Dec 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer
A feature-packed projector for corporate and educational markets.
The new CP-X608 is at the top of Hitachi's line of smaller fixed-install projectors, and it targets both the corporate and education markets. That may seem like an oxymoron because corporate users tend to think about features and performance, while the stereotypical education model needs to be affordable. With the X608, Hitachi is trying to appeal to both needs, and it's doing a pretty good job.
Admittedly, at less than $10,000 (available from some reputable dealers for less than $5,000), the X608 is a high-end educational model, but it's packed full of features that generally sell for a lot more. The trick here is that Hitachi has been careful not to let those features drive the price up too high. It's a balancing act of sorts, but Hitachi handles it nicely.
For example, Hitachi eschews power focus and zoom in favor of manual lens rings. Hitachi has also added lens shift, both vertical and horizontal, but that's not powered either. Instead, two dial knobs inside a chassis-top panel door manually move the lens. The pop-up panel door affords easy access while still limiting the unit's complexity for ordinary users.
Connectivity is also thorough, but not excessive. That is, the X608 has just about everything that most moderate corporate and educational customers would want, including an M1-D digital connector (that can convert a DVI feed), a set of RCA component, composite, and S-Video jacks, as well as two 15-pin ins and monitor out. There are separate audio inputs for each input channel, but unlike some more expensive install models, there are no multiple video inputs of anything except the 15-pin.
GETTING WIRED OR UNWIRED
There's a lot more to the X608 than just the basics. Several projectors now support wired and wireless LAN connectivity, and many support SD cards and USB memory sticks, too. There are, however, few projectors that support them all as the X608 does — and even fewer that have the flexibility of the X608.
LAN connectivity starts with remote administration capabilities — and that should be a boon to any large campus administrator. As is typical, remote administration includes monitoring of numerous features and settings, and the X608 can also email a system administrator with any number of specific errors or problems. In fact, Hitachi allows you to manually set the text of the email message for each specific error if you choose.
The X608 also allows wired or 802.11 wireless transfer of information to be displayed on the screen. Admittedly, neither wired nor wireless connectivity is new. It exists in several other projectors, but it almost always requires a built-in operating system such as Windows CE or Windows XP. In this case, Hitachi has kept things as uncluttered as possible by using an embedded ITRON OS. It allows basic navigation through directories as well as direct communication with networked PCs in order to transfer images for display, but it doesn't attempt to turn the X608 into something more than a projector. One caveat: A couple minor, if rather benign, extra steps are required to enable the projector to share desktop data over a network.
The X608 can also display JPEG images on a memory card using the same fluid navigation through the directory structures. As you would expect, you can manually advance slides or images, but there's also a built-in viewer that can be configured to automatically advance images at user-determined intervals such as for a lobby or digital signage installation.
All these features represent a menu and user-manual challenge in order to keep things straightforward enough for the average user. Hitachi does offer an “Easy Menu” that has only basic projector setup options and a link to the “Advanced Menu” where everything else is. After that, things get less intuitive. It's not that the menus or concepts are difficult to navigate once you understand them, but Hitachi is essentially inventing new terminology here that isn't well defined up front.
It's no secret that projector theft is a problem — particularly in the education market where projectors often move from one room to another — but it's also a problem in larger corporations as well. The X608 offers several security measures, beginning with common password protection for projector usage. Of course, password protection alone often does little more than frustrate a thief after the projector has been stolen — and that's a small consolation for an organization that is out a projector.
Hitachi also offers several other features such as a personal splash screen, which can require another password to change, and a transition detector, which requires yet another password if the unit is moved. Those features may also frustrate a thief who has already stolen the unit, but their overt presence may dissuade potential thieves who have seen the X608 in use — and that probably represents a significant percentage. The X608's best protection, however, is still the metal bar built into the chassis, around which one can easily wrap a sturdy chain lock.
Hitachi rates the CP-X608 at 3500 lumens to 4000 lumens, and I understand that to mean 3500 under normal conditions with proper settings and 4000 if you push the brightness to the extreme. My measurements weren't too far off given today's climate of exaggerating everything: 3286 and 3613 ANSI lumens averaged across the entire image and 3881 lumens in the bright spot with everything cranked up. Brightness goes down about 20 percent in the low-fan “whisper mode” or “echo mode.” I measured full-on/off contrast at 618:1.
The X608's color temperature was fairly consistent across different brightness levels, except as it neared 100IRE and dropped off toward red. In “normal” mode, color reproduction generally leaned toward red rather noticeably. At least it's noticeable to the ColorFacts colorimeter, but perhaps not noticeable to the human eye. I was able to improve on that, but it is the bent of the X608. On the other hand, the image quality is more than sufficient for most business and educational applications.
Ultimately, the breadth of features is the CP-X608's main selling point. This is a projector designed to straddle the line between the educator's need for balancing those helpful features with affordability and the corporate needs of a remote administrator, LAN connectivity, and presenting from SD or USB memory.
If the $9,995 MSRP seems a little high, you can blame that on Hitachi being one of the last manufacturers that still use the old list price model that once was the norm. Today, the majority of manufacturers simply talk about minimum advertised price (MAP) or expected street pricing, instead of the formal list price that would inevitably be deeply discounted by dealers. Admittedly, a more-than-50-percent discount from a dealer is deep by historical measure, but it reflects the realties of the marketplace.
A more direct comparison for the CP-X608 would be to match that $5,000-or-so street price against competing models in the same class. That's when Hitachi's features start to look pretty nice.
Pros: Wireless and wired LAN, including displaying images from a networked computer. Advanced security features. Advanced support for PC-free and network presentations without an overt operating system.
Cons: Modest color reproduction.
Price: $9,995 MSRP
Native resolution: XGA (1024×768)
Brightness: 4000 ANSI lumens
Contrast: 1000:1 full on/off
Configuration: Three 0.8” LCD panels
Light source: 285W UHB lamp
Lens: Manual focus (F= 1.7-2.1), manual lens shift (40% vertical and 40% horizontal), 4 optional lenses
Zoom: Manual 1.2X optical zoom
Projection distance: 3.6ft.-35.4ft.
Screen size: 30in.-350in. diagonal
Vertical keystone: +/- 40°
Horizontal keystone: +/- 20°
Speakers: Four 4W stereo
Dimensions (H×W×D): 5.5"×16.5"×12.6"
Warranty: Three years parts and labor