In contrast to the sleek Casio XJ-S57, the new NEC NP41 is a white, utilitarian box. There's no fancy lens cap here; an ordinary translucent plastic disk pops onto the lens aperture the way such items have always done. And, at 3.6 pounds, this model is the lightest projector in this roundup, but certainly not the lightest we have seen recently.
The connectors on the projector's rear panel cover just the bare minimum: VGA (which doubles as the component video input with an optional cable), S-Video, composite video, and a mini audio socket. There is also a PS2-style round "control" port.
Although relatively large, the remote control has only a few useful controls. These include the somewhat standard but infrequently used digital-zoom buttons.
The best part of this projector is something that is missing: a focus ring around the lens. The reason? The focusing is done automatically and rather skillfully by the projector itself. The projector also automatically compensates for any trapezoidal or keystone image effects, but because such compensation usually degrades image quality, we turned this feature off via NP41's on-screen menu.
On our tests, this projector scored quite well. Its brightness of 2210 lumens was just a tad shy of the advertised mark of 2300. In our checkerboard contrast test--a more realistic analysis than the industry-standard full-on/full-off test--the NEC scored a ratio of 534:1, which is one of the higher marks we have seen, and the highest in this roundup.
We really appreciated the speedy warm-up and cooldown times, the latter being an impressively short 14 seconds. Subjectively, we like the color capabilities, especially some nice bright yellows, which is rare for DLP projectors. The cooling fan was a bit noisy, however, even in low-power Eco mode.
With a price tag of $999, including a two-year warranty, the NEC NP41 is one of the lower-priced XGA projectors capable of more than 2000 lumens of brightness. Add in the automatic focusing feature, and it becomes a real bargain.