Posted on June 1, 2016 By Art Feierman
This group of projectors are the ones that don’t fit into our definition of “standard” or “larger venue” projectors. They include a pair of true interactive projectors, the NEC UM352U and the Optoma EH320USTi, both ultra short throw models. Sadly, we simply didn’t review enough interactive projectors this year to break them out as a separate “class” as we usually do. Both interactive projectors had a lot going for them, although each had a couple of distinct advantages and disadvantages compared to the other. More to the point, when looking at these two, compared to last year’s winner of the Interactive Projector category (class), we didn’t feel either was sufficiently impressive to rival last year’s champ. (In fairness, one of these was noticeably less expensive (but not drastically so), while the other was slightly less than the Epson Brightlink 595Wi that took those top honors last year.
Also in this group are three pocket projectors – again, too small a group for a real head to head competition. Represented this year in terms of pocket projectors are the AAXA P700, the LG PW800 and Optoma ML750 all WXGA projectors. That’s right, no “below” HD resolution models. Finally pocket projectors are primarily “mainstream” in terms of resolution. Check them out!
We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year’s Best Classroom Projectors report.
Previous Year’s Interactive Projector Winners (still current):
AAXA’s P700 pocket projector is one of the most interesting small projectors to date. What sets it apart from virtually all of the competition is a single feature that let’s it be useful in the education market where all others fail.
Sounds like an impressive feature? It is, so I’m saving that for later. Overall, the P700 is mostly a typical pocket projector. It’s aggressively priced at $449.
It’s rather bright claiming 650 lumens, especially for one that is so small and light. There are three brightness modes: Normal, Boost, and Eco. Boost, easily topped the 650 lumen claim, measuring in at 741, while Normal did 581 lumens and Eco only 237 lumens.
Resolution is the education/business oriented WXGA (1280×800) slightly higher than 720p HD resolution (1280×720). We’ll circle back to that in a minute.
What sets it apart, is that despite being rather bright for a solid state pocket projector, this one has an internal battery pack. That opens up a number of possible educational uses, most notably – it can be used on “field trips” and in general, when out of the classroom, where there might not be easily accessible power. There are rural, and parts of the world where electric power isn’t always guaranteed, making the P700 the ideal projector for an educator to travel with going from village to village. That need may not be large in the US or other “1st world” nations, but there are plenty of places on earth where there’s a need for a projector reasonably bright enough for a classroom, yet one that can survive without AC power.
At maximum output the P700 is bright enough to work in a classroom with screen sizes up to say, 6 foot diagonal, with low to modest ambient light present. Of course it can’t match the wall melting power of today’s 6-10 pound lamp based projectors putting out 2500 – 3500 lumens, but there was a time when schools routinely installed 600 – 1000 lumen projectors in classrooms.
There’s a built in media player that can be used for presentations from jpg (Powerpoint will output as a series of JPGs), and a host of other graphic and video formats supported, but no PDF or Microsoft office support in PC Free mode.
There is, of course an HDMI port, but the AAXA P700 lacks MHL for streaming sticks. It will work with some mobile devices with an MHL adapter (think some Samsung Galaxy tablets…), still MHL on board would have been even better.
We found one technical “glitch,” aka complaint – call this just a story to tell – which AAXA could fix by firmware. When we reviewed the P700 the aspect ratio was fine when working from computers, so if you ran a movie from a PC, it would look right, but if off of a cable/satellite box, or Blu-ray/DVD player the image gets slightly vertically stretched. About two months after we posted the review, AAXA came up with the firmware fix. We did not get around to confirming it, but I believe them. The fix simply required a download, and loading running it on the P700 using a USB thumb drive. Typical. AAXA was very responsive about the whole matter, for I think that I may have been the first to report the problem, in which case, that would indicate they take customer service – and getting things right – seriously.
All considered, an impressive pocket projector with battery capability. A must consider in its class. Great price!
LG specializes is small solid state projectors – mostly in the pocket sized class like this PW800. LG tends to build them as almost “generic” projectors, with a feature set that could be considered functional in business/education, but also in the home market. The PW800 is one like that. Here we consider it primarily as an education projector, but it also has a built in TV tuner.
As you would expect there’s an HDMI input, and it supports MHL for working with streaming sticks and other “mobile” MHL friendly devices.
When it comes time for serious presenting and education use, know that the LG PW800 is particularly good at doing “PC Free.” The onboard media player supports more than just photos and videos, it supports pdfs, and perhaps most importantly, Microsoft office documents. Need to show a spreadsheet, a Word doc, or a Powerpoint presentation, just load them onto a USB thumb drive, and plug it in. The capable remote will make navigating and projecting that (and other) content, easy.
Our biggest issue with the LG PW800 – which, btw, based on performance earned a Hot Product award, was in their brightness claims. While it’s uncommon to find a pocket projector that beats claims – most seem to measure about 25% less than claim – the LG PW800 came in at barely 40% of claim, just over 300 lumens. Yet even with that far lower than expected output, the combination of feature set, and picture quality still impressed.
Picture quality is impressive, five modes plus Expert 1 (shown here), with varying color temp, but overall very good color, better than some much larger, more expensive projectors. Sharpness was better than most pocket projectors, still not quite up to a typical WXGA lamp based projector. BTW, as is also typical of pocket projectors – no zoom lens. If a school or district has the need of some seriously mobile (under 1.5 lbs) projectors, and can live with the barely 300 lumens, the LG PW800 should be considered a good low cost possibility.
NEC’s UM352W is, on paper, a $1999 WXGA ultra short throw projector with a $1999 MSRP including two interactive pens. If you want the latest in interactivity, though, that can be accomplished by buying the optional kit which adds finger touch control instead of having to use the pens to perform interactive functions. Look to spend about $200 for that optional kit, or a $2398 package, with the kit, and a wall mount. NEC shows a 10% Education discount on virtually all of their projectors. That discount seems to be passed through by dealers.
The UM352W goes up head to head with projectors like last year’s Best In Classroom – Interactive Projector Winner – Epson’s 595Wi. I don’t have a great handle on the extent of NEC’s educational discount programs but I expect them to offer competitive discounts, so as to do battle with other manufacturers in the bid for the larger volume sales to schools, districts, and even state wide consortiums. Certainly consider the UM352 to be a top tier competitor in the Interactive projector space.
Ron, who has done almost all of our interactive projector reviews over the past three years, found the UM352W to be competitively priced, solid, and having a lot of major features. He bestowed one of our Hot Product Awards on the UM352W!
Networking, for example, supports Crestron RoomView for extensive advanced features. There’s a microphone input, a particularly good 20 watt sound system, and a cool split screen mode that will let you put up to 16 computer (or other devices – smart phones, tablets, over the network, etc.) on the screen at once – normally showing one large, and the others as thumbnails. Very capable.
When it comes to the claimed 3500 lumens, this is a 3LCD projector so has as many color, as white lumens, which means it can tackle a typical K-12 classroom under full fluorescent lighting! And it’s powerful enough to also handle all but the largest university classrooms.
For scientific applications, know that the UM352W projector is DICOM Sim capable – that is, it reveals enough contrast and detail to be used in a university or medical school environment for teaching how to read CAT-scans, MRI’s X-rays and other scientific films! That’s a big, important capability for some applications, not found on most competing interactive projectors!
Hi Brightness mode, slightly topped the 3500 lumen claim, but as expected, “brightest mode” color wasn’t great (heavy green yellow) as is typical of such modes. Good news – Presentation mode still topped 3000 lumens and produced a very good looking image. Sharpness was extremely good for an ultra short throw projector!
Definitely the UM352W is a serious competitor.
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