Screening Success

By Michael Browne Published Date
01 - Mar - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Mar - 2007
Screening Success

Great Ideas are nothing but decent ideas that have been presented really well. Dim the lights ladies and gentlemen…nine projectors in test!

Be it a PowerPoint slide of the next big idea or a sales report, it’s the presentation that matters. Because the devil really is in the details! How many times have you come across a really great idea falling short of appeal because of inefficient communication? And what else is a presentation if not an effort to psyche (for lack of a better word) others into your way of thinking?

And that’s what a projector is—a communication tool for the discerning professional, which gets across the message like no words or laptops ever can. Gone are the days when boardrooms were impressed by presentations on a puny 15.4-inch screen. If you want to get your point across, you need emphatic statements, strong convictions, and, of course, one of these test subjects!

Projectors these days aren’t exclusive to the corporate realm, and their use in building a home entertainment system is a trend that is sharply on the rise, especially over the last year or so.

LCD TVs have made a splash, and so have the newer and bigger plasma screens.

While a 103-inch screen may mean visual utopia, the prices of such screens are astronomical. Enter the projector… As you will see all throughout these tests, some of the projectors we received make for very suitable components for a full-fledged home entertainment system.

Most corporate users will feel that a costlier home-entertainment projector isn’t necessary for presenting reports. With escalating costs, it isn’t necessary to add one more, is it? Wrong—as with all technology, the binary of advancements and falling costs is strongly in place.

Most projectors available today are XGA (capable of a resolution of 1024x768). These are typically viewed as entertainment projectors because of the superior resolution they provide; however, they don’t cost as much as you’d think. With businesses using Flash animations and even 3D rendering software for presentations, a multimedia projector is well worth the little extra.

There will also be those users (albeit one in a thousand of our readers) who will want to, or be able to, afford to use a projector to play games. Yes, hooked up to a capable PC, most XGA projectors today are capable of very acceptable results. We tried playing a number of games on all the projectors, and a couple of our gaming freaks actually started creeping into the Digit Test Centre for some late-night action!

Gone are the days when a business-grade projector was just that, and totally unsuitable for multimedia purposes. Today’s projectors are more suitable to a variety of tasks.

Acer PD-726W

The Black Knight

Perhaps the best looking of the test candidates, Acer’s large PD-726W comes in an attractive yet sober black-silver colour tone. The build quality is laudable.

 One sore point—the remote will not interface with the projector if you are seated directly behind the unit. To use the remote from behind the projector you’ll need to elevate the remote or come to either side (left or right) or in front of the projector. The second gripe is with the remote buttons—they are too hard; a complete lack of tactility.

The minimum throw distance of 2.85 metres is on the high side, not suitable for confined spaces.

The PD-726W offers connectivity galore with Component, S-Video, RCA, D-Sub, DVI, and even HDMI. Network connectivity is via RJ45 and Wi-Fi. Interfacing with the device is possible through RS-232 and USB (both USB A and B type connects are provided in the package).

The menu interface is good, and the PD-726W has a lot of extra networking options. It allows specifying an IP address to which a message can be automatically sent if anything goes wrong.

The PD726W was the brightest amongst all our tests subjects, while not suffering contrast deficiencies (2500:1).

 During calibration the 256-shade intensity screen gave excellent results—there were no transitions visible from changes of intensity of a particular colour. The PD-726W renders reds the best from the lot that came for testing. It performed well in the presentation tests and should make a very capable boardroom partner. However, we didn’t like the rendition in photographs: our test photos were missing some of the finer details. Our business readers will be happy to note that text reproduction is sharp.

Halos that appeared around extremely light colours would disappear by tuning brightness and contrast settings, but we do not adjust anything once we finish calibrating, so the PD-726W lost out here.

The PD726W makes for a great movie projector with sharp image rendition and great contrast. Throw a couple of games at it and it’ll shine even more. F.E.A.R. looked virtually as crisp as it looks on a desktop monitor!

With some sterling scores across the board, our Best Buy Gold Award is Acer’s, as their PD-726W smokes out the other contenders, though there were some close scores. It’s suitable for most users, and will handle business and multimedia applications equally well. Although its heavy with corporate features, the  inclusion of hardcore multimedia features such as HDMI makes Acer’s PD-726W top dog in the entertainment sphere as well.

