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Pico Projectors - A 2009 Guide To This New Class of Tiny Laser and LED Projectors

Posted on July 1, 2009 by Art Feierman

We've recently reviewed 3 pico projectors and more will be reviewed shortly. This article has been written to discuss these Pico projectors in terms of design, capability, limitations and features. We'll also prognosticate as to how these projectors will evolve over the next year or two.

Pico Projectors - Definition and Overview

There are several names currently being tossed around to describe these new, tiny projectors (they probably should officially be called "Tiny Projectors"). The three most common names being used, are currently Pico Projectors, Pocket Projectors and LED Projectors.

The term Pico Projector has no real basis for the term "pico" which is scientifically defined as representing "one trillionth" of something. For example, a pico second is one trillionth of a second. An alternate definition sometimes found, is "very small". None-the-less, it is a term being used by both manufacturers of these projectors as well as in the popular press.

Pocket projector probably makes for a better definition, as any of the pico projectors on the market will definitely fit into a man's shirt pocket.

Using the term LED projector, however, is probably a poor choice to describe them, even though they all use an LED light source, instead of a conventional lamp. I say this because LED light sources are starting to be used in projectors of all sizes. A number of companies showed LED projectors at the recent Infocomm, and the mix included some rather hefty, and bright projectors, for both business and home theater. Vivitek and BenQ, to name two, showed home theater projectors with LED light sources, and a number of companies including projectiondesign, Digital Projection, and others, either were demoing their first (large) LED projectors, or were talking about having some early next year. That list includes more than a couple of the biggest names out there.

At least one announced pico projector (still scheduled to ship later this summer), the Microvision Show WX, does not use an LED light source. It should be the first pico projector to ship using a laser light source. It should be very interesting. For one thing, with a laser light source, there's no focusing. It is expected to be more expensive (Microvision estimates the selling price as between $400 and $500.)

So, while all the currently shipping (7/09) tiny projectors out there have LED light sources, we have decided to stick with the Pico Projector term. It may not be perfect, but it is fast becoming the standard term to describe these projectors.

In this article our goal is to provide an overview of the capabilities and features that are typically foud in pico projectors, and the interesting variety of features they offer.

Let's get started with some of highlights of pico projectors:

Pico Projectors: Highlights

  • Generally smaller than a pack of cigarettes - even the largest I've seen are smaller in bulk tha a pack of 100's cigarettes
  • Use an LED light source instead of a traditional projection lamp (note, at least one announced model uses a laser, instead of an LED light source)
  • Resolution is typically 640x480 or less, although there is at least one widescreen pico projector with slightly higher resolution (not sold in the US at this time)
  • Most can run about 1 hour on their rechargeable battery, and recharge in about 4 hours or less
  • All the pico projectors we've seen have a composite video source
  • At least one offers a genuine analog VGA input, to work directly with a computer's VGA output, at least one other announced pico projector also offers a VGA input
  • At least one pico projector has a built in multi-media player to allow using the projector without having to bring along the source device
  • At least one pico projector so far, offers a card slot (SD) to input photos, videos, etc. (yes, the one with the card slot, is also the one with the media player)
  • Warranties are on the short side - 90 days to one year, depending on brand
  • Pricing of pico projectors is typically from $299 to $399 MSRP, with some units available online for down around $200.
  • Picture quality is no match for a home theater projector, and for that matter, a typical entry level business projector
  • These are all, essentially first generation products out on the market. Expect picture quality and brightness to improve with future generations
  • Most are extremely "plug and play" in fact, most don't even have a menu system, or any adjustments other than focus
  • They are definitely fun to play with - and seem to have a lot of appeal for those who just can't keep their hands off of the newest gadgets

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