Epson BrightLink 450Wi Interactive Ultra-Short Throw Projector Review
Marc Davidson, May 11, 2010
The Epson BrightLink 450Wi offers two key features that distinguish it from most other projectors: It's interactive, and it has an ultra short throw. The interactivity lets you effectively turn any screen, blackboard, or blank wall space into an interactive whiteboard without the extra cost of an actual whiteboard. The ultra short throw lets it project large images at just a few inches from the screen, so you can interact with the image without having to worry about casting shadows.
In most other ways, the 450Wi delivers a fairly garden variety set of features, as an LCD-based WXGA (1280x800) projector rated at 2500 lumens. Meant for permanent installation, it is designed primarily as a data projector suitable for both business and educational use. In either context, if you compare it to buying an ultra short throw projector and an interactive whiteboard separately.
Excellent image quality for data sources. The 450Wi did an excellent job with data images on our tests, with no problems worth mention. It also makes up somewhat for the lack of a digital connection with nearly rock solid images, with little to no pixel jitter, even on images that tend to bring out pixel jitter in analog connections.
Ultra short throw. By definition, any ultra short throw projector should be able to project a big image with the projector right next to the screen. Even more important for an interactive projector, the distance between the screen and projector should be little enough so you can stand in front of the screen and interact with the image -- pointing, drawing, and entering mouse clicks by touching the screen with the interactive pen -- without worrying about casting a shadow.
The 450Wi easily delivers on both of these promises. Using the native 1280x800 resolution with its 16:10 aspect ratio, it can project a 59" diagonal (50" wide) image from just 2.7" -- that's inches, not feet. More precisely, that would be 2.7" from the front of the projector, although the image emerges from a window of sorts near the back, about 14" farther from the screen. For the maximum 96" diagonal (81.4" wide) image at 16:10, the projector needs only 14.5".
With short distances like these, you have to work hard to create shadows that actually cause a problem. You'll cast a small shadow when you interact with the image -- writing, drawing a highlight, or giving a command -- but it won't be much larger than your arm, which will effectively cover the shadow in any case. Even standing right in front of the screen, you won't cast more of a shadow than that, and you won't hide any more of the image than you would if you were standing in front of a standard whiteboard.
Nothing else to buy. Aside from the obvious savings of not having to buy an interactive whiteboard to use with the 450Wi, the package comes with everything else you need as well, except for a surface to project the image on. Included in the box are a complete wall mounting kit and one interactive pens. Should you lose a pen, replacements are available from Epson for $79.
Sturdy wall mount with excellent installation instructions: It's worth mention that Epson doesn't stint on the wall mount. You can adjust the projector's pitch, roll, and yaw separately using dials to aim the image properly, and then lock each adjustment into place by tightening the screw on that adjustment's dial. You can also adjust the projector's distance from the screen to vary the image size, with a range of 2.7" to 14.5" from the screen to allow the full range of images sizes already mentioned.
The installation instructions for the wall mount and projector are particularly impressive, with step by step instructions as well as image-size charts and worksheets to help determine the right positioning for the wall mount. The worksheets and charts let you calculate critical details, like the right height for the wall plate to ensure that the bottom of the image will be sufficiently high off the floor to be fully visible throughout the room. The instructions even include three sets of measurement charts depending on what aspect ratio you plan to project -- 16:10, 4:3, or 16:9.
Includes interactive software. The projector also comes with a driver for the interactive pens. Epson says the driver should work with any interactive whiteboard software, as well as let the pen function as a pointing device. In case you don't have other software, however, Epson also provides its own Easy Interactive Tools to let you draw on the screen, highlight areas, save your annotations, and toggle between pen and mouse modes.
Bright image with wide brightness range. We measured the 450Wi at 2615 lumens. That's about 5% brighter than its 2500 lumen rating, which is particularly noteworthy since most projectors deliver somewhat less brightness than they're rated for. The 2615 lumens is more than enough to project an image large enough for a classroom or conference room in typical lighting conditions.
Various additional preset modes also offer brightness suitable for lower light levels, with a low of 1465 lumens for the least bright mode in our tests. The projector also offers an Eco mode that we measured at 1676 lumens using the brightest preset mode, or about 36 percent lower than the same preset in Normal mode. Epson says that Eco mode boosts lamp life from 2500 to 3500 hours, which is a notably modest gain for the relatively large percentage drop in brightness.
Good brightness uniformity. The projector also scores well on brightness uniformity. We measured it at 75%. Just as important, the brightest and least bright areas are separated enough, and the brightness changes gradually enough, so the difference isn't noticeable even on a solid white screen.
Good connectivity. The 450Wi has neither an HDMI nor a DVI connector, which means it can't accept a digital connection, but it otherwise offers a suitably large range of connectors for either an educational or business environment. There are two VGA ports that can each connect to either a computer or a component video source. Also included are an S-Video port and a composite video jack. Each of these is paired with its own stereo audio input, with a miniplug input for each VGA port and one set of two RCA phono plugs shared by the S-Video and composite video ports. Plug in three sources, and when you switch between images, you'll automatically switch to the right audio input as well.
The connection panel also offers a pass-through monitor connector, a microphone input, a miniplug stereo audio output, two USB ports, an RS-232 port, and a LAN connection. One USB port is meant primarily for a document camera, which you can get from Epson or elsewhere. The other lets you connect to a computer so you can use the projector's interactive feature. In addition, the Ethernet port lets you manage the projector from a computer over a network. The RS-232 port lets you run diagnostics as well as turn the projector on or off though a third party controller. Note too that you can send data to the projector over a LAN or over the USB port, but Epson says the response time for the interactive feature will be a little sluggish in both cases. For our tests, we used the VGA connection, as Epson recommends.
Relatively poor image quality for video. Video image quality, in sharp contrast to data image quality, is best described as usable but unimpressive. In our tests, we saw motion artifacts in the form of tearing on the edges of moving objects, slight posterization in skin tones (with colors changing suddenly where they should change gradually), and a hazy look overall that's usually associated with low contrast ratio. The quality is suitable for showing video in a classroom or conference room, but the 450Wi is in no danger of being mistaken for a home theater projector.
Potentially inadequate volume. The 450Wi's 10 watt mono speaker offers reasonably good sound quality, and is easily loud enough for a conference room or a small to mid-size classroom, but it's at least arguably not quite loud enough to reach the back rows in a large classroom. If you need audio, you may well need to take advantage of the audio out port to plug into an external sound system.
Warranty. There is a 3-year warranty. In all cases the lamp warranty is 12 months or 750 hours. You can extend the warranty with a service plan, but, of course, that adds to the price.
The 450Wi is an impressive representative of a rare breed of projector -- interactive, with an ultra short throw. It delivers a bright, high quality image for data, good connectivity, and it even comes with its own interactive software. Given the choice between the 450Wi and another ultra short throw projector paired with a separate interactive whiteboard, the 450Wi is unquestionably the more elegant choice, and it belongs high on your short list.