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Lightware highlights low-cost portable projectors

Lightware lowers the bar on the price of portable projectors with the Scout 2000, which weighs 4.9 pounds and sells for $2,495.

Lightware today lowered the bar on the price of portable projectors.

Touted as the projector that slips into a briefcase with a laptop, Lightware's Scout 2000 weighs 4.9 pounds and sells for $2,495.

Lightware isn't the first manufacturer to offer a lightweight projector. Compaq and InFocus, among others, also offer comparable units, but for significantly more money.

Compaq's MP 1600, weighing in at a light 4.2 pounds, operates at 600 lumens of brightness and sells for $4,499. The LP330, or Dragonfly, from InFocus is a heavier 4.8 pounds and shines at 650 lumens and sells for a list price of $6,999.

Portable projectors attach to notebooks, CD or DVD drives, and other devices for showing images, presentations, or movies on a wall or screen. They are typically used in sales or by educators.

Lightware is betting the low price will make projectors more attractive to small businesses and educational institutions and as more discretionary purchases for larger companies.

But reaching critical mass, the price point where projectors become commodity products, may not be as easy as Lightware would like, said analysts.

"You can't get to a commodity product without commodity usage," said PC Data analyst Stephen Baker, who added the market is limited and doesn't have a lot of room to expand. "The projectors may look light, but packed with a notebook they are just too heavy for most people to lug around."

Lightware also faces an uphill battle in a crowded market that it does not dominate. In August, according to PC Data, Infocus had 34.9 percent of the projector market, followed by Proxima at 29.4 percent, Epson at 13 percent, NEC at 5 percent, and Viewsonic at 4.7 percent.

To get the lower cost, Lightware had to skimp on some features offered by competitors. Dragonfly, for example, boasts a higher resolution of 1024 x 768 and offers 16.7 million colors.

Scout 2000, at 500 lumens, is also not as bright as more expensive projectors. Lightware cut out some connectors to other devices because they are commonly found on notebooks.

That could be a critical mistake, said Baker. The best hope for expanding sales is increasing usage, "maybe as a notebook replacement, where you put your presentation on CD or a DVD or you place it on the Internet," he explained. "That seems to be a way of increasing the usage without adding a lot of weight."

Still, Lightware is leading the charge in driving down projector prices and potentially legitimizing the category. The average projector selling price was $3,764 in August, according to PC Data.

The company may also find, given the right price, less may be enough, said analysts, who point out the success of Emachines and others selling low-cost PCs.