Pico projector: What is it, and what are its advantages?
Pico projectors are just like normal projectors, except more compact and lightweight. These ultra mini projectors are far more portable than standard projectors, which can be bulky and heavy. The small form factor of pico projectors allows them to be easily carried in a bag or backpack, or even in a pocket. That means that you can carry your pico projector around with you just like you’d carry a smartphone, tablet, or small laptop – and you can use your pocket projector to display slideshows, photos, and movies from these devices anywhere you go.
Features to consider before buying
The market has been flooded with mini projectors in recent years, which can make it overwhelming to choose the projector that works best for how you plan to use it. To help, we’ll take a closer look at the features that differentiate pico projectors and explain how they can affect your display.
Dimensions and weight
The size and weight of a pico projector should be your foremost consideration. After all, the whole point of choosing a pico projector over a standard projector is that you want to be able to take it with you everywhere you would take your phone.
Miniature projectors can vary a lot in their design and dimensions. While most are rectangular, some models, like the Anker Nebula Capsule, are cylindrical in shape to allow them to fit anywhere you might store a water bottle. For rectangular models, the dimensions can vary from more than six inches on a side to a square design that’s less than four inches by four inches, as for the APEMAN and Kodak projectors.
Weight isn’t quite as important as size for most people, although if you’re carrying your projector all the time a few extra ounces can be noticeable. Most pocket projectors weigh just under one pound.
There are two main technologies used in pico projectors: DLP (digital light processing) and LED (light-emitting diode).
DLP projectors are usually a good all-around choice because they’re relatively inexpensive and produce crisp, high-contrast images. These projectors can be quite bright since they use mirrors to concentrate and reflect light, and DLP technology produces deeper blacks than LED technology. The only real downsides to DLP projectors are that they are prone to producing a rainbow effect during fast-moving, colorful movie scenes, and that the resolution is more limited compared to LED projectors.
LED projectors tend to be more expensive than DLP projectors, but for the added cost you get beautiful color displays and extremely high-resolution images and videos. LED projectors have a much lower contrast ratio than DLP projectors, so don’t expect the deepest blacks in your projections. However, LED projectors tend to last longer than DLP projectors since the LED inside can last for more than 20,000 hours before burning out.
With the explosion of 4K movies, it’s more important than ever to have a high-resolution display. Not surprisingly, the small size of pico projectors limits their resolution compared to standard projectors – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t models with impressive native resolutions. The AAXA P7, for example, is capable of displaying in 1080p, while the LG PH550 and Anker Nebula Capsule display in 720p. If you plan to use your projector for watching movies, it is definitely worth spending a little bit extra to get a higher-resolution projector.
Brightness and contrast
Brightness and contrast are extremely important to image quality. While you don’t necessarily need a particularly bright projector, if you’ll be watching movies in a room that has natural lighting that can be blacked out brightness will make a big difference. In general, LED pico projectors like the AAXA P7, the LG PH550, and the Optoma ML750ST are three times or more brighter than their DLP competitors.
However, DLP projectors win out when it comes to contrast. Contrast is the different in brightness between the brightest and darkest pixels in an image and is important for images with high dynamic range and for clarity. DLP projectors reproduce deep blacks much more faithfully, making them ideal for movies and images that have a lot of shadowy scenes. Still, there are LED projectors like the LG PH550 that offer impressive contrast ratios of 100,000:1.
Throw distance measures the minimum and maximum distances that a projector can be away from a wall or screen and still produce in-focus, high-resolution images. If you use a small conference room for business meetings or have a small living room space for watching movies, having a short minimum throw distance can be quite important. Typically, minimum throw distances are limited to around two feet, although the Optoma ML750ST has a minimum throw distance of just 1.4 feet.
The size of the screen will be related to how far away your projector is from the screen, but every projector is rated for a minimum and maximum screen size. While a larger screen size is generally better, how much screen you need ultimately depends on the settings in which you’re usually using your projector. All of the projectors we reviewed have a maximum screen size of at least 100 inches, and the Vamvo and Optoma projectors have screen sizes of 130 inches or more.
It’s also important to consider whether the projector you choose can connect to all of your devices. If your projector can’t easily connect to your smartphone or computer, you lose much of the convenience of having a pocket projector with you anywhere you go.
The majority of pico projectors we reviewed use an HDMI cable to display off of your chosen device, although a few offer additional options. For example, the Optoma projector is capable of connecting to a smartphone with an MHL cable, while the Kodak projector can connect to a WiFi network for streaming. Several models, like the Anker projector, can also connect to a smartphone or computer via Bluetooth for streaming audio only.
Warranty and bulb lifetime
Pico projectors may be small, but they can be a big investment – which is why you want to be sure your new projector is going to last. Most manufacturers offer warranties on their devices, although with the exception of the Vamvo projector these warranties are limited to one year only.
Keep in mind that DLP projectors will also have limited bulb lifetimes of only a few thousand hours and will need to be replaced every year or two. LED projectors, on the other hand, are rated for 20,000 hours of bulb life.
How to set up a pico projector?
Setting up a pico projector is relatively simple, since most units now come with auto-focusing. To set up your projector, simply place it a few feet away from your intended screen – check the minimum and maximum throw distance for your projector – and turn it on. The unit should focus and you can use the built-in dial to get the tilt of the display against the wall correct. If the image is not level, you’ll likely need to get creative to level the projector since most pocket projectors don’t have leveling feet.
When ready, you can plug in your smartphone or computer using an HDMI cable (or another cable as your projector allows). Most projectors will automatically recognize the input so you don’t have to do anything else to start your display.
The most important thing you can do to get the best possible display from your pico projector is to make the room as dark as possible. Even if you have an LED projector that is capable of putting out hundreds of lumens, the contrast and color will show up much more clearly in a room that is as close to completely dark as you can make it.
Another thing to consider is your screen. If you’re using a wall for a screen, make sure it’s a blank white wall without much texture to it. For better results, carry a small white fabric with your projector that you can hang from the ceiling and display onto.
Finally, if your projector runs off of a rechargeable battery rather than an outlet, it’s a great idea to carry a portable battery with you so that you can always keep your pico projector charged and ready to display.
The costs of pico projectors vary, but you should expect to spend at least a couple hundred dollars to get a high-quality projector. Our budget pick, the APEMAN projector, costs $200, while the most expensive projector we reviewed, the Optoma model, costs almost $500.