What is this pico category?
Also known as a pocket projector or a micro projector, a pico projector is a newly emerging category that encompasses the smallest projectors you can buy. Because they can handle videos and photos for portable entertainment as well as charts or slides for business or education presentations, they can also be described as multimedia projectors.
How small is small?
Each projector weighs within several ounces (below or above) a pound, including battery. Picos were originally no larger than a smartphone or a point-and-shoot camera, but newer models now approximate the dimensions of a paperback book.
How is the lamp different from conventional projectors?
Unlike the typical home theater or multimedia projector in which the bulb has to be replaced, on average, after every 3,000 or 4,000 hours of use, pico projectors incorporate a light-emitting diode (LED), a solid state illumination source rated, depending on the model, for between 15,000 and 30,000 hours. In practice, the lamp should last the life time of the projector.
What are the main advantages of a pico projector?
Aside from avoiding expensive lamp replacement costs, the diminutive size and weight mean you're more likely to take it with you than a so-called portable projector. Enlarging photos, video or other visual content from a media-playing phone, portable DVD player or computer can be more pleasing to your audience than knocking heads around a tiny screen. Also, the more "intelligent" pico projectors contain their own media players so you don't necessarily need to attach an external player such as a computer. With some models, you simply copy content into the projector's internal memory or insert a memory card or flash drive.
What are the biggest disadvantages of a pico projector?
The number one complaint has been picture dimness. Consider that projector brightness is measured in lumens and the typical home theater projector is rated in the upper hundreds or even thousands of lumens. In comparison, the first generation of pico projectors was measured in the low double digits. To compensate, users made sure to project only in extremely dark rooms, meaning venues void of any competing light. Also, they throttled down the size of the projected image since smaller meant brighter. The trouble is that most tablet computers today offer viewers a crisp, bright 10-inch (diagonal) picture even without turning off the lights. Manufacturers have responded by introducing newer pico projectors that put out closer to 100 lumens or more. They've also improved the resolution, though Full HD is not an option.
What about picture resolution?
The first generation of pico projectors topped out at VGA (640 x 480) resolution but the newest models now afford XGA (1024 x 768) resolution in computer terms; 720p resolution (entry level for high definition) in video terms.
What imaging technology is deployed?
Pico projectors incorporate either a Digital Light Processor (DLP) or Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) chip to create the image. There isn’t a significant advantage between the two, and both technologies can be found in larger projectors.
How big a picture can I create using a pico projector?
The diagonal can be any size from about 5 to 100 inches, but the image is best seen when the light is concentrated. Pico projectors are most effective when the image size is between 25 and 50 inches. Picture size is increased by moving the projector away from the wall or screen. The further away, the dimmer the picture. Hence, if you want a big, bright picture in which details are visible, consider a different class of projector.
What connections should I look for?
Unlike a full-size projector, a pico projector has severely limited space for a major jack panel. So, you can't expect a varied selection of connections or standard-size ports if mini versions are available. Still, there should be at least one input for a computer and another for an A/V player. A VGA input continues to be the most universal way to cable a notebook to a projector; a composite A/V input is the basic way to move composite video and audio from a camera, portable DVD player or an iPhone, iPad or iPod. In the case of the latter, you'll likely need to buy an accessory cable that attaches to the iOS device's docking port. Some picos enable the input of a component video or HDMI signal, which—unlike composite video—are both capable of passing through high-definition video and high-resolution images.
The most convenient inputs, especially for someone who doesn't want to lug along a computer or other source player, is a USB port and/or memory card slot. (A mini USB port and microSD slot are typical.) When a pico has one or both, there's a good chance that decoding software is built in so you can load a USB storage device or memory card with videos or slides at your desktop. Make sure that the projector is compatible with the files you plan to show.
Are there pico projectors with wireless connectivity?
Yes. Though still very much the exception, at least one model is Wi-Fi capable and has a built-in browser. When the projector connects to the Internet, the touch screen atop the projector turns into a mouse pad.
Should the projector have built-in memory?
It's not crucial. Some pico projectors contain 2 Gigabytes or more of usable internal memory. If so, you can transfer files directly into the projector beforehand so that you may not need a computer, memory card or USB device connected during the presentation. If the projector has no internal memory or the amount is given in megabytes, you'll want to use an external device.
Can I judge a pico's IQ from its built-in decoders?
Yes. Given a projector's ability to play a variety of media types directly from memory stick or card is a good indicator it doesn't need computer assistance. For video, a smart projector should at least be able to play MPEG-4 (MP4) files, but more capable ones can also decode AVI, WMV and MOV among others. For photo play, every smart pico recognizes the JPEG format but some can also show BMP, GIF and/or TIFF. If the pico has built-in decoding and a speaker, too, there’s a good chance it can play MP3 music and possibly WAV and AAC files, too. Business documents may also be recognized by the projector. If so, playing a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation is nearly always a given. But some can also show Microsoft Word and Excel files and perhaps Adobe PDFs as well. It's important to identify your needs as part of your buying decision. If you purchase a projector and find it's incompatible with a file format you'd like to use, the backup plan is to connect a computer and let it do the decoding.
Do I want a model with a remote?
Maybe. If you walk around the room during a presentation or like to manually advance a slideshow, then having a remote in your hand is a great tool. If you prefer a player's auto mode or simply want to let a video play, then a remote isn't important. Keep in mind that there are controls typically atop every pico projector—some even feature a touch screen—and you're likely to always be in arm's length of this class of projector during the presentation. (Remember: if you're using a pico, you're playing to a small room.) Hence, a remote is not essential.
Does a pico make sense for personal use?
Absolutely. Individuals are not required to peer into a small screen like the one on a cell phone just because it's the one always with them. If you have a collection of photos and videos on a mobile device, why not enlarge the viewing experience by projecting your content onto the closest wall in the dark?
Would I like a screen with that projector?
A small, foldable screen that’s larger than a tablet computer but smaller than most TVs solves the problem of not having a bare white wall in place where you need it. Such screens are inexpensive accessories that are light in weight and readily packable.
How about a tabletop tripod?
Some picos come with a built-in stand or an included mini tripod, others are simply equipped with a threaded socket for a tripod. If you already have a pint-size tripod for your point-and-shoot camera, you're in business. If not, you'll want to get a midget tripod so you can adjust the projection angle and keep the device elevated from a surface. That way, vents won’t be blocked and heat can be dissipated.
What about the battery?
Most pico projectors have one, always lithium-ion, either embedded or removable. If the latter, you can pack spares. Some offer a larger battery that affords longer or brighter projection usage. All picos can run indefinitely using an AC adapter. Depending on the brightness level selected (a refinement not available on every model), a typical battery provides power for 1 to 2 hours.
Should I supplement the sound with external speakers?
Unless you're showing a silent movie or photos without music—or you're comfortable providing all the narration live—the answer is yes. Most pico projectors are equipped with an under-powered (0.5- to 1W) speaker that you can hear close up when no one's talking, but is hardly meant to envelop the room. Most picos contain a headphone jack that can be connected to external powered speakers.
- Choose a pico if you want absolutely the smallest and lightest projector you can carry in a pocket.
- Thanks to LED illumination, you're unlikely to ever need to replace the projection lamp.
- Pick a model with built-in file decoding capability if you like the idea of leaving the video player or computer behind.
- A player with self-contained playing ability should also feature internal memory, a card slot, a USB input or a combination of these for accommodating your photo and video files or office presentation documents.
- Be aware that a pico-type projector is not designed to deliver the brightness of a home theater or business-class projector.