SAN FRANCISCO (03/28/2000) - Lugging around a heavy projector for a mobile presentation is nobody's idea of fun. Is a lightweight projector a better option? Macworld Lab looked at seven projectors, each weighing under 10 pounds, and we were pleasantly surprised. All of the projectors offer either outstanding or acceptable image contrast, color, and brightness. Unfortunately, although the projectors are small in size, they're not small in price: they start at $4,999 and climb from there. And it's important to remember that you're paying for weight (or lack of it); these projectors' features can't match those of heavier models.
The Quantity of Quality
Our jury of experts ran the projectors-four LCD models (the Proxima UltraLight LS1 and the Epson America Inc. PowerLite 500c, 710c, and 5550c) and three DLP (digital light processing) models (the InFocus LP330, the NEC MultiSync LT84, and the Sharp Notevision7)-through subjective tests to evaluate brightness, contrast, color, gray-scale output, text rendering, and DVD video display. In tests of brightness, contrast, and color, none of the projectors performed unacceptably; however, the Epson PowerLite 710c and 5550c were the brightest and most pleasing to look at. Similarly, in our gray-scale tests, all the projectors achieved either excellent or fair results; the Epson PowerLite 710c and 5550c and the NEC MultiSync LT84 were the best of the bunch. The InFocus LP330 produced a fair gray-scale image but displayed "dancing" pixels that didn't go away when we adjusted the display.
For our text test, we used a simple PowerPoint presentation. With the exception of the InFocus LP330, the DLP projectors presented even 8-point fonts clearly-something the LCD projectors couldn't do, although they could accurately display fonts as small as 16-point before text began looking jagged and unreadable. The Proxima LS1 took some adjusting, but eventually it was able to project excellent-looking results.
We tested the projectors' DVD video abilities using a set-top DVD player similar to what you'd see in a simple home-theater setup. We connected the player to the projectors using an S-Video cable, an option available on all the models. The DLP projectors performed adequately when projecting DVD video but suffered from graininess and poor image quality. The LCD projectors did better, with the Epson PowerLite 500c and 710c ranking highest.
Set It and Forget It
If you'll be connecting your projector to a variety of computers, it's important that the equipment work with little effort and be easy to set up. All the projectors we tested, except the InFocus LP330, could be set up with little or no problem. The InFocus required resetting monitor resolutions, restarting the computer, and resyncing to get the picture to display correctly.
The Sharp Notevision7 is the best plug-and-play projector of the group. It not only offers worry-free setup but also displays helpful, accurate progress bars while it warms up and while it syncs with the computer after you change the resolution. The other projectors aren't nearly as helpful, displaying either a blank screen or a simple dialog box.
Remotes and Sound
All the projectors come with both on-board and remote controls. The Proxima UltraLight LS1, Sharp Notevision7, and NEC MultiSync have remotes that include laser pointers. We found that the laser pointer drew attention to the screen faster than a mouse pointer or other projector-generated on-screen pointers.
The remotes can also be used to control the mouse. We judged the NEC MultiSync's optional remote to be the best in this category; it features a multidirectional pad for mouse movement. All the projectors except the Proxima LS1 are controllable from more than 20 feet away, even with obstacles between the remote and the projector.
In a small, quiet room, these projectors can pump out the sound. The Epson PowerLite 5550c and 710c offer 3-D surround sound, while the InFocus and NEC projectors feature stereo sound (the others offer mono sound). The Epson PowerLite 5550c and the Proxima UltraLight LS1 had the best sound quality; the worst was the Sharp Notevision7.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Full-size projectors are less expensive and better equipped than any of the lightweight projectors we tested. But if your projector will be moved around, taken on the road, or used in conjunction with a laptop, the lower weight might be worth the higher price. If you can spend the money, go for the Epson PowerLite 710c. It packs the best performance into one of the lightest chassis and offers trouble-free setup. If money is a concern, consider the Epson 5550c: it's an excellent value, packing the widest array of features, ease of use, and quality into a low price. It's the ideal projector for a multiuser environment on a budget.