Pico Projectors - More Features Found on Some Projectors, Plus, A Typical Pico Projector Tour
9/21/2010 - Art Feierman
Shown above: 3M's MPro150 projector
Features found on Some Pico Projectors
Pico Projector Input Options
As noted earlier, all the pico projectors we've looked at so far offer a composite video input, but other inputs are found on some models.
VGA or HDMI input:
This year, all the projectors but the least expensive - the AAXA P1 Jr., have either a VGA or an HDMI, (or both). If you want to do a computer presentation on the "Jr." use the card slot with .jpg and other image types, and use their media player's presentation abilities. The rest can have a computer hooked up, and present directly from it.
Card slot input:
This year card slots seem to be more the standard, rather than the exception.
Keep in mind that having a card slot in its own right, does not necessarily determine what you can do. Last year's V10 Plus, for example has a built in media player so that it can show images and videos on a card (or loaded onto its internal memory). This year, as noted, even the low cost P1 Jr, from AAXA has a card slot, and a media player (a pretty capable one too.)
A media player makes sense.
The combination of a card slot (or lots of memory) and a media player solution is that you can use the projector without having to lug the source with you (DVD player, computer, camcorder, etc). Certainly the ability to leave a laptop behind is tempting for presentations.
USB is found on most of the projectors we used this time, but, like HDMI below, isn't exactly a standard feature you can count on. Figure out what devices you will use with your projector, and what they have for outputs.
Last year I wrote: "An HDMI input is probably too much to hope for anytime soon, but why not. More and more home devices, notably DVD players, and higher end game machines now sport an HDMI output". This year I'm pleased to report that half of the projectors do indeed offer an HDMI input!
I'm not aware of any pico projectors that have one, and most likely that will continue. Although there are some advantages to S-video over composite video, I would suspect that USB, and even HDMI would be higher priority than S-video.
Pico Projectors - Audio Capabilities:
This year, all the picos and pocket projectors we looked up have at least one speaker, and at least one audio input. Most take a stereo signal, but convert for the internal single speaker.
Built in Speaker(s)
Other than the larger LG, we're very limited here, to mostly 0.5 watt speaker (or speakers). That's no better than the average laptop, at best. We are not talking hi-fidelity here, no real bass out of any. But, most have an audio out, at least in the form of a headphone jack, that you can use to route audio to external powered speakers, a sound system, etc.
Audio Out - Including support for headphones / ear buds
One would think that any pico projector with a built in speaker or two would also have an audio out capability, at least one capable of plugging in headphones. Afterall, the projector is ultra portable. I can definitely see someone wanting to shine their projector on the seatback in front of them on their next airplane flight. If they want to watch a movie, or video clips, it sure would be handy to plug in a headset, instead of not being able to play the sound as it would bother the folks in nearby seats. And, that's just one example.
Of the projectors in this report........ all have audio out, in the form of a stereo headphone or audio jack, except the AAXA P1 Jr., which, like the others, has a speaker, but no way to output. Well, they had to save a few features for their more expensive picos.
Pico Projector Resolution
This year, we cover the range from VGA to WVGA,
Microvision Show WX pico projector - A showcase
This soon to be released, is unique in many ways, here's a brief description of this interesting pico projector:
- Laser light source instead of LED
- No need to focus
- 10 lumens claimed
- Widescreen - 854x480 - same resolution as a standard DVD
- One of the thinnest
- 4.3 ounces
- Claimed battery life of one full movie (2 hours) compared to the one hour on most others
- Comes in decorator colors (think iPod), red shown here
- Both VGA and composite video port
- Claims largest color "gamut" for richer, more stand out color
- No speaker, but can route sound out, through its audio out, to powered speakers or earbuds...
- Unlike other pico projectors the image is tilted upward (lens offset) so that the bottom of the image is not projected below the height of the projector
- More expensive, could sell for up to $500 (Price not yet determined)
Pico Projector and Pocket Projector Brightness
Just as many would say that black level performance is the holy grail of home theater projectors, one could say that more lumens - brightness, is the most important challenge for these pico projectors.
Let's step back about three years to the early days of mini-projectors. Mitsubishi's one pound plus, PK20 hit the market, and, other than a few specialty niches that projector and competing models from other companies, have gone nowhere.
