ViewSonic projector puts us in the picture

Projectors were once used only to bore others to tears with lengthy PowerPoint presentations; but today, these tools are as much at home in the living room as the boardroom. ViewSonic’s PJ258D is a good example of the projector market’s turn toward home entertainment. Because an iPod dock and speakers are incorporated into this very portable projector, you can use it to watch movies and TV shows downloaded from the iTunes store on a screen or any available white wall.

With a footprint similar to that of a sheet of letter-sized paper, this shiny black compact projector weighs just 3.9 pounds and was a breeze to set up. Just plug in the power cable and the signal source of your choosing. The PJ258D ships with a VGA port for connecting to your computer, an RCA jack for audio in or out, and S-Video and composite video ports for connecting DVD players, gaming consoles, and the like. The input that sets this projector apart, though, is its iPod dock, which not only charges your iPod, but will display the movies and photos and even play the music stored on it.

Though this model lacks some of the niceties of other comparably priced projectors, such as DVI ports, autofocus, automatic keystone correction, and ports for USB thumb drives or flash memory cards, its core specifications are comparable to other projectors in its price range. The PJ258D uses Texas Intsruments’ DLP (digital light processing) technology and boasts brightness of 2,000 ANSI lumens, a 2,000:1 contrast ratio, and native 1,024-by-768 pixel resolution–though it can scale up to 1,280 by 1,024 pixels. ViewSonic claims support for both 720p and 1040i HDTV signals. For viewers, that means plenty of resolution for iPod video and for DVD playback.

Picture quality
It’s been awhile since we’ve reviewed a projector here at Macworld, so I borrowed the baseline projector used by our sister publication PC World (the comparably priced NEC LT35) to help evaluate the quality of the PJ285D. Using a VGA-to-DVI converter cable, I attached a MacBook Pro to each projector and looked at a number of different types of documents. Overall, the ViewSonic was a bit more washed out than the NEC, and the PJ258D’s text, though legible, tended to be more jaggy and less crisp than the NEC’s. Colors were relatively accurate, though maybe a touch yellow, making the folders on my desktop appear a bit green.

But what about actually watching video from an iPod? The image quality was good, though a little less saturated than on the NEC, which I connected to the iPod with a composite video cable. I couldn’t get the iPod audio to play back through the NEC, as it doesn’t have composite audio input, so the ViewSonic won the iPod playback test by default. Listening to audio from my MacBook Pro, the ViewSonic speaker sound seemed thinner and tinnier than the audio played through the NEC. For a better theater experience, you’ll want to connect some external speakers to the audio-out port on the projector.

Buying advice
The ViewSonic PJ258D is a good all-around projector. Its size, weight, and feature set make it easy to move from the office to your living room and back. Unfortunately, it lacks some of the key features necessary to make it a star performer in either setting.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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