Projector Reviews

Pico 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 running 8 – 12 lumens. In fairness to those mini-projectors, they may have been a lot smaller than the smallest traditional business projectors (mostly DLP projectors), there are business portables starting at under 2 pounds, with more than 1000 lumens. Not much of a contest.

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

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
By comparison two mini-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

OK, I might have gotten carried away with the lumens per pound, but it gives you an idea of the progress we’ve made in projector brightness. As you can see, however, when it comes to these pico projectors, they are roughly at the same lumens per pound as was available in portable projectors in the late 1990s.

Keeping this all in mind, it really is conceivable that we will see 50 lumen pico projectors and perhaps 100 lumens and more in the next few years.

Going hand in hand with the lumens, however, is power consumption, and power source issues…

Battery Power as Related to Brightness

Above I showed two mini-projectors in the lumens per pound info.

What is important to note, is that the older Mitsubishi PK20 had a rechargeable battery included, while the new GP1 runs only on AC power, with a power brick (not included in the weight).

The important point here, is that while we can now cite several mini-projectors that claim 100 or even 200+ lumens, those models generally do not run on batteries, 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. Thus, we 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.

I can tell you, right now, that my opinion is that more brightness is the key for success for these tiny pico projectors. If they have to add an extra quarter pound, or even a bit more, to triple or more their brightness, I think that the market will move in that direction.

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.

What I’d really like to see, however, is a 0.5 – 0.75 pound projector as just described, that can match or come close to the mentioned BenQ GP1. That projector’s 100+ measured lumens produces an image drastically brighter, and bright enough to satisfy most portable projecting requirements, including presentations to small groups. I should note, however, that the BenQ’s weight jumps to a bit over 2 pounds when you add in the weight of their power brick (remember – no batteries for the GP1).