Supersize Me!

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Jan - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Jan - 2005
Supersize Me!
In an environment where meetings are ritualistically convened, either for  presenting an idea or for making a sales pitch, a projector is a regular guest. A projector is essential to any business. Are you using the right projector to convey your business ideas to colleagues and clients alike? Is your projector the right resolution for your conference room, and does it have the correct lumen rating? What about the contrast ratio? Do you need to project on a wall or on cloth, and what should the ideal screen size be when using a projector?

But hang on, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Chances are, you are reading this simply to learn what projector would be right for your needs and budget.

Let's take it from the top. You need a projector, whether for business or for home entertainment (nothing screams "home theatre" like a 300-inch screen!). First up, let us find out what you should look for in a projector. We will then take you through the various ones we tested, pointing out the pros and cons of each one, so you can make an informed buying decision. As we always do, we demystify the technicalities behind the technology.

What Should I Look For In A Projector?
We will stick to text and graphics as we take you through this section. The reason for this is simple: moving images do not need the level of detail and accuracy that a picture in a PowerPoint file or numbers within an Excel sheet require.

Technology: Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) and Digital Light Processing (DLP) are two technologies used in a projector. A DLP projector uses an optical semiconductor which contains a rectangular array of up to 1.3 million hinge-mounted microscopic mirrors. These tilt either toward a light source (ON) or away from it (OFF)-creating a light or dark pixel on the projection surface.

An LCD projector consists of LCD panles and "Dichroic" mirrors which first split light into the consituent R, G and B colours. The panels are used to block differing amounts of each colour, allowing a total of 16.7 million colours to be produced when the light paths are recombined in a dichroic cube. The recombined light is then launched via the projection lens onto the screen.

HP vp6110

In terms of quality, there is little to differentiate between an LCD and a DLP projector. Most people are likely to opt for a DLP solution because it is normally the smaller of the two and the image quality, especially where movies are involved, is slightly better.

Resolution: Resolution determines the sharpness and clarity of an image. The most common resolution is SVGA or 800 x 600 pixels. This is sufficient for most users, and SVGA projectors are the cheapest available in the market.

Define your task here-if you are looking at meetings with nothing but presentation slides, SVGA is good enough. But if you are part of a sales team and find yourself pitching spreadsheets full of projected growth and earnings to your immediate superiors, you might want to look for an XGA or a 1,024 x 768 pixel projector. The larger number of pixels that an XGA solution affords will bring greater clarity to the small text so prevalent in a spreadsheet. You can take this forward: the finer the detailing on your presentation (maybe a CAD drawing?) the higher the resolution required, and the greater the price you will pay. You thus have SXGA (1,280 x 1,024) and UXGA (1,600 x 1,200) solutions, the latter being a rare breed due to their high asking price.

One final point to consider-a projector has a "native" resolution; the native resolution for an SVGA projector will be 800 x 600, for an SXGA unit 1,280 x 1024 and so on. Try and match the native resolution of your projector to the screen resolution of either your laptop or the PC from which you are sourcing the presentation. If the projector's native resolution is different from your computer's screen resolution, the output will appear fuzzy due to "scaling."

Brightness: This directly affects the size of the audience your projector can address. The brighter the projector the better, and you should always go for the brightest unit you can afford. Define the nature of your presentation first. If your business  showcases more videos, or if you are using the projector at home, brightness loses importance since these tasks are usually done in a dark room-and visibility is therefore not a problem. If, however, you are presenting to a group of note-takers or are teaching a workgroup, your room will need some sort of illumination, and so your projector's brightness comes to the fore. You can alleviate the need for bright units (since the associated cost increases with brightness) by employing reflecting screens for your projecting. Note that a typical wall is generally the worst place to project upon.

Finally, the size of your audience will also play a part. The larger your audience, the larger and brighter the projected image will need to be.

Brightness is measured in ANSI lumen or just lumen. An entry-level projector carries 1,000 lumen or less; as this rating increases, so does the price. A 3,000 lumen projector will classify as a high-end unit, but a 12,000 lumen unit is not unheard of and is often employed in public places like nightclubs.

How we tested And Awarded 
Test Bed
The test bed for projectors consisted of an ACi Impression M11 laptop with a P IV 2.4 GHz processor running Windows XP Professional SP1. It had 512 MB of DDR SDRAM, and an ATi 9700 graphic processor. All the projectors were tested with Windows Display Properties set to 32-bit colour. The projector's native resolution as specified by the manufacturer was set before the tests were run.

