Samsung SP-P400B projects a wonderful image

From the looks of it – not to mention its size, dimensions and weight – the Samsung SP-P400B LED projector is just what the doctor ordered if your job requires you to do presentations … and you rely on PowerPoint a lot for that.

In other words it’s eminently suitable for the business and education markets.

I recall the time a friend, who used to work at Clarica (now Sun Life Financial), came over to brief a group of us on various life insurance plans.

There were around 12 of us listening to him, and we had to stand cheek-by-jowl, hovering over his laptop as he delved into the intricacies of various plans and policies, with the aid of PowerPoint slides.

In retrospect, if he had a device like the P400 to project those slides on the living room wall, his life, and ours, would have been so much simpler.

Portability and performance

Compactness, portability and amazing picture clarity (given its size) are the most compelling features of this Samsung projector.

The device weighs 2lbs and its dimensions are 5.8″ (length) x 5.7″ (breadth) x 2.5″ (height).

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So it isn’t quite a “pocket projector” — though the manual calls it one, or else you would need one heck of a huge pocket to fit it in.

But it’s certainly compact and can be ferried around very conveniently in the small cardboard case with a handle that it’s packed in.

Of course there are smaller projectors on the market – such as the 3M handheld projector we reviewed last year that was adequate for text, graphics and photos, but not for videos.

With the P400 though, it was a different story altogether. Given its size, the picture quality is truly exceptional.

I first tested the projector using an HP dv6633nr notebook PC running Windows Vista Professional.

The P400 supports plug-and-play so if you use Windows XP or Vista, you don’t need a set up driver.

I projected a couple of PowerPoint presentations I created and was very impressed with the clarity, sharpness and fairly accurate representation of colours/tones. Samsung claims it’s “among the brightest LED projectors in the market” — and I wouldn’t argue with that.

The projector has pre-set picture modes.

Three of these — Standard, Movie or Monitor – can be accessed via a button on the Samsung remote. The others, however – Dynamic, Sports, Monitor, and User – can only be set on the onscreen menu. (Selecting User lets you view the screen in a mode that you’ve customized).

The monitor mode works when you connect a PC (desktop or laptop) to the Samsung projector and use the latter as an external monitor.

It took me quite a bit of mucking around with my laptop settings to get the display to show up both on my laptop and via the projector.

Initially the “mirror desktop/laptop” settings didn’t work for me, and when I used the projector my laptop screen would go black. If I chose the “Mirror my desktop (laptop)” setting in the Windows Mobility Centre, I’d get the message “Mode Not Supported”.

It wasn’t an issue I encountered with other projectors I had tested, and I tried a variety of things to get the “mirror” mode to work – including turning the projector off and on, doing the same with my laptop, and switching  the visual display modes on the projector between Standards, Dynamic, Sports and Movie.

None of this made any difference.

Eventually I went to the Display Settings box in the Control Panel and experimented with changing the monitor resolution. Setting the resolution at 1024×768 did the trick and I could get my laptop diplay to show up via the projector, without the laptop screen going blank.

After resolving the initial “mirror my laptop” issue everything worked like a charm.

Vivid video

I must admit when I took the projector out of its box and saw its size I didn’t really expect too much from it … as an entertainment device.

It looked so puny alongside my formidable Epson EMP-TW1000 — a whopper of a projector that costs around $3,000 – $3,500 in online stories.

But when I connected the P400 to my Sony DVP-NS325 DVD player using an AV cable (not supplied) and started checking out a few DVDs, I saw that the Samsung device packs a lot of punch.

What amazed me was the awesome video quality on the Samsung device – that can be picked up for less than $800.

While it obviously didn’t quite match the quality of the Epson projector, the P400 put up a good fight.  

The Samsung projector also has internal speakers for audio, though I wouldn’t recommend using those unless you’re really in a jam and have no other audio sources in the room where you’re projecting.

Simple controls

The Samsung projector has a minimalist design, with just a couple of physical controls, so it’s a piece of cake to manage.

There’s a dial on the left to adjust “focus”, an “adjustable foot” (basically a screw with a broad base) at the bottom to raise and lower the projector and … that’s it.

At the rear are three ports – Video In, to connect your video device (VCR, DVD player etc.), Audio In, and PC In to hook up your desktop/laptop with a supplied D-Sub cable. (Samsung doesn’t include an AV cable with the projector, so that’s something you would need to supply yourself).

With the onscreen controls you have more options, though not too many more.

In addition to the Modes that we talked about earlier, you can also adjust picture Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness and Colour Temperature.

Mediocre audio

There are four Temperature options – two Cool and two Warm – that can be adjusted to suit the ambient lighting at the place where you’re using the projector. But in my tests I didn’t find much of a difference in the display when moving from one Temperature option to another.

If projected video appears slightly distorted or awkwardly slanted you can try to fix that by using the “vertical keystone” function, again accessed via the onscreen menu. However, as the keystone function uses software calculations to compensate for distortions, I wouldn’t recommend its use as it compromises picture quality.

Far better to spend some more time physically installing the projector in a way that eliminates or minimizes distortions.

To help you with this task, you can use the “Test Pattern” function (again accessed via the onscreen menu).

The idea is to use a pattern generated by the projector itself as a standard when optimizing installation. “Test pattern” can be used to correct picture distortions, adjust screen size, and for RGBW (red, green, blue and white) colour adjustments.

Bottomline

Display quality – colour, sharpness, natural tints – is the most important feature I look for in a projector, and here the P400 comes through with flying colours, or I should say vivid colours.

I also find the Spartan external design a strength rather than a liability. There aren’t a ton of dials and buttons to contend with, as is the case with many higher-end projectors.

Setup would be simple and very quick for a mobile professional who plans on using the device for presentations and needs to get their show on the road quickly. And its compactness and light weight would be a definite asset for the same reason. Carrying the projector from place to place is simplicity itself.

Among the not-so-good things about the P400 I would include the mediocre audio quality of the internal speaker. However, I’m sure most folk who use the projector as an entertainment device wouldn’t rely on the projector audio anyway.

For a corporate presentation that relies on audio — if it’s before a very small group (five to six persons), I guess the internal audio of the projector would suffice. For larger groups, I would recommend hooking up your laptop to better speakers.

The non-inclusion of a basic AV cable with the P400 is something I find annoying, and I think adding one more video input — at least, an S-Video port — would make the projector more attractive to consumers.

Other than that I would rate it as a good buy, and something mobile professionals would want to add to their arsenal.

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