
When handling component video, the HD4000 is particularly impressive. The only real downside is the 2X color wheel, so some may detect a bit of the rainbow effect. All of the DLP projectors have the 2X wheels so it has no advantage or disadvantage compared to them.
The HD4000 is certainly the best of the six projectors if you want to double it for home theater, or use it exclusively for home theater as a bright projector. That means you are mostly trading off the issues of the 2X color wheel, against the HD4000 having two to three times the lumens of typical home theater projectors, so better able to handle some ambient light (see the HD4000 review for screen shots comparing it to a typical home theater projector in a room with modest light coming in from outside. It does have one video flaw, that I should note, In large bright areas I noticed a bit of posterization. I have addressed this issue with Mitsubishi engineers to see if this is typical, or if there may be an issue with my review projector.
The HD4000 lacks audio capabilities, and this may be an issue for some. I believe Mitsubishi considers this a serious projector for video. With that in mind, the usual one watt speakers that other projectors sport, would be inadequate for serious video with audio, and users would demand better quality external speakers than a small portable projector can offer.
A good backlit remote, a great warranty, and a very good selection of inputs, make the HD4000, flexible, easy to use, and should provide you with good peace of mind.
One more word about pricing. While I was reviewing the HD4000 I was advised of a price drop, and as mentioned above, the MAP pricing is now $2495 (it was $2995 when I started the review). From a price performance standpoint this really helps the HD4000, which did seem expensive even for a widescreen. There is at least one other widescreen, the Optoma EP1690 which was originally to be reviewed, which sells for less. We will be reviewing that projector shortly, but if "traditions" hold, the Optoma will be less expensive, but won't quite match the Mitsubishi in contrast, and possibly color handling. We'll have to wait and see. I base that thought on my reviews of their equivilent home theater projectors - the Optoma HD72 vs Mitsubishi HC3000. (Two Optomas are similar in many ways, as are the two Mitsubishis.
But, I digress. In summary, the Mitsubishi produces very good data images, excellent video performance, and a great warranty. The HD4000 is priced reasonably for a widescreen projector, and should satisfy the needs of most that need a widescreen projector for business or education. it will also serve very well as a home theater projector for those needing more lumens than dedicated home theater projectors, with the caveat that the rainbow effect may limit a number of buyers from choosing this or most other widescreen DLP projectors.
None of the six projectors showed any serious deficiencies. Four got their Hot Product Awards, and the other two weren't that far away. The goal of this review is not for you to say, "Bingo" that's the perfect projector for me. There are too many projectors out there and too many subtle differences between models. As a result, these reviews, and this comparsion review should have helped you decide that one of these is the best of the six for you. You may still want to research further. Afterall, consider that there are probably 100 projectors currently selling between $699 and $1500. On the other hand, as many say, these projectors are "commodities", pretty much "six of one, half a dozen of the other". As a result it becomes a question of how much time are business people willing to devote to research a $1000 investment.
The final call is yours, hopefully we have been able to help you narrow the field by pointing out some very good projectors, and giving you a good perspective of what your money will buy, and what capabilities and trade-offs you may need to consider.
Good Hunting! -art