Before running the tests, parameters such as ambient light, distance of the projector from the screen and the graphic chips used in the test bed were kept identical for all projectors. Testing was done under controlled lighting with the distance from the screen set for optimal results, as specified in the users manual by the respective manufacturers. The screen we used measured 72x90 inches. The distance of the projector from the screen was then adjusted for optimal results.

Here, we noted feature sets such as brightness, contrast ratio, aspect ratio, optical zoom, manual focus, presence of various interfaces such as DVI, D-SUB, and so on, and dimensions and weight. We also logged special features such as remotes that doubled as a presentation tool.

Presentation Test
In this test, we ran a PowerPoint presentation, which included a movie clip, regular text on a white background, black text on a coloured background, coloured text on a coloured background, and a graph. This test was run under the "Presentation" mode and rest of the settings were left to factory defaults. This was to see how well the projector performed when used for presentations.

Animation Test
In this test, we ran a Flash file with animation and a clickable button. This test was to evaluate slow moving graphics, and also to check colour reproduction.

Movie Test
A DivX movie in 16:9 aspect ratio was run from the laptop to evaluate the "Theatre" mode of the projector. The projector was set to an aspect ratio of 16:9, if the particular feature was available; otherwise it was left at native mode.

DisplayMate Video Edition
DisplayMate Video Edition was used to test the image quality of the projectors. The tests are designed to bring out problems like digital noise, moiré patterns, streaking, ghosting and colour accuracy deviations. Twenty-two test screens, which included focus matrix, colour purity and level shift, were used to evaluate image quality.

How We Awarded
The score noted from features, performance and from the price index was given importance as per as the specified category. An overall score out of 100 was then calculated.

The product that scored the highest in the overall score was adjudged the winner of the Digit 'Best Buy' Gold Award for its category. The runner-up received the Digit 'Best Buy' Silver Award.
Weight: The portability of a projector becomes a point of concern if you are the travelling type. Anything more than 2 kg should generally be shunned. Some projectors come along with a card readers that can handle CompactFlash (CF) or SecureDigital (SD) cards-these let you carry your presentation on handy flash cards and you no longer need to lug your laptop along for the meeting! Another boon for the traveller is a wireless projector-an ideal mate for an Intel Centrino-based laptop or a similar Wi-Fi match.

The factors listed above serve as a level-one filter when making a buying decision for a projector. Once you have decided on the right combination of the features and settled on a price, you will still have other choices to make (more, if you look to the grey market). To further refine your needs, consider these "bonus features", if you will:

Keystone Correction: An image that is not completely square is a result of the keystone effect. This happens if your projector is not perpendicular to the screen upon which it projects, making for a trapezoidal image. Look for a projector that includes either a horizontal keystone correction feature (when projecting downward or upward) or a vertical one (when projecting sideways to a screen).
Demystifying Component Video 
The image captured by a video camera is in the RGB format. Passing the three colour signals separately will improve the image quality, but doing it without compression is a bad idea as it consumes lots of bandwidth. Component video solves this problem by compressing an RGB signal and delivering it to the projector.
The component signals communicate the luminance in an image and the colour information. Luminance is denoted by Y, whereas the other two signals, which are red and blue, are denoted by R-Y and B-Y. Since a projector already has luminance and red and blue colour information, it simply needs to fill the rest of the scene with green. So the green signal is not transmitted, saving on bandwidth.
A component video signal is denoted as YPbPr for an analogue and YCbCr for a digital connection. Most DVD players have a component video output.
DVD players and projectors that support it show colour-coded jacks on it. There are entry-level projectors in the market that take a component signal only through the 15-pin D-Sub connector found on the graphics card of a PC. If a DVD player is needed to be connected to such a projector, it will require a special D-Sub-to-three-RCA jack cable to project an image.