Epson EMP-1715

Feature-rich, fancy-free!

Epson’s EMP-1715 was the definitive plain-jane in our test labs. Grey and beige don’t do much for style, while the boxy contours stick to the stereotype. That’s not to say the EMP-1715 is any less a projector.

It’s built well; the only problem with the structural design as far as we could tell was the air inlet, which is placed at the bottom. This would surely restrict or inhibit air flow, especially when the projector isn’t elevated. We’d have preferred the air intake on one of the sides to remedy this. The EMP1715 did get rather hot during our tests. All projectors heat up; this one seemed a few degrees higher than the others.

Epson focuses on the business segment with the EMP-1715, and this is apparent with the limited video connectivity—D-Sub, S-Video, and RCA. The common RS-232 interface is also absent; thankfully, USB connects (A and B types) are provided.

Wi-Fi makes an appearance on the EMP-1715. The options are very good; once again, diagnostics and IP messaging (in case of problems) is possible. RJ45 connectivity is absent, though.

The EMP-1715 has a reasonably long throw. Epson claims a maximum throw distance of 12.1 metres. This makes it more suitable for larger conference rooms. It can also be used in tighter spaces, with a minimum throw distance of 1.2 meters.

The DisplayMate Suite performed reasonably well on the EMP-1715, except for the colour tests. We had problems with streaky blacks in the black-level shift test. The EMP-1715 also has problems with rendering colour transitions. For example, when moving from lighter to darker shades of red, the gradations were clearly noticeable instead of the smooth transition one expects.

When it came to our PowerPoint slide tests, text wasn’t as clear as we’d have wanted it—there was noticeable blurring around the edges. Although the text and graphs were indeed clearly legible, we expected much more. Photograph quality was all right, though detail in darker colours was lost, which smacks of an inadequate contrast ratio.

Movie-watching was fun on the EMP-1715—good colour rendition, and none of the blurriness or tearing (a display anomaly) that usually happens in fast action movies. However, it wasn’t near the NEC NP40 and the Acer PD-726W as sheer picture quality and clarity go.

Gaming isn’t much fun on this projector. The lack of contrast and detail is immediately noticeable, and this is a problem for the latest crop of games.

Epson’s EMP-1715 is a business oriented projector. It’s not much in the way of a home entertainment device. Unfortunately, it has a few quirks with performance in its own area—the business tests.

At Rs 1,54,000, the EMP-1715 commands too hefty a price tag for the performance it places at your disposal. It’s a feature-rich projector that fails to project itself past that significant “must-buy” line.

How We Tested
Test Bed
Processor        Core 2 Duo X6800
Motherboard    Intel D975XBX2
Memory        1 GB DDR2 533 MHz
Graphics Card    GeForce 8800GTX
Hard Disk     Seagate SATA 2 400 GB

Test Conditions

1.    Zero per cent ambient lighting (completely dark room)
2.    No zoom used during testing (except when testing for zoom quality)
3.    Projected image size was kept constant throughout the tests
4.    Keystone correction was avoided unless absolutely necessary (because it results in loss of quality)
5.    DVI connectivity was used. In case of lack of digital connectivity, D-Sub was used
6.    Each projector was kept on for 15 minutes more than their rated warm-up time before the pre-test calibration began. This was done to ensure the best possible colour rendition
7.    Default settings were not used. We chose to calibrate each projector to get the best visual quality possible

Features We Looked At

1.    Common paper specifications like Brightness and Contrast Ratio. While disbelieving paper specs, we went on to check practically in our tests whether each of the test subjects lived up to the claims made
2.    Number of preset modes, and keystone correction (and its effectiveness)
3.    Connectivity options (such as DVI, D-Sub, S-Video)
4.    Quality of optical zoom
5.    Weight of the projector (portability is an issue, especially with business-class projectors, while home audiences will look at visual quality rather than size)
6.    Control options (inbuilt mouse, remote control with laser pointers, etc.)

