4 mini projectors: A show wherever you go

With one of these palm-sized LED projectors in your bag, you’re always ready to give a quick presentation or show a video.

If you're on the road and want to give a presentation to your clients, you're not going to impress them if they have to squint over your shoulder at a laptop screen. But with the latest generation of mini projectors, most small enough to sit in the palm of your hand, you can carry the equivalent of a big-screen display around with you.

I gathered together four recent models -- the LG Minibeam PH300, the Miroir MP150W, the Optoma ML750ST and the Rif6 Cube -- to see how they perform. These mighty mites of the projection world (also known as pico, pocket or micro projectors) are no bigger than a paperback book and weigh 1 lb. or less, yet have the power to turn a screen or white wall into a presentation or entertainment zone. They're relatively light on the wallet as well, costing from $300 to about $550.

Rather than conventional high-pressure lamps, these tiny wonders get their light from low-power LEDs. Because of this, some can be battery-powered, lasting from about 30 to 90 minutes on a charge -- which means they don't have to be set up near an AC outlet.

On the downside, even the brightest of the bunch puts out only about 700 lumens of light, about one-third the illumination of a conventional -- and much larger -- projector. Others deliver a lot less, putting them on a par with a strong flashlight. When using one of these projectors, you run the risk of having washed-out images if the lights are turned on or the blinds are up on a sunny day.

Plus, at a time when TVs and displays are transitioning from HD to 4K resolution, none of these tiny projectors has even full high-definition imaging, mustering 720p resolution at best. The result is less detailed images than full HD projectors command.

But while none of these devices can stand in for a dedicated boardroom projector, their light weight and diminutive size make them ideal travel companions. Throw one in your bag or briefcase and you'll be ready to give a quick-and-dirty presentation at a moment's notice, wherever you happen to be. And if you want to use it to stream Netflix to your hotel room wall, so much the better.

LG Minibeam PH300

It may not be the smallest, lightest or brightest mini projector around, but LG's Minibeam PH300 has one nifty feature: a built-in television tuner for watching broadcast TV shows.

LG Minibeam PH300 LG Electronics

The white LG Minibeam measures 2.4 x 4.6 x 3.3 in. and weighs in at 1 lb. That's about the same size and weight as the Optoma ML 750ST, but when you add the accompanying AC adapter to each device, the LG weighs 1.3 lb. to the Optoma's 1.8 lb. Unlike the Optoma, however, the LG includes neither a lens cap nor a bag for carrying the projector and its accoutrements.

It has a tripod mount underneath but lacks an adjustable front foot, which means aiming it from a table might involve propping it up with a few business cards. The projector's keystone correction can be set to automatic or manually adjusted. The device has a minimalist control panel on top, and on the side is an excellent focus thumbwheel that allows fine adjustments.

The projector's Digital Light Processing (DLP) imaging engine puts out 1280 x 720 resolution, putting it on a par with the Miroir MP150W. (The Optoma offers a slightly higher 1280 x 800 resolution, a difference most people wouldn't notice without seeing the projected images side by side.)

Unlike some of the other mini projectors in the roundup, the LG Minibeam lacks an SD card slot as well as wireless connection capabilities. You connect your device to the projector via its HDMI port, which can accommodate MHL-based phones and tablets.

It also has a USB 2.0 port and a coaxial connector for an antenna. This allows the LG to act as a projector TV as long as you supply the antenna or can connect with a roof antenna. In its 5-minute setup scan routine, the LG was able to find and display 30 direct broadcast digital stations in my area and worked surprisingly well. It doesn't work with cable TV systems, though.

If you insert a USB drive, the projector can display JPEG images and a wide variety of video and audio files. It worked well with a slew of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Acrobat files too.

The LG took 7 seconds to start up. The unit I looked at came displaying the Korean language, a setting that took a glance at the manual and about a minute to change. Its remote control lets you adjust the volume of its single speaker and change which input is projected. The projector uses LG's circular Q-Menu setup, borrowed from the company's TVs, for things like selecting one of the five projection modes, including Vivid, Standard, Cinema, Sport and Game; you can also make two customizable modes.