Aspect Ratio Or Resolution? 
Deciding between the aspect ratio and the resolution of a projector is a bit tricky. Presentations are always made with a 4:3 aspect ratio, whereas movies are to be enjoyed in the 16:9 ratio. As far as resolution goes, as a rule of thumb, higher is always better. Therefore, if the projector is meant for purely presentation purposes, one with an aspect ratio of 4:3 and a native resolution of SVGA or more is preferable.
However, if the projector will be also used for presenting corporate videos shot in the wide-angle format, your projector should also be capable of 16:9 display. If a projector has a native resolution of 1,024x768-which is a 4:3 ratio-when switched to 16:9, it will display images at 1,024x576. If this projector had a native aspect ratio of 16:9 with a resolution of 1,024x576, switching it to 4:3 will give a smaller image of 768x576, and cost more than a native 4:3.
It is, therefore, better to buy a 4:3 aspect ratio projector that can also display 16:9 ratio frames.

Contrast: The ratio between the lightest and the darkest areas of an image, the contrast should be at least 400:1. If you are projecting in a dark or dimly lit room, the contrast ratio will not be as high as when you are projecting in a well-lit room.

Infocus X2

Video Signals: Most projectors can handle both composite and S-Video transmissions. Some projectors can also handle "component" video, and these should be considered if your source or presentation supports it-as they give images of a higher quality. See box "Demystifying Component Video" below for more.

Computer Ports: If you need to connect multiple sources to your projector, the unit must have the required number of ports. For example, if you plan to present alternating from your laptop and PC, the projector needs to have at least two video ports.

Rear Projection: If you want your projector to display from behind a screen, it should be capable of inverting the image before projecting. Look for rear-projecting units for this feature.

Zoom Lens: A zoom lens alleviates the need to shift your projector to increase or decrease the size of a projected image. A projector with a 1.2X zoom lens will increase image size by about 20 per cent. This zooming is vital to fill a fixed screen size from a given distance.

To Sum It All Up: Resolution and brightness are vital; the more the better and the more expensive your purchase will be. Contrast ratio is also important, especially if your presentations happen in bright rooms.
With that aside, here is a look at some of the projectors officially available in the market today. To understand the testing process, please refer "How We Tested And Awarded" on Page 135.

Desktop Projectors
A "desktop" projector is generally a large unit not designed to be portable. Of a total of nine brands in the market, we got a unit each-three were LCD models while the other six were DLP solutions. All of them were SVGA projectors with a 4:3 native aspect ratio (see box "Aspect Ratio or Resolution" for more on aspect ratio on Page 136) while a few came with a selectable aspect ratio of 16:9. Their lumen rating ranged from 1,200 to 1,600, and contrast ratios ranged from 300:1 to 500:1.
How Big Is Big Enough? 
The size of the screen that you will need to buy will depend upon multiple attributes of the projector: its native resolution, the minimum and maximum screen size that can be displayed by the projector, luminance, contrast ratio, where you will likely use it, and so on.
An SVGA projector with a luminance rating of 1,000 lumen needs a screen big enough to display the projected image (100 to 200-inch) from a particular distance. Although the projector will display a bigger image if moved back, note that the 1,000-lumen lamp will produce a duller image from a greater distance. After a certain distance, even the best quality screen won't have much light to reflect back. Therefore, make sure that your projector's lumen rating, contrast ratio, and the distance from which you will project, match closely.
The screen size will also depend on the size of the room. Normally, your audience should sit away from the screen at a distance at least twice the image size; any closer, and the image appear as a pixelated mess with visible artefacts. So for an image measuring 100-inch diagonal, the audience should be at least 16 to 18 feet away.

What Did They Offer?

Since we set a cut-off price of Rs 1 lakh for this category, none of the XGA projectors made it to this section.

Image Size: The Acer PD113 alongside the Infocus X2 shared the highest lumen rating of 1,600. Both these models are DLP projectors and need 200 W for the lamp. From the three LCD projectors, the Sharp PG-B10S with 1,200 lumen (130 W for the lamp) and the Canon LV-S3 (160 W for the lamp) with 1,250 lumen, required a lot more power than the Epson EMP-S1H, which has a lumen rating of 1,400 but needs only 132 W, making it the most efficient of the LCD lot.

That's not all! The Epson projects very viewable images measuring 330-inch, diagonal from a distance of 11.3 metres, with the 132 W lamp-an impressive feat. We then placed this projector at a distance of three metres from our screen and found that the Epson was bright enough in presentation mode with image size touching 100-inch on our 72x90-inch screen.

As mentioned earlier, DLPs are preferred for movies since their output is generally brighter than LCD projectors. Thus, you will find that most of these projectors come with a selectable aspect ratio of 16:9 for that home theatre movie experience. All projectors in this category offered 16:9 aspect ratio, including the four LCD projectors.