The Gamut Of Tests

1.    DisplayMate Video Edition: A well-known video evaluation tool. DisplayMate is also used to test monitors of all sorts. We used this software to evaluate visual quality and also to check for any display anomalies. We tested various parameters like contrast, colour accuracy, brightness, moiré, resolution, focusing, streaking, and ghosting.
2.    Picture Quality Tests: We used a set of high-resolution bitmap and Photoshop image files. We checked for colour rendition and also gradations in colour. The subject remained constant, but we used varying levels of colour and even greyscale.
3.    Presentation Tests: We used a PowerPoint presentation that consisted of text and graphs. We checked primarily for the readability of text, and after   that, the reproduction of colours and detail in the graphs.
4.    Animation Tests: We used a high-quality DVD copy of Shrek 2. This enabled us to verify accurate colour rendition, and the ability to display intricate details. Our non-animated movie was Alexander, which contains sufficient matter to accurately judge the projector’s ability to provide a satisfying theatre experience.
5.    Game Tests: We used F.E.A.R. as a benchmark. The game was run at with 4x AF and 4x AA enabled and all visuals set to their maximum values. We used the projectors’ native resolutions.


Jack and master…

The VT590 from NEC is part of their entertainment range. It’s an XGA-supporting LCD projector decked in attractive piano white. Build quality is very good, and the body feels sturdy. As opposed to some of the boxy models we received, the VT590 is also curvier, and will suit business and home environments looks-wise.

A fully-functional remote interfaces with the device, and one thing immediately noticeable was the clear demarcations near the connectors at the rear—clearly visible in dim lighting, which is helpful. We’ve come across a couple of projectors (the BenQ MP611c comes immediately to mind) where we could make out nothing of the legends of each connector unless we turned on our overhead lights. Such minor points add up; manufacturers should think from a consumer’s perspective—like the difficulties in setting up the projector in less-than-ambient lighting.

The VT590 adds a thoughtful on/off switch, something we missed on earlier models. It loses out on Digital Video (DVI) and PC stereo connectivity. Also absent are the USB interface and wireless connectivity.

After calibrating this beauty, we fired up the DisplayMate suite first. We immediately hit resolution problems with the horizontal bar tests. There was a noticeable lack of resolution, and even the solid bar lacked uniformity. The remainder of the test suite passed uneventfully.

Corporate users will be interested to note the lack of detail in text during our presentation tests. This projector is not for you if you plan on using a lot of text applications. These problems persisted in MS Word and even while viewing PDFs. Its not that image quality was bad overall; icons were very decently viewable—it’s just the text that appeared somewhat blurry despite repeated attempts at calibration.

The NEC VT590 resurrected itself somewhat in the multimedia tests with good performance throughout our test movie as well as in F.E.A.R. where the visuals were definitely acceptable.

Priced at Rs 84,000, the NEC VT590 doesn’t showcase itself as a strong performer in any one domain. It follows the jack-of-all-trades stereotype and ends up being mediocre at a few tasks and decent at a couple. Not enough for us to recommend it to the serious-minded business or home user.


The better twin

The bigger brother of the VT590, the VT695G ups the lumen count by 500 (to 2500 lumens), and adds DVI and PC stereo connectivity. The models look identical, though, and stickers aside, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.

The VT695G sports a much more forgiving lens that has a wider throw range than its sibling (0.7 to 10.7 meters).

It seems NEC addressed, in this model, all the problems the VT590 has, at least as far as DisplayMate goes. The VT695G breezed through all the tests with no real complaints. Good resolution and a contrast ratio that seemed somehow better than the VT590 (despite the fact that the specifications are identical on paper).

The VT695G is an ideal corporate projector with great image rendition during the PowerPoint tests; the text remained clear and bar-graph colours appeared as vivid as they should be on-screen.

On to the multimedia tests: movie-watching is a real treat on this projector, with all the sharpness you’d expect from a large-screen TV. There was a problem with the reds, which were oversaturated after calibration. Toning this down resolved the problem and we verified this, but we do not fine tune the projector settings once we’ve calibrated them, so this was noted as a problem, albeit a small one. The VT695G will suit gamers too: there’s adequate contrast and sharpness around to ensure all the latest games like F.E.A.R. and Oblivion look their best—great level of detail.

Priced at Rs 22,400 more than its twin, the NEC VT695G offers a good mix of performance and features for all user groups. It also adds a couple of features over the VT590 which further sweetens things.


