GPSolo Magazine - December 2004

Product Review
To Project or Not to Project: It’s No Longer a Question

The use of multimedia technology to enhance presentations in and out of the litigation context has continued to increase within the legal profession. Those of you who have not yet used it will likely do so in the near future. An increasingly large number of attorneys have already experienced the advantages of projecting an image for all to see at the same time, whether the image represents a chart supplementing an expert’s testimony or a PowerPoint presentation emphasizing a closing argument, a portion of a document or a deposition transcript for impeachment purposes (with or without synchronized audio and picture). I have spent some time looking at a large number of portable LCD and DLP projectors and evaluating them for potential usefulness to an attorney. This review will provide you with information about a few of my favorites.

In looking for a projector, consider the following:

1. We measure the brightness of the image a computer projects in a unit called a “lumen.” The more lumens a projector generates, the brighter the image it produces, and the more clearly you’ll be able to see that image in a large, brightly lit room.

2. We describe projector image resolution (from lowest to highest) as VGA, SVGA, XGA, and UXGA. Currently, most projectors offer SVGA or XGA as their native resolution. Generally, you will prefer a unit that has XGA native resolution.

3. You will find that you pay more for (a) smaller size and lighter weight; (b) higher resolution; (c) increased brightness.

4. Projectors use one of two technologies to generate the image. We refer to the older technology as LCD (liquid crystal display) and the newer technology as DLP (digital light processing). Generally, the LCD projectors cost more, take up more space, and weigh more. On the other hand, an LCD projector rated at 1,000 lumens may appear a bit brighter than a similarly rated DLP projector, and color purists will argue that LCD projectors render color more accurately. I have found the DLP projectors to work very well, however, and I have no problem recommending them to you, especially considering the size, weight, and cost advantages.

5. Almost every projector will generate an image that looks sharper and crisper at a smaller size than at a larger size. Accordingly, do not plan on regularly projecting images at the largest possible size the projector can handle, as you will likely find the images less satisfactory than those at a smaller size.

6. A word of caution: Without regard to the projector you purchase, the projection lamp will probably prove the most vulnerable part of the unit and the most likely to cause a failure. You should plan on purchasing a spare and carrying it with you to ensure your ability to use a projector in a presentation.

Also, give some thought to the intended use. If you only need a projector to use in a small- to medium-sized conference room or in a situation where you can easily control (i.e., lower) the lighting, a 1,000-lumen projector may work quite nicely for you. If you will use the projector in large rooms, such as a courtroom, where you may not have the ability to control the lighting, you will find a 1,000-lumen projector insufficiently bright to suit your needs; you will want a minimum of 2,500 lumens (you can get by with less if you will have the ability to control the lighting). When in doubt, go with the brighter projector (i.e., with more lumens). Note that bright sunlight shining directly onto the projector screen can pose problems even for very powerful projectors.

Prices given below reflect list price and online pricing as of the preparation of this article. Prices may change by the time you read the article. In most cases, you can find better pricing online than off.

1,000-Lumen Projectors

My favorite projector in this category comes from InFocus ( www.infocus.com). The LP120 lists for $1,899, comes with native XGA resolution, weighs under two pounds, and its diminutive size (2.05” [H] x 3.69” [L] x 9.75” [W]) allows you to easily pack it along with your laptop in many computer cases. Its light weight comes, in part, from the use of a strong but light magnesium frame. The projector can generate an image up to 84 inches diagonally. The optical zoom lens allows for adjustment of image size and focus without physical relocation of the projector. The zoom has only a manual focus and adjustment (one of the prices you pay for reduced size). The LP120 has a relatively bright and very crisp image, particularly sharp in smaller image sizes. It uses DLP technology. The LP120 travels well and sets up quickly and easily on both the Mac and Windows platforms. It also runs fairly quietly. For an extra $499 you can get the InFocus LiteShow, which adds wireless capabilities to the LP120.

The LP120 has been around for a few years now. It has proven reliable and costs much less today than it did when it first came out. If you want a 1,000-lumen projector, you would have a hard time finding a better or more convenient choice. If you plan on buying an LP120, go to the InFocus website and check for rebates. (As I write this review, the site shows a $100 rebate with the projector. It also shows a $100 rebate for the LiteShow.)

1,500- to 1,999-Lumen Projectors

I have a couple of favorites in this category; both come from HP/Compaq ( www.hp.com). For some time, I have used the HP xb31 and found it a very happy mixture of power and portability. This 1,500-lumen projector comes with native XGA resolution and weighs 3.5 pounds. It can fit, with a laptop, in many larger computer cases. The DLP projector sets up easily, runs fairly quietly, and works well with computers on both Mac and Windows platforms. It lists for $1,999, but I just checked HP’s website, and it currently has a $100 rebate available. The xb31 has proven itself to be a useful and reliable performer, projecting a clear, crisp, bright image in a variety of circumstances and conditions. Its current price represents a substantial reduction from that offered at the time of its introduction.

HP’s mp3130 represents a remake and upgrade of an award-winning Compaq unit introduced several years ago. The vertical stance of the unit, while somewhat less stable than the horizontal positioning of most units, does offer an advantage when setting up the projector: You can put the projector closer to the screen without having to put it on top of something else. The mp3130 DLP unit lists for $2,495 and generates 1,800 lumens. It measures 9” x 7.8” x 2.9” and weighs 3.8 pounds. The projector has both digital and optical zoom capabilities for increased flexibility. It can generate a diagonally measured image ranging from 25 to 295 inches. It produces a clear, bright, crisp image, but like most projectors, it does better with smaller images than larger ones.

