Projector performance dips rapidly at lower prices,and worthwhile designs are few and far between.One way through this is to look at data projectors,which are designed primarily for office use, as many also aim to accommodate home cinema requirements.
This is just such an animal. Viewsonic is best known for computer monitors,and although the PJ458 is billed as a dual purpose design, it clearly started life as an office projector.Although based on a DLP engine with respectable XGA resolution, the display aspect ratio is 4:3, a low spec speaker is included; there is also a laser pointer built into the remote control.
You even get a soft carry case in the box.Of course the Viewsonic will show 16:9 widescreen material by selecting this aspect ratio,but it does so by selecting a band of pixels from the middle of the DMD chip to drive, leaving the area just above and below the picture showing as dull grey outside the picture.
But there are two sides to being office-centric.One requirement that is important when using them in large,often not well blacked out rooms is that they are powerful.This one is certainly that: with a claimed output of 2,000 ANSI Lumens,it is more powerful than many DLP projectors costing ten times as much,and can project large pictures in daytime with the curtains drawn, though the home cinema mode drops the brightness level.
The Viewsonic also has a short throw ratio,which means its natural home will be on the coffee table in front of the viewing plane.This does mean that the noise source will be between you and the screen,and this isn't the quietest projector around.In addition,you don't get the latest niceties like HDMI or even DVI.The inputs are strictly analogue, but they do include a computer style D-Sub which with an optional adaptor lead can be used for component video up to 720p.
The menu system is straightforward, and has enough adjustment on tap to allow basic settings of gamma, white peaking and user modes, including a dedicated home cinema mode,and one that can be set by the user.
But it's still difficult to achieve a really satisfactory picture balance in practice.Optical power isn't an issue,but the gamma curve is erratic, resulting in skin tones that were far too peachy and unsubtle. Black levels were also poor, with less contrast than suggested by the numbers. Optically the lens is no great shakes either, falling off in crispness towards the corners of the screen,though this is only visible at close quarters,and mostly when the lens is in wide angle mode.
Resolving power on screen is generally satisfactory, thanks to a fundamentally decent DMD,but there were real problems with motion artefacts: a non-progressive source (for example via the S-video input) looked as though there is no deinterlacing at all.
Moving diagonals were marred by severe staircasing effects,and generally objects in motion looked messy, with severe churning of fine detail, unless viewed from a considerable distance.There were even problems with the lamp of the test projector, which tended to flicker towards the left hand side of the screen,but this is almost certainly a sample fault.
Even ignoring this,however, performance is just a tad too crude to be acceptable for quality home cinema,and the PJ458D is certainly not adequately equipped for an HD future. Alvin Gold