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Bright Idea - Projectors Offer Big-Screen Alternative For Under $1,000. Source: Investor's Business Daily

Bright Idea - Projectors Offer Big-Screen Alternative For Under $1,000.

12-04-2003

By TED NEEDLEMAN.
4 December 2003
Investor's Business Daily
(c) 2003 Investor's Business Daily

COMPUTERS MADE PLAIN

Have you been lusting over one of those neat video projectors? You know the ones - they can project a TV image or digital video disc onto a screen 10 feet wide or larger.

Business users have had these for years, but the cost of the average video projector - frequently starting at $1,500 and zooming up into the stratosphere - has kept the gizmos out of the hands of many video enthusiasts.

If you've been biding your time, there's good news. The newest video projectors are priced just under a thousand dollars. Add in the cost of a good-quality projection screen, and the price works out to less than that of many big-screen, rear-projection TVs.

Video projectors use one of two major technologies. The original models shone a beam of light through three small liquid crystal displays, one each for the colors red, blue and green. Each of the LCDs has a color filter in front of it, and the three beams are combined to provide a full color image.

The second technology used in video projectors is DLP, or digital light processing. It's a chip technology developed by Texas Instruments Inc.

DLP relies on a unique electromechanical chip, which has thousands of tiny mirrors that can be individually activated. Each mirror represents a single pixel or picture element.

Rather than use three different colored beams of light, DLP-based projectors use a rotating color wheel. As each color hits the DLP chip, the frame for that color is developed and projected on the screen. Persistence of vision (the reaction time of the eye) combines the image into a full-color picture.

IBD looked at three new under-$1,000 projectors: the TLP-S10U from Toshiba Corp., the PowerLite S1 from Seiko Epson Corp. and BenQ Corp.'s PB2110. The Epson and Toshiba use LCD panels, while the BenQ uses the latest version of the DLP chip.

All three of these projectors have a similar light output: 1,200 lumens. The lumen measures how much light falls on the reflecting surface - the screen. Twelve hundred lumens, while only moderately bright, produce a decent viewable image in normal room lighting.

For the best home theater experience, you will want a good quality screen that's specifically designed for home theater use. This is highly reflective and produces a crisp and bright image.

We used a Clarion screen from Draper Inc. (draperinc.com) in our testing. Darkening the room also improves the experience.

We didn't specifically measure the light output from the projectors, as two of the three review units had been used. Light output drops with use, and we had no way of knowing how many hours the two review units had been operated before we received them.

Keep in mind that at some point, you will have to replace the lamps in the projector. Most lamps have about a 2,000-hour life. At 20 hours of use a week, you may need a new several-hundred dollar lamp every two years. This expense is about on par with the lamps in large-screen projection TVs, which also need to be replaced on a regular basis.

All three of the projectors we tested came with a remote control. This is more useful if you use the projector for business purposes, as you can control a PowerPoint presentation with the remote.

And all three projectors have multiple inputs for analog and digital video, along with a small, built-in audio amplifier and speaker. The Epson and BenQ projectors come with a soft carrying case; the Toshiba does not. None of the projectors is huge, with the 7-pound Epson PowerLite S1 being the largest of the trio. The Toshiba TLP-S10U weighs in at 4.8 pounds, and the BenQ PB2120 at just 3.8 pounds.

The size of the projected image depends on how close to the screen the projector is placed. This is called the throw ratio. For example, the BenQ PB2120 will produce a 6.5-foot diagonal image with the projector sitting 4 feet from the screen. The other projectors offer similar performance.

We tested each projector using a progressive-scan DVD player from Panasonic, a Pentium 4-based computer with an ATI All-in-Wonder TV Tuner card and Logitech Z-680 500-watt speakers. We watched DVDs and TV and hooked our Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2 game consoles up to the projector.

The bottom line: They all worked great.

In the future, we'll be waiting to see movies until they come out on DVD. With this home theater setup, we have the best seats in the house. The popcorn is better as well.

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