There was a time when projector manufacturers built two different types of video projectors for two different markets: They designed projectors with computer resolutions for boardrooms and classrooms, and projectors with TV resolutions for home theaters. The line between those two markets seems to be disappearing. Witness Optoma’s Pro250X video projector, whose data sheet describes a combination boardroom/classroom product, sporting a native resolution of 1024×768 (versus TV resolutions of 1920×1080 or 1280×720); square-ish 4:3 native aspect ratio (instead of widescreen 16:9); and analog VGA video inputs (as opposed to digital HDMI). In fact, Optoma’s own press release labels it a “data-grade portable projector.” And yet they’re selling the Pro250X through general retail channels as a consumer projector with a $649 list price. Is this a bargain or a bum steer?
It would be easy to say that Optoma’s Pro250X delivers more bang for the buck than BenQ’s Joybee GP1 Mini Projector, which we reviewed in June, but the GP1’s Lilliputian size and its ability to host an iPod dock are nifty features. The Pro250X is considerably larger and heavier, but it also has a higher native resolution (1024×768 compared to the GP1’s 800×600); is radically brighter (2,800 ANSI lumens, versus just 100 for the GP1); and uses a conventional VGA cable (the GPI relies on a hard-to-find VGA-to-CEA-30-pin cable). Both projectors use a Texas Instruments DLP (Digital Light Processor) chip.
So how does this data-grade projector compare to a purpose-built, budget-priced home theater projector? Epson’s latest model, the $749.99 PowerLite Home Cinema 705HD, has a native resolution of 1280×720 with a 16:9 aspect ratio, is a little less bright at 2,500 ANSI lumens, and has an HDMI input that enables a digital connection between your PC, Blu-ray player, or set-top box. It also has a USB port that can play host to an iPod (BenQ’s GP1 has this feature, too). Unlike the BenQ and Optoma projectors, the Epson uses three LCDs to produce its image. Unfortunately, Epson was not yet shipping the 750HD as we went to press, so we weren’t able to conduct a hands-on performance comparison.
Most data-grade projectors use DLP technology because it produces a brighter picture—an important consideration for boardrooms and classrooms, environments where it can be difficult to control ambient light. The Pro250X performed exceedingly well in our home theater, even when the drapes in the window directly in front of the screen were wide open and sunlight filled the room.
Although the Pro250X has a native resolution of 1024×768 (a 4:3 aspect ratio), the manufacturer claims the projector can produce resolutions as high as 1920×1080 (a 16:9 aspect ratio). But when we harnessed it to a desktop PC with a high-end video card based on Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 285 graphics processor, the highest resolution we could achieve was 1600×1200 (a 4:3 aspect ratio). In the end, we tested the projector at four resolutions: Its native 1024×768 (4:3), 1280×720 (16:9), 1600×900 (16:9) and 1600×1200 (4:3).
As we expected, the projector produced the absolute best image quality at its native resolution, but we were nonetheless impressed by its scaling performance when our video card was driving it at non-native resolutions. The Pro250X and the Blu-ray drive in our home theater PC produced a much brighter picture than the Samsung Blu-ray player connected to our ceiling-mounted PowerLite Cinema 500 (a native 1280×720 projector), but the Epson produced a much crisper image.
We had a similar experience using the DisplayMate for Windows, a comprehensive benchmarking and calibration utility for desktop displays and video projectors. The Pro250X was able to produce all of the DisplayMate test patterns at both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios without noticeable distortion, but it had a difficult time with patterns consisting of thin lines while running at non-native resolutions. And while the projector delivered excellent color uniformity and performed exceedingly well at the high end of the gray scale, it had difficulty producing low-intensity grays and colors: Using DisplayMate’s 32-step gray scale, we couldn’t distinguish black from any shade of gray with a value of less than 12. The projector stumbled with DisplayMate’s color-intensity benchmark, too. In this test, the utility produces 10 rows of color swatches with 25 steps in intensity, ranging from zero to fully saturated. In nearly every row, the first three steps were indistinguishable from black.
As soon as we finished benchmarking the projector with DisplayMate, we dropped the action film Watchmen into our PC’s Blu-ray drive to see how the projector performed with real-world applications. The opening scenes to this movie are quite dark, and much of the action was lost in the shadows until we darkened the room almost completely. Once we had the curtains drawn, however, we were quite pleased with the Pro250X’s movie performance.
The Optoma Pro250X is a very good video projector, especially for rooms that can’t be completely darkened. We’re also impressed with its color uniformity and its scaling abilities. If you’re looking for a device to put in your home theater, on the other hand, we think you’ll be happier with a model that’s expressly designed for that purpose. We won’t go so far as to say data projectors such as this are a bum steer for consumers, but beyond portability, we just don’t see how consumers benefit from buying a product that was engineered for an entirely different application.
Besides the fact that the Optoma Pro250X doesn’t natively support either of the standard HDTV progressive-scan resolutions (1280×720 or 1920×1080), the absence of an HDMI port complicates connections if your source device is either a PC (in which case you’ll probably need that DVI-to-VGA adapter you threw away when you bought your PC or videocard), satellite set-top box, Blu-ray, or DVD player (in which case you’ll need a $30 component-to-VGA adapter).
- Excellent scaling abilities
- Good color uniformity
- Native resolution of 1024×768
- Native aspect ratio of 4:3
- No HDMI input
- Poor low-intensity gray scale performance