A diminutive powerhouse

The smallest of the NEC trio, the NP40 is a DLP projector, sporting an excellent on-paper contrast ration of 1500:1. What we immediately liked was the tiny footprint—the NP40 was by far the smallest projector we received this year. Build quality-wise, there are no complaints, and the NP40 feels sturdy. The dull grey finish won’t win many hearts, yet the overall tones aren’t displeasing.
NEC has positioned the NP40 as a multimedia projector. We were therefore expecting DVI connectivity, but there was none. PC interfacing is via RS-232. The lack of USB or wireless connectivity won’t impress the business audience. Audio inputs are absent too.

Setting up the NP40 is a snap mainly because there’s hardly anything you can do wrong with the limited connectivity. The lens auto-focuses via an ultra-sharp and ultra-convenient optical zoom—nifty! Adjust the image size, and the lens will auto-focus; in fact, there is no manual focus control.

Our initial colour calibrations showcased the NP40’s brilliant black level. The Pluge patterns in DisplayMate were clearly visible. Many projectors have a problem displaying very dark shades of grey, and black on a black background—not so with this projector!
Our sharpness and resolution tests gave the NP40 no problems whatsoever, and it exceeded the Acer PD726W here. The colour and greyscale tests were a breeze for the NP40, except for the colour purity of red: the NP40 seemed to display a shade of red that wasn’t too far off from orange! Once we fiddled with the red balance a bit, the rendition of red seemed better, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the performance of the Acer PD726W and the Sharp XG-C330X.

Moving on to our text and presentation tests: the NEC NP40 dominates big time here. It aced even the Acer PD726W (pun intended) and text quality was excellent, absolutely no anomalies noticeable. Our slideshow looked excellent, and any boardroom presentation will spring to life with the rich colours on display.

Movie watchers can shut their eyes and opt for the NEC NP40. It makes for an excellent home entertainment companion.

Our gaming tests did well on the NP40 too, especially the visual effects in F.E.A.R., which were clear, sharp and precise—absolutely no loss of detail or pixelation even through fast action scenes.

With sterling scores throughout our tests, the NP40 slides into second position, just losing out to the feature-rich Acer PD726W and bagging the Digit Best Buy Silver Award. At Rs 1,00,800, we recommend this projector for anyone, business or home user alike, who wants uncompromised visual quality; its small footprint also makes it sufficiently portable.

Panasonic PT-LB60EA

For the presenter in you!

Panasonic’s PT-LB60 is a big unit sporting a low profile and a classy looking silver-grey finish that’ll assure second glances. Everything from the lens cover to the buttons on its surface breathe supreme build quality. We liked the rear-mounted buttons, namely the menu button and the five-way joystick—reminiscent of a cell phone. Menu navigation is very comfortable even without the remote unit. The menu structure is good, though NEC does their menu layout just a touch better.

The PT-LB60 offers a multitude of connectivity options— there are two D-Sub ins, the second of which functions as an out too. PC and RCA audio outputs are are also present. Wireless connectivity is possible, though the USB interface has been left out. Overall, the PT-LB60’s connectivity should satisfy most corporate users.

DisplayMate’s first set of tests favoured the PT-LB60, and this projector didn’t have any issues with resolution or sharpness. It performed well in the colour tests as well, with great rendition of all primary and secondary colours. However, in the greyscale portion of the tests, the PT-LB60 has issues in the black shift test, and the shades of the black bars weren’t uniform as they should ideally be. There were also slight issues with flickering, which was more noticeable on this projector than on the other XGA projectors.

Business users will enjoy vibrant presentations and clear, crisp text. Both the photograph and movie quality tests were also passed very well indeed.

The Panasonic PT-LB60 makes for a decent gaming companion. Although the lack of contrast is noticeable especially in dark atmospheric games like F.E.A.R., performance was acceptable overall.

At Rs 1,64,990, the PT-LB60 is feature-rich, albeit pricey and makes a good business projector. It performed commendably in all the business tests, with no serious complaints. Multimedia users will also be happy with the performance on offer, but there are better options available in the home entertainment segment.

Sharp XG-C330X

A sharp-performing short thrower!

A sturdy unit, the Sharp XG-C330X is large. The silver-beige colouring isn’t much to talk about—but it’s suitable for the typically sober corporate environment. Resolution is XGA, although a maximum widescreen resolution of 1400 x 1050 pixels is supported. Build quality is very good; a handle is also provided. Digital connectivity (DVI) is a definite plus, and will offer better image quality. D-Sub, RCA, and S-Video connects are also present. There’s also a VGA-out (D-Sub) so you can hook up another projector in parallel, or a display. Sharp’s menu layout is good—and there are a large number of predefined picture modes—six, to be exact.