Connectors: When it comes to watching movies, connecting your projector to your PC is not always the best option. Standalone DVD players are widely available and you will find yourself using either S-Video or RCA component connectors. Of course, your projector needs to be supportive.

All the projectors, except the Canon LV-S3, either had S-Video or RCA component connectors. Canon just had the D-Sub (for your computer) and a composite connector. Since a composite signal is a mix of colour and sync signals, it is not as good in quality as a component signal (which segregates signals).

Ease Of Use: Setting up a projector is an art. Some struggle to get a projector up, while others are masters at the task and are in demand during meetings and presentations. Of course, the design of the pegs that support the projector body and the ease with which they can be adjusted are vital.

In this task, the Sony VPL-ES2 is worthy of a mention. This was the only model that had motorised pegs that raised themselves when the unit was powered up. A user can also control the vertical tilt of the unit electronically from a menu or via a remote. The VPL-ES2 also had a lens cover which slid away when the unit was powered up and went back to protecting the lens when the unit was switched off-some very cool features that make remote operation easy.

This unit was by far the best designed projector of all, in terms of set up and adjustment, and placement connectors (which were on the right hand side). The knobs to adjust focus and zoom were also neatly placed on the right hand side, further easing setup.

Epson EMP SiH

While on the subject of ease of setup, we should also mention the Sharp PG-B10S. This was the only entry-level projector that had a "Lens Shift" feature. A tiny joystick beside the lens could be used to shift it vertically or horizontally. This helped us do away with the need to fidget with its pegs to get the image right.

Remote Control: Remote controllers are a common add-on to a projector. However, a few of the projectors had remotes that doubled up as presentation tools and laser pointers. The Acer PD113 had one such remote which unshackled us from returning to the laptop for a slide change. This is a greatly appreciated feature. Its pointer function further lends flexibility to highlight important figures and areas on the screen without having to walk to the screen and block the image.

Presets: A preset mode is a zero-hassle way of setting up a projector. No need to play with the colour, brightness and contrast settings-just choose a preset and you are very likely set. Except for the Canon unit, everyone had at least three presets to choose from, the most common being Standard, Presentation and Cinema. Some models such as the Sharp PG-B10S and HP vp6110 also had "Game" and "Living Room" modes.

Size: Compact and lighter units with a decent feature-set and performance will always be preferred over bulky units offering similar or even slightly better performance. The Acer PD113 was very compact, just 9.2 cm in height and weighing a mere 2 kg. Its lens is placed well inside a cavity with a big rubber lens cap, which not only protects it from dust, but also from shocks and mechanical jerks. The Epson EMP-S1H had the largest body frame, and weighed 3.2 kg. However, it sported an elegant design that was sorely missed in the other projectors.
Handling Tips For Projectors 
A  projector is a costly piece of equipment. Even costlier is the running cost. Maintaining and handling it with care is very important. Here are a few tips:
  • Handle a projector gently. Always remember that it has a lens and an electronic assembly within. A jolt can disrupt the assembly of the lens, which will result in barrel distortion and keystone aberrations
  • Never switch off the main power after switching off your projector. This is because an internal fan, which is needed to cool the lamp and associated electronics, rotates for at least a minute after powering down. This is needed to flush out hot air from the projector. Avoid disrupting the process
  • To continue with the above point, never pack up a projector immediately after using it even if you have used it for a short time. Leave it in the open for some time, and let it vent heat
  • Never twist a projector's cables, especially the data cables. Try to fold them in the manner in which they arrived. Needless twisting will damage the cords, which might result in malfunctioning
  • Make sure you wrap a portable projector in a bubble bag before lugging it around

How Did They Perform?

As mentioned before, we concentrated on evaluating the textual quality of the projectors' output. For this, we used PowerPoint presentations employing slides with black text on white backgrounds, coloured text on coloured backgrounds, and graphs and animations. Refer to the box "How We Tested and Awarded" on Page 135 for more information.

