As mentioned earlier, we bought an InFocus X1a projector last month. Here are the basic specs on the X1a:

  • DLP with 2x color wheel
  • 800x600 resolution
  • 37 dB
  • 6.8 lbs
  • 1100 ANSI lumens
  • 2000:1 contrast ratio
  • 3 inputs: composite video, SVGA video, VGA. VGA supports HDTV component input via adapter cable
  • Supports computer resolutions up to 1024x768 and HDTV up to 1080i, downscaling as needed

There are two common flavors of projectors; DLP projectors and LCD projectors. In general, LCD projectors are a bit cheaper and have a bit better color, while DLP projectors have darker blacks and last longer. The X1a is a DLP projector, but I’ve been very impressed with the colors that it produces. The one downside to it is that it only uses a 2x color wheel–DLP projectors work by bouncing light from a lamp off of a “DLP” array, which consists of thousands of micromirrors that can be moved to create a picture. The DLP array doesn’t contain any color information; instead the projector uses a spinning color wheel to display red, green, and blue information in sequence. High-end DLP projectors use up to 6x wheels, which display each color repeatedly for each frame of video. Cheaper projectors, like the X1a, use 2x wheels. Some people’s eyes can see color fringing from slower wheels; I can sometimes catch it out of the corner of my eyes, but I don’t find it annoying.

The X1a is a cheaper version of the popular InFocus X1; it trades slightly longer lamp life for the X1’s Faroudja deinterlacing chip. Since we’re planning on feeding it progressive-scan video directly from a PC, the fancy deinterlacer doesn’t do us a whole lot of good. Since the X1a ended up being about $65 cheaper, it seems like a better deal.

Right now, the projector is hanging from the ceiling in our bedroom, projecting its image onto the wall at the foot of the bed. We haven’t done anything to the wall–it’s just a normal textured white wall. The projector is about 10’ from the wall, and it projects a 7’ image. For comparison, the biggest rear-projection TV that I could find is Sony’s 70” XBR Grand WEGA. I’m sure the Sony has much better image quality, but it costs $7,000, while my $740 projector produces an image that’s over a foot wider.

When used in a dark room, the X1a produces wonderful images. I’m very impressed with its color reproduction and brightness. It looks stunning. As the room gets brighter, the image quality starts to fade. Our bedroom doesn’t have particularly dark shades, but the projector is still usable in full December sunlight. It’s hard to pick details out of dark scenes, though. I’m not sure how well it’ll work in summer–we’ll probably need to pick up some black-out shades.

The X1a’s native resolution is 800x600; when projecting a 84” diagonal image, that gives us roughly 12 pixels per inch. As you’d expect, each pixel is clearly visible from close up, centered in a black “screen door” pattern. At normal viewing distances, I don’t find the screen door objectionable at all, and you get dampen it a bit by defocusing the projector slightly if it really bothers you.

Like most modern projectors, the X1a has a “keystone” adjustment, so you can project rectangular images even when the projector isn’t perfectly perpendicular to the screen. Architectural photographers face the same type of problem when taking pictures of buildings–if the camera isn’t perfectly level, the buildings don’t appear square in the image. Photographers know there are two ways to fix this sort of distortion–you can either get a lens that you can shift to control the distortion, or you can fix it in Photoshop afterwords. Generally, using the right lens produces a better image, but Photoshop is cheaper and faster. The X1 takes the “Photoshop” route, and rescales the image in software to correct for keystoning. This is very noticeable when you’re feeding it an 800x600 image from a computer–some scan lines go fuzzy, when they should all be perfectly sharp. To fix this, you need to either align the projector correctly and then disable the keystone correction or live with a crooked image. I assume that high-end projectors have shiftable lenses, but the X1a clearly doesn’t reach into that price range.

All in all, I’m really happy with the projector. My only real complaint is that it doesn’t ship with a remote control, so I’m forced to use the power switch on the side of it to turn it off and on. Since it’s hanging from our ceiling, that’s a pain. I suppose I could pay them the $60 they want for a remote (with presentation keys and laser pointer), but I’m currently too cheap for that; I’ll shop for a universal remote that can drive their projectors instead.