Secondhand bargains apart, there are a couple of kinds of really low cost projectors you can buy: no-name brands of dubious origin, and low resolution business projectors intended mostly to display charts and presentations. For different reasons, none of these will be much fun for home entertainment viewing. Yes, youll get a big screen, and it might even be watchable - for a while. If all youre used to is a 36 inch TV you might even be temporarily impressed. But the odds are that the loss of nuance in the picture details, or problems with focus, or the jerkiness of the motion, or the screaming inaccuracy of the colour will send you back to your TV before the month is out.
However something very interesting has been happening in the home entertainment market over the past few years. Low end projectors capable of showing very decent big screen video have been turning up from brand-name manufacturers at the sort of price you’d expect to pay for a modestly specced 42 inch TV. We’re talking of decent, liveable-with projectors that cost only a couple of hundred quid or so more than those problematic cheapos. That’s the good news.
For around £500 you can pick up a very decent entry-level projector built around Texas Instruments' Digital Light Processor (DLP), an ingenious electromechanical device that turns electrical signals into pictures. I've reviewed several such machines here over the past year or so, ranging up to the £3,000 mark. But if you're shopping around in that area it's definitely worth considering the very different approach pioneered and promoted by Epson. This uses three separate electrical signal to light converters operating simultaneously, one for each of the primary colours. At the entry level end of the market Epson's 3LCD technology requires compromises. But if you're prepared to shell out a couple of grand or so, Epson's near top-of-the-range EH-TW9200 3LCD projector should be a serious candidate.
Weighing in at 8.4Kg and measuring 140 x 466 x 395 mm (height, width, depth) this is definitely a whale of a machine, particularly in comparison with the tiny Viewsonic PLED-W800 I reviewed here recently. It has a full complement of inputs: two HDMI sockets, component video, D-Sub PC, S-Video and composite. It's currently sitting on top of a Yamaha RX-V677 AV receiver but I would hesitate to perch it on any less well-built piece of equipment.
Almost exactly 3 years ago one of the most exciting pieces of kit I had seen for some time crossed my desk. It was the ViewSonic PLEDW500, a tiny but surprisingly bright projector that used cool-running LEDs for illumination instead of a hot lamp. Designed primarily for business presentations, its XVGA resolution and extended color gamut made it perfectly suitable for movies.
Unfortunately, it soon disappeared from the market. But the good news is that it's back again, reborn as the PLED-W800. And it's better and brighter than ever.
The Achilles heel of any projector is the lamp. To burn bright it needs to burn hot, using a lot of juice and requiring a cooling fan. The fan uses yet more juice, as well as tending to add bulk to the assembly, and of course noise. The other catch is that most of the projectors on the home market use a single DLP chip - the electronic device that turns electrical signals into pictures.
First a Smart Phone projector for £15.95, does that sound too good to be true then read on to find out the facts. Second something that requires no assembly a red Chilli Pepper that is a four port USB hub, simple but still useful.
This is a box, a clever box but a box. If you are good at puzzles or assembling flat pack furniture then this is right up your street. There are instructions and plenty of part numbers, but the easiest way is to watch the video guide.
The central problem with projectors has always been the lamp. Power hungry and hot, a typical projector lamp will need a busy fan to keep it cool, further adding to the power consumption, and bringing distracting noise to the party. And lamps can be costly to replace typically between £150 and £250.
Low powered and cool running, LED illumination promises to put a stop to all that. And here's the Optoma ML1500 to show how it's done.
Weighing in at just 1.4Kg, the Optoma ML1500 is a small, light, portable and - in its class - powerful projector that fits neatly into a neoprene case no bigger than a handbag.
If you're looking for a projector (and why wouldn't you be - good ones are abundant and cheap these days, and deliver much more screen real estate for your money than TV sets), you don't necessarily have to seek out the top the range get yourself and your family into the home cinema game. True, what I'd call fully-fledged "home cinema" is costly to set up. But if you have a blank wall and an existing hi-fi system there are bargains out there just waiting round the whole thing off for you. BenQ's flagship W1500 may be a candidate.
Sporting a brown, cream and silver styling that wouldn't have been out of place in the 1950s, the BenQ W1500 is a 2200 lumens mid-range single-chip 3D-capable DLP projector that weighs in at 4.5kg and measures 340*120*285mm (width/height/depth).
So the World Cup set you thinking of buying a new TV set. Here's a better idea spend the same amount of money on a projector, and get a screen at least twice the size. You can pick up Epson's stylish 3D-capable EH-TW7200 for around £1900 (or currently £1700 on Amazon) and regale the family with a 120 inch or more display on your living room wall (only die-hard home cinema aficionados insist on a dedicated screen). And when you switch it off, you're not left with a huge blank frame dominating the room.
To be fair the TW7200 itself is something of an imposing presence. This curvy, white machine with styling reminiscent of Flash Gordon, weighs in at 8.4Kg and is a chunky 466 x 140 x 395 mm (width x depth x height). If your living room has a vacant chimney-breast (as does mine) this would be just the place to house it.
