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NEC PE401H Review

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An entry-level DLP installation projector aimed at conferences and classrooms, NEC’s PE401H is thoroughly professional – and a tad old-fashioned.

Eschewing LED light sources for a traditional lamp that’s rated to last 3,300 hours, the user interface on the PE401H shows little change from what we’ve been using for decades.

NEC PE401H review

In an age of apps and media-friendly software, that will be a relief to some, but thanks to a deal with DisplayNote the PE401H has some collaboration-toting presenting software options, too.

NEC PE401H review

Specifications

The rear of the PE401H is well endowed with sockets much like those found on home cinema projectors. Two HDMI inputs lead the charge, with support coming from a 15-pin D-sub RGB input, a monitor output, and ins for S-Video and composite video, a set of phonos and 3.5 mm audio ins and outs. There’s also a USB socket (though it doesn’t take thumb drives full of files, sadly), PC control input, and a wired Ethernet LAN input.

NEC PE401H review

The PE401H is 3D-ready using the active shutter system, but only just; NEC doesn’t supply any 3D glasses in the box. You’ll have to go fishing for a pair of specialist NEC NP02GL specs since the PE401H won’t recognise the cross-compatible Bluetooth specs now supplied with 3DTVs.

The latest Texas Instruments’ 1080p DLP chipset resides in the PE401H, which boasts a maximum brightness of 4,000 ANSI Lumens. That ought to be enough to cope with most ambient light conditions, save for direct sunlight.

At around 4.5 kg we don’t suppose the PE401H will be travelling much, and there’s no kind of case supplied in the box, though a handy sliding lens cover makes it relatively easy to switch between rooms.

NEC PE401H review

Set-up of the PE401H is easy, thanks to a manual 1.7x optical zoom and focus dial along with both keystone correction and a digital zoom rocker on the remote control. It’s a cinch to square-off the image in 10 reasonably subtle steps. Still, manual lens shift levers for some off-centre action would have been nice (they ought to be law).

Performance

Positioned about three metres from our 80-inch test screen, the PE401H managed a bright, detailed image with plenty of contrast and lush colouring – the hallmarks of DLP – though our sensitive eyes did notice the odd blast of rainbow effect.

Still, its BrilliantColor processing helped make our test disc Hugo shine while the projector was in Movie mode, though we did notice some motion blur.

There is an Eco mode – which you can toggle to using the green button on the remote – but it makes no difference to noise unless you’re switching from a particularly high brightness mode.

NEC PE401H review

Moving onto presentations (there are Presentation, Blackboard and High-Brightness image modes), one option is simple PC laptop mirroring via Intel WiDi, though that requires the purchase of a dedicated dongle to sit in the PE401H’s Ethernet LAN slot. Hardly ideal.

Another avenue is to use the third-party DisplayNote software, which can be downloaded to any Windows, Mac or Android-flavoured laptop or tablet (there’s no iPhone version) free for 30 days (though if you buy the PE401H you can get a free presenter licence).

Once loaded on our various devices, this simple, colourful software let us create a session on our Macbook that others with DisplayNote could join – they will then see whatever you’re projecting on their device.

NEC PE401H review

They can also capture and keep whatever it is that you’re projecting, annotate and add notes, share back on the big screen, and archive entire presentations for accessing later. It’s impressive, but limited; since the PE401H has no Wi-Fi, the chief presenter must connect a laptop to it via an HDMI cable. That’s needlessly quaint for a projector costing this much.

The last word, however, goes to the PE401H’s built-in speaker, which impresses not only on volume but on width, too; even music sounds acceptable. Audio during presentations doesn’t get much better than this.

Verdict

We liked

Although it theoretically goes as large as 300 inches, the picture created by the PE401H on our 80-inch test screen looked exceptionally sharp and lusciously coloured.

Easy to set up, this is Full HD at its best.

The PE401H is simple to use, with few modern wireless tricks and apps to get your head around, though the totally separate, optional DisplayNote software has extensive – even unique – collaboration opportunities for classrooms.

The PE401H is quiet, too, running at an average of 48 decibels and peaking at 57 decibels, though that’s with its excellent speakers switched off.

We disliked

The NEC PE401H has no wireless functionality. Projectors without Wi-Fi functions and built-in media playback software are actually pretty rare these days, and with few nods to modernity the PE401H is in danger of seeming a tad old fashioned.

The need for both a dongle to run the likes of Intel WiDi and add-on glasses to watch in 3D do take the shine off the PE401H. So, too, does its passive USB slot, which doesn’t read digital files from a USB thumb drive or HDD.

Final verdict

The PE401H is all about image quality, not wireless convenience.

An almost completely passive projector in terms of connectivity and apps, it concentrates on delivering sharp Full HD images that have plenty of brightness, colour and contrast to do a job in any lighting conditions.

Crucially, it’s easy to set up and has plenty of ins and outs.

Those after longer-lasting, virtually maintenance-free LED light sources might balk at the PE401H and call it old fashioned. They might have a point – and one that also applies to its lack of Wi-Fi and integrated digital media support – but the PE401H remains an impressive projector in all of the really important areas.

By Jamie Carter, TechRadar


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