The Brightest Bulbs In Town

Published Date
01 - Apr - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Apr - 2006
 
The Brightest Bulbs In Town
A picture speaks a thousand words, and it is imperative to have a projector that says all the right things about your sales pitch. People make the common mistake of believing that you can get away with a business projector of average quality and less-than- perfect rendition; after all, PowerPoint presentations and Excel sheets do not need the precision commanded by the more expensive Home Theatre projectors. That is a grave misconception. Just like a hypnotist needs total silence to get into the psyche of his subject, your projector, too, should be free of any imperfections and artefacts that can break the spell and reflect badly on your presentation.

Fortunately for us, the ongoing war between the DLP and LCD projection systems translate into better and more advanced projectors at reduced prices. What was high-end a couple of years ago has now trickled down to the budget segment. 

Projectors today are based on the DLP, LCD, LCoS and CRT technologies. With the LCoS and CRT projection systems out of the scope of this test due to their astronomical costs, choosing a business projector boils down to a binary choice between the DLP and LCD systems.

Current-generation DLP and LCD projectors have benefited from refinements of key technologies, giving them better colour accuracy, brightness, contrast, and resolution, which hitherto were the sole prerogative of people with deep pockets. That's precisely why we at the Digit Test Centre have put these projectors through a completely revised test process to bring forth the true picture-warts and all.

Understanding The Features
A proper understanding of a projector's features and their relevance to your requirements is vital. It is imperative to not be swayed by specmanship, gimmicks and features that look good only on paper, but do not justify the extra cost they entail.
 
Aesthetics
First impressions count. It makes a difference when you whip out a well-sculpted projector, as opposed to something with the aesthetic appeal of a brick.

Resolutions
Featured in this projector shootout were SVGA (800x600) and XGA (1024x768) resolutions.

Choosing the optimum resolution is dependant upon the kind of tasks you'll be using the projector for. SVGA is the way to go if you'll primarily be using the projector for graphs, movies, pictures and presentations without intricate detailing. However, if your projection needs include fine text, computer desktop projection and large spreadsheets, it would be prudent to opt for the more expensive XGA projectors.

The immediate advantage of the XGA projector is the small pixel size of the projected image, which lends it a smooth effect as opposed to the blocky SVGA detailing. Also, due to the increased number of pixels, the amount of aliasing (jagged edges) in geometric shapes is reduced.

All display systems except the CRT technology are plagued with the problem of "Native Resolution." This, essentially, is the default resolution at which the projector will give the best image quality. Even though it is possible to scale an SVGA projector to display at XGA resolution, this will severely affect image quality. Another important factor is that DLP projectors have an inherent edge over LCDs because they generally project a smoother picture and do not suffer from the grille artefacts seen in LCD projection systems. However, LCDs are known for their sharpness and more precise focusing-but this very attribute leads to more pixelation in movies and pictures.

When it comes to light efficiency, an LCD projection system traditionally has the upper hand over the DLPs

Brightness
As a rule of thumb, it is advisable to get the brightest projector that your budget allows. Ambient light has a significant effect on the brightness. As far as totally dark rooms are concerned, you can get away with projectors with up to a 1000 lumen brightness rating. Projectors with a 2000 lumen rating are suitable for small conference rooms, where a little ambient light is tolerable. High-performance projectors with 3000 lumens are ideal for reasonably bright ambient lighting conditions. Such projectors are your best bet if you happen to travel around to different venues, where the audience, screen size and ambient lighting conditions vary. These will save you the embarrassment of poor visibility due to washed out images.

If, however, you want to cater to huge conference halls and auditoriums, you'll have to consider the ultra-bright range of projectors that starts at 3000 lumens and goes well over 12,000! You can even try using high-gain screens, which can substantially increase the existing brightness levels.

At the end of the day, you must realise that as brightness levels increase, the precision of black and greyscale levels decreases. A projector cannot reproduce black well in bright ambient lighting conditions. So if image accuracy is what you're looking for, we suggest a grey screen paired with a good DLP projector and zero ambient lighting.

When it comes to light efficiency, an LCD projection system traditionally has the upper hand over the DLPs. Also, the saturation levels of the colour rendition of LCDs are better than DLPs and hence their perceived brightness is much higher.