The number one reason, in my opinion was lack of brightness. Yet most of those mini-projectors managed to put out between 25 and 40 lumens, compared to today's pico projectors, which are now mostly in the range of 8 - 20 lumens. In fairness to those mini-projectors, they may have been a lot smaller than the smallest traditional business projectors (mostly DLP projectors), there have been business portables starting at under 2 pounds, with more than 1000 lumens. Not much of a contest. These days, however,
The pico projectors, by comparison, are drastically smaller than the mini-projectors, and fit into a whole new world of portability. Still, 8 to 12 lumens isn't much to get all worked up about.
I think the longer term goal has to be to get these projectors up to say, 40 - 60 lumens. What a difference that would make. What it will take to get that many lumens out of projectors of this size, I can't say. History shows, however, that whatever size projector you look at, a few years later, there are smaller ones that are significantly brighter: Note, this is a fairly random sampling, not necessarily the absolute most lumens per pound projector available at that time, but chosen from the lightest business projectors around at that point:
Brightness Performance of Portable Projectors, A History - per pound: Last 17 Years.
1994: 19 pounds - 110 lumens - 5.8 lumens per pound
1996: 17 pounds - 330 lumens - 19 lumens per pound
2000: 5.8 pounds - 1000 lumens - 172 lumens per pound
2002: 3.0 pounds - 1100 lumens - 333 lumens per pound
2004: 2.0 pounds - 1100 lumens - 550 lumens per pound
2007: 3.5 pounds - 2200 lumens - 628 lumens per pound
2009: 3.2 pounds - 3000 lumens - 937 lumens per pound
2010: 3.1 pounds - 3000 lumens - 968 lumens per pound
Actually, finding more lumens among the lighter weight projectors has gotten tougher. A few years ago, there were a handful of under 2.5 pound conventional projectors. I'm not sure any remain on the market. Manufacturers learned that an extra half to one pound was not an important issue for most shoppers of the lightest projectors, that price, and features were often more important, so there are fewer of the lightest. Now, however, pocket projectors may step into that category, as they achieve fairly respectable brightness from a presentation standpoint.
Brightness Performance: Older Pocket Projectors:
2006: Mitsubishi PK20 - 1.1 pounds - 25 lumens - 23 lumens per pound
2009: BenQ GP1 - 1.4 pounds - 100 lumens - 60 lumens per pound
2010: LG HX300G - 1.7 pounds - 270 lumens - 158 lumens per pound
As you can see, the projector industry started off pretty dim, at least per pound. It continues to deliver more lumens per pound, and per size, but, these relatively new classes of lightweight portable projectors with solid state light soures, while still far dimmer per pound, are improving dramatically, from year to year. For 2010, we've reviewed a 50 lumen model that's definitely a pico sized projector, and it weighs in at 0.5 pounds. I would be impressed if we see a 100 lumen pico (around a half pound) by the end of 2011. see perhaps a 1/2 pound projector with more than 100 lumens... Meantime, the improvement in one year is significant for the pico class of projectors. Note: in fairness, the one pico capable of 50 lumens this year, only can do it on AC, or using the optional external battery. 20 lumens is its max on its standard battery.
Keeping this all in mind, it really is conceivable that we will see under .5 pound (227 grams) pico projectors and perhaps 100 lumens and more in the next year or so.
Going hand in hand with the lumens, however, is power consumption, and power source issues...
Range of this Year's Pico Projectors: Brightness:
Battery Powered - Brightest: Optoma PK301, measured 22 lumens(approximate tie with PK201). It also measured 53 lumens using external battery pack
Battery Powered - Least Bright: 3M MP150, measured 9 lumens
AC Powered - Brightest: Optoma PK301, 53 lumens
The LG HX300G, is an expensive, much larger Pocket projector - it measured 233 lumens at its brightest.
Battery Power as Related to Brightness
Pico Projectors - Brightness 2009 vs. 2010:
2009: Optoma Pico PK101: 0.3 pounds - 11 lumens - 37 lumens per pound (the best of the 2009 picos in terms of brightness per pound - typical brightness, but definitely the lightest of the picos)
Optoma Pico PK301: 0.5 pounds - AC powered: (53 lumens) 106 lumens per pound
PK301 - Battery powered: 21.8 lumens = 43.6 lumens per pound
PK301 - with external XP8000 battery: 53 lumens (1 lb. total weight) = 53 lumen/lb.
PK201 - 0.3 pounds, AC or Battery: 21 lumens = 70 lumens per pound
LG HX300G - AC only: 1.7 pounds, 223 lumens = 132 lumens per pound
AAXA P1 Jr. 0.27 pounds,
AAXA L1 0.37 pounds, 11 lumens = 30 lumens per pound
Brightness Performance 2010 (best, worse - lumens/lb.):
Brightest - Optoma PK 201: (12 lumens) 70 lumens per pound
Least Bright: AAXA L1: (12 lumens): 30 lumens per pound.
