Some want the best, and are willing to pay whatever it takes to get it. But as with most things in enthusiast circles, digital light projection (DLP) technology has been seen as something of a luxury for many. Educated videophiles know if you want the biggest bang for the almighty buck then there’s nothing like having a dark room and a large wall to enjoy the show on, regardless of the substantial investment in time and money. But just as with their paneled counterparts, the price and availability of DLPs have dropped considerably over the last few years, making the possibility of having a true Home Theater experience easier and more affordable than ever. Such is the case with Optoma’s PT100 PlayTime LED Projector, which provides a low-cost portable projector alongside several entry-level compromises.
The PT100 Projector promises a small, portable DLP experience in one compact package, and that comes through in a simple, functional design featuring a white reflective coating that glazes the rounded plastic body, single push-button retractable stand, and single 1.5 watt built-in speaker that’s meant to used in nearly any location without a fuss. Controls are limited to a trio of three circular buttons (power, menu, source), and four directional arrows (volume up/down, left/right), and as there’s no remote control included you’ll want to keep the it relatively close by. Instant playability comes with some durability, too, as LED light sourcing eliminates the notoriously lamp and color wheel setup of yore for longer-lasting operating life of over 20,000 hours (so they claim). This means less fragile or moving parts to worry about or replace during the life of the device, and at less than 2 pounds it’s fairly lightweight, and keeping with the promise of portability.
Main audio/video inputs on the PT100 are scarce to say the least. Only the average composite inputs and a lone VGA port occupy the rear, and really that’s about it as far as connectivity goes. Unless you want to keep switching connections, you’ll probably want to invest in a AV switcher if you have a couple of game systems and/or a standard DVD player. People with high-definition dreams are in for a rude awakening as the only solution to get their HD equipment running is by adding a suite of adapters to get them running through the one VGA input. This might prove to be a hassle if you decide to use the projector for anything other than an oversized (and easily portable) monitor; at least the composite audio inputs can be used in tandem with the VGA port.
Playing around with the menu system was also…well, pretty basic. With only screen ratio and a trio of brightness preselects (movie, standard, bright) available to adjust it goes without saying that this isn’t a calibrator-friendly device. Settings like the brightness only provide subtle alterations in lumen correction and not much else; ‘movie’ and ‘standard’ choices were more suitable in most cases while the ‘bright’ option meant for slightly lighter rooms isn’t as substantial as one would hope for at 50 ANSI lumens. You probably won’t be messing with the controls much, unless it’s to find that sweet spot with the focus dial or change the volume, as there’s no remote control included with this DLP.
With the majority of settings already optimized without user input the performance of the PT100 is largely dependent what the image is projected on, and what’s being projected. On a clean white surface (walls and sheets will do) color accuracy is decent enough, with consistent equality in RGB tints overall, and the gamma dependent on whatever the brightness level is currently set. Natural tones and saturations are kept in check this way and one color doesn’t stand out from another. No doubt some will miss that certain ‘pop’ that other panel or higher-end projectors can provide, and there’s no getting around the lackluster black levels, as the puny 50 Lumens output just isn’t up to producing proper gradients and shades in movies like The Dark Knight. They appear grayer than they should, and some of the depth is compromised when viewing anything but the brightest and most colorful content.
Under a standard definition source the Optoma PT100 is a mixed-bag of good to merely adequate, depending on what you want to run through it. Gaming consoles like the Wii, PlayStation 2, and various legacy video players had roughly the same picture quality when hooked up through composite cables, producing a relatively decent image that won’t impress hardcore videophiles, but should be more than adequate for a group of undemanding gamers or younger children looking for a bigger screen to play on. The majority of our own ‘play time’ was actually spent with Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and just having a larger display to see the tiny characters on was good enough for my group.
As you might have expected, using the PlayTime projector for anything that supported high-definition was a crap shoot, as what might have been passable for standard-definition games was generally a nightmare for most everything else…at least when using standard composite cables, anyway. The analog VGA port that natively output at WVGA (854×480) is where you’ll want to feverishly connect any of your HD-compatible devices by any means necessary, like the still-available Xbox 360 VGA cable. The quality was night-and-day, as what might have been insufferable smears and distorted color clouds suddenly cleared up, and games became playable once again. Netflix movies looked impossibly better, and friends even commented on how good games like Halo: Reach looked when playing on the considerably larger projected screen.
Even when running through VGA, the display quality still isn’t going to impress the most diehard videophile, but it’s more than passable and the only way I’d recommend using one (for HD gaming). Optoma sells a variety of adapters to help you get the most use from the solo VGA port, and you’ll probably want to scroll through them when picking one up.
Optoma’s PT100 PlayTime LED Projector is what it is; an inexpensively budget-priced projector that’s easy to use, travels anywhere, and lets you project a larger display without breaking the bank. Basic hardware like a 50 Lumens output, simple 1.5 watt speaker), sparse connectivity, and a minimalistic feature set aren’t high on the performance checklist – but for a budget-oriented DLP to keep the kids happy it really doesn’t have to be. For better or worse, this projector is more about portability and ease than producing a professional grade output. After a week of watching movies and playing games with a group of like-minded friends, the results were satisfactory and we enjoyed having the little projector around, despite the limitations it has.
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