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Whether it's one one of the biggest plasmas on the market or this modest home cinema projector, NEC certainly has an eclectic range of products. In the past, the company's projectors and displays have been criticised for business-oriented design over practicality for the home. Like many manufacturers, it wanted its products to be a jack of all trades. The HT510 projector is part of a new range aimed squarely at the home market, with a DLP chipset designed specifically for video and a relatively good selection of AV inputs.
The projector itself is well designed and is perfect for the home user. The picture quality is good across all sources and if you can use the component inputs, the picture quality exceeds what we'd expect for just over £1,000. This doesn't mean that it escapes all the pitfalls of a budget price tag -- the lack of a DVI connector and poor contrast will annoy the home cinema veteran. But if you're new to the world of projection, the HT510 is just about the best first step you can make -- it's certainly one of the best examples of the new wave of budget projectors.
The white finish of the NEC projector clearly riffs on the Apple template, but its desirability is never in question. We would proudly have it hanging from our ceiling, but other non-technical types in the office thought its short, fat body resembled a pig.
Connectivity on the HT510 is relatively strong, and while it lacks a digital video input for the latest raft of PCs and DVD players, it is compensated for with all other standard connections. There's a set of component inputs, which can give the NEC a full progressive-scan image from a compatible DVD player or games console. While there's no direct Scart input on the projector itself, the package includes an adaptor that connects the Scart socket on any piece of equipment to the composite input on the HT510. It's a compromise, though -- composite video is much less sharp than RGB Scart, and the colour reproduction isn't as natural. The last video connector is S-video, which is an adequate-quality connector that is particularly useful for connecting camcorders.
NEC is keen to promote the HT510 as a home cinema projector first and foremost, but it seems like the business ties have been difficult to sever completely. There's a VGA input and PC audio in, as well as an RS-232 input (of the eight-pin variety). The latter allows control from a home automation system, so you can turn the projector on at the same time as your curtains close and your screen comes down.
The base of the unit features a foot that will tilt the projector left or right, to compensate for any uneven surface. The other foot at the front of the projector raises the whole unit at a steep angle, so you can place it in a low position from the screen itself. The package is completed with a carry case and a remote control, along with all the cables you need to get started. This includes the aforementioned Scart adaptor, plus a VGA cable, composite cable and, rather generously, a component interconnect.
The remote control is ample, but you'll find everything you need on the projector itself, and zoom and focus have to be adjusted on the lens. You can also adjust the lens shift up and down to quite an impressive degree -- another example of NEC's commitment to making the projector work in less than ideal situations.
The resolution of the DLP chipset is WXGA, which means it's a non-high-definition 1,024x578 pixels. So while this isn't a projector for those who live on the cutting edge, it does mean that it's well suited to displaying PAL material. All DVDs and TV broadcast in this country is done so in 576 lines -- not far off the resolution of the projector, so it doesn't have to work hard at filling in lines with extra detail. If you're using the component inputs for DVD playback, the image is stable and detailed.
The built-in picture presets are also good -- offerings such as noise reduction, white balance and individual colour tweaks will all be of use to the advanced user. If you're not particularly experienced in the art of projection, it's very easy to set up, thanks to all the cables included in the package, and the fact that the projector will automatically cycle through the inputs to find a signal.
The brightness of the HT510 is ample at 1,000 ANSI Lumens, but you can drop the bulb power to 800 ANSI Lumens. This will have the added bonus of increasing the lamp life by 50 per cent, from 2,000 hours to 3,000 hours. If you work through the maths of average usage, you should be able to watch 1,000 movies before you need to replace the bulb. Average household television viewing is about 1,000 hours a year, so if you you're using the projector for all your viewing, you'll have to replace it every two years.
The low lamp mode also brings a benefit in noise reduction -- at only 28dB to begin with it's whisper quiet, but knock it down to 26dB and you'll hardly be able to tell it's there. In fact, the projector's quiet operating noise is one of its main attractions. Like the Toshiba TDP-S25, there's also a mono speaker on the projector, but it should only be thought of as a last resort, in case you're making a business presentation. Its 1W power certainly won't give your movies any aural impact.
As the projector offers computer connectivity, a USB input would have been useful. Many business projectors offer this to run images or presentations from a USB memory device, but NEC's move away from the business side means this has been omitted. Many budget projectors feature 4:3 ratio chipsets, making them useless for movie viewing. The NEC HT510 runs in a 16:9 ratio and has a very impressive throw distance. This means you don't have to place the projector a long way from the display (be it a wall or a screen) to enjoy the home cinema experience.
The HT510 is a decent picture performer, especially when compared to other projectors at this price. The resolution matches that of PAL more or less line for line, and the detail reproduction is spot on. The component inputs also deliver a smooth picture that has natural, accurate colour. Downgrade to composite or S-video and you lose some of the detail, but the picture performance on the whole is very good.
The only thing that hinders this feat is a particularly poor contrast ratio, which reduces any blacks on screen to a mess of indistinguishable greys. As a home cinema projector, this is a problem, as the sort of films you'll probably want to test on your new projector are dark action movies like Aliens and Terminator 2. The detail and natural qualities of the picture make up for it, but if your demands for the HT510 are limted to films, you might want to think about investing more of your hard-earned.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide