Count the NEC NP-L50W ($749 direct) as one more variation on what started out as an exciting new category of projectors just months ago and now consists of an assortment of nearly interchangeable models from different companies. Like all the others, it’s built around a WXGA (1,280 by 800) DLP chip, uses red, green, and blue LEDs for its light source, and offers a 500 lumen brightness rating. It also shares the same key strengths and weaknesses as its competition. That makes it worth considering, but doesn’t do anything to make it stand out from the crowd.
The NP-L50W, along with the Optoma ML500 ($650 street, 3.5 stars), the Acer K330 ($600 street, 3.5 stars), and the ViewSonic PLED-W500 ($700 street, 3 stars), are as similar to each other as slices of bread cut from the same loaf. There are variations from one to the next, but they are exceedingly minor. The range in weights, for example, is 2.5 to 2.9 pounds, with the NP-L50W weighing in at 2.6 pounds. None have external power blocks, and they all have similar measurements, with the NP-L50W coming in at 1.7 by 8.9 by 6.9 inches (HWD).
Setup for all of these models is standard, and all offer a similar set of connectors. For the NP-L50W, that includes a VGA port for a computer or component video source, an HDMI port for a computer or video source, and a composite video port. In addition, it can read files directly from an SD card, a USB memory key, or its 1GB internal memory.
There’s also a USB display feature that lets you display an image over a USB cable connected to the NP-L50W’s micro USB port. The feature did not work with the computer I used in my tests. However, it’s not unusual, with this category of projector at least, for a USB display feature to work with some computers and not others.
As I’ve pointed out in other reviews, 500 lumens may sound underpowered, but it’s brighter than you might think, since perception of brightness is logarithmic. That means a 500 lumen image looks much more than one fifth as bright as a 2,500 lumen image, for example. As a practical matter, the NP-L50W is bright enough so I started my testing with a 78-inch wide (92-inch diagonal) image, which is the size I normally use with standard lamp-based projectors.
Even at that size, brightness itself wasn’t an issue. However, the NP-L50W shows the same soft focus effect I saw with the other models in this category, which made the text a little hard to read. After experimenting a bit with the image size, I wound up with a 44-inch wide (52 inch diagonal) image.
Data Image Quality
The NP-L50W did swimmingly on most of the screens in our standard suite of DisplayMate tests. Red looked a little orange in two of the color modes and magenta looked pink in one, but in most of the modes, the colors were vibrant and well saturated. Color balance was also good, with suitably neutral grays at all levels from black to white, and the image was rock solid on screens that tend to show pixel jitter.
Unfortunately, as with the ML500, K330, and PLED-W500, the NP-L50W shows what looks scaling artifacts—added patterns in patterned fills, like an area filled with dots—at the claimed native resolution. As I discussed in detail in the ML500 and K330 reviews, this simply shouldn’t happen.
For most people, the artifacts won’t matter, because they show only on images with fills of closely spaced dots or lines over a large area. However, the scaling is also likely responsible for the soft focus effect that makes text less readable than it should be. With the NP-L50W, readability was obviously affected at 9 point size, with smaller fonts particularly hard to read.
Video Image quality and Other Issues
The NP-L50W’s video quality is potentially good enough to watch, as long as you don’t mind seeing rainbow artifacts, with light areas breaking up into little red-green-blue rainbows. The rainbow effect is a potential issue for any single-chip DLP projector, because of the way DLP chips create color.
With the NP-L50W the rainbows show infrequently enough with data screens so they shouldn’t be a problem even for those who see the rainbows easily. Like most projectors, however, the NP-L50W tends to show more rainbows with video. And with video, they showed often enough so that anyone who’s sensitive to the effect may find them too bothersome for anything but short video clips.
If you don’t see rainbows easily, or don’t mind seeing them, the video quality is otherwise usable, but you won’t mistake it for something produced by a home theater projector. I saw some minor motion artifacts and moderate loss of shadow detail (details based on shading). However, I didn’t see any posterization (colors changing suddenly even where they should change gradually) on scenes that tend to bring it out.
Also worth mention is that the 2-watt mono speaker offers reasonably good quality sound and enough volume to fill a small conference room. And as you might expect for an LED projector, the light source is meant to last the life of the unit, with a 20,000 hour lifetime. One surprise is that the NP-L50W isn’t 3D-ready, like most of the other models in the category. However, that’s not much of an issue, since the 3D capability in 3D-ready projectors tends to be highly limited.
Much like every other model in this category so far, the NEC NP-L50W offers an attractive balance of small size, low weight, data image quality, and features. There’s nothing to make it stand out, and, given its high price, no compelling reason to pick it over the competition. Price aside, however, it’s a match for the rest of the category, certainly worth considering, and just as certainly a reasonable choice.