Advice on purchasing an LED projector
June 2, 2011 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Aiming to buy an LED projector, a market I know little about.

Here's what I'd like to be able to do:

- watch movies that appear fairly-large-screen, while sitting or treadmilling approx. 12 feet away from that screen
- web browsing and word processing, *with the room lights on*, at no worse than a 640x480 resolution

I'm willing to spend about $350-$400.

1) Am I looking for a product that exists?
2) Do you have specific product recommendations?
3) If I buy a "pico" projector I'll be disappointed in the image quality, right?
4) Is there a technical difference between "pico", "pocket", "mini", "micro", "portable"?
5) How important is "native resolution"? If I buy a projector whose native is VGA but that claims also to be capable of WUXGA or whatever, will its WUXGA mode be as useless as I imagine?
6) If I get a projector with a weird ratio (854x480, for example), am I right that it will sometimes distort images?

Thanks in advance for all help!
posted by foursentences to Technology (9 answers total)
854x480 isn't a "weird" ratio, it's 16:9. Same as TVs and many PC monitors.
posted by The Lamplighter at 1:48 PM on June 2, 2011

Also, you probably won't be doing *anything* with the lights on. Projectors usually aren't that bright, especially those that are suiting to home theater.

I've gone down the projector path before and turned back. I recommend that you do the same -- they require a pretty serious commitment to understanding the technology and to getting your room setup correctly. A large screen LCD or plasma is better suited nearly everyone.
posted by The Lamplighter at 1:50 PM on June 2, 2011

What you want doesn't exist right now. Pico projectors are really just a gimmick.

Web browsing and word procressing require decent resolution. 1024x768 is the lowest I would consider usable and I haven't seen a pico projector that does that. There are small (2 lbs, 8x3x6 in) projectors that can do this, but they are $500+.

Pico projectors are typically about 50 lumens. A typical business projector is 1500-2000 and usually doesn't work so great with all the lights on.

There are some small projectors (like the Dell M210X) which are not bad, but not great either. For portable and small, my favorite projectors are Casio's Green slim line, starting at about $800. They are 5lbs and 12x9x2 inches.

Why not an ipad with a battery powered bluetooth speaker?
posted by fief at 1:56 PM on June 2, 2011

Best answer: 1) Am I looking for a product that exists?

Almost definitely. While I don't have direct experience with this InFocus IN104 projector, I've used similar InFocus projectors, and think it would likely work for you. It's in your price range, is pretty bright for a small projector, has 1024x768 native resolution, and gets decent reviews

I bought a similar projector four years ago -- a refurbished Sharp XR-11XC projector for $350, and it did everything you mentioned. It had a native resolution of 1024x768, and could convert just about everything up to 1080i. It was a little dim with the lights on, but still acceptable. So, it's been possible to do what you're looking for at your price range for many years now.

I currently use a Vivitek H1080FD which I bought for $750, which produces a bright, jaw-droppingly great 1080p HD picture. It's out of your price range, but not by all that much -- and looks downright incredible when connected to either a Blu-Ray player or a computer.

(The Lamplighter, eponysterically, is incorrect. Many modern projectors, including the H1080FD abovem produce a bright image that's perfectly visible with the lights on.)

3) If I buy a "pico" projector I'll be disappointed in the image quality, right?

Almost definitely. Brightness with pico projectors is generally much, much lower than with a desktop projector. If you're looking to do anything with the lights on and 12 feet away, you need to start at 1800 lumens and move up from there -- and pico projectors are a fraction of that.

5) How important is "native resolution"? If I buy a projector whose native is VGA but that claims also to be capable of WUXGA or whatever, will its WUXGA mode be as useless as I imagine?

It won't be useless, as you'll be able to see an image. However, it will be downscaled -- meaning that there's a substantial loss in detail, and often an additional blockiness or fuzziness introduced by the downscaling process. You generally want to get a projector with as high a native resolution and lumen count as you can afford -- upscaling tends to fare better than downscaling.

6) If I get a projector with a weird ratio (854x480, for example), am I right that it will sometimes distort images?

Most projectors allow you to adjust the aspect ratio and horizontal and vertical width -- so, not necessarily.

posted by eschatfische at 2:39 PM on June 2, 2011

Best answer: OP, I have diddled with this decision for a while, too. I am video smart, can afford either a big or little box, and don't "need" one, so I can dawdle on a decision.

So far, I haven't found anything compelling. None of the tiny ones have enough of a mix of features to knock me off the razor's edge into a purchase.

I will tell you that the lumens thing is a problem. Grab a focusable flashlight and watch what happens when you go from sharp to diffuse on a distant wall. You only get so much light, and when you spread it out over a larger and larger area, it dims out a lot. That means contrast decrease, if nothing else. These little guys are meant for short-throw use, in low ambient light scenarios. If you are watching short distance and in a darkened room, maybe they'll be OK. The size is certainly compelling for that use.

For other uses, I am not sure you want them.

"Watching" is a broad word, but the time, place, purpose, number of observers, etc. presents enough variable combinations that if you plan to use the thing in a huge variety of locations, you might be better off with something that is adequate in most and excells in one (i.e. a 2000 lumen box which you CAN use in your bedroom) versus something that excels in one (ONLY in your bedroom) and sucks at the rest.

Right now, if I had to buy something, I'd opt for more than personal enjoyment. I'd opt for a group solution... a 2000 lumen box.

Nothing on the horizon for LEDs that would make me wait for another year, either. I watch LEDs from the component standpoint, too. I see no revolutions imminent, just evolution.

For the cost of a $400 pico projector, you could buy a pretty sizeable LCD monitor to plant on the wall of your bedroom, if that's where you primarily plan to use this thing.

My thoughts. Your question got so few answers, I thought even these might be useful.

(BTW - I use to monitor prices on this sort of things. I have no affiliation with them, but they have good, cheap specials and open boxes and a pretty wide product line. )
posted by FauxScot at 7:37 PM on June 2, 2011

We own a HD epson projector it's AWESOME! We can easily watch it during the day and with the lights on. This is the one we own, which is out of your price range but their cheaper models seem to be well reviewed also.
posted by lannanh at 11:44 PM on June 2, 2011

Maybe this one?
posted by lannanh at 11:46 PM on June 2, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, all. Based on the advice I got here I've decided to wait a generation or two and tide myself over with an ordinary TV, then probably go for that Epson or its counterpart. Grateful for all input!
posted by foursentences at 11:49 AM on June 16, 2011

sorry, I realized my first link was bad. This is the projector we have. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you may be able to find one for sale on CL soon for half off, or close.
posted by lannanh at 8:31 PM on June 25, 2011

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