Hitachi PJ-TX100 LCD Projector

My, what a big eye you have.

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, we were introduced to HAL 9000—a plucky computer that likes long walks at night, organization, and things not named Dave. In 2010, we found out that we were going to need a bigger boat and that HAL had a sibling: Bob. Or it may have been Phil. It certainly wasn't Knight Industries Two Thousand. It turns out that four years after and five years before, a middle sibling has been discovered: PJ. (Lame, I know. I'm sorry.)

The Hitachi PJ-TX100 has a cyclopean lens that will give other projectors feelings of inadequacy. More than once, I expected it to pivot toward me and blink menacingly. Have you ever seen someone blink menacingly? It's scary stuff. As you can see in the picture above, the lens dominates the industrial design. As any photographer will tell you, bigger is better, especially when it comes to lenses. Most low-cost projectors have tiny, cheap plastic lenses. So, for reasons other than intimidation and machismo, why specifically does this Hitachi have such a big lens? Adjustments.

Using the two scroll wheels on top of the projector, you can move the image 25 percent horizontally and 75 percent vertically. This makes setup easy, even in less-than-ideal locations. The manual notes, though, that the best picture quality is available when you set the dials at the middle. We'll talk more about that in a minute.

The menus are easy to follow, and they simplify things for those of us who aren't Dr. Chandra. The Advanced menu offers a wide range of adjustments, which is always welcome. In addition to six color-temperature presets, there's a custom mode that provides user-adjustable RGB gain and offset controls. If you want to mess with color temperature, Hitachi makes it easy. It also makes the life of your ISF calibrator that much simpler. You can adjust the gamma in four presets and four custom modes. The latter has eight individual adjustments to fine-tune the gamma to your liking or setup. To help you adjust the gamma and color temperature, the Hitachi has internal test patterns of nine or fifteen gray steps. (The darkest, a black box, can't be adjusted.) Overall, it's very cool.

There is only one of each major connection type. This certainly isn't a lot, but it gets the job done. The remote, on the other hand, gets the job done quite well. It has discrete input-access buttons, as well as buttons for the iris presets, the iris itself, and aspect-ratio, contrast, brightness, and color controls. It also has a reset button. Thankfully, though, pushing the button alone doesn't reset everything; it just brings you to a menu where you can choose to reset everything in the basic menu.

Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL
There are three preset iris settings: Off, Natural, and Deep Black. In addition, you can dial in your own with an eleven-step iris. The Whisper control adjusts the lamp brightness, increasing the adjustability further. Deep Black is equivalent to 0 iris with Whisper on, while Natural is 4 iris with Whisper on. Off is 10 iris with Whisper off. Off provides a very bright picture (more than 20 foot-lamberts) for when—well, I'm not sure when you'd really need more than 20 ft-L, but it's a nice option to have.

Between Natural and Deep Black, at least on our screen, it was a tossup over which setting looked the best. Natural sacrifices some black level for a little light output, but it looked punchier. Deep Black had a noticeably darker black level, but the image was a little dim. I ended up just playing around with the iris and lamp settings until I found the one I liked best, and I used the presets as quick access to check different light levels during different scenes. In the brightest modes, blacks started to take on a bluish tint, but this wasn't noticeable on lower iris settings. It's pretty normal for an LCD-based product to produce this effect, and it's notable that the PJ-TX100 makes it so easy to get rid of.

Processing is mostly good. The projector picked up the 3:2 sequence quickly, and its scaling works pretty well. When I employed a good upsampling DVD player, there was little improvement. Video processing revealed some small jagged edges, but they weren't bad. The image was a little noisy but no worse than other LCD projectors in this range.

With DVD and HD, detail was good but not great. The Hitachi has a 720p resolution, but most 720p DLP projectors have more detail—not by a lot, mind you, but some. Also, pixels were more noticeable on this projector than other 720p projectors we've reviewed. As long as you're seated at a distance of 3.5 times the picture height (or more), you should be fine.

Color was good. The PJ-TX100's gray-scale tracking was great after calibration, and its color points looked closer to accurate with actual video material than the measurements claim. In yet another level of adjustability, the PJ-TX100 auto-adjusts the color points between four different standards; you can also do it manually. While manual adjustments are fun, auto is usually your best bet (and is what we used for the measurements).

It Is Full of Stars
It's ironic that this projector's most prominent feature also seems to be its biggest Achilles' heel (can you have a big heel?). When you position the projector off center (horizontally or vertically), it produces different light output, enough to affect the contrast ratio. We achieved the measurements you see in the chart with the projector at the location where we normally put projectors. Moving it up 8 inches (where the lens is centered) increases light output by almost 20 percent on the high end and by about 60 percent on the low end, reducing the contrast ratio significantly. Moving to the other end of the spectrum, with the projector as low as it could go, peak light output stayed about the same, but the black level increased by about 30 percent. Worse, even with the lens centered, brightness and color uniformity weren't great. The edges of the screen were darker than the center. This was most noticeable with test patterns but occasionally with actual video material, as well. Color-uniformity issues were less noticeable with actual video, unless there was a bright, cloud-filled sky across the entire width of the screen.

Bicycle Built for Two
When you take price, picture quality, and aesthetic design into account, the PJ-TX100 has a lot going for it. Its image, though slightly noisy, is very good. It's bright, it has a decent black level, and it has enough adjustments that you should be able to make it look its best regardless of your setup or installation. Taking care when setting up the projector is key, because it looks better in some positions than in others. Whatever you want to call this thing—Eye of Sauron, Christina Ricci, Thunnus obesus—the PJ-TX100 puts out a great image for the money, and, with all of the adjustments and HD resolution, it's quite a value, to boot.

• Turanga Leela–esque design
• Wildly adjustable