Lighter And Brighter

A good projector can make or break presentation. However, narrowing down the right model for your needs can be somewhat of challenge – it is wise to seek advice. In 2002 data/video projectors are continuing down the lighter, brighter pathway. Brightness has levelled off around the 1200 ANSI lumens mark for the mass market, but has stretched to 2200 ANSI lumens and beyond in the higher end of the market. In fact, you can go all the way to 12,000 ANSI lumens if you have the finances (and the need!). Remember that brighter image generally means that room lights can remain on and the image is still clearly visible.

New technology has also allowed projectors to shed weight, and weight is often the method for categorising the different models:
* Micro-portables weigh less than two kilograms (the lightest is currently 0.9 kilograms!); range from 600 to 1000 ANSI lumens; and generally offer DLP technology (Digital Light Processing).
* Ultra-portables weigh between two and five kilograms; run to 2000 ANSI lumens; and offer such features as automatic keystone correction, sRGB compliance, automatic light detection, and more.
* The portable category varies from five to nine kilograms; 1500 to 3700 ANSI lumens; and offers DVI inputs, lens options, and mostly LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) reproduction.
Obviously for the traveller, smaller, lighter projector is preferred, although there may be some trade-off in connectivity and brightness.

Weight is not major factor for boardroom systems, however factors such as lumens and noise level probably are.

Native resolution has now swung in favour of XGA (1024 x 768 pixels), although SVGA (800 x 600 pixels) still appeals to the price conscious buyer and regular PowerPoint user. The latest generation of projectors also offers more accurate colour reproduction from laptop or PC images.

While SVGA may be perfectly adequate for the bulk of presentations, Glenn Wright, product sales manager for Toshiba distributor Monaco Corporation, explains that there are times when it won’t measure up. “If your boardroom sessions are all about Excel spreadsheets in six point font, or you need to scrutinise the detail of an F-16’s wing section, then SVGA resolution probably won’t do the job.”

Julian Lefebvre, from Mitsubishi distributor Melco New Zealand, also puts up strong argument in favour of XGA. “Since all PCs from 1998 onwards have native XGA resolution, users should be investing in projectors with the same resolution.” He also points out that XGA models are now around the same price as SVGA machines were just two years ago.

Aside from brightness and lightness, projectors have also developed in terms of wireless connectivity. Bluetooth and other communication technologies are cutting the reliance on cables, which is good news for users who have trouble working out what goes where.

Choosing data/video projector
When shopping for projector, look for simplicity of use and ease of set-up, and never, ever buy from brochure. Choosing between XGA and SVGA is largely determined by the material you’ll be projecting (eg PowerPoint videos or detailed spreadsheets), and your brightness requirement depends on the level of ambient light available. It’s better to err on the high side. Remember that image quality will be reduced if the data projector has lower resolution than the data input source.

Sony New Zealand product manager Dave Clark cautions buyers on the subject of brightness and contrast. “Quite often the truth about these two factors is easily distorted. There are many ways to measure contrast ratios and many manufacturers can find ways to publish figures that would not be representative of everyday situations. There are also many ways in which brightness can be measured.” Clark recommends demonstration under all light conditions before making decision. He also advises buyers to choose brand they know and trust, and is supported locally. With the arrival of “parallel imported” no-name brands in this country, this advice is especially timely.

Lindsay Knowles, national sales manager for PLUS agent ACME Office Supplies, raises the point of image size adjustment for projector buyers. “Will the projector be operating in relatively confined space? This is where zoom function for the lens is important, to enable the image size to be large enough. Otherwise, in small rooms it may not be possible to shift the projector back far enough from the screen to project decent size image.” Knowles adds that short focus lens (even without zoom) may compensate for this in some cases and should be considered. “Projectors with fixed short focus lens are often lower in price than equivalent zoom models.”

Other considerations for purchasers include lamp life and lamp replacement cost (they don’t always last the specified distance), as well as servicing and warranty support. You may also want to consider:
• Does the supplier have trained service technicians in New Zealand?
• Is there support and spare lamp availability when travelling overseas?
• Are loan machines available while servicing is being carried out?
• Is there an extended warranty?

Generally speaking the two most common mistakes people make when buying projector are opting for cheap entry-level machine that under-performs to requirements, or conversely purchasing machine that’s far better than they will ever need (eg XGA instead of SVGA).

“Remember that projector is reasonably significant investment,” says Knowles. “Its performance or lack thereof can cause immense frustration and embarrassment. It pays to get it right.”

A bright future
The future for data/video projectors is bright one, and we’re not just talking ANSI lumens. ACME’s Knowles predicts greater interest in wireless projectors, and machines with CompactFlash card-type capability for PC-free presentations. He also believes that DLP machines will gain in popularity, due to their digital-to-digital image projection capability. “The digital input is not converted to analogue for projection, as is the case with LCD technology. This means there is no deterioration in image quality caused by signal conversion.”

While most industry commentators acknowledge that projectors can’t get that much brighter or lighter, all are agreed that the market will continue to grow, and much of that growth will come from the home theatre market (see separate story).

A market update
A quick look around the data/video projector marketplace reveals number of initiatives and technology enhancements that are raising the performance bar yet again. Glenn Wright says one of Toshiba’s unique selling points is the addition of built-in document camera on almost every model, which works just like an OHP. “The user is not restricted to plain acetate sheets though – the camera allows the presenter to display standard printed matter in full colour just as they are.” The OHP also allows three-dimensional objects to be projected, and in fine detail.

The PT-AE100 Widescreen Home Theatre projector is Panasonic’s single biggest selling model, however the PT-LC55 and LC75 at 1200 ANSI lumens, are its most popular business models. Rick Haywood, manager Broadcast & Professional Systems Division for Panasonic New Zealand, lists main features as: sRGB panels, dual RGB inputs and an output, automatic digital keystone correction, plus 2000 hour lamp life in ‘High’ mode, and 3000 hour in ‘Low’ mode. The L520/720 models are about to be introduced, offering 2200 ANSI lumens; while the L730NT will include WiFi wireless LAN technology and SD card technology for PC-free presentations.

EPSON is about to launch its EMP 720 and 730 projectors, offering 2000 ANSI lumens in light 1.9 kilogram package, which it describes as “a light, bright, high performance corporate tool for the high flying road warrior”. One step up from these machines is the EMP 820, delivering 2500 ANSI lumens. Dave Clark says Sony’s VPLPX15 and

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