Projectors have changed a lot over the decades. From bulky boxes that used reel-to-reel film to massive, boxy rear projection TVs that killed all brightness and color, the technology has continually improved. Sure, we now live in a high-def era, with 1080p displays up to 60” in size, and 4K resolution making in-roads to the mainstream market. Some people though, want 100” screen and it’s hard to find anything in that size for a reasonable budget unless you’re shopping for your local sports arena. That’s where consumer projectors come in, and ViewSonic’s PJD7820HD is a great place to start if you’re on a budget and looking to dip your toe in the world of screen projection.
The Budget Big Screen
These days most home theatre projectors are DLP, or digital light processing. It’s a much more effective technology than that of the past, but it comes with a cost; high quality DLP projectors are easily over $1000, with best home projectors coming in at over $2500. That makes the ViewSonic PJD7820HD something of an outlier, costing only $790 on average. A price tag like that immediately puts the projector in the budget class, but what surprises about this model is the performance, which well above what you’d expect in this range.
[pullquote align="right" class="blue"]"Even for competitive gaming, and games that require split second timing, such as Rock Band 3, the lag input is low enough that it’s simply not a factor."[/pullquote]
The specs for the projector are likely to draw a lot of skepticism at first. A full 1080p, 3D projector at 3000 lumens for less than $1000? It seems like too many compromises would need to be made to get the device down to that price, and while that’s certainly the case, those concessions aren’t as severe as they could be. At 3000 lumens, the PJD7820HD is bright enough to handle even a lit room, and is still somewhat viewable even with daylight coming in through windows. You won’t actually want to do this for an optimal viewing experience, but at least the projector is powerful enough that it doesn’t require a pitch black, windowless room in order to work. It has an average throw distance as well, with a 120” display size at less than 12” placement from the intended wall or screen. For comparison, another budget projector, the BenQ W 1080 ST, can get the same size “screen” from only 6.5”, meaning it can be placed on a coffee table in front of viewers rather than needing rear or ceiling placement. The BenQ, however, is a 2000 lumen projector, making it less bright than the ViewSonic. The 7820 has a wealth of inputs, including one HDMI port, but surprisingly, there’s no standard USB input, so people hoping to use Chromecast, Miracast or some other wireless mirroring device from the phone or tablet are out of luck.
Colors are adequate on the PJD7820HD, though, as to be expected from an entry-level machine, they are not outstanding. As with many HDTVs not at the high end, the 7820 is not strong with blacks, and, because of the projection nature of the image, it’s not going to be as sharp as a 1080p—let alone 4K—image. It works well enough for office presentations, though professional artists will not want to do fine Photoshop or Illustrator work on this. But for the average user watching movies, sports and playing games, the color and sharpness of detail are enough to get the job done.
It’s when playing games that the PJD7820HD surprises. Unlike even some mid-range HDTVs, the PJD7820HD has a lag input of less than 20 ms. This means that even for competitive gaming, and games that require split second timing, such as Rock Band 3, the lag input is low enough that it’s simply not a factor. The fact that the 7820 also handles motion competently means that it’s ideal for gaming, movies and sporting events. Throw up Avatar or watch the latest World Cup game, and it feels like you’re in a bar with a massive, massive screen or an art house theatre with only you in the hall.
That doesn’t mean the PJD7820HD is a winner all the way. It does have its own single two-watt speaker, which, pragmatically, is simply not an option for decent audio in gaming and movies. The 3D capability of the machine uses the less common active shutter system, meaning the glasses require a battery, and while ViewSonic includes one pair with their retail model, they failed to provide one for review purposes, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the quality of the 3D presentation. Still, with an HDMI connection, the PJD7820HD does recognize a PS3 or any 3D capable Blu-ray player, but the expense of the glasses combined with the fact that ViewSonic normally only packs in one pair ensures that not many people will take advantage of this feature. Not on a budget projector, anyway. As expected, the projector also runs hot, and the fan makes a fair amount of noise that is noticeable during quieter moments of a game or movie.
Ultimately, the PJD7820HD projector is a recommended buy for a gamer/movie enthusiast on a budget that wants a massive screen with good performance at a comparatively low price. If you want to play COD or watch The Avengers on a 120” screen at home, and aren’t picky about pinprick image sharpness or super accurate colour, this is the perfect entry-level projector. For the cost of a decent sized HDTV, you get massive screen real estate with acceptable image quality. It’s not the best DLP projector out there, but it’s far better than what you’d normally get at this price range.