Low-cost projectors may owe more than a small debt to the corporate boardroom, but thankfully that hasn't meant that every inexpensive projector looks like an ugly '70s Doctor Who prop. Infocus' IN74 DLP projector is a good example of how the style of really high-end projectors (and it's clear in real life that the Infocus ScreenPlay 777 is what the IN74 wants to look like) has moved down the price scale. The practical upshot of all of this is that you can in fact have a home theatre projector that doesn't just look like an ugly grey box. To stretch our Sci-Fi metaphor beyond its best straining limits, you almost expect a tiny Billie Piper to come clambering out of the bulb at any second. Perhaps if we watch for long enough, she will.
Ahem. The IN74 is all sleek black lines and pleasant curves, with a single "eye" dazzling light out of the front. Unlike the 777, the IN74 does have controls built into the top; a pair of circular focus/zoom controls at the front along with a set of menu controls built into the back top of the projector body.
The projector itself rests on a circular base that provides a great deal of physical stability while at the same time making it very easy to make minute adjustments to the angle of projection. This is less important if you're going to permanently mount the IN74, but if you're after a projector to drag out for movie night, there's nothing worse than fiddling around with tiny projector legs and keystone measurements because the picture's gone slightly wonky. The only other major downside to the black plastic casing of the IN74 is something that it shares with other dark implements of technology such as the Sony PSP -- it's an absolute magnet for fingerprints, which rather ruin the unit's otherwise sleek design.
Style hasn't been forgotten with the IN74's remote, which bears more than a passing resemblance to many Dell products. Perhaps that's just the blue backlighting, controlled from a switch at the back, however. It's otherwise an ordinary but mostly workable remote that worked well from all angles in our short test period.
The rear of the IN74 houses the connectivity options, which include separate HDMI and DVI connectors, component, composite and S-Video inputs as well as a serial connector and security lock port. They're moderately well hidden by the rear of the projector body which forms an upper lip over the rear of the projector, although they're not so obscured as to make setup a chore.
At the technical level, the IN74 is a 16:9 aspect ratio projector with a 1000 ANSI Lumens rating and a contrast ratio of 3000:1, which is pretty impressive for a projector in this price range. Resolution tops out at 1024x768, making it a native 576p projector, although it can downscale higher resolution images on the fly to suit whatever inputs are thrown at it. You obviously won't get the full 720p or 1080i experience with the IN74, but it's still a decent compromise at this particular price point. For those with more cash to splash, Infocus also offer the 720p IN76 model (AU$5999); those who are feeling the price pinch could consider the cheaper 480p IN72 model (AU$2699).
We were very impressed with the visual quality of the IN74's output from multiple sources. Testing with The Matrix (necessary but boring work, to be sure) revealed plenty of detail in the darkest blacks and fastest action scenes, while downsampling the impressive 1080i visuals of Xbox 360 titles such as Fight Night Round 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion showed that the IN74's no slouch when it comes to working with higher definition sources. While the contrast ratio of the IN74 doesn't quite match up to projectors like the Panasonic PT-AE900, it still managed impressive images even in rooms that weren't in a totally darkened state.
InFocus' history in projectors shows through in the menu options, in both good and bad ways. The menu structure is nicely logical and easy enough to browse, and that's a big plus. On the minus side, there's no named presets for image settings. Users have to set up their own presets for given visual situations, and given the complexities of image quality, this isn't a trivial affair. For those with a keen eye it's not terrible, and the range of adjustable options is impressive -- but at the same time, it could be overwhelming for novices.
We had one minor gripe with the connectivity options on the back of the IN74, and that's for users looking to connect up a VGA PC source. The DVI port on the IN74 is listed as being compatible with VGA sources, but you'll need to buy Infocus' M1 DVI adaptor -- or badger your AV reseller into throwing one into the box -- in order to actually connect up a VGA source such as a laptop. Sure, it's not built or hyped as a presentation projector, but sometimes it's nice to kick back and surf the web on a 100 inch screen.
Lamp life on the IN74 is rated by InFocus at 3000 hours, which is quite decent. Many of the models we've tested in the recent past have topped out at a suggested 2000 hour limit. InFocus sells replacement bulbs (which fit the IN72, IN74 or IN76 models) at AU$649 a pop, which works out at about 21 cents an hour.