Pico Projectors - Picture Quality
7/25/2009 - Art Feierman
Pico Projectors - Color Performance
Since the vast majority of these early pico projectors will most likely be purchased by consumers - early adaptors - hobbiest, gadget types, and not for specific business applications, then the issue of picture quality may not be that critical to buyers.
For those of you who think that one of these pico projectors is a real, minature home theater projector, with similar, but much dimmer performance, think again.
In reality, based on extensive viewing of the three pico projectors we've reviewed, color accuracy is not impressive. All three projectors seem to be heavy on blue, they also tend to have high gammas which yield dark mid-range colors, and tend to make skin tones too dark looking.
The phrase I like to use with these pico projectors is that their image quality isn't up to "critical viewing".
Sure, you can look at your favorite video clips, movies, or photos and have "decent" color, but definitely not great.
Below are three images from the three different projectors we've reviewed. As you can see, overall, they look pretty similar (sorry, I don't happent to have one image that was shot with all three).
None of the images above look great, although I have to give the 3M credit for the best color of the three.
I better comment on the last image, Gandalf, from the V10 Plus. This image is both oversaturated and dark. The picture was taken, however while directly feeding the standard DVD signal to the projector through the composite video port.
Unfortunately, the V10 Plus, which does have image controls, does not make them available when viewing composite video. To see if the image improved, I stored some video sequences on the V10 Plus'es intermal memory. Then, I increased brightness, and dropped the color saturation down a lot (and contrast slightly). The final image was much improved, and ended up far more similar to the 3M's image, than the V10 Plus'es image shown above. After adjustment, I'd put those two projectors roughly on an equal basis in terms of picture quality, but the 3M is better when both are fed a composite video signal and project it directly.
Pico Projector - Presentations?
I'm just not thrilled with the idea of doing important presentations with pico projectors. Even the best for the purpose, the 3M, which will directly handle a standard analog VGA signal, leaves much to be desired.
The number one limitation, without any doubt is brightness. In a dark room, to even approximate using the term "moderately bright", in describing the projected image, you'll have to keep the image size in the 10 to roughly 20 inch diagonal range. Sure you can put 40 or even almost 50 inches diagonal on a screen or white wall, but we are definitely talking "Dim" and I mean with a capital D that rhymes with "Dull" "unDynamic" and "Dissappointing".
So it really comes down to the question of are these Pico projectors really viable for important (or unimportant) presentations?
I would say, generally, no they aren't, but there may be some moderately compelling reasons to use them anyway.
The Aiptek V10 Plus, will allow presentations from composite video, memory card or downloaded into internal memory, and you won't need to take your computer along for the ride. That makes sense, in terms of the ultimate portability.
The 3M MPro110 on the other hand would need the computer, but has a VGA port. No need to convert everything to jpegs and video clips, so it's a "real" projector in the sense of capability, even if lower resolution than any regular small portable projector.
The Optoma can handle doing presentations from composite video, and it comes with software to convert files like powerpoint to jpeg images, much as the Aiptek can, but it lacks a full blown media player, so you still need a device (with a composite video output) to feed the final presentation to the projector. The Optoma's unique strength is that it is the brightest of those texted. Being roughly 30% brighter, it can produce a visibly, but not drastically brighter presentation (at any give sized image), than the other two.
Bottom line: Yes you can use these projectors to do one on one (or one on two) presentations, in a darkened room. If your portability requirements demand the absolute minimum, these will work for you. Still, I would recommend to almost everyone - buy a bigger projector. With a number of new mini projectors hitting the market (most without a battery powered option), you can get about 10 times the brightness and more capability for under 2 pounds. In the 2 to 3.5 pound range there are a host of small projectors (OK, they are 50 times the size of the picos), that are more than 100 times brighter, and superior in essentially everyway except portability.
Now I may well be making this sound worse that it is, because I was able to get some decent images up on a screen, in the 20 inch size range, consider these two - a Powerpoint slide, and a spreadsheet (both taken with the 3M, using the VGA port, as an example of "well, it really can do a decent job":
Your call, but if you want to present - don't set you expectations too high.
Black Levels & Shadow Detail
While I have said repeatedly, don't even think of these projectors as real home theater projectors, because of their overall picture quality, it turns out they are actually fairly respectable when it comes to black level performance. This is likely due to all the pico projectors we've seen, using either a DLP or an LCoS chip. Both technologies have particularly good native contrast, and therefore allow for very decent black levels. To put that in perspective, the little Optoma (DLP), has better black level performance than most larger LCD projectors. From a spec standpoint, the Optoma and Aiptek both claim 1000:1 contrast (a step up from the usual 400:1 to 600:1 found on most LCD business projectors). The 3M doesn't publish a contrast spec, but should be in line with the other two.
Shadow detail is a different story. All three projectors are losing a significant amount of shadow detail compared to any home theater projector. As a group, the projectors all look to contrasty. The one that loses the most, is the Aiptek, which as you can see in the Gandalf image above, loses almost all detail in dark areas (note the dark object in the lower left - top of his staff?). The difference between the detail on the 3M and the Aiptek is dramatic, with the Aiptek losing. Again, however, if that clip is downloaded into the memory/media player of the Aiptek, you can reduce contrast, increase brightness, and drop color saturation, and then the final image is far closer to the 3M image than the original unaltered Aiptek image.
Bottom line: Respectable black level performance, but all three lose at least a fair amount of dark shadow detail.
Keep in mind these projectors are dim enough to begin with. You aren't likely to notice dark shadow detail anyway, during normal viewing, as those areas are inherently very dark, on a not bright projector. You'll be more concerned with the bright areas looking fairly bright.
Pico Projectors: Overall Color & Picture Quality
The Aiptek V10 Plus behaves like the other two pico projectors I've reviewed. If you plan to be critical of image quality, then like the other pico projectors, the V10 Plus is not for you. For casual viewing, (fun stuff), however, the V10 Plus projector should probably be described as having decent picture quality. Just don't set your sights too high!
All considered, color performance and picture quality leave much to be desired. Yet, for not critical viewing - (aka having fun with your pico projector), these projectors really aren't as bad as I tend to make it sound. I've shown them to a lot of folks, and everyone thinks their cool. They realize that the picture quality isn't that great, but they still like playing with them.
Whether you have a serious application, really need the smallest possible projector, or just want a new toy, pico projectors may work for you. It's your call. Keep in mind, however, these are essentially first generation products, and their overall picture quality reflects that. Future pico projectors are likely to have better color, and more image controls, but of course by that time, some of the novelty may have worn off.