Ultraportable Projectors: LED Models Arrive
Taking your show on the road has never been easier, thanks to today's incredible shrinking projectors. The latest ultraportable models are exceptionally small, lightweight, and easy to use. But these days you can choose between two distinctly different types of projection technology, each with its own set of advantages.
One group of projectors consists of traditional portable models that use replaceable, high-intensity lamps with brightness levels rated in the thousands of lumens and powerful enough to display presentations in large, well-lit conference rooms. These high-performance models typically provide lots of features, including multiple connectivity options, high native resolutions--such as 1280 by 800 widescreen--and optical-zoom lenses capable of increasing the display size at greater projection distances.
The other projector type is a new breed of lamp-free, miniature models that use LED (light emitting diode) illumination with brightness levels rated in the hundreds of lumens. Though these LED units are smaller than traditional models, they're bigger (and brighter) than pocket-size pico projectors, which weigh just ounces and are capable of projecting small, low-resolution images from portable media players, netbooks, and other mobile devices.
Unlike pocket pico projectors, which work best in darkened rooms for limited viewing by a couple of people, LED ultraportables are useful as laptop companions for small-group presentations, and as portable entertainment devices for photos, videos, games, and DVDs. Still, these models aren't as full featured as traditional portables: Generally they offer fewer connectivity options, lower native resolution, and smaller (fixed focal length) lenses, but they are fully capable of displaying presentations in small rooms with low lighting.
LED mini projectors have several advantages over traditional models, however: They consume less power, they run cooller and more quietly, and their LED light source has a 10,000-to-30,000-hour life span, in contrast to the 2000-to-3000-hour life of the replaceable lamp that conventional projectors use. Some LED mini projectors can also display images without a connection to a PC, via their own built-in media players that connect to USB storage devices (such as a USB flash drive). For businesspeople who want to travel as light as possible, the ability to conduct PC-free presentations with an LED mini projector is an attractive option to consider.
So just how well do LED mini projectors stand up against traditional models for presentation purposes? To find out, we compared the performance, features, and usability of seven of the smallest ultraportable projectors we could corral. The group included three LED mini projectors--the BenQ Joybee GP1, the Dell M109S, and the Samsung SP-P410M--each weighing 2 pounds or less and offering a minimum brightness level of at least 50 lumens and a resolution of at least 800 by 600 (SVGA). The other four units--the Acer P3250, the InFocus IN1102, the Optoma EW330, and the ViewSonic PJ260D--were traditional lamp-based portables that each weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. All seven models use Texas Instruments' Digital Light Processing display technology.
To evaluate their performance, we judged how well each ultraportable projector could display assorted still images with text and graphics, as well as moving images in the form of animated presentations, videos, and DVD movies. As you can see in our charts of the lamp-based projectors and the LED-based projectors, the traditional models earned the highest ratings, largely due to their much brighter images. But with up-and-coming LED models like the Samsung SP-P410M nipping at their heels, don't be surprised to see more of these diminutive projectors make their way into small conference rooms (as well as dorm rooms and living rooms) as the technology continues to evolve.
Read Our Ultraportable Projector Reviews