NEC has been flooding the market with powerful, attractively priced projectors lately. We recently looked at theNEC NP41, a powerful model that can correct for any keystone shape distortion and focus itself without any user interaction. Now that model's beefed-up sibling, the NP61, has all the features of the NP41 combined with even greater brightness--but it will cost you $300 more.
Externally, the NP41 and the NP61 are identical. Both combine a plain off-white color scheme with a utilitarian rectangular shape that is small and light enough to be carried almost anywhere. (The NP61 tipped our scales at 3.6 pounds--just an ounce or two over the advertised weight--while the height, including feet, was a relatively low-profile 3.2 inches.)
Our biggest complaint with the NP61 regards its remote control. Being relatively large (picture two hotel soap bars attached end-to-end), it supplies the presenter with an ample array of buttons, although few of these are highly useful.
There is no laser pointer, and the very useful Page Up/Down buttons do not function without an optional $45 IR transceiver that connects to your laptop's USB port. (Instead of a USB connector right on the projector, there is a round PS/2-style control connector cable that uses the obsolete RS-232 serial protocol.)
Once you power on the NP61, it seems that the only thing this model can't do for itself is remove its lens cap. In just 22 seconds, a decent image begins to appear, although you may have to wait an additional 10 to 20 seconds for full brightness. The projector quickly detects what type of input is attached (we used both a laptop and a set-top cable TV box). It then automatically assigns one of six brightness modes, adjusts for any keystone correction (which is required if the projector is not perpendicular to the screen), and sets the focus.
The only adjustment you might want to make concerns the optical zoom; its relatively large ratio of 1:1.2X fills a projector screen easily. That, combined with a generously long 10-foot, three-prong AC plug should give presenters quite a bit of flexibility in terms of where to place the projector.
Brightness and Image Quality
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the NP61 is its brightness. We measured 3011 lumens, which set a new record in our lab for brightness among portable projectors, let alone models under 4 pounds. This level of brightness--which, for a change, actually exceeds the advertised value--should be capable of handling any projection environment short of your neighborhood Cineplex. While its contrast ratio of 588:1 falls short of NEC's advertised claim of 1600:1, it's still one of the best we've seen.
The images produced by the NP61 were quite good. The autofocus feature produced a sharp image, although we improved it slightly with a manual focus via the remote control. Because this model uses a DLP imaging engine, yellows were, unsurprisingly, a bit dull. On our Sunday night HDTV football game tests, we were very impressed with the video images. The only flaws we noticed were a few pixelated squares that would appear very infrequently during rapid-motion scenes.
The fan noise of 37 dB was loud enough to be noticeable in business applications and distracting in entertainment environments. But when we shifted the projector into the low-power Eco mode, the noise dropped to a negligible level (advertised as 32 dB) while still pumping out an impressive brightness of more than 2000 lumens. The NP61 also has an impressively short cooldown time of 14 seconds.
NEC NP61 Verdict
Essentially, the NEC NP61 is the NP41 with higher contrast and brightness; we liked the NP41 so much that we gave it an Editors' Choice. Sporting the same features, the $1,299 NEC NP61, too, is so automatic you probably won't need to use its mediocre remote control. But you'll have to decide whether having an extra 800 lumens of brightness is worth $300. Regardless, you'll be getting a projector that's bright, exceptionally easy to use, and still manages to weigh less than 4 pounds.