While it's not the first sub-$500 projector on the market--a distinction that belongs to theSanyo PDG-DSU20N--the NEC NP100 may be the most impressive. With strong contrast, plenty of brightness, and a good picture, it's an excellent budget model for both work and play.
Like the slightly older Sanyo PDG-DSU20N, the NEC NP100 has a slick white design. According to the company, it weighs 5.3 pounds, easily making it the lightest budget model. On our scale, however, it was even lighter, at just 5.1 pounds--a very rare case of a projector weighing less than claimed. The top panel is unique: It's a recessed cavity just deep enough to accommodate the projector's credit card-size remote control. But be careful not to lose the remote, as no menu control buttons are on the projector itself.
On our tests, the NP100 did fairly well. We measured the brightness at 2081 lumens, which is higher than NEC's claim of 2000 lumens. The contrast ratio was also impressive at 711:1, one of the best we have seen for all projectors and certainly the best for a budget model. On our qualitative tests, the images were quite sharp, with very little flicker or noise. The colors looked good--even the yellow shades that are often such a problem for other models.
Of course, such a projector is bound to be used for entertainment applications as well as pie charts. The NP100 did quite well in this regard. The native SVGA resolution was not quite high enough to display 1080i HDTV really well, but it was good enough for regular digital TV and DVDs. The cooling-fan sound was a bit noisy during a movie, but you can lower it by switching to Eco mode with barely a noticeable drop in brightness.
A Few Caveats
The NP100's image size was a bit small, at 36.5 inches diagonal at a 60-inch distance. Uniformity of brightness from the corners of the image to the center was also low, at 60 percent. And the cooldown time was an irritatingly long 2 minutes.
Long Lamp Life
One cost factor often overlooked when buying a projector is the cost of its lamp. NEC prices the NP100's replacement lamps at $179, one of the lowest prices we've seen. The company also rates the lamp at a very long 3,500 hours in regular mode and 4,000 hours in the low-power Eco mode.
NEC NP100 Verdict
If you have a few extra dollars to spend, we would opt for NEC's more versatile and higher-resolution XGA version of this projector, the NP200, which is still a bargain at $649. However, the NEC NP100 does a good job with typical presentations at an amazingly low price. And with an introductory rebate of $50 (which ends on June 30), it's also temporarily the least expensive, at an astounding $449.