Pico Projectors - Picture Quality
10/02/2010 - Art Feierman
Pico Projectors - Color Performance
In this section you will see a number of images taken with the various pico projectors. The five pico projectors in this review range in brightness from less than 10 lumens, and up to 53 lumens Color performance varies almost as much. There are several images like the one below, showing relative brightness of the pico projectors (upper image is the projected one, compared to the laptop screen below it).
Pico Projector - Presentations?
This year again, I'm just not thrilled with the idea of doing important presentations with pico projectors. That said, at least this year, there are two that really shine. One of the LG - the pocket projector. No worries, it produced almost 250 lumens. In the good old days - 250 lumens was oft referred to as "auditorium capable" that is, a 25 foot diagonal screen.
And the LG can do it! But, in the "old days", that auditorium was pitch black... That said, the LG's lumen count can handle a nice 60" diagonal screen in front of 30 people, with modest to moderate lighting.
For the least bright pico projectors - down in the 10 lumen range, a really dark room is always a good idea, even for image sizes below 24 inches. The photos from Road Trip, taken with the P1 Jr., were almost exactly 20 inches diagonal. They were a bit less dynamic in real life, than in the photos.
This year, though we've got more than 10 lumen picos. We've got two that could do 20 lumens or more, and if you can plug it in, that Optoma 301 can crank out 50 lumens (and can also do so with its optional external battery pack). (Only 20 lumens when on internal battery.)
So it really comes down to the question of are these Pico projectors really viable for important (or unimportant) presentations? I'd still say, you are iffy with the 20 lumen and under ones, but, if you know your client, and the cool factor will be an acceptable alternative to a bright dynamic presentation, then you are fine. Otherwise, though, take a close look at that Optoma PK301!
Last year I said I really didn't think any of the pico projectors we reviewed could actually do a really respectable presentation - primarily due to lack of lumens, and overall picture quality. Boy does one year make a difference, which, again brings me back to the 50 lumen maximum Optoma Pico PK301. It may not be up with a traditional portable yet, but, what a huge improvement. You could learn to enjoy this projector's picture quality - as long as you aren't demanding home theater quality!
Several of these projectors, will allow presentations from composite video, memory card, USB, 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.
For example: The 3M MPro150 has a VGA port. No need to convert everything to jpegs and video clips, just bring your computer, and hook it up. For that reason, the MPro150 is a "real" projector in the sense of capability, even if lower resolution than any regular small portable projector.
The Optoma, last year, could only handle doing presentations from composite video or USB, and it came with software to convert files like powerpoint to jpeg images. This year, though, the Optomas are far more capable, including an HDMI input. In other words, this year, fully ready for business and higher res, compared to last year's first generation pico.
In fact, this year, every pico (and the LG pocket) projector we worked with, could take a computer signal, except the P1 Jr., which has a media player onboard so you can present from jpg and other file formats.
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.
To me, the jump to about 50 lumens, from 10 or 20, goes a long way to making these projectors viable and serious products. 50 lumens - Optoma PK301 - on AC or external battery, can actually do a respectable image, at a modest - but respectable size - such as 50 inches diagonal. That's certainly big enough for a conference room group, even 10-12 people if seated close enough for that sized screen. Certainly 50 lumens will do a fine job in front of 2 or 3, as long as the lights are off, or low, and under control.
That said, if ultimate portability isn't your thing - buy a bigger projector. With a number of new pocket projectors hitting the market (most without a battery powered option), you can purchase 100 - 300 lumens 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.
I've never done a presentation with a 50 lumen projector, but, I may well take the PK301 with me on my next visit to Epson corporate (just up the road in Long Beach), just to drive them crazy, since they are still not playing in "pico" space. I typically do present something or other to them, and a few of the other manufacturers headquartered in So. California... Will be interesting to see if Epson thinks a 50 lumen projector is serious enough that they start telling Japan they want some in their lineup (or 100 lumens or...) You never know!
Below, a very telling image - you are looking at the Optoma PK301 running on AC (53 lumens measured), at the top. You can faintly see the projector below that screen image. And, further down on the left, the smaller image is that of the same webpage on the laptop that is sending it to the PK301.
Of note: the screen size of the projected image is approximately 24 inches diagonal. At that size, with only low lights in the back of the room (enough that you can see the gold of the tripod leg), the pico projector, at this size, is about as bright as the laptop display!
Impressed? Here's the similar shot, but with the PK301 running on internal battery (exposures are different), compared to the laptop screen:
Let me put it this way. Last year, none of the picos could hit 20 lumens - they were mostly around 10 lumens +/- 2 lumens. This year, we've got several capable of about 20 lumens, and the Optoma doing 50. Even this year's pocket projector, the LG, is much brighter than the BenQ GP1 we reviewed last year, (and which wasn't any brighter than today's much smaller PK301).
