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Finally settling down to put the AX200E through its paces, I have to confess to feeling just a bit disappointed. At first I wondered if this was just because all the on-paper specs had got me expecting too much, or because so many of the other projectors I've seen lately have belonged to a much higher price point. But in the end I had no doubt that there are two or three key weaknesses which really can't be ignored even on a projector costing under £800.
The most immediate issue concerns that old chestnut, LCD black level response. During the opening scenes of The DaVinci Code as viewed in HD on Sky, for instance, the darkness of the Louvre's display rooms looks noticeably greyed over versus the best budget DLP models around. As usual this has the knock-on effect of hiding subtle background details and colours, making the image feel slightly flat.
I also became aware of some distracting brightness ‘stepping' as the dynamic iris went about its business of adjusting the lamp output in response to changes in the image content.
My final issues with the picture are that there seems to be a little noise in dark scenes, and that images generally don't look quite as sharp and detailed with HD as the very best budget projectors can - a result, perhaps, of the Smooth Screen technology.
That said, the Smooth Screen technology also kicks off what is a pretty respectable list of good points. For it does a terrific job of suppressing every last trace of the chicken wire effect. In fact, we've never before seen a sub-£1k LCD projector looking so smooth.
Colours are surprisingly natural in tone too considering the black level shortcomings, and perhaps most significantly of all, the picture is capable of being extremely bright if you choose, say, the Dynamic, Vivid Cinema, or Game modes. In fact, it's probably the only truly affordable projector I've seen to date that can genuinely be watched in substantial levels of ambient light.
The Game Mode is also very successful in the heavy saturation it brings to bear on colours, bringing out all the vibrant lustre of the cars and landscape of the latest Burnout game's Paradise City location.
What all these strengths point to is the likelihood that the AX200E has been aimed squarely at predominantly casual projection users more interested in bigging up their gaming experience or having the occasional big-screen footy night with a few mates round, rather than at really serious home movie fans.
If you're just after a projector to cater for gaming or social occasions and can afford to spend over £750 on such a casual device, the AX200E fits the bill perfectly. But if like us you also like to enjoy watching films regularly on your projector, you'll probably join us in finding the AX200E just a wee bit disappointing.