Contrast Ratio
The contrast ratio is the least important feature from the point of view of a business projector. It refers to the ratio of the dynamic range between the darkest black shade and the absolute brightest white. A projector with a high contrast ratio is capable of large number of colour gradations and grey scales. Business applications such as simple presentations, text, and graphs will not show any improvement on high-contrast projectors. But movies will. DLP projectors easily outclass LCDs when it comes to accurate black-level rendition. This is due to the reflective nature of the DLP, which allows the tiny micro-mirrors to completely divert the light away from the lens, to render perfect blacks with ease.

Weight
Business projectors need lightweight construction along with portability. DLP projection systems are generally lighter than their LCD counterparts, due to the compact digital nature of a single micro-mirror device at its heart, as opposed to the popular three-panel implementation found in most contemporary LCD projectors. However, portability doesn't come without its problems; the catch is the lower brightness associated with compact and lightweight projectors.
The Long And Short Of It
Different projectors ship with different kinds of lenses-short and long-throw lenses. We cannot comment about which is better because they cater to different projection needs, and are more about convenience than image quality.

BenQ MP-610
A throw distance is the measure of separation required between the projector and the screen to project a certain area of image. Projectors with standard lenses need approximately two feet of distance between them and the screen to project an image of one square foot.

Short-throw lenses, with their wider light dispersion characteristics, are able to project very large images over short distances. Long-throw projectors, on the other hand, are optimised with narrow dispersion characteristics to project images over large distances without losing much brightness. Most high-end projectors come with replaceable lenses that let you convert them to short or long throw on the fly. A short-throw projector is required in small conference rooms that don't have enough space to display large images.  Long-throw projectors are useful in large auditoriums, where the projector needs to be placed well behind the audience.

Zoom Lenses
A zoom lens is a feature included in most projectors for convenience. A typical 1.2x zoom lens will give you a 20 per cent boost in image size, making it very handy in cramped spaces. However, this feature is pretty much useless if the zoom offered is digital, as opposed to the ideal optical zoom. Using digital zoom will only degrade the image quality.

Projection Modes
It is desirable that the projector possess varied projection modes to accommodate ceiling mounting and rear projection orientations. Usually, a ceiling mounted projector needs to have vertical inversion of the image to counter the upside-down nature of ceiling mounting. The rear projection modes require the projected image to be inverted horizontally.

Keystone Correction
This feature is used to correct the trapezoidal distortion in the geometry of the projected image. It happens when the projector isn't directly in front of the screen. Ideally, any form of keystone correction should be avoided, because it stretches and skews an image for correction, thus bringing about degradation of image quality.

Number Of Preset Display Modes
These come in handy when you need speed and convenience over quality. Presets allow you to flick between the high-brightness Presentation mode and the totally different setting required for movies.

The Remote Control
A remote control with a full range of controls is not just a feature but a necessity when it comes to a projector, considering the nature of its placement. A remote-equipped laser pointer and mouse is a welcome bonus, which can make presentations a lot easier.

The Contenders
Of the eight projectors, three were XGA (1024 x 768) and the rest were SVGA (800 x 600). We classified them into two categories based on their native resolutions. The present lot reflect the improvement in LCD and DLP projection technologies, which have blurred the lines between their stereotypical strengths and weaknesses. But still, they weren't without their share of faults that low-cost projectors are notorious for.

How We Tested 
The Test Bed
The test bed had an Intel Pentium 4 3.2 GHz processor, an MSI 875P NEO motherboard, 1 GB DDR 400 SDRAM and an ATi X850-based video card. Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 and 32-bit colour depth was used, with the Windows and ATi-based graphics enhancements and presets turned off.

Evaluation Pre-Setup
The tests were carried out in absolute darkness with zero ambient light. In order to keep the evaluation process fair, we maintained a uniform size of the projected image. Having a fixed distance would have been unfair, since projectors have different throw distances in accordance to the room size specifications they are built for. Zoom was set to zero, and great pains were taken to do away with keystone correction altogether, unless unavoidable, because doing that reduces image quality. DVI interconnects were given precedence overD-SUB wherever available. We gave the projector lamp 15 minutes more than its rated warm-up time to ensure pure colour rendition, after which the pre-test calibration was executed. All projectors were tested at their native resolutions with a default refresh rate of 75 Hz. Attempts were made to rectify tracking or phase errors, if any. We avoided using the default projector settings and instead calibrated each projector to give the best fidelity possible. A white projection screen 90x72 inches large was used for the tests.

