How to Buy the Best Mobile Projector

Acer X1261; mobile projector
The Acer X1161 and X1261 are affordably priced 3D-capable projectors that weigh less than 5 pounds.
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If you’re thinking about buying a new mobile projector for your small business, be warned: Things have gotten a whole lot more complicated. A few years ago, all you had to do was pick the size model you were willing to carry and the price you were willing to pay, and be done with it.

But new connectivity options, the availability of widescreen and HD image resolution choices, and the arrival of disruptive 3D technology to business-class projectors have made the task of selecting the right unit significantly less straightforward. And considering your purchase decision is one you’re likely to live with for five years or more — most buyers hold onto a projector longer than they do a PC — you’ll want to do your homework.

Many business owners still consider a data/video projector a luxury item, rather than a necessity. Indeed, with today’s larger laptop screens, you could occasionally use your notebook to present an idea, proposal or product to two or three individuals grouped around a conference table. But try that with a larger assemblage and you’ll lose your audience, because some of them won’t be able to see the screen adequately.

If you can’t justify the expense based on the number of client-facing presentations you conduct, consider the in-house meetings that could benefit from the use of a mobile projector, and it could tilt the scale in a projector’s favor. Need more justification? Just remember that the boss gets to take the projector home on Super Bowl weekend, for the Masters golf tourney, for “drive-in” night in the backyard with the kids and all manner of other special events.

Epson EX51; mobile projector
The Epson EX51 features a sleek 5-pound chassis and 2,500 lumens of brightness.
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Weight it Out

As when buying a notebook PC, one main decision point is what size machine you are willing to carry. Projectors come in a wide range of sizes, from pocket-size units to 8-pound models that can fill a room with video and sound. (Note that for this feature we are focusing on road-going mobile projectors, not the larger, fixed-installation conference room models.)

Generally, the bulkier the machine, the brighter it will be and the larger maximum image it will deliver. So if you tend to find yourself in large rooms presenting to an audience, be prepared to schlep a larger 5- to 8-pound unit (which, with case and cables, will actually net out to a few pounds more; the weight the manufacturer states is for the projector alone). Of course, if you typically travel by car and will only carry the unit between the car and office, that’s manageable.

If many of your meetings require a plane trip, you’ll want to opt for an ultraportable projector in the 2- to 4-pound range. Carrying a larger model through airports — along with your laptop and everything else — will grow tiresome after the first couple of trips. Opting for a smaller projector will save some shoulder strain, and many projector cases designed for ultraportables also have room inside for your laptop — an important consideration now that airlines are sticking to a strict two-carry-on limit.

HP Notebook Projection Companion; mobile projector
The HP Notebook Projection Companion weighs less than a pound, and its LED light source delivers 10,000 hours of use.
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The newest class of projectors are the circa 1-pound “pico-projectors.” These units don’t have the brightness, image size or feature set of full-size portable and ultraportable models, but they are big on convenience. You can have one in your laptop bag all the time, just in case an opportunity presents itself. And some of these pocket-size marvels allow you to connect to a smartphone or iPod touch, not just a PC

Focus on Brightness, Not Technology

If you were buying a home theater projector, you would have to spend a lot of time sifting through reviews and opinions about the various image-engine technologies available — DLP, LCD and LED — and which is best at delivering the truest colors and best motion video with the fewest artifacts. But for a business projector, where video use will be fairly limited, you can skip the ideologues’ rantings and know that either LCD or DLP technology will deliver a very satisfactory image. Pico-projectors, meanwhile, use LED engines that deliver usable image quality on a much smaller scale (these are “convenience” projectors, remember).

InFocus IN2116; mobile projector
The InFocus IN2116 features BrilliantColor Technology for accurate color reproduction.
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Instead of the engine used, focus on the brightness rating of the projector. You’ll see the spec most often quoted in ANSI lumens (for the standard way of measuring brightness at the screen set by the American National Standard Institute). An ultraportable unit with a rating of 1,000 ANSI lumens is acceptable for use in an office or small conference room where you can control the light coming from windows and overhead.

If you typically present in a larger conference room or classroom, you or don’t have control over the lights and window shades, you’ll want a unit in the 2,000 to 2,500 ANSI lumen range. Such units will deliver a usable image up to 300 inches (that’s 25 feet!) in a dark room. The pocket-size LED projectors typically have a lumens rating about one-tenth that of their full-size cousins, and are hard pressed to deliver an image mach larger than 50 inches before the picture becomes noticeably washed out.

Videophiles might pipe up around now and ask “What about contrast ratio?” The short answer: Ignore it. Projector makers do not have a standard way of measuring contrast ratio the way they can with ANSI lumens, so the figures presented are not comparable. In general, any projector from a name-brand manufacturer will deliver a contrast ratio suitable for business purposes.

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