The Lowdown on Portable Projectors

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Epson EMP X3 projectorAt first he thought it was a cheesy gimmick, but after witnessing a few presentations with portable projectors, Nigel Harris decided they were worth investigating further. Here are his findings.

I have been on the receiving end of several presentations in the office recently where the presenter used a notebook PC and portable projector to demonstrate software to just a handful of staff. I realised that what seemed a bit flash at first was just good use of simple IT. Why crowd three or four people round a 12-inch screen when you can project a clear two/three/four foot image onto a blank wall, or even onto the side of a filing cabinet or cupboard door?

Reflecting on these experiences I realised portable projectors could be invaluable for small team training sessions, briefings and client meetings. There are many situations where I could communicate even to a couple of people more powerfully using a projector than handing out printed materials and trying to co-ordinate what everyone is reading.

So here is a brief overview of what’s available and how to choose an appropriate projector. All prices are from leading Web stores such as DABS.com and are quoted net of VAT.

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A good place to start is with Epson, the current market leader with over 14% of the projector market. Its latest models are not cheap, but they illustrate the sort of features you can get:

  • For example, the £862 EMP-1715 includes multi-screen technology and USB connectivity, which Epson claims are world firsts. It also has wireless connectivity, avoiding cable spaghetti.

  • The Epson EMP-X3e and EMP-82e models are designed for the education market, and have clever anti-theft security features. They require a password to be entered whenever disconnected from the mains power and can only be operated via remote control - there isn’t even an on/off button on the projector. Basically, the projectors will not work if removed from the premises without access to the pin code and remote control.

  • Following the trend in the TV market, purchasers of home cinema projectors are looking for HD Ready projectors. Epson already offers HD Ready models such as the EMP-TW700 (£1,011).
  • Projectors are not cheap, but like any peripheral they probably need more attention that your basic PC, so manufacturer’s support is vital. Epson offers a ‘no-quibble’ three year hardware warranty which covers all elements of the product with a full on-site service.

    The basics
    LCD (liquid crystal display) projectors typically send light from a halogen lamp through three LCD panels - one each for the red, green, and blue components of the video signal. Halogen lamps are used because they output an ideal colour temperature and a broad spectrum of colour. These lamps also have the ability to produce an extremely large amount of light within a small area: current projectors average about 2,000-4,000 ANSI lumens. Metal halide lamps produce a very white light and have a working life of 750-2,000 hours (depending on your projector model). Luckily they typically do not burn out suddenly, but gradually grow dimmer, giving you plenty of warning that it's time for a replacement.

    Newer technologies, such as DLP (digital light processing) and LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) are becoming more popular in video projection. DLP was developed by Texas Instruments and is licensed for use by a number of manufacturers. DLP projectors tend to be cheaper than LCD, but are more suited to projecting TV pictures than computer data.

    How bright does a projector need to be, bearing in mind that brightness (expressed in ANSI lumens) affects cost? A 4000+ lumens projector will cost well over £2,000, while 1500-2000 lumens machines come at around £500. A benchmark is between 1000 and 1500 lumens. The brightness required depends on the ambient lighting in the room and the distance you need to project: as a rough guide, aim for 1000 ANSI lumens for half a dozen people, 1500 for 20-25 people, 2000 upwards for larger groups. If you frequently use it in very bright rooms, opt for a more powerful projector to compensate.

    Replacement lamps are expensive – web prices range from £140 and £250 each, depending on the make of projector, although all quote a working lifespan of 2000 hours or more. However, if you must take your projector out and about rather than bolting it to the ceiling you need to factor in lamp breakage and the cost of replacements. There are some bargains around though – I spotted the Epson EMP-62 model (2,000 lumens) complete with additional lamp at Dabs.com for just £328 – a spare lamp by itself from Dabs costs an extra £212!

    You can expect a remote control, padded carry case and standard VGA connection on any good projector, but make sure the unit offers the same resolution as you are using on your PC – for example, SVGA+ is 1400 x 1050, which gives you good detail on a large screen. Native SVGA (800 x 600) is adequate for smaller screens though.

    Looking for a good deal
    Dell is usually a good place to look for low-cost, good value hardware. Its 201MP Projector (£404 - 2,000 lumens) is aimed at home TV use. The more expensive 2400MP model is more suitable for larger groups, with 3000 lumens and resolution up to UXGA (1600 x 1200), but it costs £899.

    We’re looking particularly for portable equipment and all the units considered so far weigh well over 2Kg. However, Dell’s 3400MP Projector (1,500 lumens) weighs in at only 1.09Kg and is currently reduced to £543. And the lamp is said to last for up to 3,000 hours.

    Elsewhere I found the Panasonic PT-P1SDEA (SVGA, 1,500 lumens), just a little heavier at 1.3Kg, for £525.

    Down at the bargain basement I looked at PC World’s website and found the 1,800 lumens ACER XD1150 - DLP being offered for just £269. This looks like a great price for a DLP projector, especially as spare lamps for it cost only £139 – and it only weighs a very reasonable 2.2Kg.

    So if you don’t have a projector in the office, think again. At a minimal cost you could enhance in-house training and client presentations. You could even take it home at weekends (for security, of course) and watch your favourite sports, films or TV programmes.

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