Pico Projectors - A Summary
A bottom line summary of the pros, cons and assorted capabilities of pico projectors.
7/25/2009 - Art Feierman
Pico Projectors - The Bottom Line
Without a doubt, the number one strength of pico projectors in general, are their tiny size, light weight, and battery operation.
Perhaps the number two strength of this first generation of pico projectors is the "cool" factor. They are fun devices that will appeal to those who must have the latest toy or electronic gadget.
While we have identified a large number of features found on various pico projectors,it may be best to state that most of these projectors are, beyond the basics, more different, than the same, when it comes to features. This is likely to change with the next generations, as more features become standard to all, or at least most of them.
Of the less frequently found features, so far, the most significant are built in media players, VGA inputs, USB inputs, and card slots. I better add control panel and menus to that list, as so far, more lack those features than have them. While most have one speaker, there are at least 3 I am aware of with no built in speaker.
Shown to the right, the Aiptek V10 Plus, sitting on the included mini-tripod.
These first generation pico projectors are definitely not bright - all are less than 12 lumens in testing, although a couple we haven't gotten in yet, claim 15 lumens. (To keep perspective, the two we've tested that claim 10 lumens, measured 8.3 and 8.8 lumens. The lack of brightness is the primary weakness of these projectors.
Color accuracy and picture quality is probably the next biggest limitation. If you really want accurate color (or something closely resembling it), these projectors are not there yet. Yes, they are fine for casual viewing of photos, videos, or even movies, but, don't for a second, confuse them with the color handling of a traditional home theater projector, or for that matter, all but the worst of the business projectors.
On the plus side, they are the ultimate in portability. Several can do business presentations, either via VGA port, or an ability to convert (with software), various content like Powerpoint presentations or pdf files, into jpeg image files that can be shown.
I do like the pico projectors - I'm taking one on vacation in a week - Just for fun. I've decided on the Aiptek V10 Plus, because, I plan to download one, or maybe two movies onto it, and my daughter can view the photos and videos she takes in Manhattan, as we visit various neighborhoods. No doubt I'll blog later, on how it turned out. I had considered the 3M, because it will work fine with my MacBook Pro, but, since it lacks speakers, and a media player, it really isn't what is called for on our vacation.
Now that I've tried to give all you readers a decent perspective on pico projectors - their strengths and limitations, I suggest you consider this:
These projectors will get better, and brighter, and no doubt, less expensive over the next year or so. If you don't have a burning urge, or real need, I'd suggest you consider whether to wait 6 months to a year before plunking down the cash!
A last thought, discussed in more depth, on the Alternatives page. Long term, the real future of pico projectors - at least as I see it, will be those integrated into other portable devices. Oh, sure, lots of these stand alone pico projectors will be sold, but I do believe that the big numbers will be in terms of pico projector engines placed inside other devices.
Pico Projectors: Pros
- They are tiny - ultimate in portability, weighing a half pound or less, and smaller than a pack of cigarettes
- Most have more than one type of input. The standard is composite video, but some offer VGA, USB, memory card capability, etc.
- Some offer a built in media player so you can leave your source device behind. You can take movies and other video files with you. For example, hoook up to a DVD player, select internal or SD memory card, and press the OK button, and the media player will record the movie or video file. When the movie finishes, hit OK again, to stop the recording. You can disconnect the source, and now run the movie, etc., from the projector's media player
- Included or third party optional software allows many projectors to convert files for business or personal presentations and slideshows
- Most typically, battery life is good for up to one hour of use between charges - at least one soon to be released model is claiming 2 hours
- Relatively quick recharge (4 hours or less)
- Most have audio - one or two speakers
- Some have audio out, to power external speakers or headphones/earbuds
- Most have a built in tripod screw thread, or an optional one
- One year warranty, so far is most common (some 90 day warranties)
- Most offer at least VGA resolution - 640x480, with widescreen models also hitting the market (854x480), the same resolution as standard DVDs
- Long life LED light source in most, typically claiming 20,000 hour life, however some models will be sporting laser light sources (similar life?)
The image above was taken by my daughter - with her Casio point and shoot digital camera. It was then photographed off of the screen, after loading into internal memory, and then adjusting the brightness up to +2.
- They just aren't that bright - and work best with image sizes 20 inches diagonal or smaller
- Some (most?) projectors cannot charge the battery while running on AC power (turn off the projector to have it charge)
- Color and picture quality needs improvement - Most pico projectors, so far, lack any image controls. Those that do, seem to be very limited in terms of improving color and picture
- Some lack any speaker (which means you need an alternate solution for audio, such as powered speakers, and your source device would need to be able to output audio separate from video
- Most pico projectors have one hour battery life or less, so you'll need a spare battery, for example, if you wanted to watch a movie
- Some have short warranties (90 days or less)
- None on the market so far, offer a wide range of inputs - in a perfect world one might have: VGA, composite, component video, (maybe HDMI), and USB (from digital cameras and camcorders for example) and card slots. So far, none have more than two inputs
- So far only a couple have media player capabilities.
Pico Projectors: Typical Capabilities
- Fixed lens - no zoom
- Most have fairly long throw distances - 19 inches away for a 10 inch image
- 8 - 12 lumens output
- Run on rechargeable batteries
- Poor documentation (It's almost scary, how thin the manuals are - and I mean in info, as well as thin in number of pages
- Picture quality that is not great - inaccurate colors, too much contrast, on most units so far
- Lack of color management controls on most projectors - of the ones that have some, while somewhat effective do not improve color and picture to the point of being "good" by the standards for larger projectors
BACK TO THE BEGINNING: Pico Projectors - A Guide