by Michael C. Lowe and Michael J. Shapiro | October 01, 2011

Whether it's provided by the venue, rented by an audiovisual company or toted around as a valued piece of travel gear, a projector is an essential tool in the planner's arsenal. Interested in taking the plunge and making one your own? Wading through the feature list and selecting the perfect projector can be a daunting task. To help, M&C took a look at three recent models that might have just what you need.

We asked manufacturers to suggest models that were reliable enough for business but light enough for travel, that promised both planner-friendly features and straightforward ease of use. Read on for an explanation of the different features provided by each, as well as our hands-on experience setting them up and putting them to use.

Acer S5201M ProjectorAcer S5201M Projector
7.7 lbs., $999
While the Acer wasn't the most travel-friendly projector we tested, it was by far the most flexible to set up in confined spaces. Do you have to present in a closet-size conference room? If so, this one's a good bet. That's because it's an ultra-short-throw projector, meaning it can project a large-screen presentation while positioned a minimal distance from the screen -- as little as 19.2 inches away. In fact, this Acer can provide a 77-inch (diagonal) image from just 37.4 inches away. Set it up alongside a normal-throw unit and you'll notice the difference immediately. We hooked the Acer up to a MacBook using a VGA adapter and had no issues getting it up and running.

The projector ships with the Acer SmartPen, a fun and incredibly useful interactive gadget. You can "write" on the presentation during meetings, perhaps to underscore certain points or to add more information as you talk. Plus, the pen works from up to 32 feet away, which means attendees can just as easily use the tool to add their own feedback or ideas. An especially cool feature allows for these notes to be saved to the presentation and uploaded to a website.

The SmartPen doubles as a remote mouse, so the presenter can use it to scroll through presentations or advance slides in traditional fashion.

Image quality was excellent, and in our use this unit was the best of the bunch in video playback. The projector offers brightness of up to 3,000 lumens, and has native XGA resolution (with the same aspect ratio, or display shape, as most digital cameras). That can be adjusted to different resolutions and aspect ratios to match wide-screen displays.

You can hook up this projector to a local-area network as is, or control it via Wi-Fi with an optional attachment. Or you can bypass a computer altogether and run a PowerPoint presentation right off of a USB drive -- but only after first converting that presentation using Windows-only software that ships with the projector.

Lamp life estimates are for up to 4,000 hours of use, and a special EcoProjection setting reduces your electric bill and environmental impact: With it, you can reduce power consumption in standby mode by up to 80 percent and reduce the brightness to 2,400 lumens if you don't require the full power.

Portable Projectors chart