Portable digital projectors have replaced the overhead and slide projectors once used for conferences and meetings. By hooking up a portable digital projector to your PC, you let your presentations come alive with graphics, movement, even full-motion video. Portable digital projectors are an investment, and matching your budget to the best portable digital projector means knowing how you’ll be using it. Once you know that, Pronto’s Digital Projector Buying Guide takes the rest of the guesswork out of making your purchase.
The lumens rating tells you the brightness of a portable digital projector’s image. Most projectors operate between 300-1500 lumens. For fully lit bright rooms, screenless operation, or larger image sizes, look for a portable digital projector with 1500 or more.
SVGA portable digital projectors are the best choice for large text and still images. XGA portable digital projectors are the best choice for moving images, small text, or presentations that include graphs and spreadsheets. Choose a high-definition WXGA digital projector only if high-definition video is an essential component of your presentations.
Both display technologies are good choices. DLP portable digital projectors are lighter and offer better performance with moving images and video. LCD portable digital projectors are a more cost-effective choice.
Look for a portable digital projector with top-mounted buttons that are easy to operate while you’re presenting. Connections should include VGA for PCs and analog video, composite video, and DVI or HDMI for the greatest flexibility.
Make sure a portable digital projector comes with a tough, shock-resistant case. When comparing portable digital projectors, include the cost of lamp replacement over three to five years to determine the lifetime cost of ownership.
An analog video connection based on the RCA standard that carries a high-definition video source by splitting it into red, green, and blue signals.
The difference between the brightest white and the darkest black in a portable digital projector’s image, expressed as a ratio, such as 400:1. Higher contrast ratios provide deeper blacks and sharper images.
Digital Light Projection, a display technology that projects an image onto a chip coated with millions of tiny mirrors. Color is added by a spinning color wheel, and portable digital projectors with slow-spinning wheels can create the rainbow effect, where streaks of solid color appear on the image.
Digital Video Interface, a high-bandwidth cable that carries a video signal to a portable digital projector. This connection is being phased out in favor of HDMI.
High Definition Multimedia Interface, a bundled cable that carries digital audio and video data to a portable digital projector. HDMI transfers data faster than other connections and is the new standard for high-definition connections.
Liquid Crystal Display, a portable digital projector technology that uses light shown through a liquid crystal computer chip to create the image.
A standardized measurement of the brightness produced by a light source. More lumens provide more brightness.
Super Video Graphics Array. A standard-definition digital projector display offering a 4:3 aspect ratio and a display area of 800x600 pixels, similar to the resolution found on older PC monitors. These displays are best for large text and graphics.
Video Graphics Adaptor, a connection port used to connect a PC to a portable digital projector.
Wide Extended Graphics Array. These portable digital projectors can display a widescreen 1366x768 pixel image in a 16:9 aspect ratio, similar to that found on HDTVs and widescreen monitors. WXGA portable digital projectors support high-definition video at 720p resolution.
Extended Graphics Array. A higher-quality, standard-definition portable digital projector display offering a resolution of 1024x768 pixels in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The extra lines of horizontal resolution allow for sharper images and better projection of detailed graphics, spreadsheets, and graphs.
The easiest way to narrow your portable digital projector choices is to start with the brightness of the projector’s image. Brightness is measured in lumens, and higher numbers mean that the portable digital projector will deliver a viewable image in brighter rooms.
Most portable digital projectors offer between 300 and 1,500 lumens of brightness. Portable digital projectors with fewer lumens are better for dark rooms and smaller screen sizes. If you plan to use the portable digital projector in a fully lit room or need a larger projection area, look for a portable digital projector with 1,500 lumens or more.
Portable digital projectors come in different resolutions and use different technologies to create the image. LCD and DLP are the two dominant portable digital projector display technologies.
LCD, or liquid crystal display, uses silicon chips coated with liquid crystal to create the image. LCD is excellent for static images but can struggle with motion. DLP uses a tiny image magnified through thousands of microscopic mirrors and a rotating color wheel to generate an image. DLP is a better choice for video and has deeper black levels than LCD, which makes your presentations look sharper.