The Achilles heel of home projectors in the past has always been the lamp - short-lived, expensive to replace and generating heat that typically needs a noisy fan to disperse. For the past five years or so a solution has been waiting in the wings. LED as an illumination source is much cooler and longer-lasting. But for any other than small unambitious projectors it's been too dim. Or far too expensive. Until now.
Like the previous two projectors I've reviewed here, the Optoma HD91 could be described as an entry-level offering. But compared to the Epson EH-TW490 and the Viewsonic PJD7820HD it's by no means cheap. This is because it's an entry into a much higher class of projector - the semi-pro home theatre category, where prices can easily run into 5 figures. The Optoma HD91 comes in at a hair under £3,000.
Are big screen TVs too big your budget? For Chris Bidmead, they're too small for his living room. He likes a blank wall displaying a 100 inch projector screen. For full immersive HD movie watching (in 3D, if you're that way inclined) the ViewSonic's PJD7820HD delivers all this and more - for around £600.
My previous review, of Epson's entry-level EH-TW490 projector, discussed the difference Epson's keen to point out between Colour Light Output (CLO) and the brightness in lumens as normally measured using plain white light. Epson's claim is that while the plain white light lumen count looks good on paper, only the CLO figure represents what the viewer will really experience watching a movie.
Very decent home cinema projectors can now routinely be had for around 500 quid. But how do you pick a winner you'll be happy to live with from this cheap and cheerful bunch? As the TV industry hurries us ever upwards towards 4K (four times the number of pixels in a regular HD TV screen) punters tend to view pixel count as the prime requirement. Chris Bidmead thinks there are more important factors to look out for.
Epson's entry level EH-TW490 is "HD Ready". It's a confusing industry label (designed to confuse?) that in this case means it projects a screen into which it's possible to fit a 720x1280 pixel matrix with a few pixels to spare at the top and bottom. Hang on, though? Isn't that not much more than half what a true 1080p HD screen ought to be? And can't I pick up a proper 1080p projector for around the same price? The answers are yes and yes. And my response is fergetaboudit.
The EH-TW480 is a portable HD-ready cinema projector targeted at the home user. It provides high quality bright images even in daylight and, with features such as automatic vertical keystone correction, it is simple to set up and use. Consequently, despite it being in Epsons Home range, it could well have a wider application.
It is a relatively small unit, black in colour, weighing 2.3kg. Roughly 30 x 23 x 8 cm it is provided with a padded case with shoulder strap but more of that later. When not in use, a cover can be slid across to protect the lens. Known as the A/V mute slide, it can also be used during projection to hide the image and mute the sound. The projector is a HD-ready 720p, 1280 x 720 LCD unit having a 2,800 lumen output and a claimed contrast ratio of 3000:1.
For those of you that were introduced to corporate presentations in the form
of acetate slides and permanent markers things have come a long way.
Am I showing my age? Many were the important presentations where I lovingly drew multi-colour slides with charts and text ready to slip onto an overhead projector. That projector in itself was an innovation - as is this new little marvel from 3M the MPro 150. Acetate was seen off in the corporate field with the advent of laptops and then with bulky projectors that would plug directly into the VGA port.
Sometimes having to wait a while to see something is a good thing. If it is still around a year after you requested it then it probably does the job it is meant to, sometimes however the world has moved on. Here I am looking at a very small projector either hand held or mounted on a tripod.
The projector is 12.5x5.5x2cm, silver grey top and bottom and matt black around all four sides. It weights 158 grams. Do not expect to get a huge image but I happily displayed an image 60cm away on a white wall and this gave a near 40x30cm image from jpg images, The stated resolution is 640x480 which is considerably better than its sibling the T10 that is only £80 less than it, it can also display movies and play MP3 files.
This is the smallest projector I have seen; it is smaller than most mobile phones. However from two metres away it can display a bright clear image on any flat wall, in fact I even tried it on a ceiling but that would require you to be lying down on a floor or sofa.
It is 10x5x1.8cm and predominately black with silver/grey underside. It weights 110grams with its solid battery inserted. When I first saw this demonstrated in October last year I immediately thought of the Flip video recorder as a use. I was promised one the next week well three months later it arrived. Controls on the unit are minimal with the right side having a 2.5mm A/V input and a focus control. The front has the lens. The left side has mini USB and the three position on switch.
A high definition projector aimed at gamers, but that is equally at home
providing a taste of the cinema in your own home.
Optoma have developed a range of projectors based on DLP® technology developed by Texas Instruments way back in 1987. The technology provides a number of advantages over more traditional LCD projectors including better light intensity and closer pixels. The result is stunning. The GameTime GT3000 package contains everything you need to play your games or video on the large screen.
Video projectors are not new although they have only recently started started to appeal as
an option for those (with the room) that want the full cinema experience in their own home. With
the advent of high-definition, new projectors are required, spurring Sony to announce the VPL-HW10.
Whether you're a fan of the high-definition broadcast systems now on offer or have hailed the end of yet another format war and opted for a Blu-Ray DVD player there's just one problem... All the components are there - all the technology you need to create your own cinema. But how do you get the effect of a huge screen in your home? Well, the answer is to get a huge screen.
As DVD players become almost as cheap as the discs themselves, introducing the very first LCD projector under three hundred pounds.