Philips Screeneo Smart LED projector review

3.5 out of 5
£1499

For

Long-life of LED format, short-throw for smaller spaces, decent enough brightness, portable design, built-in Dolby Digital 2.1, Android OS, giant image potential

Against

DLNA Wi-Fi streaming delivers laggy playback issues, 2D to 3D upscaling is dizzying, needs to be viewed in darkness for best results, not Full HD, pricier than 60in 1080p TV

Short-throw projectors and LED projectors aren't new but the combination of the two isn't particularly common, as found in the Philips Screeneo HDP1590 Smart LED projector.

Short-throw plays nice in smaller rooms and LED far outlasts traditional bulb alternatives. The Philips Screeneo offers both those positives while also incorporating 2.1 Dolby Digital sound and 3D capabilities. And it comes with a carry handle and bag, meaning you can carry it around to turn almost any wall into a giant screen.

But at a considerable price point is the HDP1590 projector enough to replace a television? Its 100-inch maximum display from a mere stone's throw away sounds impressive, but is the limitation of a 1280 x 800 resolution a problem?

We like to move it, move it

The portability of the Philips Screeneo is one of its strongest selling points. One weekend we were due to test it at home when a last-minute trip came up, so rather than leaving it at home we took it along with us. It was easy to transport, as the 5kg unit comes in a shoulder carry bag with a spare pouch for cables, controller and 3D glasses. The Screeneo itself even has a brown leather strap for easy removal from the bag. Then all we had to do was find a nice large wall, plonk it down and plug it in.

At 10cms away from a wall you'll get a 50-inch projection, increasing to 100-inch from just 44cm away. The distance from the wall is the only way to adjust picture size, meaning the projector will be sat in front of you, typically on the floor or a low-slung table. It was possible to get the display larger, but the brightness and clarity fall off, hence the given 100-inch limit.

If finding a large white wall is an issue then you can delve into the menu for a variety of wall colour corrections. So if there's a blue wall the Screeneo will adapt the projected colours to work on that surface. It's less bright in playback on darker walls but this is still a helpful feature if the only wall available isn't white.

One of the reasons the Screeneo's portability is so useful is that the projector can be used in addition to a TV, which is how we think it's most likely to be used. TV for the day-to-day, Screeneo unveiled for special occasions, like a movie night or sports event. It really made watching Gravity at home a cinema-like experience for us, ignoring the maximum resolution limit. At home you won't get stuck behind the world's loudest popcorn eater either.

Longer, brighter, cooler

Using LED to project lowered our expectations of the Screenio before we powered it up. But once we were viewing a movie it was clear that the 100,000:1 contrast ratio was more than enough to throw a bright picture, even with the curtains open so long as the sunlight wasn't too strong. Watching for a long period in daylight wasn't really an option as everything looked washed out, so darkness is your friend.

Unlike traditional bulb-based projectors the Screeneo boasts a 30,000 hour life. A similarly priced Sony short-throw projector, for example, with a 3800:1 contrast ratio will need a new bulb after 3,000 hours on at high power, costing around £250 to replace.

The other issue we were worried about was the 1280 x 800 resolution. When our considerably smaller phone screens and TVs are pumping out 1920 x 1080 as standard these days, the Screeneo projector resolution sounds poor. But it's not that bad. Even when set at the 100-inch display limit the picture is clear when converting a 1080p feed into the 720p capability of the projector. At first the manual focus, achieved by twisting a control dial repeatedly, was needed to clear up the image but once that was perfect the picture was of a high quality.

Of course if money is no object and space isn't either then a higher-resolution projector is obviously going to deliver a far superior picture. Cinemas tend to project at 4K these days, so the Philips can't claim to achieve that kind of jaw-dropping awesomeness. But it's still awesome in its own way, largely on account of projected screen size.

Feeding frenzy

The Philips Screeneo HDP1590 Smart LED projector is not short of a port or two either. It's ready to display pretty much anything that can be output through a cable: there are three HDMI ports, VGA and Composite available to take on all kinds of sources. Our do-it-all solution was the trusty PlayStation 3.