Performance While Displaying Text: When we looked for crispness of text and contrast between black fonts and white background, we found that all the projectors were more or less the same, with very little visible difference. Some models such as the HP vp6110 and the Toshiba TDP-S20 lagged in contrast when the background wasn't completely white. The Epson, Canon, Sharp and Infocus, on the other hand, had good control on brightness and contrast, imparting clarity to the slides.
In the reverse text test (in "Presentation" mode), the Sony VPL-ES2 and the Canon LV-S3 fared better than the other projectors including the DLPs. Here, yellow text on blue background was reproduced well by both Sony and Canon. The HP vp6110 was the only DLP projector to score high in this test. The rest couldn't reproduce the yellow as well. Same was the case with the slide with "radium" green colour text on a blue background. If your work includes a presentation or if you handle education-related slides with text on various coloured backgrounds, make sure you choose an LCD projector such as the Sony or the Canon; otherwise, when creating slides, use colours that don't appear saturated-such as black or purple on a yellow background.

 Canon LV S3

Performance While Displaying Graphs: Our coloured 3D bar graph had two shades of blue and a light shade of green. The Acer PD113 and the BenQ PB6100 displayed a darker shade of what was projected. Moreover, the side surface of the 3D bars appeared black. This happened after we completely filled the screen with the graph, using PowerPoint's animation feature. The other projectors fared well in this colour reproduction test.

Under our animation test, we looked for fluid animation, good colour reproduction and crispness of text. Here again, the Canon LV-S3 managed good scores. The HP vp6110, a DLP unit, fared equally well. The Infocus, Sharp and Acer, however, showcased issues-the colour shade appeared different under them and the text was therefore not easily readable.

Performance While Displaying Movies: Movie quality was tested under the "Cinema" preset of the projectors. We used scenes shot in daylight and at night to gauge the performance, especially the details they produced (such as the bark of a tree, skin tones and whether a scene was overly dark, which results in to detail loss). In this test, the Toshiba TDP-S20 was better than the rest. It produced night scenes precisely and with good detail reproduction. Sony's was the only LCD projector to produce an image as good as Toshiba's.

The Canon and Toshiba units had problems of white and black level shift, visible in the form of a red and blue tinge where the bright and dark areas met

Toshiba TDP 520

Another worthy mention here is the Epson EMP-S1H-the one with the efficient lamp and the large projection size. It not only produced good details and skin tones but its bigger display allowed for a truly cinematic experience. That said, you will need to sit at least 20 to 25 feet away from the screen to get rid of the screen door effect: the screen door effect is the grid visible on a screen because of the space between two pixels. Remember that this is an SVGA projector, so it is spreading only 320,000 pixels over a massive 330-inch diagonal screen.

Jargon Buster 
Anamorphic Lens: A lens that can project an aspect ratio different from the actual image ratio is called an Anamorphic Lens. Using such a lens, it is possible to project 16:9 aspect ratio images using a native 4:3 aspect ratio projector
ANSI Contrast Ratio: The ratio of the brightest white to the darkest black. Display devices supporting higher contrast ratio will be able to show much finer colour range and detail. ANSI Contrast is a method of measuring contrast by using 16 alternating white and black rectangles. The average output of light from white and black is divided to get the ANSI contrast ratio
Composite Video Signal: A signal which is a combination of colour information and horizontal and vertical sync signals is called a Composite Signal. Television signals are composite signals
Dichroic: A lens, typically used in projectors, separates white information from the red, green and blue light. Such a lens is called Dichroic. It does this by reflecting/refracting particular wavelengths of light
Keystone: When a projected image does not appear rectangular on the screen, the glitch is called Keystone. It usually happens when the projector is not perpendicular to the screen. It can be corrected by either mechanically shifting the lens or digitally correcting the image to make it look rectangular
Lens Shift: The ability to move the lens horizontally or vertically is called Lens Shift. Some entry-level projectors have a manual lens shift where the user can shift the lens using a small joystick located beside the display lens

The HP vp6110 was a letdown in this test. The image it produced at full zoom was no more than 60 to 65 inches and dark enough to blank out the night scene! Even the daylight scenes appeared dull and almost all details were completely lost. This means that the presets on the HP vp6110 are no good.

DisplayMate Video Edition: The DisplayMate Video Edition test uses a set of visually brilliant slides, and the primary reason to use it here was to check the display of the projectors under extreme conditions.

