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Pico projectors emerged in 2009 as a new category thanks to the convergence of three crtical factors: the white LED as an illumination source, tiny projection chips to form the image, and rising numbers of notebook and netbook users looking to enlarge the picture. Given that the big plus of these wee projectors is ultra portability, how does a manufacturer make them even smaller? One way is by removing the battery, which is exactly what Aiptek has done with the Pocket Cinema T20 LCOS projector.
Power is derived exclusively via USB cables from the source computer, thus shaving a couple of ounces off the weight versus a model with a battery. The resulting size is equivalent to a deck of cards. A 3-foot USB mini-B male to two USB Type-A Male Y cable is included, so you'll need two available USB ports on your computer. You could get by plugging into one, but the image brightness is doubled and color fidelity better maintained using both. Considering that the projector brightness is rated for 8 ANSI lumens, typical for the first generation of pico projectors but a small fraction of what you get from a larger projector, you'll want all the boost possible.
Like a Flip Video camera, the T20's software uploads to the computer the first time you connect it to a USB port. There's a toggle on the back of the projector with a default setting for uploading the software. Once installed, you reboot and slide the setting to projection mode. Because the driver software is always in the projector, you'll be able to use it on the fly with a variety of Windows computers without bringing a disc or having an Internet connection. In the box are a Quick Guide (printed in eight languages), a carrying pouch with belt loop, and a tripod.
The tripod is Lilliputian for sure, but it does raise the projector some 6-inches above a table, which is better than placing it directly on a surface since there are vents. You can adjust the tripod to point the projector at an angle, though not too much or the sides of the image won't be parallel. Because there's no battery, the device doesn't get hot, so you could project the T20 indefinitely from the palm of your bare hand. Even after a half hour of use, the projector was barely warm. Of course, you could attach your own taller, heavier, or more flexible tripod to the socket on the bottom of the projector.
A projection icon on the Windows toolbar lets you right-click to choose such modes as mirror for projecting exactly what you see on the computer monitor or extended for projecting a different window. In the latter case, if you move the mouse pointer off the right side of the computer screen, it shows up on the projected image. Extended mode is useful if, for example, you have word processing notes on your computer screen while projecting a PowerPoint presentation. Incidentally, in either projection mode, the computer monitor will be reduced to VGA resolution, matching the projector's resolution. When you turn off the projector, the monitor will automatically revert to its previous setting.
The only recurring control on the T20 projector is the manual focusing ring (right). Image size is increased by simply moving the projector away from the wall or projection screen. According to Aiptek, the useable image size falls in the range of 6- to 50-inches. I found that an image under about 10-inches is bright enough to be seen in a lit room, but you'll want total darkness for something above about 42-inches. My compromise was projecting about a 30-inch image in a dimly-lit room. For sharing images and video from your computer with a few people in a small room, the T20 is a nice fit.
Keep in mind that there is no audio connection to the projector and no speaker. If sound accompanies a video streaming from the Internet or playing from the computer's DVD-ROM drive, you'll depend on the PC's internal speakers or external speakers connected to the PC. Unlike some other Pico projectors, there are no inputs or adapters provided for a composite video or iPod connection. Aiptek labels the T20 a notebook projector, but at least you don't need a VGA output -- just two USB ports. By the way, projection and computer time will be severely limited if you expect to depend on the notebook's battery alone. It's prudent to keep the computer plugged into a wall outlet or power strip.
While there's some flexibility for projector placement when using it with an easily-moved notebook, that may not be the case if connected to a desktop PC, especially one situated under a desk or podium. In the latter case, I found the supplied 3-foot leash too constricting. But you can double the connection length by substituting the USB Mini-B Male to 2x USB Type-A Male Y-Cable from CablesToGo (right). It lets you place the projector up to 6-feet away from the computer. Also, the cables are color-coded: black for the video signal and power; red for the power and resulting brightness boost.
I found the Aiptek Pocket Cinema T20 Notebook Projector simple to use and fun to project still and video images in a meeting with a small group of colleagues. It's so small that I'd have no problem making it a permanent member of the accessory entourage I carry in my notebook computer case.