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The days of schlepping a hefty notebook and so-called "portable" projector are dwindling. Presentation equipment is becoming so miniaturized that you can now slide the computer into an inside jacket pocket and the projector into a shirt pocket. Such hands-free carriage is predicated on connecting two types of emerging devices: mini-notebook PCs (or "netbooks") and palm-size projectors. But do featherweight presentation devices perform well enough for you to consider leaving their larger siblings behind?
To find out, I grabbed the eye-catching Sony VAIO P VGN-P530H Lifestyle PC Computer (right) and the petite 3M MPRO110 Micro Professional Projector (below). At 9.65 x 0.78 x 4.72-in (W/H/D) and weighing 1.4 lbs., the P-series Vaio looks more like half a notebook than the Windows Vista computer with full-size keyboard it really is. The garnet red finish reminded me of my first Mustang. Also available in onyx black, emerald green, and crystal white, the PC features a Lawrence of Arabia-wide resolution of 1600 x 768 pixels with LED backlighting. Wireless LAN (802.11n) and stereo speakers are built in.
The 5.6-ounce projector is only 2 x 0.9 x 4.5-in (W/H/D) in size. Using LED illumination, the MPro110 can create an image up to 50-inches large. Since a threaded socket is located on the projector's underbelly, I mounted the MPro110 on a tabletop tripod. Inputs for a computer and a video source (such as a digital camera or camcorder) are on the projector's rear panel, and VGA and composite video cables are included.
I attached the projector to a tabletop tripod (not included) and the projector's included 2-foot VGA cable to the external display/Ethernet adapter that comes with the computer. (See above photo.) I turned on both devices and darkened the room. A projected rectangle exhibiting the 3M logo appeared on my white wall. It was fuzzy until I focused the image using a dial above the lens. You enlarge the image by moving the projector away from the screen. A computer icon appeared in the upper right corner of the screen.
Upon booting up the computer, I was greeted with a dialog box, New Display Detected. It let me choose the appearance of the display. (See above image.) The default was to duplicate my desktop on all displays (mirrored). But I could also show different parts of my desktop on each display (extended), which would mimic the two monitor setup I use at work. Finally, I could show my desktop on the external display (the projector) only. At first I chose the latter in order to curtail any computer screen light from dulling the projected image. Later, though, I found light from the computer's screen useful when pointed at the projector but away from the screen so I could photograph the projector and projected image at the same time.
I reduced the computer resolution to 1024 x 768, which scaled nicely to the projector's 640 x 480 (VGA) native resolution, and I attained a 36-inch picture from 4-feet away. I successfully ran a PowerPoint presentation (above left) followed by a photo slide show. Later, I projected the B&H Web site on the wall (above right) and watched a B&H video podcast. Since the MPro110 has no audio capability, I relied on the computer's built-in speakers. You could, of course, supplement the show with portable external speakers.
Battery-powered, the MPro110 blinks a red light after some 40 minutes of use and turns off shortly afterwards if you don't plug the AC adapter into an electrical outlet. Without an optional larger battery, my VAIO P VGN-P530H/R worked for about 2 hours. (The computer operates longer when its display is offloaded entirely to the projector. Also, there's a costlier version that substitutes a more power-efficient solid state drive.) In any case, a power strip and extension cord are indispensable accessories to bring with you, especially if you'll be presenting in an unfamiliar location.
With its brightness measured in single digits (tech support told me the projector puts out 7 lumens; a brochure cites 8), the MPro110 is no match for a larger projector. With the room lights on, you'd better plan on projecting up close, creating an image larger than an iPod screen but smaller than a computer screen. For larger images, you need subdued lighting or a pitch-black room. The projector gets hot, especially if placed flat on a surface. By elevating the MPro110 on a tripod, the vents are unobstructed and the unit runs cooler. There is no fan. The non-replaceable lamp is expected to last 20,000 hours.
To watch a B&H podcast showing the MPro110 projecting video on a wall from an iPod followed by a photo slide show and live images from a point-and-shoot camera, click here or on the picture (above). Your computer will need broadband and sound.
B&H sells several other palm-size projectors including the Optomo Technology PK-101 Pico Pocket Projector and Aiptek PJV11X 10 Lumens VGA Projector. Neither, however, contains a VGA input. A computer you planned to connect to either one would need a composite video output, which is more typical of a DVD player, camcorder, or digital camera.
If one of the Sony Vaio P VGN Lifestyle notebooks is beyond your budget, consider a netbook with an external VGA port. (Not all netbooks are so equipped.) Among netbook computers that do attach to an external display are the Acer Aspire One and Asus Eee PC 1000HA.
With today's shrinking electronics, you can easily conceal a digital presentation system in your jacket as you make an entrance unfettered by baggage. The projector and computer may be little, but together they can make a big impression – especially in small dark rooms.