gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


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InFocus X9 720p Projector Review

Putting the Samsung P400b aside, the InFocus X9 constitutes my first real projector review. Due to a complete lack of any reference point, or anything to compare the InFocus X9 to, I am forced to produce an article which focusses on its own strengths and weaknesses. This is not an entirely bad thing, however, as my experience with the InFocus X9 has been a pleasant one during which I have been thoroughly converted to the camp of home-cinema projection and what I have learnt about the InFocus X9, and consequently projection in general, I can pass on to you.

First and foremost, the experience of first turning on a projector in your darkened living room, watching your first film, or playing your first game will be an absolutely unforgettable one. Your first projector, as long as you’re not an avid videophile, will always offer an immediate out-of-the-box satisfaction which will easily dispel any feeling of buyer’s remorse and really make those conveniently dark Christmas evenings quite exciting and special. Yes, projection works better the darker your room is which, when combined with the short daylight hours of winter, make it a projector a truly fantastic buy over the Christmas season.

You’ve also, no doubt, already bought an LCD TV by now, that ship has sailed, so with projectors getting cheaper, smaller and better they are clearly the next big thing to sweep ordinary, non-enthusiast consumers living rooms before ultra-thin LED and OLED TVs take over and, after that, consumers’ pockets!

So, if you want to impress your friends, make for some cracking entertainment over Christmas and jump on the bandwagon before everyone’s running to catch up with the next one, read on.

I chose the InFocus X9 quite particularly to be the first home cinema review projector here at Gadgetoid. It’s cheap, reasonably good quality, HD ready and compact enough to sit comfortably on a shelf above your sofa. Sure, I could preach the wonder of full high definition, 1080p home cinema projectors that need their own carved stone plinth to stand upon, but I suspect just over £500 is a far better price point for a (dare I say) recession busting Christmas spend than the just-over-£1000 that, for example, the InFocus X10 would set you back.

That said, the InFocus X9 price point isn’t perfect. It would be truly excellent if it could hit that sub-£500 magic mark in time for Christmas.

The space battle scene from Serenity plays out on the big screen. Cinema be damned, I like to pause when I pee!

But in many consumers minds even that seemingly affordable price is tainted by the fact that, at some point in the future, the projector may need a replacement lamp. And those don’t tend to come cheap. In reality, however, the lamp life is sufficient to last the useful life of the projector. Boasting 3500 hours of life at full brightness you could, theoretically, run it for 2 and a half hours, watching a movie every day for a good 3 and a half years. This can be translated into infrequent marathon gaming sessions if that’s your thing- 10 hours a day for a year, perhaps?

Of course, these usage scenarios represent what’s considered ordinary use of a projector. You absolutely have to have a regular television for, well, watching regular television and the projector itself should be used when you want to sit back, relax, enjoy some popcorn and really immerse yourself in a game or a movie.

We, for example, run the TV throughout the day to occupy our daughter and fire up the projector in the evenings for some HD Finding Nemo, House or a game of Sacred 2 on the Xbox 360. This means that it often goes days without getting used, rendering the chance it’ll ever need a bulb replacement before being outright replaced almost negligible.

Bulb replacements, however, are not the only expense associated with the world of projectors. Two other fairly key accessories are often considered essential for a proper projector setup, but if you’re looking for a “watchable” setup rather than the pinnacle of perfection you can do without them. They are the screen, onto which the picture is projected, and the mount which many need to fix a projector to the ceiling.

The inFocus X9 is designed to sit either on a table, or be mounted to the ceiling in order to project but this positioning isn’t essential. Although the adjustable feet on the X9 lend themselves to finite adjustments on the table-top, it’s possible with a wedge of cardboard, a few empty DVD cases or anything else you have handy to level out the projector and allow it to sit on a shelf above the sofa.

This is exactly what I’ve done, spending a few quid on a shelf and brackets and placing it above and behind the sofa to seat the X9. A long HDMI cable runs around the room from the A/V cabinet and the result is an easily placed, easily moved, but out of the way projector that throws onto the wall above and behind the TV.

My cable disguising skills leave much to be desired

The inFocus X9 lends itself very well to this sort of placement, its compact size – smaller than that of full 1080p projectors – means it can sit comfortably on a shelf about 25cm deep. I chose a bow-fronted shelf that protrudes further in the middle and tucks in at the edges, giving a good aesthetic appearance, plenty of room for the projector, and spare room for console controllers, remotes and other A/V paraphernalia that I like to be able to quickly access from the sofa. You can choose to mount DVD storage, a decorative shelf or whatever suits you best for an unobtrusive setup.

