Plus Piano Avanti HE-3200 DLP Projector

For such a tiny projector, the new Plus Piano Avanti HE-3200 has an absurdly long name. The HE-3200 is the next step up the Plus line from the Piano HE-3100, which I reviewed in the December 2001 Guide. For an additional $600, you get more features, greater setup flexibility, and maybe even a better picture.

Like the HE-3100, the HE-3200 uses Texas Instruments' Dual Mode DMD chip, which allows 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratios. Both have the same six-segment, 4x-speed color wheel and built-in Silicon Image 504 deinterlacing chipset. Both are rated as having the same light output (450 ANSI lumens) and contrast ratio (700:1, full on/off).

The HE-3100 would accept only 480i sources at either its composite, S-video, or component inputs. It would not display HD sources, or even 480p, in any form. New in the HE-3200 is built-in support for 480p, DVI-D, and RGB inputs. It will also accept 1080i/780p HDTV signals, though it downconverts them to 480p. The Piano Avanti gets these new input capabilities, along with additional image-processing features, from the Rembrandt-I digital display controller chip from Oplus Technologies Ltd.

Perhaps the HE-3200's most important improvement is its short-focus, 1.2x manual zoom lens. With it, you can (within the limits of the zoom range) place the HE-3200 where you'd like it to go, rather than, as with the fixed-focus HE-3100, where it must go.

And unlike the HE-3100, the HE-3200 comes in five (count 'em!) five designer colors, including Ferrari red and Lamborghini yellow.

Do the HE-3200's new features warrant its $600-higher price? They do. While the HE-3200's picture was not markedly better than the HE-3100's, its increased setup flexibility and additional input options made it far more user-friendly. Just adding the zoom lens makes the HE-3200 a superior product. The extra input options will keep the Piano Avanti on most owners' ceilings for years.

When I reviewed the HE-3100, I had several ergonomic complaints, none of which have been addressed in the Piano Avanti. Most projector remotes will pick up your commands on the bounce if you aim them at the screen. The Plus requires you to aim directly at the sensor (mounted on the top rear of the chassis), and it has a very narrow acceptance angle. Most installations will also need some way to turn off the power to the projector remotely. The cooling fan remains on as long as the On button is depressed, and it may be inconvenient to reach with a ceiling mount. I understand why Plus has not included an easy turnoff—shutting off the projector before it's fully cooled down will shorten the life of its bulb—but why not a timed shutoff instead?

Speaking of On/Off buttons, I had to press the On button on the Piano Avanti's remote for a full two seconds before it would turn on. I suspect that many new owners, after briefly pushing On and seeing that nothing has happened, will think their Piano Avanti is DOA.

The front location of the Piano Avanti's IEC AC connection could be a problem in some installations: it's difficult to route the cord unobtrusively around the projector. Premium AC cables, anaconda-thick and cadaver-stiff, are not recommended.

Then there's the Piano Avanti's smell. After 60 hours of use, it still gave off the odor of gently roasting electronics. I'm told that it's the bulb, and that it will go away. But even though I'd like to, I'm not holding my breath.