Panasonic's entry-level projector offers a video image up to 300in and can be picked up for about the same cash as a top spec 32in widescreen TV. This compact and bijou projector packs three colour LCD panels of a healthy 800 x 600 (4:3 ratio) resolution, a 130W UHP lamp to provide a claimed 1,400 lumens brightness, and offers all of the basic AV connections. It comes with a neat credit card-style remote and even boasts an auto set-up routine that corrects keystone as soon as it powers up.
So, what's the catch? Well, this is a 4:3 projector, so widescreen material will be cropped down, leaving you grey bands top and bottom. The component input goes in the RGB D-sub port, meaning you'll have to buy an adapter, and the LM2E doesn't claim to be the quietest projector around. But if you shop around, you'll find the LM2E for less than £600, making it one of the cheapest big screen entertainers money can buy.
Powered up, the fan whirrs into life with some gusto compared to more affluent models, yet the light spilling out from the rear panel is really going to bug you if the LM2E is placed on a table in front of the seating position. The menus are the familiar Panasonic PT series - dull yet functional - and the auto set-up feature adjusts keystone correction at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, even with the LM2E just a few degrees off of perpendicular to the screen, the top-to-bottom focus falls apart, so this is a projector that needs to be square on.
Straight out of the crate, the standard picture settings are way off kilter, being far too bright, killing the contrast and rendering the perspective flatter than a picture postcard. Much of this can be rectified in the menus, resulting in a fair balance of black detail and brightness. The triple LCD arrangement pays dividends with the picture colour, with a vibrant and rich balance that's not too far removed from natural, either. There's certainly none of the greenish or rose tint to flesh tones often seen on single panel LCD projectors.
As a barking-mad games console accessory, the LM2E is great fun. The high brightness and deep colour saturation bring games to life, and the short throw lens means you don't need bags of room to achieve a 100in picture. On the downside, the picture borders are more light grey than black, motion blur is noticeable and even minor keystone adjustment creates horrendous moire distortion.
Still, we've still got change from £600 in our pockets, remember. The initial favourable impression and wallet relief can soon take a nosedive depending on your installation, however. After 10 minutes or so, the fan kicks up a notch to near hover-mower velocity and noise, the light emanating from the rear fan duct begins to draw your gaze hypnotically and the poor off-perpendicular focus begins to grate. Of course, if the LM2E is mounted on the ceiling behind the listening position and square-on to the screen, none of this would be a problem at all. On the table in front of the sofa, it most certainly is.
Only a couple of years ago, you would have paid about £3,000 for this sort of performance and specification, and the LM2E is yours today for a relative song. It's not perfect, but it does offer a taste of big-screen entertainment for a small-screen budget. I'll just sneak this one in my Xbox bag...