Features
Here we focused on key features such as brightness, contrast ratio, optical zoom ratio, keystone, preset modes, fine picture and colour temperature control etc. Interconnect availability such as DVI, D-SUB, and S-Video, was also considered.

Another key feature is the weight and dimensions of the projector, as business applications need to consider portability due to need for constant mobility. Special features such as USB control port, an inbuilt mouse, and remotes with Laser pointers were given additional points.

The Tests
DisplayMate Video Edition
DisplayMate is a leading video evaluation tool, which employs accurate proprietary test patterns to evaluate image quality, as also to reveal defects in video displays. We tested the projectors using 26 relevant parameters such as contrast, brightness, focussing, resolution, moiré, colour gradation accuracy, purity, streaking, black and white levels, blooming, ghosting, flicker, etc. This gives a definitive idea of the resolution accuracy and colour rendition, and also uncovers serious flaws which could easily be missed otherwise.

Picture Quality
Here we used our reference high resolution bitmaps and Adobe Photoshop PSD files to gauge the colour rendition and the detail levels. The test images consisted of a variety of real photographs and flat-shaded ones with less colour complexity. Each image had a characteristic feature which formed the basis for benchmarking. These were instrumental in gauging grille effect, colour gradation discrepancies, impurity and most importantly, the black level detail of the projector.

Presentation Test
This test included a PowerPoint presentation with pictures, graphs, and text of varying font sizes and colours. Our main focus was the readability of normal and inverted text, with the graph and photo quality coming second.

Animation Test
For the animation test, we used professional reference grade, imported DVDs of Shrek and Spirit. Shrek was used to test the intensity, colour-scaling, and the ability of the projector to reproduce intricate details and coloured lighting effects. The Spirit DVD had a flat-shaded animation that helped us to focus on a projector's absolute colour accuracy. Any colour imperfections and gradation problems were conspicuous with this DVD.

Movie Test
A movie test is significant because it transcends the major differentiating factor of resolution, because movies themselves have a fixed lower resolution. This allows us to evaluate the absolute image quality irrespective of the native resolution of a projector creating a level-ground across all segments.

No professional video test can be complete without the Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator DVDs. We had extremely rare, limited signature editions of the same, which feature phenomenal mastering quality, absent on the regular prints. Gladiator can pretty much bring any display system to its knees with the amount of resolution detail it holds, and features very hard-to-render scenes with great colour complexity. Saving Private Ryan is the industry standard benchmark when it comes to gauging the black-level detail, and its wide array of muted colours stress any video system when it comes to accuracy of fine colour gradation.

Both of them have certain key areas where the colour wheel effect of DLPs can be easily apparent, if present. Another DVD used to test the projectors was Corrs Unplugged, which has close camera angles of the performers. We used it to check the skin tone accuracy of the projector. Its muted colours with great black scaling are instrumental in loading the DLP projection system enough to show their inherent flaws. This also has a high dynamic range of lighting in each frame, which amplifies any colour noise and intensity scaling problems.

However, the most significant was the Corrs Live in London DVD, which has the most amazing colour complexity you'll ever find, with a rainbow spectrum of volumetric lighting, lens flares, halos and an onstage back panel with ultra-bright psychedelic lighting effects. There are passages where the screen goes into extreme intensity of colours replete with a staggering array of colour blending. In fact, just one projector was able to give acceptable levels of colour accuracy with this DVD!

Features

SVGA
Their low price notwithstanding, these were surprisingly well-built, with an impressive list of features earlier available only on the pricier models. Today, you can buy a projector with a 2000 lumens brightness rating in this entry-level SVGA bracket.

HP-MP2225
On the image size front, we had the Sharp XR-10S and Epson EMP-S3 capable of projecting an image up to 300 inches large, while the Acer PD-115 and Hitachi CP-RS55 managed only 200 inches. What's notable is the fact that we had LCDs such as the Epson EMP-S3, which managed 1600 lumens with a 135 W lamp rating, while DLPs such as the Sharp XR-10S offered a 2000 lumen output at 270 W consumption by the lamp. The LCDs are clearly more efficient when it comes to the brightness-to- wattage ratio. All the projectors we tested had a native 4:3 aspect ratio, which can be scaled to the 16:9 required by DVDs-at the loss of screen space.