As far as screens are concerned, you don’t always need one. If you have an off-white wall colour then you can get away with simply projecting straight onto your living-room wall. This has the benefit of a reduced setup cost and eliminates the hassle of setting up a screen when you need to use the projector but is certainly not an optimal situation for projection.

The trouble with paint is its decidedly rough texture which will scatter projected light all over the place, whilst this produces a very pleasant ambient effect and does little to damage the stunning colour and definition of the X9 it will ruin your black levels a little. Of course, if you’re not an avid videophile you wont mind, the picture is impressive enough to mitigate these minor issues, but if you do care then a projection screen isn’t necessarily expensive and will let you set up the X9 in rooms without a large enough, or clear enough wall.

I like the ambient effect caused by the light scattering and sheer brightness of the projector, however, and believe it really puts Ambilight and other “ambient lighting” techniques from LCD televisions to shame.

So, I may be having a whale of a time playing with this particular projector, but I’m sure you want to know how good the inFocus X9 actually is. It’s svelte form packs a 1280×720 resolution, more or less the same as you would get in an HD Ready television, but rest assured this still looks “high definition” when stretched over a 60-70″ diagonal. It includes the usual adjustment functionality, from two feet which unscrew to raise or lower the projector manually, to picture shifting, keystone and various settings which allow the picture to be flipped vertically or horizontally to support different mounting modes. For the most part, though, you will not need to worry about these settings. Several different pre-set modes offer settings for various viewing, although I normally just stick the X9 into “Game” mode for everything if I remember, for a bright and high impact picture that really makes mundane things like torches, shone at the screen, quite impressive.

In terms of inputs, it’s pretty thin on the ground with a single HDMI port (you’ll need a switcher and a length HDMI cable anyway), composite/component, and VGA for hooking up 1995 desktop computers or netbooks. This is pretty normal for projectors, however, as running multiple cables to them just isn’t practical and certainly isn’t tidy.

Like all projectors it kicks out a fair deal of heat, almost like a very small and hopelessly inefficient fan heater. This could be seen as a bonus in winter, but isn’t so great in summer. Fortunately an above-the-sofa placement means that heat isn’t going to cause you any discomfort, particularly if you’ve already got a tower fan cranked up to 11 to cool you down.

My only gripe with the inFocus X9 is the remote. It’s an eminently lose-able slim-line remote that boasts being able to clip-in to the top of the X9 for storage, but I’d much rather have a hand-sized, comfortable remote with proper squishy buttons and significantly less chance of disappearing into the sofa. The X9 doesn’t have controls on the actual projector itself, either, so if you lose the remote and need to change a setting you’re going to have to make do, or spend the next half hour moving furniture and trying to locate it.

Blade Runner on the inFocus X9, positively dwarves my 40″ LCD

These niggling shortfalls, however, are more than made up for by the fairly affordable price and, frankly, absolutely stunning results you can get from the inFocus X9. I’m sure that, if I picked up an expensive 1080p projector I would be blown away again, but the X9 is good enough for me not to want to face deal with the expense and ungainly bulk of anything better. My television may be 1080p, but I’d sooner watch a film or play a game on the 720p inFocus X9.

And the picture really is stunning, if I might say so myself. Seeing a high definition image projected on your living room wall is a sight for sore eyes and really makes for a fantastic gaming or movie watching experience. I tried a few racing games, brave as I am, and found Wipeout HD absolutely nauseating to play on such an absurdly huge screen – not a bad thing, of course, it was gripping good fun and such an absorbing display really made the game that much more fun. In fact, I swear I played better than I usually do

If you’re looking for something special in the run up to Christmas (use Christmas an an excuse and, for crying out loud, don’t wrap it up!) then I can honestly say that the inFocus X9 will really blow you away. Buy it in conjunction with a now-cut-price PS3, a couple of blisteringly fast racing games and copious amounts of Popcorn and you’ll have everyone entertained throughout the holiday, in fact you’d be hard pushed to get them away from gaming to actually unwrap any presents (okay, maybe not!).

Monday, September 7th, 2009, Featured, Home Entertainment.