AC Power: LG HX300G: (223 lumens) 132 lumens per pound
The important point here, is that while we can now cite pocket projectors that claim 100 or even 200+ lumens, those models generally do not offer battery operation, or if they do, it's going to be a hefty external battery pack. To get out 100+ lumens you need some sizeable batteries, and those batteries alone, are physically much larger than today's pico projectors. I'd go as far as to say that the AC power supply for the LG, is probably 5-8 times the physical bulk of the smallest picos like the PK201. Going forward, we will need much smaller batteries than today with the same amount of juice, or we need to make the pico projectors far more efficient. Most likely we'll need both.
While all of the picos can actually do a reasonable job on a sub-40 inch diagonal screen, in a dark room, there's a long way to go, for example, before the typical pico can do a competent presentation in front of a half dozen folk. That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of applications you can use one for, from gaming, to watching youtube and other movie type content, and viewing photos and documents.
I do, however believe that for this class of projectors, battery power is almost mandatory for success. Perhaps adding an inch to length and 1/2 inch to height would allow a big enough battery to get us to that 40 - 50 lumen range that I think most people would be fairly comfortable with for this class of product.
Last year in our report, I "asked for" a .5 to .75 pound projector that could run on batteries, with good functionality that could rival the (still current model) BenQ GP1 pocket projector's brightness (click on link for the review). For this year we didn't get there, but, the PK301 comes closest... It CAN run on batteries, but will do about 50 lumens on AC power. As I said, maybe next year we'll see that 100 lumens on batteries?
Pico and Pocket Projectors - Control Panels and Menus
Last year only one of the three pico projectors even had a control panel on the projector. My how things have changed. Of the five pico projectors this time around, 3 have what I'll call full control panels. Those would be the Optoma PK301, the AAXA L1, 3M MP150. And, yes, the LG - a pocket projector does have a control panel, but then, those sized projectors pretty much always did have control panels, so no change there.
All of the pico projectors now have some sort of menu system. They vary significantly in features from just a handful, such as brightness and color saturation, to many. None however comes even remotely close to offering the choices of a regular portable business projector, or a home theater projector.
Of this year's collection of Picos and Pockets, only the LG has a full sized remote control similar in size to that which comes with most business and home theater projectors.
Of the others, only the............................................. has a menu system.
Once again, only one out of the three we have reviewed so far has a remote control. Nice touch, and it offers full control of everything that can be controlled from the control panel. Is a remote critical? No, but it's certainly a fun option for folks flipping through pictures, or even doing a presentation. As pico projectors add features, remote controls will become more common. Expect to see only "credit card" type remotes, as there's little logic in having a remote control larger than the projector!
Physical Tour of a Pico Projector
OK, let's look at one of the most feature laden pico projectors. It happens to be my personal favorite of the lot (and my favorite of all picos I have seen to date). That projector, probably no surprise to you, is the Optoma PK301.
For those of you who have not yet looked at the reviews, I've borrowed much of this tour, from Tony's review of the PK301 (including his images)
In our "beauty" photo image to the right, almost the first thing you must notice, is that the PK301 pico projector is the only one that looks physically, like a typical portable projector, and without adding some scale, that makes it tough to decide its size, from the image. As it turns out, the PK301 projector is 4.7 wide, x 2.7 deep, and only 1.2 inches tall. That, folks isn't much bigger that a deck of cards.
The lens is recessed (a very good thing in a portable), and mounted close to the right edge (looking from the front). A focus ring is found around the lens.
It is manual focus, of course.
On the top, is the control panel of the 301 is shown here
Some pico projectors have inputs on the side, others on the back. The same is true for the input jack for power.
Above, the AAXA L1 projector. In the dark of this side, you can make out the USB and card slot doors
The last image, below shows one side of the V10 Plus, you can see the partially exposed SD card slot, as well as the holes for one of the two speaker.
Between the two, is the mini-jack for inputting a composite video signal, or outputting audio to headphones or a powered speaker system.
Here's one last image. This one also from the 3M MPro150 (picture next to the page contents is the 3M MPro 150). In this case you are looking at the back of the MPro150 pico projector.
The 3M offers a multi-port labeled VGA-AV, as well as USB, audio in and power.
That's true, as long as the laptop can, in this case, limit its resolution output to no more than XGA (1024x768) which is about two steps up from the standard 640x480 resolution of this projector.