No projector has exactly everything you might want. But the Epson PowerLite 1735W comes pretty close. Brightness? Check. Good resolution? Check. Easy to carry? Check. Extra features? Check, check, and check again. In fact, you may find only one or two things lacking. But more on that later. While some may balk at its $1,649 price tag, this is definitely a projector that will work well both on the road and at home.
It's somewhat ironic that one of the brightest projectors we have tested is also surprisingly light. Its 4.0-pound weight qualifies for our ultraportable projector category, even if just barely. And though its height is almost 3 inches, the sleek rectangular shape and rounded corners should slide easily into most carrying cases. If you don't have a carrying case, don't worry; Epson includes a fairly well-padded one with this projector.
A Handy Help Button
The control panel on the top of the projector is functional and well designed. The power button is easy to spot, as is the Source button, which enables you to switch quickly from, say, a laptop to a DVD player. There is also a nice Help button, which reveals the Function key combinations to activate the external video connector on a number of popular laptops.
The included remote control leaves something to be desired. This relatively small device features an abundance of buttons--29 to be precise--and not one of which is a laser pointer. Another button missing is that for switching to low-power mode, a handy feature for a projector with such a loud cooling fan. The buttons that are present are surprisingly small, including the all-important power button. The similarly important Page Up/Down buttons for navigating a slideshow are not only small but also hard to find.
The PowerLite 1735W has an amazing array of input options. In addition to the standard input connectors (S-Video, composite video, audio, and VGA, which also accommodates an optional component video cable) are two USB connectors: a Type B jack for laptop connections and a Type A port to accept a USB Flash memory drive. The latter enables you to load a PowerPoint slideshow on a tiny USB drive and give a laptop-less presentation.
Under a small panel is yet a third USB connector; this one is designed for a special Wi-Fi adapter that enables you to connect to the projector without cables.
Inside the PowerLite 1735W resides a powerful lamp rated at 3000 ANSI lumens. Images are produced by a trio of LCD chips, a technology that should provide accurate colors but will entail occasional cleaning of the cooling fan's air filter. The native resolution is WXGA (1280 x 800), which should match well with some if not most new laptops. And the short-throw lens projects a beautifully large image that enables presenters to place the projector quite close to the screen.
Our lab tests revealed the 1735W's illumination, although unquestionably bright, to be a bit short of the advertised value of 3000 ANSI lumens. We recorded only 2618 lumens, which is outshone by the NEC NP61 (3011 lumens) but still represents one of the highest values we have ever tested. This level of brightness should handle everything except movie theaters and sun-drenched conference rooms.
Judging from this model's LCD imaging engine, we did not expect a high contrast ratio, but the 154:1 result from our checkerboard test was one of the lowest we have seen--and much less than the 2000:1 ratio Epson advertises. Such low contrast may be problematic for entertainment applications in darkened rooms.
The images produced by this projector were some of the largest we have seen, measuring 73 inches in diagonal at a distance of 5 feet. The warm-up and cooldown times were also remarkably fast, at 15 and 8 seconds, respectively.
On subjective viewing tests, the images looked sharp and steady as well as amazingly large. We particularly enjoyed the 1735W's widescreen performance in full-motion, high-definition TV, where it did a great job handling color and keeping up with action scenes. The main issue was the loud cooling fan, which could interfere with movie dialogs in entertainment applications. The projector's low-power mode is much quieter, but it also drops the brightness by 33 percent.
Wireless connectivity has been something of a mixed blessing for projectors. Yes, it might obviate the need for heavy VGA cables and make projector sharing a bit easier, but wireless image uploads to a projector have traditionally been relatively slow, and the wireless connection itself has often been difficult to set up. Worse yet, it could enable laptop-toting pranksters in your audience to grab control of your show.
The 1735W provides two ways to set up a wireless connection. The standard way is to click the wireless networking icon in your laptop's System Tray, search for available wireless networks, and choose the SSID for the projector. This is a pretty simple process (requiring about 5 mouse clicks), but later on you may have to reconnect with your usual wireless network.