The XG-C330X comes with a very capable short-throw lens. Capable of throwing a sharp image onto a screen just over half a metre away means the XG-C330X is very much at home in space-restricted environments. In fact, this projector has the shortest throw lens of the lot. The maximum throw distance of 8.44 meters provided by the default lamp should suffice for all but the largest of boardrooms.

Setting up this projector was a snap. Keystone was absent—a good sign. After calibrating the projector, we threw the Display Mate suite at it. The XG-C330X performed very well in the sharpness and resolution tests. It especially handled the focus matrix set of tests well. Although the XG-C330X is a good performer, it loses out on clarity.

The colour tests were generous to the XG-C330X—no ghosting, and great performance in the shade tests. In fact, our 256-colour transition looked very natural with no gradations visible. It does have a slight problem with oversaturated reds, and the intensity of red has to be toned down slightly lower than blue and green levels. This isn’t a shortcoming: slight adjustments make the problem disappear, as we discovered.

Our presentation tests breezed by the XG-C330X. Text quality is very good and sharp with no visible distortion: the projector is therefore suitable for text and graphics-heavy presentations—typical corporate usage.

The Sharp XG-C330X is equally suitable for video viewing. Our animated movie looked very good overall, though we saw an insufficient contrast ratio. This was confirmed with the movie test; blacks aren’t as black as you’d expect them to be, and the variations in grey seem somehow limited. Image quality in both tests was right up there, and no ghosting or pixelation is noticeable.

The lack of a high enough contrast ratio is lamented particularly in the home entertainment sphere—movies and gaming. Corporate users should not be affected by this at all.

Our game tests proved the lower contrast ratio (the specification quoting 600:1 notwithstanding). In F.E.A.R., we missed enemies in dark areas due to the fact that their uniforms were also dark. Visuals are good, and the slow motion effects in the game look amazing. Were it not for the slight contrast ratio problem, the XG-C330X makes a great gaming projector as well.

Priced at Rs 1,37,000, the XG-C330X makes for a very capable all-round projector. It warrants special attention for those looking for an extremely short-throw projector. However, it is clearly geared towards the corporate segment, which is probably why performance falls short of expectations in the multimedia environment—albeit only because of a deficient contrast ratio. Overall, though, there are better options available for both business and home audiences.

Jargon Buster
Resolution Unlike CRT monitors and most TFT displays today, projectors are finicky about native resolutions and will not perform well at anything less (or more) than their native values. Quite simply, the higher the resolution the better the performance—smaller and more precise pixels lead to greater image quality with less aliasing. An XGA projector will, 9.9 times out of 10, outperform an SVGA projector. However, value also makes an important point here, and the price difference between the projectors sporting these resolutions is very large.

Contrast Ratio
Quite simply, the higher the contrast ratio the better. Contrast ratio is defined as the ratio between the brightest and darkest areas of a screen. It represents the maximum variations in the intensity of light that a projector can render. A contrast ratio of 400:1 is sufficient for most applications. Movie buffs and gamers should look at something in the range of 600:1.

Keystone Correction Keystone occurs when the distance between the projector and the top of the image on-screen is much greater than the distance between the projector and the bottom of the screen. Keystone is also called Trapezoidal Distortion. Keystone correction, as the name suggests, consists of correcting the distortion by altering the shape of the projected image. The Keystone correction value is measured in degrees positive or negative.

Moiré is a phenomenon noticed when two screened images are superimposed on each other at certain angles. In terms of projectors and displays in general, moiré will cause one pattern to be superimposed on another, making for somewhat of a blurred effect. It is an undesirable effect and is present in most projectors. Only the degree of severity differs, based on how visible (or not) it is.

Video Interconnects
This is significant especially for home entertainment users. D-Sub and DVI (Digital Visual Connectivity) are mainly useful for PC interfaces. The difference is that DVI provides a digital signal, hence offers higher quality viewing especially for multimedia content. As far as connectivity to other devices like DVD players go S-Video and Composite connects are something to look for. They offer much better colour separation than RCA. HDMI (High Definition Media Interface) is an emerging standard that carries uncompressed digital video and audio signals on a single connector.