The Screeneo also has built-in 5GHz Wi-Fi for DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) playback - such as dipping into an external, networked drive via Plex - in addition to two USB ports and an SD slot for streaming files. That's the idea anyway.

But we hit a snag with our first review unit. Even over a fast router connection the picture from a networked drive was really stuttery. We could bypass this issue as we were were using our PlayStation 3 console to do all the hard work - and via HDMI into the Philips playback was absolutely perfect; smooth for DVD, Blu-ray, gaming and files via the PS3's USB port.

Perhaps we were asking the buffer to handle too much, we thought. We explored different file sizes, formats and resolutions but all had the same issue. The penny dropped: the software wasn't up to scratch.

We tried firmware updates via USB card but Screeneo didn't like it. Philips sent us a pre-loaded SD card but, again, no luck. So we had the unit swapped out for a second review sample. But not all our troubles were solved: the quality was there but every 15 seconds or so playback via DLNA stuttered for a millisecond - like streaming a movie before high speed internet existed. Using the same process and connection our Samsung Smart TV didn't suffer such playback issues when viewing the same content.

There is also a built-in TV tuner which means instant channels after plugging in an aerial cable. The only issue here is those channels come through in standard definition only and compression is a problem, just as SD channels on telly can be. And when viewing at a huge scale that really makes things look granular - trying to watch the football was like watching a moving Van Gogh painting.

Bluetooth is also on board to allow streaming of music from a smartphone or tablet. This is something that might sound gimmicky, but as the Screeneo has a 26-watt, subwoofer-backed Dolby Digital 2.1 sound system built in it sounds great. Playback is limited to MP3 and WAV files in this mode at the moment, but if you mirror your device over Wi-Fi you can use streaming services like Spotify no problems.

Project the third dimension

The third dimension is a love/hate thing depending on who you ask. The Screeneo can cater for 3D and it's easily when sourced from, say, a 3D Blu-ray. The active shutter glasses pair automatically and the refresh rate is good so it's easy to forget you're watching 3D (unless you're one of those that can't stand it).

But when it comes to the 2D-to-3D processing function we wouldn't recommend it for anyone with a weak stomach. With a Netflix feed we attempted to use this mode watching the 2D version of Captain America, but in 3D. After a few minutes, where sometimes it's possible to get used to the feed, we gave up. The depth was a blur and the shifting between scenes, which were dark through the glasses, left us feeling dizzy.

Big screen button bashing

Watching films on a 100-inch display is a really immersive experience. But when it comes to gaming this scale takes it to another level. You feel like you're actually in the game - that's the best way to describe it. We were swinging about Gotham City as Batman in Arkham Origins and really forgot about the wider world. And isn't that what big displays are all about?

The dark landscapes and fast refresh rates of a game like this tested the projector and left it chugging along quite capably. We say chugging, it's actually far quieter than the PlayStation 3 that was handling the game.

Gaming is also a great reason to have the portability of this projector. Popping round to a mate's for a massive multiplayer session is easy, presuming they have a clear wall available.

Verdict

For an affordable way to get a 100-inch display in your living room the Philips Screeneo LED projector is a great option. But for all its great points as a projector some of those positive moments are marred by various issues. 

Although we didn't find the Screeneo's 1280 x 800 resolution a problem as we assumed we would, in a world where 4K resolution is becoming more commonplace the Philips is undeniably behind even the current 1080p standard. It's not all about pixel density, though, as we think the resulting image looks great.

However, using the Screeneo's internal processing to source material via DLNA caused playback issues; this wasn't a problem over the same network to our Smart TV. However, as we used a PlayStation 3 for sourcing content this was an issue easily bypassed to the point that, for our needs, it wasn't an issue at all. But if you don't want to be trailing wires about the place or putting content on USB/SD then the Philips isn't going to be the best solution for you.

So is the Screeneo a viable TV replacement given the longevity of its LEDs? It could be because as a projector it's great. Just that in its current guise it's not quite there. At the given £1500 asking price you could easily bag a 60-inch 1080p TV as a happy alternative instead.

If you've got the cash to splash and you're not relying on its DLNA  abilities, then the Philips Screeneo is a lot of fun for those movie nights and monster gaming sessions. We've been using it a whole lot.