As expected, the DLPs totally trounced their LCD counterparts when it came to contrast ratios. All the DLPs in this segment sported a high contrast ratio of 2000:1 as opposed to the measly 500:1 and 300:1 offered by the Epson and Hitachi respectively. As a fallout, the black levels offered by both the LCDs were below par, to say the least.

When it came to the aesthetic appeal of the projectors, the Hitachi CP-RS55 exudes class with its silver finish and a slim profile with contoured edges. Its discreet buttons and everything placed flush with its body goes well with the Hitachi minimalist theme. This was, beyond a doubt, the most appealing projector we tested. Even though the Sharp XR-10S was the bulkiest of the lot, it still had a brilliant design approach making good use of contours and bevelled edges to balance
its bulkiness.

The BenQ MP610 is the aesthetic equivalent of a brick; an ugly brick at that, with a cheap, boring black finish. The lines, edges, button placement and the grille effect surrounding the body reveal a total lack of aesthetic sense.

Hitachi CP-Rs55
The oddly-shaped Epson comes across as trying too hard, with its overactive shapes and contours. The Acer PD-115 is pretty average in the looks department, with nothing substantial to write home about-but tolerable nonetheless.

The build quality of the Sharp and the Hitachi was excellent, which can be felt with the smooth and progressive nature of their focus rings. The quality levels were excellent, with a great tactile feel to the buttons. The BenQ MP-610 had the worst build and finish levels of the lot, with a cheap feel to the plastic and an absolutely dreadful jerking feel to its focus ring. This one really feels built to its price.

The Hitachi CP-RS55 was the lightest of the bunch at 2.2 kg, as opposed to the Sharp XR-10S weighing in at a massive 3.9 kg. This completely defies the notion that LCDs are bulkier when compared to DLPs.

The lack of any optical zoom on the Hitachi can be attributed to its weight-saving measures. It only has digital zoom, which must be avoided at all costs.

The Epson EMP-S3 has the highest optical zoom ratio of 1.35:1. All the projectors had the essential set of features-projection modes, keystone correction, preset modes, etc. The Sharp led the pack as far as OSD usability and features were concerned. We were impressed by the wizard-like interface it used for troubleshooting, which rectifies the display according to the symptoms you specify. This will enable even a complete layman to tweak his projector to perfection.

The Sharp had the most comprehensive, albeit dull-looking remote, which could have done with  better button segregation.

The Acer PD-115 had the best remote of the lot, with colour-coded keys separated intuitively by button shapes and position. The remote can be easily handled in the dark.

The Epson EMP-S3 had the second-best remote, with great button placement-it also offered a thumb-stick for mouse control! The Hitachi's remote was brilliant, but was let down by poor button quality. The BenQ shipped with the least impressive card-type remote, which suffered from a severe lack of buttons. The buttons required a hard push to get registered.

XGA
The three XGA projectors we received for testing had better build and finish quality, but were lacking on features. Not surprisingly, due to our (approximately) Rs 1 lakh price limit for this test, we could only get the entry-level XGA projectors. Their brightness ratings and other features were thus on par with their SVGA counterparts.

The Sharp XR-10X had the upper hand with an image size of 300 inches, with the Infocus LP-600 and HP MP-2225 coming in second and third respectively, with 268 and 230 inches of maximum projection size.
The brightness of the projectors was on par with the SVGA models, the only exception being the HP at 1400 lumens. The XGA models came with the 4:3 aspect ratio, along with the capability to display in the 16:9 mode. The HP MP-2225 had the best contrast ratio of 2200:1; the 2000:1 ratio of the Sharp XR-10X was similar to that of its cheaper sibling. The Infocus LP-600 had the poorest contrast ratio of 1000:1-surprising, since DLPs are supposed to do better than that.

The diminutive HP was the lightest, weighing in at just 1.1 kg. It was the smallest of the lot with a dual-tone design reminiscent of the Sharp. If portability is the criterion, look no further; they don't get any smaller than the HP projector.

The Sharp XR-10X had the exact same shape, size and build as its SVGA counterpart; the only differentiating factor was the champagne-gold finish this one sported.

