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NEC LT170 Projector

Small size, big performance By Charlie White
When we first unpacked the NEC LT170 projector ($1680), we were startled to see its small size and unusual shape. Barely 11 inches long, the 5-inch wide and 4-inch tall unit resembles the form factor of a zoom lens, but packs a powerful punch for a presentation projector of its size and price. And, at 3.9 lb., this petite projector is road ready.

Included with the LT170 is a smart-looking, form-fitting carrying case, a VGA cable, and a tripod mount that thoughtfully includes the screws and a flat-head screwdriver youíll need to mount it, nestled in a little bag that fits into a recessed area under the mounting bracket. Thatís a nice touch thatís representative of how much user-friendliness has been built into this product.

The LT170 is a bright, 1024x768 DLP projector that can handle computer video with its VGA input as well as PAL or NTSC S-Video as well as composite. We would have liked a DVI input as well, along with component video, for those progressive scan DVDs and HDTV programs weíre getting used to watching, but if you can find an HDTV source that outputs to SVideo, that will be recognized automatically by the LT170.

On the test bench, the unit performed admirably. Taking light readings from a nine-segment grid, we measured an average of 1265 Lumens, slightly less than the NEC quoted spec of 1500 Lumens, but plenty bright nonetheless. The projector actually hits 1500 lumens at the bottom middle of the screen, but drops off to 968 at the top right. Overall, itís still a great-looking picture with excellent edge-to-edge sharpness. The only complaint would be the contrast ratio, quoted at 1000:1 but measuring a bit less than that by our calculations. The blackest the LT170 could get to our eyes was a dark gray.

With DVD viewing, the LT170 was a solid performer despite its lack of component inputs. Side-by-side with another NEC projector, the doubly-expensive HT1000, the LT170 held its own, with apparently equal brightness and nearly the same sharpness. Even though the comparison was clearly unfair, with the HT1000 using progressive scan component inputs versus the LT170ís SVideo, we found the LT170 to still be quite watchable. Frankly, I was surprised that the HT1000 didnít completely blow it away. The comparison was so close that uninitiated viewers might not even notice the difference. It impressed us as a projector that could fulfill the need for occasional home theater use, but for a serious home theater, weíd opt for a higher-end model.

NEC LT170 projector

Where the LT170 really shines is as a no-nonsense presentation road warrior. We tested the unit using an other-than-native resolution out of our test laptop computer, using 1280x1024, and the Accublend feature held up admirably, albeit not looking as sharp as the LT170ís native resolution of 1024x768. At its native resolution, the computer desktop and all the test signals we fed the projector through its VGA cable looked gloriously crispy-clean. It immediately became obvious that this would be an excellent presentation projector. The only factor that might hold back the LT170 in a presentation environment would be its slightly assertive lamp-cooling system that puts out about 38 dB of fan noise. Although not as loud as a vacuum cleaner, Iíve certainly heard quieter fans in projectors that have graced our Midwest Test Facility.

NEC LT170 controls
We liked the no-nonsense controls of the LT170, with a center button and wheel that gives you quick access to its user-friendly menus.

Enough whining, though. Letís cover the details that make this projector even more delightful to use. I was immediately fond of the rubberized feel of the LT170. It reminds me of a pair of sports binoculars Iíve used, with a sure-grip feeling when you pick it up. I also like the lens cap, which retracts into the shell of the case with the flick of a switch Ė no more hunting around for that lost lens cap. And, the remote control, while small at about the size of a cell phone, isnít so tiny that it lacks features. And, when you want to turn the unit off, thereís no need to hold down the on-off switch as in other NEC products Ė a dialog box pops up asking you if youíre sure you want to turn the projector off. I like that.

Overall, we liked the NEC LT170, a user-friendly projector that is equally at home in the boardroom and the home theater. With its tiny size and powerful performance, it represents an excellent value. Highly recommended.

Charlie White, your humble storytellerDigital Media Net Executive Producer Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist since 1994, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor, broadcast industry consultant and shot-calling television director who has worked in broadcasting since 1974. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at [email protected].

Read Charlie White's editorials by clicking here.

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