I went to the local dealer today to view the two projectors. Why did the VT440 have a clearer picture, better color saturation and better off axis viewing???. It is posted everywhere that XGA is better. The dealer was even surprised, was the VT540 broke??
Since you didn't give us any specifics about the theater setup and how the projectors were auditioned, there are many possibilities:
The lamp in the VT540 was near the end of its service life*.
The VT440 lamp mode was "Hi-Bright" while the VT540 was running in "Eco" mode.
Brightness and contrast levels were not identically set (remember, there are two places in the VT440/VT540 menu where you can adjust these settings; a pair of coarse adjustments under the "Picture" menu and a screen where you can adjust R, G and B contrast/brightness individually buried somewhere in one of the "Advanced" sub-menus.
The VT440 was being viewed through the RGB port while the VT540 was being fed S-video or (shudder) composite video.
The signal source wasn't identical (e.g., the VT440 was being fed by a properly-tuned HTPC while the VT540 was connected to an interlaced consumer DVD player).
You watched HDTV on the VT440 and a DVD (or even NTSC!) on the VT540.
The HTPC connected to the VT440 used an inferior software DVD player to that used on the VT540's HTPC.
The DVD's used to audition the projectors weren't the same (e.g., Dark City was shown on the VT540 while the superbit version of The Fifth Element was shown on the VT440).
The gain/reflectivity of the screen used for the VT440 was different than that used for the VT540.
The room lighting conditions were not identical between the two projectors.
An inferior VGA cable was used on the VT540 vs. the VT440.
All things being equal, the VT540 is clearly the superior projector in terms of resolution (the VT540 has 1.63x the number of pixels in the VT440). But as you can see from this listing (which is by no means exhaustive of all possiblities), there are many variables that need to be considered and minimized in order to conduct a fair comparison.
* - I am not so sure about this one, now that I think about it... unless I am mistaken I think the VT540 and VT440 use a type of lamp that maintains uniform brightness and color throughout its service life... but I'm not sure.
Scott told you absolute truth in everything above but omitted one factor. The VT440 and VT540 both utilize the same 160w SHP lamp but the SVGA VT440 has a higher "fill factor" than the XGA VT540. "Fill factor" is the ratio of active (transparent) panel area over inactive (opague) panel area. In other words, the lines between pixels are the same width, and therefore the VT540 has more total line area versus pixel area and absorbs more light from the lamp. This is why the VT540 is rated at 1000 lumens brightness and the VT440 is rated at 1100 lumens. In fact, you can only see the difference side-by-side under the exact same ambient lighting while using the exact same source - whereupon the VT440 is slightly brighter, but the pixels are also bigger. The advantage to the VT540 is you can sit closer, getting more of the "big screen" emotional impact, without noticing the pixel structure. Another VT540 plus is it will scale all the HDTV modes - you need XGA or better for decent HDTV, which could matter to you at some point.
I am sorry I did not give enough of information, both projectors were side by side, same settings, same DVD,same screen same everything as far as I know???. This just kind of shocked me in the difference of the projectors, street price is $500.00 more for the VT540. This player will be for DVD playback only 15 feet away on 100 inch screen.
It sounds like either would work for you under those conditions. However, take the time to view them again. I sit 9-12 feet from my 90" screen and at 9 feet I can barely perceive the screendoor (those lines I mentioned before) on a VT540. You would have to be on the hairy edge at 15 feet using a VT440.
I would suggest you follow this link and read a specific comparison of SVGA vs. XGA projectors:
Your 100" diagonal screen has a width of 6.67 feet. The theory says you won't be able to tell the difference between SVGA and XGA at 2.5 screen widths - but your 15 foot viewing distance is 2.25 screen widths. I guess if you are really price sensitive, the SVGA model is OK, but long term I would advise picking the VT540. Whether or not you will notice the difference really depends on the source - only a HTPC would be a good enough quality image to distinguish DVD playback further back - and if you are going to use a standalone DVD player, the image will be so blurry, it won't matter.
One thing to keep in mind, though: Projectors like these always work best when they run at their native resolution (XGA for the VT540; SVGA for the VT440). If you think you might do web surfing or other Windows activities on your projector, keep in mind that the VT540 can show a larger Windows desktop at its native 1024 x 768 resolution than the VT440 can at 800 x 600. Also keep in mind that while neither projector can fully resolve a full-blown HDTV image (HDTV formats are 1920 x 1080 for 1080i and 1280 x 720 for 720p), at least the VT540 comes closer than the VT440.
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