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Little projectors aim at the big picture

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Video has become so pervasive in our lives, via cell phones, Skype chat, YouTube and the like, that we take it for granted. But viewing it on a tiny screen is another matter, and projectors have been too big and bulky, or too small for a reasonable image, to make sense. But are they finally catching up to users’ needs? JOEL KOPPING takes two new mini projectors, the Acer K11 and LG HX300G, through a comparative version of the Gadget 5 Question User Test.

The LG HX300G

Video has become such a major part of our lives that we no longer even think of it. How many cell phones don’t have a video or stills camera built in? Would Apple consider launching a new iPod, iPad or iPhone without video capability? And does any Gadget reader think twice about using Skype to speak to and see family across the globe?

But while video is pervasive, huddling around a tiny screen isn’t everyone’s favourite viewing pastime. Ideally, we would want to watch a presentation on a screen bigger than a netbook, or a YouTube video in near life size.

The not so obvious solution is a projector, but they tend to be too big and unwieldy to be portable. At the other end of the scale, the truly tiny Pico models don’t really have enough light to deliver anything larger than a laptop size image. So it’s been back to square one every time.

There is however a new breed of projector.

These models are often billed as travel projectors, are a little bigger than those tiny, hand-held Pico models – they’re about the size of two or three paperbacks – and offer greater light output. They remain limited by size, but for a larger and more user-friendly screen size, they offer a wide array of video input options.

Before taking them through the Gadget 5 Question User Test, the combatants need to be introduced and a few key specifications mentioned.

And the projectors are:

In this corner, the LG HX300G.

Size: 61 x 160 x 135.5 mm

Weight: 786 G (without power supply)

Resolution: 1024 x 768

Brightness: 300 lumen

Inputs: HDMI, PC, USB, Video and audio in

Price: R 7 999.99

In the other corner, the Acer K11.

Size: 122 x 116 x 42.5 mm

Weight: 610G (without power supply)

Resolution: 858 x 600

Brightness: 200 Lumen

Inputs: HDMI, PC, USB, SD card, Video and audio in (ipod with separate adapter)

Price: R 5 699.00

The Acer K11

1. Are they ready to use?

Apart from the optional iPod adapter for the Acer, all you need to do to use either of the projectors is feed them power and give them something to display. Both come with power supplies, which are the same size as those found in laptop bags. In fact, the Acer’s power supply can double up for use on many of their laptops.

Both models are also supplied with a VGA cable and all relevant adaptors – barring iPod adaptors – to get you viewing almost anything within minutes.

2. Are they it easy to use?

If you can drive a laptop or know how to use half the features on your phone, then you shouldn’t have any problems using either projector. They are both user-friendly and have easy to understand menu structures. You may well find you never have to look at their supplied manuals for anything other than checking on specifications.

3. Do they operate as advertised?

Once again the answer here has to be a yes, although a guarded one.

Both projectors certainly can deliver big screen but, due to their low light output, you really need to be able to control room lighting if you want to see good colour and contrast.

The LG, with its higher resolution and greater light output, was a little better than the Acer at delivering presentations large enough for a group of people to see fairly comfortably. It was, for the same reason, better at delivering video too.

4. Are they innovative?

When one looks at the core technologies used in the duo, namely energy efficient LED lamps and DLP projection system, you realise they are both products that do use some of the latest generation technologies.

And the fact that both projectors use variations of the same technologies – they differ only in brightness and resolution – means that while there is certainly some innovation in their design, they don’t make enough of a leap to be considered really innovative.

The projectors are similar to LED TVs where the viewing/projection system has been around for quite a while: LCD in the case of TVs and DLP for projectors. The only real change is the light source, which is LED in both instances.

5. Are they value for money?

In a pure projector sense, neither the Acer nor the LG offer good value for money. You can get projectors that cost less than either model but that deliver multiples more light output and at least similar or better resolution. This means that these projectors can deliver bigger and more vivid images and do so in brighter rooms.

The duo’s value comes in to play when you look at their portability, and if you’re a road warrior who travels around the country delivering presentations, then you’ll certainly appreciate the size ‚ or lack thereof ‚ of either of the little projectors. Their portability and input flexibility also make them good candidates for education. Where used with a USB stick, they could easily be moved from class to class.

For anything other than the above uses, though, the projectors are a little too pricey for all but the affluent to consider as a viable option to larger and slightly less compromised designs.

In conclusion

Both the LG and the Acer deliver what they claim to do, and the LG does it a little better than the Acer. But then it should, as it costs quite a bit more.

While I like the concept of these tiny projectors, I would wait a while for their LED technology to mature more, and for their prices to come down a little, before jumping up to buy one.

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