Focus Matrix DisplayMate has a whole series of focus tests under its Sharpness and Resolution test suite to test the ability of a projector or screen to display sharp, finely-focused images. These test screens consist of fine patterns of dots in differing dot densities, and also minute, identical patterns. (There are different screens, some with finer patterns, some with coarser patterns.) An ideal projector will render these minute details with as little variation as possible on a single screen. We check for variance in patterns on a single screen.

Definitions abound, but simply put, aliasing in terms of digital imaging refers to the occurrence of jagged edges that occur when a signal is sampled and reconstructed as an alias of another signal (the original). Its also referred to as artefacting.

BenQ MP611c

Playing with big boys is no fun…

The BenQ MP611c was the only sub XGA projector (SVGA) resolution projector we received. It’s the successor to the MP610 we received last year. This is aimed by BenQ as an entry-level projector for both the business and home entertainment segments. It’s surprising to see multiple D-Sub connects on the MP611c, as well as a USB port. Some of the costlier models missing out on this seems to be unforgivable, especially considering the price of this unit—a mere Rs 52,000.

Build quality is good—very good, in fact, for the price—and the body is piano-finished in dark blue. The body is a scratch magnet, as we discovered; of course, the dark colour accentuates any minor scratches picked up.

The DisplayMate suite was fired up first. We noticed some problems with bar resolution right away, owing to the drop in resolution. Our eyes had become accustomed to 1024 x 768! Despite this, it performed well in the moiré tests, but sadly, screen pixel resolution just doesn’t match up.

The problem with resolution made its presence even in the colour and greyscale tests. We found serious problems with intensity transitions in each of the shades; darker colours like blue fared better. There were problems with shades even in the black and white shift tests—too many disparities noticeable.

We suggest that corporate users steer clear of the BenQ MP611c, at least in their offices. Text quality is poor with noticeable blurriness and pixilation. The same was noticeable in our photograph quality tests. The MP611c redeemed itself by a small degree in our movie tests, but the difference in quality between an SVGA projector and an XGA projector is very noticeable.

F.E.A.R. looked a little more scary than normal on this projector—due to the lack of visuals and visibility than anything else. Gaming on this projector is not a happy experience: despite the fact that there was no ghosting on-screen, deficient contrast and sharpness besmirch the gaming experience.

Choosing A Projector Screen
Buying the best projector for a given price doesn’t guarantee great image quality. A little-known fact is that the quality of the projected image depends greatly on the screen used. In fact, a general thumb rule to be followed is that at least a fourth of the cost of the projector should be kept aside for the screen.
Besides the fact that screens are available in different sizes and qualities, there are also different types of screens available based on their gain values. Don’t be confused by the term “gain.” No screen can compensate for a low-lumen-rating projector and boost light. Gain therefore measures the brightness of the screen and its directional characteristics. However, screens today have specific characteristics themselves and are designed to perform optimally under certain specific conditions. Their characteristics are matched to factors like the size of the room, ambient light, audience viewing position, and the type of media displayed.
There are four types of screens available. Note that the first two are by far the most commonly-used screens.

High Gain

Such screens are characterised by highly reflective surfaces, and they’re designed to produce bright images. Very suitable for multimedia content, or if the projector has lower brightness levels. A high gain screen is also suitable for relatively brightly-lit rooms. The only disadvantage of a high gain screen is the poor viewing angles, that is, not more than 60 degrees.

Low Gain

These screens have matte finishes and are therefore less reflective. Due to this they also enjoy the advantage of wider viewing angles—up to 100 degrees. Perceived brightness is only adequate in dim lighting, so low gain screens don’t perform well in anything more than dim lighting.

Silver Lenticular

These screens were in use early in the motion picture era, but are still around. They are basically vertically ridged. They are rarely used these days for regular office or home projection purposes. Their only use remains in the projection of 3D films, because the silver dust embedded in these screens is highly reflective. Hence they are suitable for keeping two light signals segregated.

Rear Projection

As the name suggests, the projector is placed on the opposite side of the screen to the audience, that is, behind the screen. They are much more delicate and costlier than regular screens, and are therefore used in places where a fixed setup is desirous.