If you have a Windows Vista laptop, the second option lets you take advantage of Vista's ability to connect to a network projector directly without any special software from the projector manufacturer. But first you must set up a wireless connection manually between your laptop and the projector. (Just click the Networking icon in the Notification area and choose the SSID of the projector.) Once you have a wireless connection, you can use the Help feature of Vista to locate the netproj.exe program. (We simply searched for the word "projector" and chose the Connect to a Network Projector option). Once this program kicks in, everything on your laptop screen is relayed to the projector. When finished, you can disconnect from the projector by accessing a program button on the Vista taskbar at the bottom of the screen. With this type of connection, animations and slide transitions and even some document scrolling seemed slightly slower than with the Epson program.
The second, even simpler way to connect wirelessly to the PowerLite 1735W is by using the tiny included USB flash drive. Plug it into your laptop, and a small program on the flash drive will automatically reconfigure your laptop's wireless LAN to connect to the projector. Also, a window will pop up containing a link to a program called LaunchQW.exe. When you choose this program (Epson Quick Wireless Connection), it will start relaying the images from your laptop's screen to the projector.
On a Windows Vista laptop, getting the Epson Quick Wireless Connection program (QWC) to work correctly took two attempts; on a Windows XP system, it took about four; in Windows 2000, about six (disabling firewall programs, such as ZoneAlarm, helped). After the hold-ups, it then worked dependably on each system. To disconnect from the PowerLite 1735W (and reconnect to your usual WLAN) simply remove the Epson flash drive.
When the QWC program finally started working, it worked well. It relays a copy of the laptop's image to the projector, and does so very quickly. Unlike with earlier wireless projectors, images appear on the projector simultaneously with those on the laptop display. Only when we displayed animated slides or full-motion video were there noticeable short pauses or jerky motion.
If you are in an office environment, where your laptop is connected to the office's network, using the USB dongle will temporarily disconnect your notebook from the office network; that is, when the projector is set up in its default ad hoc configuration, a laptop can be connected either to the projector alone or to a wireless LAN, but not both. But you will probably want to set up the projector so that it is part of the office LAN (in infrastructure mode). In this case, you will not need the USB flash drive because your laptop will always be connected to the projector as long as you are connected to the office LAN. To start projecting images, all you need to do is run the Easy MP Quick Wireless Connection program.
While the USB dongle doesn't work with Macs, there is a Macintosh version of the Easy MP software on one of the CDs that comes with the projector. Macintosh users must manually set up a wireless connection to the projector, but can then use this software to control the projector and send images to it.
Additional Software and Security
A trio of programs that come on one of the CDs bundled with the PowerLite 1735W offer even more functionality. NS Connect provides access to the projector from any PC on the same network. EMP SlideMaker2 is designed to convert PowerPoint slideshows into a format that can be read by the projector from a USB flash drive for laptop-less presentations. And the EMP Monitor program enables IT staffs to monitor network-connected projectors. These programs are not especially easy to use and will require careful study of the instructions. For example, during the installation of the NS Connect program, a mysterious dialog box appeared, asking which of four "Epson virtual displays" we would like to use. There was no information about what these are and which might be best; we simply chose the first option.
The QWC program does not set up an encrypted wireless connection, and it probably does not need to do so given the difficulty of establishing a connection with the projector without the QWC program stored on the USB Flash drive. If you do require encryption, however, you will have to set it up on the projector and on the QWC Configuration program that also resides on the USB flash drive. Note, however, that "typing" an encryption key into the projector via its remote control is a tedious process. Also, encryption may slow down the transmission of images to the projector.
The Epson PowerLite 1735W is a great projector. It is bright enough for almost any environment, light enough to carry almost anywhere, and filled with enough features to satisfy almost any projection need. Its USB dongle goes a long way towards simplifying wireless connection setups between projectors and PCs, and the included software offers a good deal of expanded functionality. We particularly liked the huge, wide images, but the loud cooling fan and imperfectly designed remote control were disappointing. But those are minor quibbles. With this projector, your presentations will be sure to outshine the competition.