If you choose an LCD portable digital projector, balance the cost against the contrast ratio, which is the difference between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks. Better LCD portable digital projectors have a contrast ratio of 1,000:1 or higher, which enhances sharpness and adds to the expense. For slide presentations and static images that aren’t too busy, you’ll find that a portable digital projector with a contrast ratio of 400:1 is a cost-effective solution.
Resolution measures the number of pixels in a portable digital projector’s display. The higher the resolution, the better the image quality and the more you’ll pay for the portable digital projector.
SVGA portable digital projectors have a 4:3 screen with a resolution of 800x600 pixels, the same as most older computer monitors and televisions. This is the format that most people are accustomed to, and these portable digital projectors are a good pick if you’ll be displaying PowerPoint slides or static graphic and text presentations.
For video and moving images, a portable digital projector with XGA resolution of 1024x768 pixels is a better choice. These portable digital projectors support DVD-quality resolution and they’re also better at displaying small text and numbers, which is a must for graphs and spreadsheets.
WXGA portable digital projectors offer the 16:9 aspect ratio found on widescreen TVs and monitors and can deliver high-definition 720p images. These are the most expensive portable digital projectors available. For the greatest ease of use, try to match the native resolution of your portable digital projector to the native resolution of your laptop, which will save you the step of switching resolution before a presentation.
Unless high-definition video is an essential part of your presentations, you’ll find that an XGA portable digital projector is the best pick. Avoid the temptation to buy a WXGA portable digital projector and use it for presentations and home theater. Though the quality gap is narrowing between portable digital projectors and home theater projectors, it is still significant, and most portable digital projectors don’t perform as well with live television and DVD.
If you’re taking a portable digital projector on the road, you want it to be lightweight and easy to set up. DLP portable digital projectors weigh less than LCD models, but you’ll pay a lot more for the weight savings. It’s better to focus on image quality and connectivity than weight.
Look for buttons placed on top of a portable digital projector, which are easier to reach during a presentation. Connection options should include VGA ports for PCs and composite video or HDMI along with analog video for the greatest flexibility. If you’re shopping for a WXGA portable digital projector, DVI inputs are an acceptable alternative to HDMI, but be aware that you’ll need a DVI to HDMI adaptor that can add $50 to the cost.
LCD portable digital projectors are a little more forgiving than DLP models when it comes to setup. Most DLP portable digital projectors need to be set at the proper height and distance from the projection surface to create a flat image.
Portable digital projectors need lamps to produce light, and these lamps need to be replaced periodically. When comparing portable digital projectors, learn the cost of replacement lamps and average lamp life, and factor the number of lamps you’ll need over the next three to five years to determine the lifetime cost of ownership.
The lens on a portable digital projector can affect the sharpness of the projected image, but most projector lenses are up to the task in smaller spaces. For most consumers, the choice lies between a plastic or glass lens. Although glass lenses add to the weight of a portable digital projector, they’re more durable and deliver sharper images. Look for a lens with a manual focus wheel that’s easy to adjust and firm enough to hold its position.
Presenters who work frequently in large auditoriums will need to consider the maximum image size of the lens in a portable digital projector. Distortion increases along with the size of the projected image, so you’ll need a portable digital projector with a lens designed for larger screens. Be aware that all but the most expensive portable digital projectors will struggle with images larger than 100 inches diagonal.
A portable digital projector should come with a durable, shock-resistant case that can withstand airport carousels and unintentional drops. For portable digital projectors that include remote controls, look for a built-in laser pointer.
You may want to get a separate screen, but you can do without one if the portable digital projector has 1,400 or more lumens of brightness. These portable digital projectors will work well against a white wall.
Some portable digital projectors include speakers. This is helpful if your presentation includes audio, but the speakers are only intended for use in small rooms, so think about where you’ll use the portable digital projector before spending extra for sound.
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