But our favourite design amongst these was definitely the Infocus LP-600. Its LCD display panel, aesthetically proportioned contours and button layout all exuded a look that does justice to its price. All these sported excellent levels of build quality, with the Sharp once again beating the competition to it. But it lost out to the lightweight HP and Infocus, which weighed in at 1.1 kg and 2.4 kg respectively. The Infocus, however, clawed back with a class-leading zoom ratio of 1.24:1, with the Sharp and HP following, tied at 1.15:1.

Acer PD115
In miscellaneous features, such as projection modes, keystone correction, and preset modes, these projectors didn't disappoint us. The Sharp OSD was unbeatable in this segment too.

Infocus LP-600
The HP MP-2225 disappointed us with its card-like remote, which doesn't bode well for an XGA projector. However, it does offer mouse control, and its keys aren't too bad. The Sharp remote is similar to its SVGA counterpart, which is a shame, considering the price you have to cough up for the XGA model. The best remote so far is the Infocus remote controller with its chunky build that snugly fits the contours of your palm. Buttons are neatly segregated and arranged on the remote with a lot of air between them. There is absolutely no way you can accidentally press the wrong button.

SVGA projectors show optical issues such as phase, tracking problems, vertical banding, gradation, colour impurity and characteristic artifacts

Performance
Every projector we tested faced phase problems with varying intensities, with both the Sharp projectors being immune to that artefact. The phase problem, which is optic in nature, affects the ability of the projector to define pixels properly onto the screen. This results in the pixels being rendered with varying brightness, with shifted centres and banding across them. This seriously affects the resolution of the rendered image, and leads to other artefacts such as vertical and horizontal banding. Some projectors had options to adjust the phase, frequency and tracking controls, but still, none of them could rectify these issues. In fact, modern projectors placed a little higher in the price segment come with the ability to automatically correct these problems at the push of a button.

The bottomline is that nothing can substitute for good old precision engineering. If a projector is built to exacting standards, it simply will not have to deal with such artefacts. Such precision was present in the Sharp line of projectors; neither of them had any such flaws.

SVGA
Since these are the cheapest projectors available in the market, they are built that way too, with the level of engineering precision not being up to the mark. These projectors show optical issues such as phase, tracking problems, vertical banding, gradation, colour impurity and the characteristic artefacts associated with the DLP and LCD projection technologies. However, the overall quality levels are still better than what you could buy in the same segment just a year ago. To our collective surprise, though, the Sharp projector defied all pricing logic and put forth a performance that caught us unaware.
The Presentation Test
DisplayMate Video Edition
Most of the projectors here had issues rendering blacks, and hence messed up the greyscale. The Acer had acceptable black levels, but got oversaturated when the intensity was increased. The BenQ wasn't very keen on proper black reproduction and greyscales. All of them had varying levels of colour shift, with the problem being severe with the Epson. Every DLP projector except the Sharp had problems rendering the colour gradations and the blacks, and the subsequent greyscales were plagued with impurities ranging from bluish to red from one projector to another. Even the LCDs weren't spared, with the Hitachi giving better results when compared to the pathetic performance of the Epson.

The projectors with phase problems fared poorly in the sharpness and resolution tests. The Epson's performance in this segment was at rock-bottom levels, because its inherent problems prevented it from rendering any of the test patterns properly. The Sharp was the absolute winner in this segment, followed by the BenQ. The Acer and Epson had problems with focusing and resolution detail at the corners of the screen. The BenQ, due to its lower phase issues, scored very well in the moiré pattern test, while Sharp once again aced the segment with virtually non-existent moiré patterns. The Acer, Hitachi and Epson saw a lot of banding and moiré patterns.

Sharp XR-10X
In the colour and greyscale tests, the Sharp yet again dominated the scene. The only place where it faltered was the 16 intensity levels, where it missed one colour intensity test. The LCDs in this segment had a problem with streaking and ghosting artefacts, and this was reflected in their poor scores. The BenQ and Sharp showed great resistance to black and white level shifting, which means they can handle high dynamic ranges much better. Not surprisingly, the colour tests saw the Epson give better results, as colours are the strongest points of LCD projection systems. It was the same case with the Hitachi. The Acer performed miserably in the colour segment, with too much colour contamination and absolutely no gradation accuracy in the 16 intensity levels test. The LCDs performed well in the colour accuracy and purity tests, with the Hitachi coming close to the excellence offered by the Sharp in colour reproduction.

