- Detailed, well-balanced pictures
- Short-throw benefits without the usual negative side effects
- Good value
- Pretty noticeable rainbow effect
- Slightly noisy runner outside of its Eco mode
- Black levels aren’t the deepest
- Short-throw lens (100-inch image from less than 4ft)
- Single-chip DLP projector
- Full HD native resolution
- Built-in 2W speaker
- Low-noise Eco fan mode
- Manufacturer: Acer
- Review Price: £490.00/$735
WHAT IS THE ACER H6517ST?
The Acer H6517ST is a short-throw projector, capable of delivering a 100-inch image from a throw distance of less than 4ft. This makes it easier to place away from your seating position than most projectors, and removes the need for the long cable runs so often associated with projector use.
As ever when such convenience is factored in, there are one or two performance compromises along the way. Overall, though, the H6517ST is one of the best short-throw projectors I’ve tested, making its sub-£500/$750 price look something of a steal.
DESIGN AND BUILD
The H6517ST is fairly easy on the eye for such an affordable projector. This white box has a compact (314 x 223 x 93mm) but robustly built chassis, while its rounded corners and gently arced top and bottom edges give it a soft finish that’s well suited to living room use.
Its trim 2.5kg weight, meanwhile, makes it light enough to be easily carried between rooms, or moved in and out of cupboards when you want to use it.
The only negative in the design is the oversized lens, which feels like it’s been ripped off a much bigger projector and shoehorned into the H6517ST’s front.
While it might look awkward, though, the size of this lens does raise hopes for better image quality than I usually see from ultra-affordable short-throw projectors.
The H6517ST doesn’t carry the best out-of-the-box picture presets, so it’s worth taking the time to tweak a few settings.
For starters, for dark-room viewing there are two potential picture presets that are worth a try. The Movie mode offers up the deepest black colours in conjunction with the projector’s Dynamic Black feature, but Dark Cinema Room provides more shadow detail in dark areas.
Personally, I settled on the Movie mode, since it felt slightly more cinematic. But feel free to lean the other way!
You’ll also need to decide whether to use the Dynamic Black feature. It certainly boosts picture quality, delivering deeper blacks and brighter peaks for a more contrast-rich image. But it also deactivates the projector’s low-brightness Eco mode, meaning you’ll have to put up with more running noise from the projector’s cooling fans.
I couldn’t resist the extra picture “kick” achieved by the Dynamic Black mode, but the Eco mode may be preferable if you’re sat nearer the projector. Or are a fan of silent movies.
Looking elsewhere, the Black Extension feature is best avoided since it crushes out shadow detail in dark areas. I’d also strongly recommend that you leave the Brilliant Colour feature set to “on”, for reasons I’ll discuss in the Picture Quality section.
The H6517ST’s projection engine is a single-chip DLP system featuring a Full HD resolution – impressive for a sub-£500/$750 short-throw projector. It’s also capable of pumping out an eye-catching 3,200 lumens of brightness, yet nonetheless claims a respectable contrast ratio of 10,000:1.
Connections are as you’d hope for in a projector that claims to have genuine home-entertainment skills. Two HDMIs are joined by a VGA PC input, a USB service port, and a composite video input. There’s also a 3.5mm audio input for feeding the H6517ST’s built-in speaker. This saves you from having to always find an external sound system whenever you want to watch a film or play a game.
Also convenient, given that many casual domestic users will want to project onto a wall rather than a screen, is the facility to adjust the picture presets to compensate for a variety of wall colours.
Much less convenient is the H6517ST’s lack of any optical zoom or vertical image shifting. Having said that, these features don’t tend to be as necessary with a short-throw projector as they are with longer-throw models.
One last feature of note is the H6517ST’s support for 3D playback. However, as is par for the course these days, the projector doesn’t ship with any 3D glasses – and I wasn’t supplied with any for this review.
While no projector as cheap as the H6517ST is ever going to be perfect, it’s far better than I had expected it to be.
For starters, it manages to avoid the two most common shortcomings of short-throw lenses by maintaining sharpness right into the corners of its images, and by avoiding any bending/sagging in the picture’s top or bottom edges.
It’s also extremely bright for the money: bright scenes pop off the screen with impressive dynamism and look engagingly three-dimensional and solid. Moreover, the sense of depth is enhanced further by some surprisingly subtle colour-tone handling, and by high detail levels that clearly reveal the benefit of the native Full HD resolution.
The clarity holds good during action scenes too, since both motion within the frame and camera pans appear largely untroubled by either motion blur or judder.
Out of the box, colours don’t look as natural as I’d like them to. The Brilliant Colour setting tends to make tones look a little cold, yet if you turn it off tones become too warm (red) and detail suddenly disappears in peak brightness areas.
Fortunately, these initial issues can be dealt with pretty easily by injecting a little extra red into the Brilliant Colour On picture when using the Movie or Dark Cinema Room options.
Meanwhile, the Dynamic Black feature – which helps give images their maximum contrast impact – also impresses by suffering with practically none of the brightness instability that often accompanies such light control technologies.
The H6517ST performs slightly better than expected when it comes to black-level response, too. Sure, there’s a degree of greyness over areas of the picture that should look black, but it’s sufficiently subdued to stop you always feeling like dark scenes are a poor relation to bright ones.
The projector’s native contrast is also good enough to deliver strong levels of shadow detail in dark scenes, meaning they avoid the shallow, empty appearance often seen with cheap and (less) cheerful projectors.
The H6517ST suffers minimally with the glowing effect over areas of peak brightness that’s afflicted some recent budget DLP projectors. In fact, it controls its decent contrast range nicely, leaving you with an image that looks balanced and natural, rather than stretched or forced.
One last H6517ST plus point is that it doesn’t suffer as much as I’d have expected with fizzing noise in dark areas, or over skin tones.
The H6517ST’s pictures do suffer one significant flaw, however: the so-called rainbow effect. This issue, which sees stripes of red, green and blue flitting over stand-out bright elements, is common with single-chip DLP projectors. However, it’s particularly noticeable on the H6517ST; so much so, in fact, that it could be a deal-breaker if you’re one of those who’s susceptible to seeing the phenomenon.
If you’re thinking of relying on the H6517ST’s for your sound, then think again. Its speaker boasts only 2W of power, so it’s no surprise to find it sounding painfully flimsy. There’s no bass, it can’t go loud without becoming harsh, and vocals sound unrealistic. This is definitely a sound solution of last resort.
The H6517ST is able to finish on a winning note, though, thanks to its input lag. I measured this at well under 20ms when using the projector’s Game mode, which is one of the lowest such figures I’ve recorded. This means the H6517ST could be a great option for big-screen gaming.
SHOULD I BUY THE ACER H6517ST?
So long as you’re not particularly susceptible to seeing DLP’s rainbow effect, the H6517ST is a compelling proposition. It delivers a well-judged balance of short-throw convenience and good picture quality at an eye-catchingly low price.
You can get better picture and, especially, sound quality, as well as an even shorter throw distance from the Philips Screeneo 2.0. However, this model is far more expensive at £1,500/$2,250.
Another alternative, especially if you’re wanting a projector for a room that’s usually affected by ambient light, is the Optoma GT5000 running in conjunction with Optoma’s innovative “daylight viewing” ALR100 screen.
The Acer’s rainbow-effect issues might be a concern for those who are susceptible – but for everyone else, the H6517ST is a surprisingly strong performer for such an affordable price.