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Pico Projectors - A Guide To This New Class of Tiny Laser and LED Projectors 2

Posted on July 1, 2009 by Art Feierman

Features and Facts About Pico Projectors

MSRP: Typically $299 to $399, with online prices starting around $200 Pico Projector Technology: Either DLP or LCoS chip with LED light source Native Resolution: Typically VGA (640x480), some lower, at least one (not sold in the US, is widescreen Brightness: Typically 8 - 12 lumens Contrast: 1000:1 to 2000:1 Lens: fixed - no zoom, manual focus Lens shift: None, typically 0 offset Lamp life: 20,000 hours or more, most rated 10,000 to 30,000 hours Weight: .3 to .6 pounds Warranty: Typically 90 days to 1 year, parts and labor, depending on brand Inputs: Composite video seems standard on all, one or more may feature a VGA input, USB input, and/or a card reader Other features found or included with on one or more pico projectors, but not all: Media player, color and other controls, tripod screw thread, speaker(s), spare rechargeable battery, Audio out, ability to charge battery while projector is powered on Pico Projector Usage (some or all): Presentations, gaming, viewing photos and videos, watching movies iPhone Compatibility: Varies from basic (audio through headphone jack on iPhone), to viewing slideshows of photo, or viewing videos and YouTube videos. None yet, that can display the iPhone user interface (and generally project what's on the iPhone screen Below we'll look at some of the common features we expect to find on almost all pico projectors. On the next page, we'lll get into some of the features found only on certain models

Common Pico Projector Features

Projector Lamp Life

The most common number being toss out there for the LED light sources in these pico projectors is 20,000 hours. Of the units I have looked at, one rates theirs at 10,000, and two at 20,000. The company with the 10,000 rating says they are being very conservative, while one of the companies claiming 20,000 also says it's being fairly conservative. Bottom line - who cares! By the time you even reach 10,000 hours, newer models will probably be 2-4 times brighter, have better overall performance, and cost less than $100. (10,000 hours - at 20 hours a week is roughly 10 years!)

The important point is that you won't have any lamp expense during the useful life of one of these projectors.

Composite Video

So far, every pico projector I've seen has a composite video input. That means you can hook up any DVD player, almost any camcorder, some digital cameras, and a host of other devices. Feeding these projectors a composite video input will not provide quite as good an image compared with a VGA analog computer signal, but, hey, composite video was how we all fed our TVs cable signals, VCR signals, and even DVD signals until the last few years when component video and HDMI caught on.


Rechargeable batteries

Another standard feature, the rechargeable batteries in the three pico projectors so far reviewed are all removable (replaceable). All of the projectors seem to run about 1 hour (or a little less) before their batteries are drained. That is, of course, with a brand new battery. As all of us with assorted portable devices know, over time the battery will hold less charge, and therefore run out of charge sooner.

All seem to fully recharge in 3-4 hours. If you plan a lot of usage, especially watching a full length movie, you'll probably want a spare battery. One model (the Optoma) even comes with a spare. Consider also, how easy is it to change out a battery. In our testing we found that the battery cover just snaps off (as it does on most battery devices) in two out of three pico projectors tested so far. The third one has a small screw (3M MPro110), which is certainly going to be a nuisance for those who plan to change batteries frequently.

Another issue is recharging. So far, most of these devices can only charge the battery while it is inside the unit (no separate charger), and, to make matters a touch less convenient still, they can't actually recharge the battery while they are projecting. Probably not a big deal since the batteries charge up in a few hours, but important to know.

Lens related: Focus, Throw distance and lens offset

It may be coincidence, or that all three brands we have tested have extremely similar lens specs. All three create almost identical sized images from the same throw distance. That spec works out to roughly a throw distance that is 1.9 times the width of the projected image. Thus, for a 20 inch image, the front of the projector will be about 38 inches from the screen (or wall, or other surface you are projecting on to.

Lens offset the same on all of them, and that's to say that there is no lens offset. This differs from almost all larger projectors. Most (larger) projectors have their lens elements tilted so that you place the projector about even (in height) with the bottom of the screen, to get a nice rectangular image. Not so with these early pico projectors. They have no lens offset, so that for a rectangular image, the projector is centered vertically - the lens at the same height as the center of the screen. That means of you set it on a table, half of the image will be below the table height, half above. This tends to make a small tripod a handy device, to raise up the projector a bit off of a table. I wouldn't be surprised to see future models being offset like larger projectors so that the bottom of the image will be about the height of the projector.

You can, of course, tilt the projector upward, but that will give you an image that keystones - wider at the top than the bottom. None of the three pico projectors reviewed so far have any keystone correction controls to keep the image rectangular when the angle is shifted.

Please note, the announced Microvision Show WX, with its laser light source has a shorter lens throw. It throws approximately a 1 foot diagonal image from a distance of 1 foot - about half the distance needed for the others on the market.

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