When we looked for geometric accuracy and focusing, the Acer, BenQ and HP did extremely well. These three, with their default settings, gave accurate geometry in horizontal and vertical bar resolutions with no visible moiré. The projected image was accurately focused throughout. The Toshiba TDP-S20 suffered in the focus matrix test and displayed prominent barrel distortion aberration. The problem was not specific to the piece tested-a replacement unit showcased similar issues. The Epson was another one with poor results in the focus matrix test: images in corners were completely out of focus and remained that way even when we tried different modes.

When we looked for streaking and ghosting, purity of colour and level shift, the BenQ PB6100 and the HP vp6110 shared the top spot. With these models, there was no ghosting or visible white or black level shift at all. The units even managed to accurately differentiate between 16 grey levels of varying intensity. The Canon and Toshiba units had problems of white and black level shift, visible in the form of a red and a blue tinge where the bright and the dark areas met.

We also checked for screen uniformity and flicker. The Toshiba TDP-S20 and the Sharp PG-B10S displayed problems with screen uniformity: the projected screen was clearly dark on either side of the centre. The BenQ, HP and Infocus returned commendable results in this test. The Sharp unit showed a slight flicker. In the dark screen test, Sony and Sharp appeared brighter, and therefore, a distinct dark grey image was formed on the screen; the others did well too, projecting dark enough screens.

Total Cost of Lamp: The cost of a lamp is an important factor to be considered while purchasing a projector. Most projectors have a lamp life of 2,000 hours. A few, such as the Infocus, have a lamp life of 4,000 hours while the Sony and Toshiba units have a 3,000-hour lamp life. The cost of the Infocus lamp is high, at Rs 32,000. But if we calculate the per-hour cost, it comes to Rs 8, which is lower than the Rs 12.5 of the HP, Canon and Epson, whose lamps retail for Rs 25,000 and last 2,000 hours. The most affordable lamp in terms of per-hour rate, was that of the Sony. The lamp cost is Rs 17,990, the lowest in this category, and the per-hour cost of using the lamp comes out to Rs 6, which is half that of the Toshiba, HP, Canon or Epson.

And The Winners Are...
Given its performance, the Acer PD113-a DLP-based projector-topped the charts in this category, leaving behind Sony by a point and a half.

Acer PD113

The Acer sported a good set of features, prime amongst them being a healthy 1,600 lumen brightness and a zoom ratio of 1.2:1. It also had a high image display size of 330-inch diagonal, which is big enough to address an audience over 50. Movie results were very decent in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. Moreover, the Acer sported a Picture-in-Picture mode, for when you need to showcase a movie presentation alongside the graphs. Acer's remote was also the best of the bunch, with some great features that afford flexibility and style. To top it all up, the Acer asked for the lowest price in this category: Rs 64,990. The Acer PD113 is our Best Buy Gold winner.

Sony VPL ES2

The Sony VPL-ES2, our Best Buy Silver winner, is an LCD projector. It has an impressive design; setting it up is fast and painless and using it is a breeze. Alongside its preset modes, the Sony allows for three user-configurable modes, which is a nice plus indeed.

As mentioned earlier, the working cost of the Sony is much less than that of any other projector we evaluated: the lamp costs just Rs 6 per hour. This means that even if you make a one-hour presentation per day, five days a week, your cost won't spend more than Rs 30 per month.
Mobile Projectors
Anything that weighed less than 2 kg was considered a mobile projector. A total of four such units made it to this category. All four models that made it here were SVGA and except for the  Panasonic, an LCD-based model, the rest were DLP-based projectors.

What Did They Offer?
Being SVGA, all four offered the 800 x 600 resolution that their larger-sized brethren did. However, their lumen ratings were lower than the desktop models. These maxed out at 1,200 lumen for the BenQ PB2120.

The same was not the case with the contrast ratio, though. This went as high as 400:1 for the tiny HP SB21. Thanks to the lower lumen rating, the lamp power consumption was well within 150 W for all units. The least hungry in terms of power was the HP sb21, with 120 W.

The Panasonic, which was the lone LCD projector in this category, had a lamp that consumed 130 W-which was commendable, given that it was rated at 1,200 lumen.

The Panasonic and HP sb21 both claimed to produce 300-inch image size, quite a feat considering their size. The BenQ PB2120 was the lowest, able to project onto a 240-inch screen. All the models were native 4:3 aspect ratio projectors with an option to switch to 16:9. All four had either RCA or S-Video component inputs that allowed a direct connection to a DVD player.