The point is, at about a 2 foot diagonal size, you can project with the PK301 running on AC, and have brightness roughly comparable to a laptop screen. Translated into more useful info - that means if you can control your lighting, you can still get good performance at 40 or 50 inches diagonal, and could even push it even larger if you are willing to make the room very dark.
Both images (above and below) were taken projecting from the PK301 projector. Both images were taken using the same exposure, in fact, everything is the same, but in the lower picture, the projector is running on battery - at just over 20 lumens, while the upper one is on AC (53 measured lumens). You'll notice that the color shifts slightly going from AC to battery (more red). (The photos slightly exaggerate the shift). Interestingly, the PK301 on battery still looks a little better colorwise than the PK201 on battery or AC, as the PK201 starts out with stronger reds than the PK301.
Of course the image above would look a lot brighter, and bettter with a normal exposure, but, the purpose here is to show you the true brightness difference between the AC (or external battery) image above it, and the regular internal battery.
Above, is an image from the smaller, less expensive PK201 vs. the laptop. While this exposure is a bit brighter than most of the other images on the page, you can still determine that it's definitely not as bright as the laptop, which is sufficiently overexposed that you can't make out much of anything in the bright areas.
Black Levels & Shadow Detail
These aren't home theater projectors! Good, with that out of the way, the actual contrast of most of these would be considered respectable for a business projector. Contrast ratios mostly vary from 1000:1 to 2000:1. That said, most of these small projectors are a bit crude, compared to their bigger brothers. There's more optical distortion, light leakage out the lens, etc. The little P1 Jr. was the worst at that, yet still was watchable on the movie Road Trip.
Last year, most of the projectors were way too contrasty. This year, that seems to have been addressed.. Oh, most could be a little better, less contrasty, say on faces, but again, most of them are now a lot more than just watchable. I could definitely watch a movie with the PK301's 50+ lumens, in a fully darkened room, on say a 40" diagonal screen. By comparison, the P1 Jr., provided what was only a basic "watchable" (passable) quality - with a smaller sized projection, yet still a bit darker, when watching the movie Road Trip, weren't great, but passable considering price/performance. Do remember, that the P1 Jr. at $119 is the least of the pico projectors cost wise, and the weakest in overall performance. Yet still not bad compared to last year's $300 models!
From a practical standpoint, black levels were more in line (though not as good) as low cost conventional DLP business projectors... Again, if you are buying a pico projector thinking it is a true home theater projector - bad idea. The P1 Jr., however due to the light leakage, gives back some of that contrast.
Because of the slightly elevated contrast found in most of these projectors, you are definitely going to lose some shadow detail. Remember, of course, though, that your image isn't particularly bright to begin with, making dark shadow detail difficult to see regardless!
Pico Projectors: Overall Color & Picture Quality
First of all, as a group, this year's crop of pico projectors does far better than last year's when it comes to color. Not even close. Last year, the best color and overall picture was probably the pocket BenQ GP1. This year, most of the projectors tested can do about as well in color and overall picture, or even better, than that GP1.
Image above from the P1 Jr. (and no, that's not Seann William Scott, but it is the movie Road Trip).
Above, the 3M MPro150, which really did have impressive color - Only the PK301 was possibly better. (and the LG pocket projector.)
Projectors like the Optoma PK301, 3M MPro150, and PK201 were pretty impressive, and while I have some issues with the L1 laser pico (color, etc. and it's Mt Olympus price, compared to the others) even it, and the P1 Jr. pretty much rival any of last years entries.
The Optoma PK301 is the pico projector I took the most images with - as it it is, in my opinion, the best of the Picos in the combination of performance, value, and portability
Remember I have been photographing small screen projections in the 20 - 25 inche diagonal range. Above you see the two dimmable fluorescent lights (probably outputting about 30 watts of light each in this shot). You can also see the top of the image projected from the 3M. Note, that the actual projection screen in the picture is just over 90 inches wide.
I've noticed minor things - for example, the PK301 color is a bit better than the PK201. The PK201 seems to pick up a slight red caste, compared to the PK301, which looks more natural on skin tones, etc.
The photos actually, in a few cases, look a little better than the original projected image. Typically it seems, with the less bright ones, the image looks brighter - more dynamic on the photo, than in reality, with more pop, when I'm projecting the less bright ones at 20 - 30 inch diagonal. Some of the P1 Jr. images actually look better in the photos than on screen. Go figure!
Bottom line on image quality - year two for pico projectors has brought with it, in most cases, dramatically improved color. In addition none of this year's crop that we tested were anywhere near as over contrasty as the three pico projectors in last year's report. If these five are a representative sample, then let's say that color still isn't, (in most cases) up to say a business LCD projector, but most are more than respectable enough to look good, color wise, on important things, like photos of your family. Remember, good looking skin tones are a whole lot harder to achieve, than a decent looking pie chart!
From a color standpoint, the PK301 and the 3M are the best. (The PK301's extra lumens though, will have it looking better in a side by side comparison.)
I am so much happier with the color performance this year... In most cases, color handling is now respectable, if not downright pretty good.