The Lens Of The Matter: Long And Short Throw
There are mainly two types of lenses for projectors, based on the relationship between the size of the image projected and the distance between the projector and screen. A general rule of thumb for a standard projector lens is a foot of screen for every two feet of distance between the projector and the screen. Long-throw lenses will be able to maintain a larger distance between the screen and the projector while providing a clear image of the same size. Similarly, a short-throw lens will be able to provide the same image size while maintaining minimal distances between the projector and screen.
Most projectors ship with a default lens that is neither truly long throw nor short throw, but something in between—so that they’re suitable for a larger range of situations. If you wish, you can always change the lens—for example, if you’re only going to use the projector in a large hall, get yourself a long throw lens.
Comparing the two types of lens is impossible—their suitability depends on the conditions—namely the distance between the projector and screen. For large halls where the projector may be set up very far from the screen, obviously a long-throw lens would be preferred. Not only will the image size be controllable, such lens can also project a clear image even over relatively large distances. A short-throw lens would project an image that would overflow the screen; moreover, the image would be unfocused.
A short-throw lens is suitable for small conference rooms or classrooms—basically any place where the distance between projector and screen is insubstantial. A long-throw lens would project too small an image if used in such a situation.
Nearly all projectors (standard, long-throw, and short throw) sport zoom lenses. This allows them to compensate somewhat for the inherent shortcomings in the lens type used.


A bonsai, this…

The PTV-01B was the dark horse in our tests, a new brand in the Indian projector market. At a glance, it looks like a huge toy, with body plastic reminiscent of Leo-Mattel’s toys. That’s not a bad thing, and it feels sturdy to hold. If you can hold it, that is—at a shade less than 6 kg, it’s heavy! It’s by far the bulkiest projector we received.

This is a strictly a home-entertainment-only projector, and the PTV-01B makes no bones about this, losing out on USB and wireless connectivity. It also does without any DVI inputs. Zen assumes you have a discrete sound setup as well, so the PTV-01B does without any audio inputs. There’s a cable TV input though, something we didn’t see on any of the other contenders. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “large-screen TV”!

We quickly ran into problems setting this one up. The PTV-01B doesn’t have any zoom capabilities—this is absolutely shocking! The focus is adjustable (though it isn’t very effective). The only way to zoom in or out is to actually move the projector closer or further from the screen.

The DisplayMate tests weren’t completed to our satisfaction. In fact, calibrating the PTV-01B with a setup menu devoid of too many options was difficult. The Sharpness and Resolution tests saw severe problems with the horizontal and vertical bar resolutions. The PTV-01B just could not render this test satisfactorily. This was also the only projector where there were noticeable problems with the corner resolution test.

Moving on to the colour tests, we saw problems with nearly all the tests, with clear anomalies visible on-screen.

The Zen PTV-01B isn’t suitable for presentation work; text was unreadable, and we developed headaches just straining our eyes to make out what was written on-screen. Our PowerPoint designs and photograph tests fared no better. To Zen’s defence, the PTV-01B isn’t aimed at such applications. Let’s go on to see how it performed in its area of competence.

Although colours were rendered as crisply as we’d like, the PTV-01B tried its best to perform at least decently here. It managed to do so, but with some very mediocre scores. The BenQ MP611c makes a much better buy at the same price point if movie-watching is your thing.

Do to its poor contrast ratio and low sharpness, the Zen PTV-01B isn’t a gamer’s dream—”nightmare” is more like it, as we found when playing F.E.A.R.! At Rs 42,000, the only thing it has going for it is its price. Not a big deal, since the BenQ MP611c swings into the same budget range.

What we think
The first difference noticeable from last year’s comparison is the ratio of XGA to SVGA projectors we received. This year we received seven XGA projectors and just two SVGA projectors. This shows a trend that manufacturers are targeting the Indian market for higher-end products. This is partially due to the increase in the demand for projectors, and the penetration of these devices into the domestic arena.

Surprisingly, the increase in demand has nothing to do with falling prices, and price reductions, if any, will arise from further increase in demand—a most uncommon phenomenon in India, which is primarily a value-oriented market.

A growing number of corporate customers have adopted projectors for all their boardroom and sales pitch needs. A much smaller fraction of home users have also populated the projector bandwagon. We’re hoping to see price reductions next year!

Michael BrowneMichael Browne