From the August 1998 issue of Entrepreneur

See the Buyer's Guide Table for product features and prices.

"Show instead of tell" is one of today's most successful marketing mantras. Showing clients and customers your products and services using visual aids is far more effective and professional than just a verbal pitch. Sales presentations built around a lively, professional, well-designed multimedia display that can be set up in a matter of minutes are dramatically improving the way road warriors handle business presentations.

Stereo sound and full-motion video grab your audience's attention and provide an indelible image of your company, whether you're at a board meeting or conducting promotional presentations. Presenters find that flow charts, text, icons, and bar graphs clarify the information they impart.

Portable projectors with built-in speakers and multimedia capabilities are the brains behind these mobile marketing tools. Compact, comparatively lightweight, and easy to use, they provide high-quality images with remarkable brightness. Simply plug the special cables into your PC or Mac notebook computer, and you've teamed up animation, audio and video elements for a total presentation system.

"These small projectors are a billion-dollar industry, which is expanding by leaps and bounds," says Laura Walker, senior product marketing manager for Proxima in San Diego. "Our portable projectors, such as the UltraLite DS1, fit into a briefcase, yet fill up a room, some with a 30-foot diagonal image beamed from a laptop. And don't throw away those old transparencies. With our projectors, you can update and edit transparencies and other documents right from your computer."

Epson has developed technology to help make even beginners look like professionals. "Epson's PowerLite 5000XB has two computer jacks, a video jack and a monitor jack," says Jim Hall, director of audio/visual products for multimedia projectors at Torrance, California, Epson. "We've also patented SizeWise, a resizing technology that enables the 5000XB to handle every major notebook resolution from VGA to XGA with no picture content loss."

Boxlight's BL 4000 is one of several models that plug into a PC, Macintosh, VCR, laser disc player
and video game station. Lightware's MVP800 has connections for stereo audio, a computer, S-VHS ("super VHS," a video format superior to VHS) and a monitor.

"Electronic presentations are growing [in popularity] because the benefits are so clear," says Staci Quisenberry, marketing coordinator for Boxlight in Poulsbo, Washington. "You can share information instantly and easily, show complex and dynamic concepts, and improve group decision-making."

Developments in brightness technology include liquid crystal display (LCD) and digital light processing (DLP) that provide projectors with optics and light sources powerful enough to be viewed without dimming a room's lights.

Toshiba is among the few companies whose new projectors include a state-of-the-art, built-in "visualizer" document camera with a swivel lens on the base of the projector so you can switch from portrait to landscape images. The camera can project images of meeting notes, photos and products onto a screen or wall.

Before shopping for a portable projector, do your homework to understand these machines' key features. With price tags in the several-thousand-dollar range, renting a portable projector at an average cost of around $200 to $500 a day may be a better choice than buying one if you only make a few presentations a year.

For diehards addicted to delivering their message using the most high-tech tools available, there is a vast range of portable projectors to choose from, and even the most basic offer sophisticated features. Here's a rundown on what to look for:

American National Standard Institute light output (ANSI lumens). Brightness is measured in light meters. Most new projectors are bright enough to allow room lights to remain on during presentations. The industry standard for projectors is 450-500 ANSI lumens for LCD and DLP.

Auto-sensing. This feature synchronizes your computer to match the projector's optimal settings and calibrates the picture.

Contrast ratio. This is a measurement of the contrast between an image's darkest and lightest areas. The higher the ratio, the better the image.

Extended graphics array (XGA). This standard is more powerful than SVGA.

Image size. Manufacturers often measure image size differently; some do it diagonally in inches, others horizontally and vertically in feet.

Multimedia capabilities. Equipped with adaptors, projectors can be hooked up to PCs and Macs that have audio and video features for multimedia presentations.

National Television Standards Committee (NTSC). NTSC sets standards for resolution and color quality in the United States.

PAL. A European version of NTSC, PAL allows compatibility if you're traveling in Europe.

Resolution. This is a way of measuring an image's color and clarity using pixels. A 300-x-300-pixel projector will not project as crystal-clear an image as one with 600 x 600 pixels.

Super video graphics array (SVGA). SVGA is a more powerful PC graphics adaptor standard than VGA.

Variable image magnification (VIM). VIM allows you to enlarge a portion of your image.

Zoom lens. This magnifies or minimizes the size of the image being projected. Manual zoom is activated by physically adjusting a lens. An electronic, or motorized, zoom is activated by using the buttons on a remote control device.


Jill Amadio is a writer in Newport Beach, California.