Review: 3 tiny projectors light up the big screen

They're small and light, but do ultraportable microprojectors measure up for business presentations?

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Dell M109S Projector

It may not be the smallest or the lightest of these puny projectors, but Dell's M109S is still tiny compared to a conventional projector, and its output puts the other pocket projectors to shame. To my thinking, it is an excellent choice for mobile mavens who want to travel light.

Looking like a one-quarter scale model of a traditional projector, the black and silver M109S is only 1.5 by 3.6 by 4.1 inches. At 12.8 ounces, it weighs more than the other two combined, and its travel weight is 1.4 pounds. Still, it's much lighter than a traditional projector.

The M109S comes with a single multi-input cable that does it all by connecting to a VGA or composite video source as well as its AC adapter. There's a nice padded case, but the AC adapter doesn't fit inside. A big bonus is that it uses the same adapter as Dell's Latitude E series notebooks, which allows you to carry one charger. Like the others, the M109S lacks any way to protect the fragile lens.

Dell M109S Projector

The Dell M109S

The M109S uses a 0.45-in. DLP imaging engine that produces native 858-by-600 resolution, making it the sharpest of the group. Dell specs the M109S with an 800:1 contrast ratio. It's capable of producing images between 15 and 60 inches (measured diagonally) at a distance of around 2 to 8 feet from the screen.

While the others get by with just on-off switches, the M109S has a control panel with an array of adjustments that rivals its bigger brothers. In addition to brightness, contrast, whiteness and color temperature, there are a variety of modes for viewing different material.

It also has one thing the other two can't match: automatic keystone correction for squaring the image. Unfortunately, its focus ring is crude, and there's neither an optical zoom lens nor a remote control.

The proof of any projector is in its light output, and the M109S delivers 68 lumens to the screen, about eight times more than the others and above Dell's listed specification of 50 lumens. While this is much less than even the lowest-output conventional projector, it's enough for a good-quality presentation to a small group.

With excellent focus uniformity, images were sharp and viewers could read eight-point type from 5 feet away. On the downside, the output had a dark zone in the upper-right corner, and some of its blues were rendered as purple while others showed up as gray.

The M109S was able to start up in 18.7 seconds and shut itself down in 17.3 seconds, the slowest of the three. Unlike the other two pocket rockets, the M109S has no battery and uses 33 watts at full power. It's a lot compared to the Pico Projector or MPro110, but a pittance next to a traditional projector. The M109S has a fan to cool its parts, making it the loudest of the bunch. It also lacks either adjustable feet or a tripod mount underneath for aiming the projector.

At $500, the M109S is the most expensive of these pocket projectors. It comes with a one-year warranty, which can be extended to three years for $115.

All in all, the M109S is a tiny projector that delivers just enough light to be worthy of a place in your bag.

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