Associated Cables: Data cables are vital for a portable projector. Maintenance gains paramount importance and improper storage or bundling can quickly lead to problems. Except for the HP sb21, which had an M1-A cable (DVI and USB combined), the others were bundled with a regular D-Sub cable. We found that the price of an M1-A cable was as high as Rs 7,000! We feel that replacing an M1-A cable with separate D-Sub and USB cables (along with a D-Sub to DVI converter, if needed) is a cheaper option.

HP sb21

Both the HP sb21 and the Sharp XR-1S had a mouse function coupled with their remote control to facilitate easy presentation. A USB interface was also included for easy plug-and-play use. HP also had a laser pointer, adding to its overall functionality.

Presets: The Panasonic was the only model to have six presets, which included Living Room, Game and Dynamic apart from the usual ones. This makes the Panasonic almost hassle free-you do not need to spend too much time tweaking for the best picture quality.

Sharp XR-15

Size and Portability: The HP SB21 was the smallest in terms of volume and weight. It weighed just 990 gm, making it the lightest of them all. It has a neat design and is user-friendly to boot. The heaviest was the BenQ PB2120 at 1.78 kg; the Panasonic PT-LM1E-C was larger, but weighed 1.6 kg.

How Did They Perform?
A mobile projector will primarily be used for marketing presentations and/or training at a client's end. In the presentation test, the Panasonic PT-LM1E-C and the BenQ PB2120 returned good overall scores. When we measured them over text quality, the Panasonic, HP and BenQ projectors returned good results with good background brightness and finely set contrasts. In the reverse-text test, Panasonic fared better than the rest with yellow, brown and radium green text on blue backgrounds being clearly visible.

The BenQ had problems with the yellow, whereas Sharp XR-1S had issues with dark green.

Performance While Displaying Graphs: The next test was for graph quality where Panasonic again proved better than the rest. It displayed green and blue correctly, followed by the BenQ and HP which were a little darker. The Sharp missed out since sides of the 3D bar appeared black instead of the original colours.

Performance While Displaying Movies: The movie test was where Sharp unit finally left a positive mark-it showcased detailed scenes and better colour reproduction than the rest. The BenQ also put up a good show in movie mode, with nice skin tones both in daylight and good reproduction of detail in the dark scenes. The HP and Panasonic projectors performed well but the night scene appeared a tad too dark with these units, which made the background lose details.

DisplayMate Video Edition: In the DisplayMate Video Edition test, where we look for sharpness, focusing and colour reproduction, the BenQ was the clear winner. Horizontal and vertical bar resolution was perfect with no moiré at all, and the resolution matrix appeared lively and crisply focused. Panasonic also returned good results with very little out-of-focus problems. The HP sb21 disappointed in this test as the resolution matrix was out of focus at its corners.

The BenQ was again unbeatable when it came to differentiating between 16 shades of grey; it showed no ghosting or streaking at all. It also produced red, green and blue brilliantly. The Sharp performed better here with no visible ghosting and good resolution of the grey shades. The HP and Panasonic had problems differentiating between the 15th and the 16th shade of grey, which appeared as single dark block.

BenQ unit also displayed a perfectly dark screen, along with the Panasonic-no flicker either. Sharp's projector was close behind-its black was not quite black, though. HP returned a mediocre performance with visible flicker and the projected screen appearing a little brighter in the centre than at the corners.

Total Cost of Lamp: Sharp, with a lamp-life of 4,000 hours, costs Rs 5.5 per hour, making it the most affordable in terms of running cost. Panasonic, with Rs 6.25 per hour, was also good. HP's lamp, at Rs 16.60 per hour, was the costliest!

And The Winners Are...
The Panasonic PT-LM1E-C-an LCD projector-turned out to be an all-round performer. It returned good results in the presentation tests, with good colour reproduction and faithful animation. In the movie test, it returned watchable results.


The Panasonic, though, is more portable than mobile: it is larger in size than the HP, but does not weigh as much as the BenQ. Lugging it around in a case that can hold a laptop and a projector should not be an issue. With a good set of features and commendable performance, Panasonic earned the Digit Best Buy Gold award.

Benq PB2120
BenQ was the one that took the Digit Best Buy Silver. A few of its features, as well as its lamp cost, dragged it down to second place. If you are not too budget-sensitive, the BenQ will impress your audience with crisp slides in presentations and faithful movie rendition.

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