The brilliant screen uniformity was evident in the Sharp, while all the others had some issues with brightness variation and noise across the different areas of the screen. No noticeable flicker was apparent on any of the projectors. The Sharp aced the difficult ANSI Brightness test, the most amazing thing being its ability to distinguish between 5 per cent brightness and contrast variation, which is even beyond the requirements of the test, while being better than any other projector's capability. The BenQ failed the test due to its inability to render finer black levels. The Epson's resolution and focusing problems were apparent in the Defocusing, Blooming and Halo tests.

The Movie Test
The kind of high-grade test material we used for these tests are very unforgiving when it comes to colour inaccuracies. DLP projectors being digital in nature cannot produce accurate colour gradations if their image processor isn't fast enough. Every DLP projector had the previous generation DLP engine; only the Sharp was endowed with a state-of-the-art DDR DLP system with a really fast 3x colour wheel as opposed to the 2x colour wheel the others had.

Also, the new fabrication process of its improved DLP chip endows it with excellent colour accuracy and variation across a larger dynamic range. This was evident in its excellent performance across all the movie tests, with superior black levels in Saving Private Ryan, to richer and more detailed rendering of the Gladiator DVD. This projector consistently offered more detail than the rest of the pack. All the other DLP projectors were faced with colour gradation problems, which made the bright areas of the frame appear blocky with patchy image rendition. This is the case with poor optical performance of the low-end DLP chips. Skin tone rendition was messy, with severe gradation, by the Acer and BenQ in the Corrs Unplugged DVD.

The high dynamic colours used in the DVD brought forth a lot of noise from the Acer, BenQ and Epson projectors. The Corrs Live in London DVD brought all but the Sharp and Hitachi projectors to their knees-the DVD was pretty much unwatchable on the other projectors. Everything-from the skies to lighting effects-was well below acceptable levels, robbing all the fun from the movie experience.

That's why the rest of the DLPs, namely the Acer and the BenQ, scored dismally in the movie tests. Amongst the LCDs, the Epson was just as bad, with the same problems plaguing it. The noise levels were pretty high in the LCDs as compared to the DLP projectors.

XGA projectors quite naturally dominate the image quality benchmarks. They have an upper hand in the picture tests and the text and presentation tests

The Animation Test
The Acer and BenQ still faced the same colour gradation problems even with the less exacting standards of the animated movies that we tested. The LCDs really showed an improvement in this segment, mainly because they have very good colour saturation levels for increased richness and vibrancy. But the real star of this test was the Sharp DLP, with its brilliant colour rendition and detail levels.

Picture Quality
The combination of brilliant colour reproduction paired with pin-point resolution made the Sharp the clear winner in this segment. Its ability to resolve the tiniest detail along with a staggering range of colours was a delight when watching images. Next was the Hitachi LCD projector, which was found lacking only in the resolution aspect, which is very crucial for images. Epson fared dismally due to its issues with phase and colour accuracy. The Acer and BenQ,too, gave a very blocky effect with brighter parts of images.


Choosing The Right Screen 
You may buy a Rs 2 lakh projector, but it will not perform as well if you pair it with a cheap screen. As a rule of thumb,20 to 30 per cent of the projector budget should be allocated for buying a screen to go along with it. Anything less than 20 per cent of the total projector cost means that you are not getting the full image quality you paid for in the first place.

A projector screen, can, in fact, compensate for the shortcomings of your projector. For example, a high-gain screen will compensate for the low brightness rating of your projector, while conversely, a grey screen with high contrast will enhance the contrast ratio and enable your LCD projector to render purer blacks. Basically, "gain" is the measurement of reflectivity of the projection surface. It is denoted by a unit known as the gain number, which is the ratio of the light reflected by a screen in comparison to the reflectivity of a standard reference white magnesium oxide board. So a gain rating of 1.3 reflects 30 per cent more light. Grey screens used for better contrast have a negative screen gain quotient like .80 gain rating which translates into 20 per cent reduction in gain, but at the added benefit of better black reproduction.

Gain isn't always good, however, as it sees a lot of problems with directionality. Since it has a reflective nature, it significantly reduces the viewing angle of the screen. The problem is more severe on very high-gain screens with hot spots apparent at the middle of the screen. This makes the screen appear brighter in the centre as opposed to the darker corners.

