NEC M311X: A Great Mix of Features and Performance
There's a lot to like about the NEC M311X. First and foremost, from a features point of view, it ticks most of our check boxes. It has a plethora of video input options - HDMI, VGA (two, no less), S-Video, composite - you name it. Yes, it doesn’t have a DVI input, but that’s a connection that’s being dropped in favor of HDMI in most data projectors today anyway. If you really need to connect the M311X to a computer with a DVI port, the easiest way is to get a HDMI-to-DVI cable or adapter.
If you want to monitor and control the M311X over a LAN, the built-in RJ-45 port and the HTTP server function have you covered. It’s nice that you can receive lamp replacement and error messages via email. An RS-232C serial port (NEC calls it a PC Control port) is also thrown in for good measure. For users who prefer a unified management system for multiple projectors, the projector supports Crestron RoomView too. In addition, if you hate cables like we do, you can setup the projector for a wireless LAN connection. But you’ll need the USB wireless LAN module, which adds a further S$129 to the cost. Don’t mistaken this for a knock on the M311X; many projectors in this class don’t even have such an option.
The M311X has several nice little touches and tools that earned it a few brownie points when it comes to usability and versatility. For example, labels along the edge on top of the projector give you an idea of the positions for the topmost row of connectors. This is helpful if you can’t get to the rear of the projector to plug in a cable, and have to feel your way around. The built-in lens cover that mutes the audio and video when you close it is very convenient too. To be clear, this feature has been on NEC projectors for many years now, and sometimes we wonder what’s stopping the others from copying it. If your computer is connected to the projector via a VGA cable, a serial cable, or over a LAN, you can also install the Virtual Remote Tool utility so that you can perform operations such as powering the projector on or off and switching of the signal right from the computer.
Then there’s the nifty Geometric Correction Tool in the Image Express Utility Lite software that lets you correct image distortion even when the surface isn’t flat. Unfortunately, this, the USB Display, and the remote mouse functions aren’t supported on the Mac. An on-projector horizontal keystone correction control (like the manual slider found on many Epson data projectors) would be nice too. And lest we forget, if you’ve an iOS device, you can use the free Wireless Image Utility app to project stored images and documents over a wireless LAN. We’re happy to find that the app is iOS 6 ready and is optimized for the iPhone 5’s longer 4-inch screen.
Image quality-wise, our M311X test unit handled both data and video very well. The high brightness and the 1.7x zoom ratio offer tremendous flexibility, whether you’re using it as a fixed conference room projector or as a portable projector that travels with you. Furthermore, if you can live with the reduced brightness under Eco mode, the lamp can last for as long as 10,000 hours. By the way, a replacement lamp costs S$375. All that said, at 2.9kg, the M311X isn’t what we’d call light. As with previous times, NEC throws in a soft carrying case in the box - however, it has little to no padding.
All in all, we highly recommend the M311X. It offers arguably the best mix of features and performance in its class. There are two projectors that come close to matching it. One of which is the Sony VPL-EX245, which costs S$1,190. With things like 3,200 lumens brightness, 1.6x zoom ratio, HDMI, dual VGA inputs, USB media viewer, and 16W monaural speaker, its feature-set rivals the M311X. However, Sony only rates the lamp at 3,000 hours at the High lamp mode, and it’s a good 1kg heavier than the M311X.
And believe it or not, the other projector is NEC’s very own M300X of 2010. Indeed, if the improvements of the M311X over the M300X (mainly slightly higher brightness, better contrast ratio, longer lamp life) don’t interest you, the latter is a great alternative if you can find it at a heavily discounted price. For the record, the M300X had a launch price of S$1,599; fast forward two years, the new M311X has a price tag of S$1,299.