InFocus Projector Adds Easy Sizzle to Pitches

It might be time to add a portable projector to your small business sales arsenal.

If you're like me, you're probably on the road these dark days cajoling terrified potential customers. I've found that nothing helps sell products better than throwing a big, fat, clear image of the item on a wall.

There has been a quieter, but more important paradigm shift in projection systems. Imaging shops like Seiko Epson, Hitachi ( HIT), Sony ( SNE), Canon ( CAJ), Mitsubishi, Optoma, Sanyo ( SANYY) and Panasonic ( PC) have adapted sophisticated processing technology for projectors. The result is a fabulous increase in performance and value. These days, a high-end, entry-level projector can cost just $1,000. These units can weigh less than three pounds, fit in your luggage and can be set up in 10 minutes.

Hard times have dampened the projector party. Earlier this year, Image Holdings bought the storied projector maker InFocus for $39 million. Businesses can expect to find aggressive pricing on most projection systems.

The InFocus N1102 projector offers high quality and portability.

To get a better feel on where the portable projector market is right now, I have been testing InFocus's N1102 series (price: $1149).

What you get: a remarkably high-quality projector that you can take anywhere.

InFocus uses Digital Light Processors (DLP), chips made by Texas Instruments ( TXN). I have always been a big fan of DLP projectors. They pump out a rich, colorful image and require little maintenance, except when blubs need to be changed after tens of thousands of hours of use.

You just plug the N1102 in and choose a format -- standard monitor connectors, S-Video, standard analog or a new connection called DisplayLink -- which is basically a USB connection jazzed up with some software. Turn the thing on. And poof, your road warrior laptop is now a state-of-the-art digital projection system.

The N1102 comes with a manageable set of image controls. I liked that the "keystoning feature," which compensates for bad conference-room conditions, wasn't buried in a menu somewhere. The focus and zoom controls were idiot ready. Fan noise was reasonable. And I really liked the remote, which gave me a master-of-the-universe feel as I pitched with this system. Factor in the slick form factor, the optics and the overall Zen of the thing and you get a system that puts most PC-based images on a wall fast.

What you don't get: a complex imaging system that requires practice and some understanding of optics.

You'll need to be aware of where your image will and won't work. Dark walls in brightly lit rooms, for example, are beyond this system. You will still need to focus it. And get software to work. And don't ask the unit to do a ton of multimedia. S-Video output from Cablevision Systems ( CVC), for example, was bright enough, but the quality was limited.

And while the DisplayLink software is a great idea that lets you connect to your computer using a USB connection, the software still needs to be installed and the controls need some tinkering. However, adding the software is better than fighting through Microsoft's ( MSFT) built-in display management software, at least on my Dell ( DELL).

Bottom line: For roughly the price of a decent laptop, you get a flexible, portable display powerhouse that -- once debugged -- is a fast and easy to use. Done right, you can flash it in a sales meeting and without disrupting the flow of your presentation.

If you're doing a lot of hand-to-hand combat, i.e. selling, these days, it's worth taking a look at the latest in portable projectors. And the InFocus N1102 should be at the top of that list.
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.