Mike Langberg: Until the last year or so, front projectors designed for home video cost $3,000 or more. Lately, the entry price has fallen in half, driven by heavy demand for all types of electronic projectors, and should drop under $1,000 by year end.


I took a look for myself by calling Optoma Technology of Milpitas (www.optoma.com) and asked the company to stage a demonstration, as well as lend me its Optoma H30, a home-theater projector that sells for $1,499.



Optoma Technology has a fancy screening room in its offices, and several marketing and engineering executives graciously set up two tests.



First, they put an H30 next to an Optoma H77, a much fancier home-theater projector that sells for $9,000. The two projectors were connected to the same video source — a high-definition tape of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” with the wide-screen H30 picture above the wide-screen H77 picture.



The H30 did an outstanding job of delivering a sharp image of actress Charlize Theron, with realistic flesh tones and rich colors. The H77 did somewhat better, with a picture so detailed I could easily read the lettering on Jay Leno’s coffee mug. But, to me, the H77 was only marginally superior. In other words, the H30 provides almost as much quality as the H77 for one-sixth the price.



Second, the Optoma crew put the H30 up against my own front projector, which I brought from home: a Dell 2100MP, which I purchased in April 2003 for $999; a model since replaced by the Dell 2200MP at $899 (www.dell.com). The 2100MP is what’s called a “crossover” projector, designed for connecting to a notebook computer for work tasks such as displaying a PowerPoint presentation, as well as for home entertainment. Crossover projectors, while less expensive than home-theater projectors, aren’t optimized for video.



This shoot-out was no contest — the H30 immediately and obviously outshone the 2100MP. The level of detail was the same, but the 2100MP fell short in both contrast and color. Shadows were deep black with the H30, only grayish with the 2100MP. The multicolored “Tonight Show” backdrop looked pale with the 2100MP, vibrant with the H30.



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