The Acer K330 ($600 street) is one of the first examples of what’s rapidly turning into a new category of projectors. Much like most palmtops, it’s built around red, green, and blue LEDs and a DLP chip. However, it’s bigger and brighter, with a 500 lumen rating, and it offers a claimed WXGA (1,280 by 800) native resolution. It is, in short, a capable business projector. Acer also touts it as a home entertainment projector that you can set up quickly to watch movies or play games and then store away when you’re not using it.
If the overall description sounds familiar, it may be because the K330 is so similar to the Optoma ML500 ($650 street, 3.5 stars), another sub-3 pound, 500 lumen projector. When I reviewed the ML500, I pointed out that both the price and brightness were modest by traditional sub-3 pound micro projector standards, and suggested that you could think of it as a budget priced micro projector. With the K330, and other similar projectors on the way, the budget micro projector is looking more and more like a significant category.
The K330 weighs 2.9 pounds—a bit more than the ML500 but light enough to carry around without a second thought—and it measures 1.8 by 8.6 by 6.6 inches (HWD). It comes with a soft carrying case that’s large enough to hold the projector as well as its cables and credit card size remote.
Setup is standard, with the back panel offering a suitable array of connectors, including a VGA port for a computer or component video, an HDMI port for a computer or video source, and a composite video port. In addition, there are two miniplug jacks for AV input and audio out, both an SDcard slot and a USB Type A port for reading files from a memory card or USB memory key, and a mini USB port for connecting to a computer to transfer files to the 2GB internal memory,
The memory options help add to the projector’s portability by letting you leave your computer or video source at home. According to Acer, the K330 can read more than 20 file formats, including PowerPoint, Word, and Excel files (up to Office 2010); PDF files; video files (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and 5 other formats); image files (BMP and JPG); and audio files (MP1, WAV, and 7 more).
Brightness and Data Image Quality
The 500 lumen rating may sound anemic compared to lamp-based portable projectors, like the Editors’ Choice NEC Display Solutions NP-M300WS ($1,099 direct, 4 stars), with its 3000 lumen rating. However, perception of brightness is logarithmic, so a 500 lumen image looks much more than one sixth as bright as a 3000 lumen image. As a practical matter, the K330 was bright enough to let me run my tests using the 2-meter (78-inch) wide image size I normally use with standard projectors, rather than the smaller images I wind up with when testing palmtops.
The projector also handled our suite of DisplayMate tests reasonably well. As with the ML500, however, I saw scaling artifacts—unwanted extra patterns added to patterned fills, like an area filled with dots—at the claimed native resolution. This simply shouldn’t happen.
Scaling artifacts in an LCD or DLP display show up when the display has to add or drop pixels in an image to make it match the number of pixels in the display. The native resolution is supposed to tell you how many pixels are in the display, which also tells you what image resolution you need to use to avoid scaling. As with the ML500, the artifacts suggest that the K330′s native resolution isn’t 1,280 by 800. When I asked Acer about the artifacts, a company representative said he would check into them, but as of this writing, he has not offered any explanation for them.
Fortunately, the artifacts show only on images with fills of closely spaced dots or lines over a large area, so they won’t be an issue for most people for very many images. However, the scaling is also likely responsible for the slight soft focus that I also noticed with text and fine details. On the plus side, the projector did well on most other tests, with suitably neutral grays indicating good color balance, and vibrant, well saturated colors.
One major surprise is that I saw little to no rainbow effect with data images. Rainbow artifacts are a potential issue for any single-chip DLP projector, because of the way the projectors create color. I’m fairly sensitive to the effect, but with the K330, I didn’t see it in data images at all. I saw it in video images, but only occasionally and even then fleetingly enough that I might not have recognized them as rainbow artifacts if I weren’t so familiar with the rainbow effect. Unless you’re even more sensitive to seeing the rainbows than I am, they simply won’t be an issue with the K330.
Video Image quality and Other Issues
Image quality for video is best described as usable. It’s not something you’d want for a full-scale home theater, but it’s appropriate for the kind of casual home use that Acer suggests the projector can be used for. Note, however, that although the K330 claims support for 3D, it’s limited to PC-based 3D only.
The one noteworthy issue I saw besides the occasional rainbow was moderate loss of shadow detail (details based on shading in dark areas). The projector handled skin tones reasonably well, and I didn’t see any motion artifacts, posterization (colors changing suddenly where they should change gradually), or other obvious problems.
It’s worth mention also that the 2-watt mono speaker is loud enough to fill a small conference room, which is far better than most small projectors can manage. And don’t overlook the savings you get on total cost of ownership with an LED light source. The 20,000 hour lifetime means the LEDs will last the life of the projector, so you won’t have to shell out any money for replacement bulbs.
The Acer K330′s mix of small size, low weight, brightness, and image quality makes it a more than reasonable pick if you need a highly portable projector. It should also be of particular interest to anyone who tends to avoid DLP projectors because of rainbow artifacts. The scaling artifacts keep it from being an Editors’ Choice, but even with that problem it’s attractive enough that if you’re looking for a small but reasonably bright micro projector, the Acer K330 belongs on your short list.