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ViewSonic PJ501 review: ViewSonic PJ501

ViewSonic PJ501

Brian Nadel
4 min read
Review summary
The jet-black ViewSonic PJ501 LCD projector pumps out the light like a beacon in the night. This entry-level SVGA projector can produce big images with a measured brightness of almost 1,300 lumens, making it perfect for presentations in well-lit rooms. But at 5.4 pounds, it's a lot to carry, and it doesn't automatically connect to its source. Performance issues, such as low contrast ratio, also make the PJ501 a relatively poor choice for home entertainment.

The ViewSonic PJ501 is one of the bigger and heavier mobile LCD projectors we've tested, measuring 11.3 by 8.2 by 3.2 inches (W, D, H) and weighing a hefty 5.4 pounds. With its cords, the PJ501 travels at 6.2 pounds. A spring-loaded button releases the adjustable front leg, which can tilt the projector up to about 10 degrees; a threaded rear leg helps balance the device. Odd and possibly inconvenient, the power cord connects on the right side next to the On/Off switch, rather than in the back with the rest of the connectors.


ViewSonic PJ501

The Good

Very bright; projects a 25-foot diagonal image clearly; fast warm-up and shutdown times; three-year warranty.

The Bad

Big and heavy; low contrast ratio; grays look pink.

The Bottom Line

Consider the ViewSonic PJ501 if you're looking for a very bright projector and a long warranty.
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The ViewSonic is relatively large and bulky.
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The control panel has buttons for power, input source, and keystone correction; lights indicate power, overheating, and lamp life.

Getting started is a little more complicated because the PJ501 cannot autodetect the source; you must cycle through the possibilities using the PJ501's functional top control panel, located on the top of the device. Along with buttons for power, input source, and keystone correction, lights indicate power, overheating, and the imminent end of the lamp's 2,000-hour life. A four-way, X-shaped menu control makes navigation simple.

The three 0.7-inch, active-matrix color display panels and the large lens create the PJ501's big, bright, 800x600-pixel image. The PJ501 can project clearly from as far away as 25 feet, and it can fill a one-meter-diagonal screen at less than 5.5 feet--the shortest distance of the projectors we've tested. It can handle notebook signals ranging from VGA to XGA, but as usual, emulated resolutions don't look nearly as sharp.

The ViewSonic PJ501's wide body has plenty of room for the features of a stationary projector. In addition to the expected VGA plug, the back of the projector has well-labeled and color-coded jacks for S-Video, component-video, composite-video, and two different ways to get sound into the system: ministereo and a pair of RCA connectors. An RS-232 serial connection can let the projector control a notebook's mouse, but the PJ501 doesn't include the needed cable. It does include all the video cables you'll need, as well as power cables you can use in Europe and China. It all fits into the inexpensive nylon case--but barely. Our one quibble: The projector's recessed lens has an untethered cap that's cheaply made and all too easy to lose.

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A nice addition: the ViewSonic's connector ports are all well labeled and color-coded.
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Once again, there's no laser pointer on this remote, and you can't use the remote to control your notebook's mouse.

The PJ501's full-size remote control has both front and back infrared windows for maximum connectivity with the projector. It offers complete control over all of the projector's features, such as zooming, muting the volume, and changing the screen's aspect ratio, but it lacks a laser pointer, and it can't control the notebook's mouse. Its wedge shape makes it feel backward. ViewSonic will sell you an $80 remote control that adds scrolling and a laser pointer.

Maintenance is easy but pricey. Replacing the PJ501's lamp, housed in a pull-out module, requires only a small flathead screwdriver and a little patience for removal, but you'll also have to shell out a high $500 per unit. While you're at it, you'll need to clean the ventilation system's air filter every 100 hours of use.

The ViewSonic PJ501 outshines all of the portable SVGA projectors we've tested. It projected a large image at 1,277 lumens of light; even in its low-power Whisper mode, it managed 1,008 lumens, which is better than most. Uniformity remained good despite the brightness--no mean feat.

We were less impressed with the ViewSonic PJ501's contrast ratio of 182:1, which limits its ability to differentiate between dark and light areas.

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The ViewSonic PJ501's chromaticity diagram illustrates how the projector's color quality (red outline) compares to that of a typical desktop monitor (white outline).

The PJ501 fared moderately in our color tests. It showed all 255 grayscale levels. Its color temperature skewed pink and was slightly low at 6,767 Kelvins. Its color balance shifted to the oranges and yellows at the expense of blues and greens. DVDs looked clean and clear, with rich, vibrant color, but the background showed the hint of pixel lines, and motion was a tad jittery at times.

The ViewSonic PJ501 operates quickly but with noticeable heat and noise. It can throw an image onscreen in just 25 seconds, and it cools down in one minute and change. It emits exhaust air at a balmy 154 degrees F, but its fan is loud--more than 40 decibels. The PJ501's Whisper mode cuts power consumption from 150 watts to 130 watts, reducing noise by 1.9 decibels in the process, but brightness drops by 30 percent, as well. A nice side effect is that this mode can double the lamp life to 4,000 hours, according to ViewSonic.

ViewSonic provides an excellent warranty, covering parts and labor for three years. For the first of those three years, the company promises to ship any replacements within 24 hours. ViewSonic covers the bulb for a year, too, and extends coverage for 90 days on a second bulb. In addition to an interactive troubleshooting application that ViewSonic offers on its Web site, the company gives you a place to register the PJ501, a downloadable user guide, and answers to general problems. If you're looking for personal attention, you can send e-mail or call the 24/7, toll-free, tech-support line. In our test call, a representative answered within five minutes. The 32-page included manual is also good for general users, and it describes the basics well.


ViewSonic PJ501

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 8Support 8