Pico Projectors - What are the Alternatives
10/20/2010 - Art Feierman
Alternatives for Presentations
While there is no question that a pico projector with a built in media player is the smallest and lightest way to do presentations, you'll have to decide if the brightness, image quality and resolution are good enough for your needs. Certainly a projector weighing less than a half pound, battery operated, that easily fits into a pocket, and doesn't even require you bring along a source, is the smallest and lightest possible solution.
That said, here are three alternatives:
1. Present off of your laptop. With most laptop screens now having LCD screens n the 12 to 17 inch diagonal range, they work fine for one on one presentations. And if you are presenting on, say a 17 inch display laptop, it will be brighter than the same image size from one of these projectors, and it will have far better picture quality, not to mention drastically higher resolution.
2. Mini Projectors - Now you are moving up one size, to projectors that are roughly 10 times the bulk of the pico projectors but still very small. These mini projectors are far, far brighter, with the newest generation of these projectors being about 10 times brighter than the pico projectors. Consider models like the BenQ GP1, which weighs in at 1.4 pounds, and produces over 100 lumens. The GP1 is the only recent model in this class that we have reviewed so far, and it just blows away the brightness of the pico projectors. In the case of the GP1, color performance still leaves much room for improvement, but it is at least as good in this regard, as any of the pico projectors. Other mini projectors may well have much better color, we shall look into that as we review a few more over the next months. Like with pico projectors, some mini projectors will have sound (most) but a couple may not.
With the typical mini projector being over 2 inches tall, there's a good chance they won't fit into your laptop case, but most will come with their own small, soft carry case. Also keep in mind that these newer, brighter minis are not likely to have internal batteries (and may not have any external battery option either), so you'll have a decent sized power brick to carry along as well (think of a power brick about the size of the ones that come with laptop computers).
Mini projectors have similar or higher resolution than pico projectors. The mini projectors start as low as VGA (640x480), but there are widescreen versions (854x480), and SVGA resolution projectors as well (800x600). By the time you read this, there will probably be a couple of XGA resolution versions announced if not shipping.
3. Micro portable projectors (yes these are larger than the mini-projectors - so much for logical naming). The smallest of the traditional projectors (at the moment, that means traditional lamps (not LED), weight from two to four pounds). The thinnest are less than two inches tall. Consider the recently reviewed Casio XJ-S57 (click to read the review) and its siblings - the thinnest (in height) conventional projectors on the market. The Casio is only 1.7 inches tall (fit in your laptop case?), and weighs in at a fraction below four pounds.
The thing is, this is a "real" performance projector, like many others available. It has 3000 lumens (yes roughly 300 times brighter than most pico projectors), better sound, much better color, longer warranty, and a motorized 2:1 zoom lens, compared to no zoom at all. The Casio, like most other projectors, is loaded with controls and adjustments, and lots of features. On the other hand, the S57 is $1299, roughly 4 times the price. (There are other Casio's in their lineup that sell from about $800.)
I only picked Casio as an example because of its minimal thickness, and that I recently reviewed it. There are plenty of others, dozens, to choose from, under four pounds. If you want even lighter, consider the 2.4 pound InFocus IN10, with 1800 lumens! Business LCD projectors typically have even better color than their DLP counterparts but tend to be larger and heavier, still there are under four pound 3LCD projectors as well. One such example would be the Epson EX100, with 2700 lumens at 3.5 pounds, but it is a size larger than the DLP competition. In other words, bulky, but not overly heavy.
Below - first image - pie chart projected from a pico projector. Note the same pie chart on the laptop that is feeding the pico projector. In the image below that one, the pie chart is from the BenQ GP1 mini projector. Reds and yellows are much brighter, and more accurate, as they should be. You can tell that the BenQ pie chart is closer in looks to the laptop's display in the first image, than the pico projector comes to good bright reds and yellows:
Personal Use - Photos, Video, Movies, More
We could start by relisting the choices above: Ultimately, your laptop can do pretty much everything any pico projector can (except be that small or light). Obviously most computers can handle all sorts of files, videos, images, etc.
The mini projectors - depending on features, are very similar to the pico projectors with a few exceptions. Obviously they are larger, and heavier, and of course far, far brighter. Most, however, also need to be plugged in, or at least, if you want to be able to run them on batteries, they may have a separate battery pack (one more thing to carry, additional weight).
For the extra bulk, weight and price, you will find a number of these projectors to choose from. The thing is, like with the pico projectors, there's a fair amount of variation in terms of features, and that includes at least one mini projector, without sound.
If the novelty of the pico projector's size and weight isn't critical, and you don't mind plugging in, the mini projectors are likely a much better choice, based on performance, and they don't cost much more.
And of course, you could go with one of the smaller, far more powerful, traditional projectors which weigh in between 2 and 4 pounds. Almost any of those will provide better everything, although only a few have media player type capabilities.
Other alternatives include portable DVD players - the type with 5 to 10 inch screens, which can, of course show movies, and many can display photos and other files, much as can the pico projectors, if they have some sort of media player for the purpose.
Some portable game machines may also be able to handle some image inputs. And also, of course the larger, fancier cell phones - think iPhone, Pre, etc.
Pico Projector Engines - Integrated into Portable Devices
Now here is where I see the real future of pico projectors. The applications are numerous, and the solutions make sense. Of course, brighter projections and better color will still be areas where improvement is needed, but consider the devices that could have a built in projector:
- Cell phones
- Music/video players
- Commerical portable gear (now that covers thousands of assorted devices, from test equipment to heads up displays)
- Camcorders - (how cool, take some videos and then watch them on the wall, instead of on the little 3 inch screen)
- Portable game machines
- Laptops, netbooks and tablet PCs
- Things not yet invented
There are already cell phones (none sold in the US) with built in pico projectors, including brands like S. Korea's Samsung and Japan's NTT Docomo. I'm trying to get one in to look at. And wouldn't it be fun to be able to project your game on a Sony PSP, Nintendo DS type machine onto a wall so others can watch your play? Even the classic portable DVD player, could opt for a smaller screen and have an integrated projector to do a 10 or 20 inch image.
Humor me, as I take a possible look 2-4 years into the future. I don't know if all this technology is viable, but wouldn't be nice:
Consider, pico projectors can be powered by an LED or laser light source. Now imagine an iPhone type device (or an iPhone - which is probably the projector engine manufacturers dream deal), equipped with a laser based pico projector. Now let's split the laser for multiple simultaneous functions:
One beam can be used to project the image onto a screen or wall, a second beam could be used to project a full sized keyboard, and a third beam to scan that "keyboard" area for "interference" caused by fingers passing through the virtual keyboard. All of a sudden, the iPhone - already as powerful as many laptops, now has a full sized keyboard, and an 8 to 30 inch projected image (with decent brightness).
Which means - who needs a traditional laptop anymore?
It's no wonder some of the industry forecasters are projecting total pico sales (pico projectors and pico projector engines that will go inside other devices) of 15 million units or more in 2012, just three years off.