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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Optoma Pico Pocket Projector PK-101

Easily the smallest projector of our roundup, the soon-to-be-released Pico Pocket Projector PK-101 sets the standard for mobility with a device that's smaller than many flashlights. Unfortunately, it's about as bright as one and is suitable for presentations only in a dark room.

So small and light it might be mistaken for a cell phone, the Pico weighs 4.1 ounces, which rises to 7.4 ounces with its AC adapter. It measures just 0.7 by 2.0 by 4.2 inches, and like the others doesn't have a lens cover. Like the MPro110, the Pico has a tiny threaded tripod mount underneath for properly aiming its image on the screen. It comes with a padded case, but like the M109S's pouch, the AC adapter doesn't fit inside.

Optoma Pico Pocket Projector PK-101

The Optoma Pico PK-101

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Showing its dual business-consumer orientation, the Pico's only AV input connection is a mini-video jack that works with most digital media players; there's an included RCA-to-mini-jack cable for composite video and audio. In addition to the basic $400 projector, there will be a $430 package that includes a connector kit for iPhones and iPods.

What's missing is a VGA port for connecting laptops. I used a scan converter, which weighed at least as much as the projector, to transform the computer's output for the projector.

The Pico is the only projector of the three with a speaker, but that's on a par with a cheap AM radio. The black and silver frame holds a 480-by-320 resolution 0.17-in. DLP imaging chip that delivers one-third the number of imaging pixels as the M109S. Optoma specs the Pico Projector with a 1000:1 contrast ratio.

Like 3M's MPro110, the Pico can create an image of between 6 and 60 inches (diagonally) at a distance of around 1 to 7.5 feet. There's no keystone correction, remote control or zoom lens. Its LED light source is rated at 20,000 hours of use (double the others), which translates into 25 years of Monday-through-Friday use for four hours a day -- something I was obviously unable to test for this article.

A fast starter, the Pico PK-101 was up and running in 3.9 seconds. It offers two brightness settings: dim and dimmer. At full power, the Pico put out 7.9 lumens of light and consumes 4 watts of power, one-eighth that of the M109S and just below the MPro110. This drops to a paltry 5.2 lumens in low mode, which requires 2 watts -- about the power drain of a television when it's turned off.

Overall, the projector's focus was sharp and showed surprisingly good color balance, but at a much lower resolution than the others. Its whites were blue and the upper-right corner of the screen was very dim. Viewers could easily read 14-point type from 5 feet away.

A big step forward is that the Pico is powered by a mini-USB cable, which means you can recharge it with a notebook and leave the projector's AC adapter behind. It also came with two battery packs, each of which powered the projector for 1 hour and 10 minutes at full brightness, 20 minutes longer than the MPro110. There's no battery gauge, however.

The Pico comes with a one-year warranty, but Optoma doesn't sell extended coverage. The smallest and lightest projector available, the Pico offers its own speaker and lets you pick its brightness level, but still suffers from low resolution and dim output.

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