Pico Projectors - A Summary
A bottom line summary of the pros, cons and assorted capabilities of pico projectors.
10/14/2010 - Art Feierman
Pico Projectors - The Bottom Line
Let's finish off first, by restating the obvious. The primary "feature" desired about pico projectors is their tiny size and weight.
This year's Pico projectors are more versatile than last years... They seem to have gotten just a touch larger, on average, but also several are much brighter than last year's entries. None of last year's pico projectors measured more than 12 lumens. Now we have picos from under 10 to over 50 lumens.
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, though that's not as true as last year's. This is likely to change with future generations, as more features become standard to all, or at least most of them.
Of the less frequently found features, HDMI is on several this year. A VGA (computer) port is found on most, and some of those that don't have it, may have USB compatible with today's USB driven outputs for displays (more USB and HDMI, less VGA out there in the world).
Shown here, four of the five picos in the review. Only missing is the L1 (laser driven) pico from AAXA. Above, from left to right: AAXA P1 Jr., 3M MPRO150, Optoma Pico PK301, and Optoma PicoPK201.
With the ability to buy a pico (budget allowing) that can do 50 lumens, the class of projectors has moved up to the point where at least some of them need to be considered serious products, not just playthings. I've asked to keep the PK301 for an extended period, and they are sending me their external battery pack. I can't wait to see of the PK301 looks just as good, and just as bright, with the battery, as it currently does plugged in to AC.
Color accuracy and picture quality is no longer the mess it was last year. Those of you who read last year's report - know that none of the picos were considered to have truly good color. This time around, though we have several picos that do look pretty good with your photos and videos, including a decent job on skin tones. Let me say one last time, though, none of these will match the color accuracy of an entry level home theater projector though at least two can do better than a lot of low cost business - education DLP projectors. That's right, a few of these picos, for example, can produce a pretty good pure red color (great for pie charts...), whereas bright reds and yellows have given most of the low cost DLP projectors at least a little trouble. Many have reds that are wine colored, and yellows that have an almost mustardy (and often slightly green) appearance. None of these picos are truly great, but good enough to beat the some of the "big boys" in this case.
On the plus side, these picos are really, really, small. All the reviewed picos can do business presentations this year, with all but one allowing a computer to be hooked up. Regarding the AAXA P1 Jr. I discuss this elsewhere, but note, it has a card slot and a media player, as a presentation alternative.
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 really improved in the last year. They will get better, and brighter, and no doubt, less expensive over the next year or so. The best of today's pico projectors, if these five are a fairly representative sample, do offer some respectable performance.
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, hook 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
- Relatively quick recharge (4-5 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 with also extremely long life
The image above is Road Trip, projected by the P1 Jr.
- 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 some of the manuals are - and I mean in info, as well as thin in number of pages)
- Picture quality fairly respectable
- Lack of color management controls on most projectors - most lack all but the most rudamentry controls, and some offer none at all
BACK TO THE BEGINNING: Pico Projectors - A Guide