HP makes a Smart Attachment Module (“SAM”) for the mp3130. The SAM gives you network access and wireless connectivity for the projector. It lists for $600.

2,000+ Lumen Projectors

I have four favorites in this category—one from InFocus, one from Toshiba, and two from Casio.

A solid workhorse projector. The InFocus LP820 generates 3,200 lumens for image brightness. That power makes it appropriate for virtually any environment where you are likely to need a projector. The LP820 is a workhorse, but at 13.1 pounds and measuring 4.3” x 13.1” x 15.6”, the workhorse looks a lot like a Clydesdale by comparison to the other projectors in this category. It easily qualifies as the heavyweight in the group.

On the other hand, the LP820 has the best connectivity of the projectors in this group. The projector has a full complement of ports: connections for three computers, a serial control, monitor line out, USB, PS/2, Ethernet, S Video, Infrared, and three additional audio and video inputs with traditional RCA phono plug connectors. It also contains an audio line out for stereo connections.

The projector sets up easily and quickly and works with both Mac and Windows computers. The projector has native XGA resolution and generates a diagonally measured image ranging from 40 to 200 inches. The LP820 generates a sharp and bright image in most environments. Even with 3,200 lumens of light, however, the image will wash out and be difficult to see in direct, bright sunlight. Keep that in mind when setting up the room, to the extent you have control over it. You should have little problem with the unit in a large room with controlled lighting. The LP820 lists for $3,499, but you can find it for less online.

A projector plus. Toshiba’s tlp791 generates 3,000 lumens of light. The projector works well with computers on both the Mac and Windows platforms. It sets up easily and quickly. The tlp791 generates a sharp and bright image in most environments—but, again, its images will be difficult to see in direct, bright sunlight. You should have little problem with the unit in a large room with controlled lighting. The tlp791 projects an image that, measured diagonally, can cover a range from about 12 to 300 inches. The tlp791 measures 13.3” x 3.76” x 12.8” and weighs 11 pounds. The projector comes equipped with a full array of ports, including connections for two computers, a monitor out, a USB port, an S Video port, and standard RCA video and stereo input plugs.

This model also includes a removable document camera that attaches directly to the projector, creating a self-contained document camera and projector unit. The camera system uses a half-inch CCD to generate a 1.45-megapixel image. You can get the projector without the document camera as Toshiba’s tlp790. The tlp791 lists for $3,999, and the tlp790 lists for $3,299. The tlp791 includes a built-in lighting system that works quite well and will prove very useful when using the document camera. When using the camera, the top of the projector serves as a table to hold the document or other item you will project.

The dream team. Casio has created a package that many attorneys may see as ideal for their practices. It consists of a very good 4-megapixel digital camera combined with a camera stand to convert it to use as a document camera and sold as the YC-400. Pairing the YC-400 with either Casio’s 2,200-lumen XJ-350 data projector or its 2,800-lumen XJ-450 data projector gives you a system suitable for most situations. Casio has designed all three of the components well. They take up little space, pack well, and look quite nice.

Both the XJ-350 and XJ-450 have a native XGA resolution and employ a new proprietary condenser lens and light source system that generates a particularly bright image. Both projectors use DLP technology, support both the Mac and Windows platforms, and set up quickly and easily. Both units have a 2x optical zoom lens and can generate an image (measured diagonally) from 15 to 300 inches. Both projectors generate a clear, crisp, bright image in a variety of circumstances, but in a large or brightly lit room, the XJ-450 will display a brighter image. Both projectors come with a connection for only a single computer, a USB port, an S Video port, and a separate audio and video jack.

The XJ-350 weighs 3.9 pounds and measures 9” x 2.1” x 6.7”. It supports both the Mac and Windows platforms and sets up very quickly and easily. It lists for $3,899, but I have seen it online for as little as $2,200. The XJ-350 has an integrated flip-down lens cover. The XJ-350 should prove satisfactory for small- and medium-sized rooms, as well as larger rooms with reasonably well-controlled lighting. The brighter the lighting and the larger the room, the less satisfactory the result.

At 5.3 pounds, the XJ-450 is one of the lightest projectors I have seen in the 3,000-lumen range. It measures 10.9” x 2.5” x 7.6”. The XJ-450 projectors have a solid front panel that slides over the lens to protect it when you are not using the projector; the panel slides out of the way to allow you to use the projector. The XJ-450 should work in almost any environment (again, subject to the problems with direct sunlight mentioned above). We saw little observable difference in brightness between the XJ-450’s 2,800 lumens and the 3,000-lumen machines. It lists for $4,899, but I have seen it online for as little as $3,300.

The YC-400 lists for $1,250, but I have seen it online for as little as $999, including both the 4-megapixel camera and the stand to convert it to use as a document camera. The camera functions both as a digital still camera and as a document camera. In digital camera mode, it has a 3x optical zoom; in document mode, the optical zoom factor reduces to 1.8x. The camera’s flexibility allows you to use it to capture images of white boards, charts, and other two- or three-dimensional objects used in the course of a presentation or a trial. The camera can even function as a scanner, allowing you to image a document and import it into your computer. The camera self-adjusts to ensure that the image aligns correctly.

 

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, a general practice firm emphasizing real estate and business transactions and litigation. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. He can be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com.

 

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