Quite simply, if your projector is lacking in brightness, opt for a high-gain screen. If it is plagued with low contrast issues, buy a a high-contrast screen. Also, high ambient light conditions warrant a high-gain screen, because a high-gain screen will reject omnidirectional ambient light and only reflect the direct projector light.

LCDs generally have poor contrast ratios and suffer at black reproduction; they are therefore well mated with a grey screen with low gain. A DLP, which traditionally has better brightness and contrast, on the other hand, can use both screens effectively.

XGA

XGA projectors, quite naturally, dominate the image quality benchmarks, where resolution is the main criterion. They have an upper hand in the picture tests and the text and presentation tests. But when it comes to DVDs, they do not make much of a difference to the image quality. That's why the movie test gives you a better insight to the absolute quality of the projector across the SVGA and XGA categories. This segment didn't have a single LCD projector.

Presentation Test
The Sharp XR-10X was the clear winner with its superb well-rounded performance. The other two were plagued with phase problems, with the Infocus faring badly-its performance was comparable to the under-performers in the SVGA segment. Text quality was the worst with the Infocus, with HP coming in second to Sharp. The graphs and pictures were severely affected on the Infocus.

DisplayMate Video Edition
The Infocus LP-600 fared pretty badly with the black levels. In fact, it was not able to produce anywhere near an authentic black. Even the white levels had a lot of problems with definition. The HP MP-2225, too, had below-average black levels, but it was much better than the Infocus. The Sharp XR-10x, like its sibling, gave outstanding results with black and white rendition.

The severe phase and tracking issues of the Infocus meant that it consistently under-performed in the sharpness and resolution tests. There was a lot of vertical banding apparent in the resolution tests. The HP fared better here. The pin-sharp resolution of the Sharp was so good that on closer inspection, we found that each pixel was rendered with absolute detail. This is absolutely unmatched by any projector in this comparison test. The Infocus ran into real trouble, with the phase problems giving it the worst rating in the moiré pattern tests across the entire test range.

The Infocus showed a fair bit of streaking and ghosting, while the HP gave decent results with not much of it apparent from the viewing position. The Sharp, again, was flawless in this respect. However, in the white and black level-shift and colour purity tests, the HP and Infocus were neck-to-neck with their scores, with only the red colour having accuracy problems with the Infocus. Both the HP and Infocus had issues rendering the 16 intensity-levels properly.

The Movie And Animation Tests
The upper-end DLP projectors in this segment showed better colour fidelity in movies and animation. In fact, they make movies worth watching with the DLP artefacts only apparent during very stressing passages of the Corrs DVDs. The Sharp XR-10X quite naturally dominated the other two; note that the improvement over its cheaper SVGA version was quite negligible. In fact, even though the XGA version of the Sharp showed slightly more detail, we found the cheaper SVGA model to have a slightly better accuracy at colour gradation. This is because the lower pixel count (480,000 pixels) of the SVGA panel of the XR-10S puts less strain over the same image processor found in both the projectors, as compared to the higher pixel count (786,432) of the XGA panel, which makes the colour response sluggish. This was bought to the fore by the Corrs Live in London DVD, with a small amount of colour gradation problems visible in the XGA model of the Sharp. The SVGA version rendered the colours in the DVDs without a hitch, even at the high-intensity passages, where all the other projectors faltered.

Picture Quality
The Sharp comes out tops with class-leading resolution and colour-reproduction. Both the HP and the Infocus have their own problems with rendering pictures, but ultimately the HP does beat it by a small margin. The XGA projectors are ideally suitable for displaying pictures due the sheer resolution afforded by them. But projectors such as the Sharp XR-10S SVGA show that a good SVGA can easily beat average XGA projectors such as the HP and the Infocus as far as image quality is concerned. Higher pixel count can never be a substitute for good engineering!

Sharp XR-10S

Conclusion
In the SVGA category, we had a total of five projectors. The Sharp XR-10S dominated with its brilliant performance and on-par features. Its striking performance completely overshadowed its asking price, and it gets the Digit Best Buy Gold. BenQ's MP-610 did put up a commendable performance, but was no way near to what the Sharp had on offer. If you're looking for a projector for your conference room, we'd suggest the Sharp XR-10S despite its high price.

Since the XGA category had only three entries, we did not think it wise to declare a winner. However, the Sharp XR-10X does deserve a mention for its brilliant performance. The HP MP-2225 did perform adequately, but fell way short of the standards set by the Sharp projectors.  



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