by Bob Walters | December 01, 2004

Over the years, portable projectors have become lighter and less expensive. Now, these smaller, cheaper machines also pack a lot more functionality for users. Today’s new “computer” projectors really are multiapplication devices.
    The formats most meeting planners are familiar with are LCD and DLP. LCD (liquid crystal display) relies on three mirror panels that act as a prism to project the red, green and blue lights that comprise the picture. DLP (digital light processing) uses a DMD chip (digital micromirror device), where every pixel on the chip is a reflective mirror, and the image is projected through a spinning color wheel.
    LCD projectors are now available for less than $1,000, while DLP units start at around $1,500 and can cost more than $3,000, depending on the selected features.

Why So Much?
Several factors determine the price of a projector.
    " Resolution is the number of pixels displayed side to side and top to bottom on the screen. These numbers are important to know when matching devices (laptops, personal digital assistants) to projection capabilities.
    The four most common resolutions are: SVGA, which is 800 pixels side to side by 600 pixels top to bottom the most available format and the least expensive. It’s good for most basic uses, including PowerPoint slides.
    XGA projects at 1,024 pixels by 768 and is preferred if you are showing lots of graphs or numbers.
    SXGA is 1,280 pixels by 768 and provides a good basis for streaming video but does not project spreadsheets as well as XGA.
    UXGA, at 1,600 pixels by 1,200, is the highest available resolution in most LCD and DLP projectors. It is preferred for videos and other high-quality presentations. UXGA also is the most expensive.
    " Brightness is measured most often in lumens; the higher the number, the brighter the image.
    " Contrast is expressed as a ratio between the brightest and darkest areas of the image. Look for projectors with contrast ratios of 400:1 or higher for the clearest images; go as high as possible if you plan to keep the lights on in the meeting room.
    " Weight is important for the road warrior who lugs the projector from town to town. However, the less the projector weighs, the more you’ll pay.
    " Connectivity is another factor to consider. You probably won’t always use the same PC for presentations, and you might also have to connect other sources, such as a video player. So make sure the device can hook up in as many ways as possible, such as SVGA, S-video, etc.
On the Shelf
    Some of the more popular brands available now are the Sharp Notevision XR 1S ($1,300; and the Mitsubishi SE2U (less than $1,000; The ASK Proxima C170 ($1,700; has a LitePort that accepts USB flash drives, allowing you to project without a PC.

On the Horizon
The newest and most expensive technology is liquid crystal on silicon. LCOS excels when the technology is paired with a powerful lens for projecting very large images from a small distance. Canon’s new Realis SX-50 ($5,000; can project a 100-inch image from just 10 feet away and maintains the high quality expected in digital video presentations.
    When looking at purchasing a new projector, it is important to think in terms of not only the equipment you are currently using, but where you expect to be. Digital video presentations are becoming more popular, and you might want to consider a projector that will provide as wide a range of capabilities as possible.