The projector created a viewable 48-in. diagonal image from a distance of 65 in., which puts it just behind the Miroir MP150W for the longest-throw projector of the four. Projectors with a longer throw typically take a little longer to aim and focus than short-throw ones, although the LG Minibeam's focus thumbwheel helps speed that up. Also, since the LG needs to be five and a half feet away from the projection surface, it can't be used in very small rooms, which limits your location options for impromptu presentations.

While LG rates the projector's brightness at 300 lumens, in Standard mode it hit just 180 lumens on the test screen. That's enough for use in a darkened room, but sunlight easily washed the image out.

Its color balance was surprisingly good for a projector of this size, but due to its low brightness, things look dull in Standard mode. If you want to punch up the colors, the Vivid mode does the trick but it reduces the output to 171 lumens -- a difference many won't notice.

Even when it's working hard, the LG's fan puts out 38.6 decibels (dBA) of noise, making it the quietest of the four.

With a built-in battery, the LG can operate without a nearby AC outlet, but despite the company's claims of 2.5-hour battery life, in my tests (which involved continuous video play) it lasted only 28 minutes on a charge. You can track how much time remains with the built-in battery gauge; click Info on the remote and a small four-element graph appears in the upper right corner of the screen.

The projector is covered by a one-year warranty -- the same coverage period offered by Miroir and Rif6 but half as long as the Optoma's two-year warranty.

Bottom line

With just enough brightness in a dark room, the LG Minibeam PH300 offers sharp images and the bonus of broadcast TV.

Miroir MP150W

Miroir's MP150W excels at flexibility, with the ability to run on its battery pack and connect wirelessly.

Miroir MP150W mini projector Miroir

At 1.0 x 5.3 x 3.3 in. and 11 oz., it is on the smaller and lighter end of the scale in our roundup, only undercut by the Rif6 Cube. With its AC adapter, the whole package weighs only 0.9 lb.; it would be nice, though, if it came with a carry bag and lens cap.

Like the LG Minibeam, the Miroir provides no way to adjust its height or projection angle when set on a table, but it does have a tripod mount. It automatically corrects for keystone distortion. There's a thumb wheel on the side for focusing the image, although it's much cruder than the one on the LG projector and it takes some extra time to get the focus just right.

The Miroir's DLP imaging chip puts out 1280 x 720 resolution (just like the LG), which is slightly fewer pixels than the Optoma's 1280 x 800 pixels but not obviously so. Its output is much more detailed than the Cube's 854 x 480 resolution.

In the back, there are ports for power, audio, HDMI and USB 2.0, but it's less than meets the eye. The USB connector is only for charging a phone or powering an accessory such as a Chromecast module, but not for grabbing data from a drive. (The projector lacks an SD card slot as well.) The HDMI doesn't work with MHL phones and tablets; however, it can connect with iPhones, iPads and Macs, several Samsung Galaxy devices and an array of streaming devices including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Google Chromecast (see the compatibility list). You can mirror what's onscreen from any of those devices via HDMI.

The Miroir supports wireless connections as well, with some limitations. It can wirelessly mirror what's on the screen of recent Samsung Galaxy tablets and phones via Samsung's Quick Connect software. For wireless connections to iPhones and iPads, you'll need to get and install the Miroir Wireless app from the App Store, but note that you can't mirror the system's screen wirelessly, only certain file types, including images (JPEGs), video clips (MP4s), documents (PDFs) and presentations (KEY and PPTX files).

The projector has a power button on the side; on top are volume up and down buttons and a button that brings up the wireless mode. It's quick on the draw with a 3-second startup time.

Oddly, the Miroir lacks a remote control or the choice of projection mode. The DLP chip uses ambient lighting data to adjust the illumination so the image looks more or less the same in a dark or bright room.

Able to create a 48-in. image from a distance of 68 in., the Miroir has the longest throw of the four, which means it will likely be the most troublesome to aim and focus, and it can't be used in small rooms. In my tests, the projector delivered 152 lumens, a little short of its 200-lumen rating, but acceptable for use with the lights off. Open the blinds on a sunny day and the image washes out. With colors that lack vibrancy and an overall yellow/orange cast to the image, its image quality doesn't match that of the LG or Optoma device.

Its fan kept the system cool and put out 41.0dBA of noise, which was in the middle of the pack of projectors in this roundup.

The system was able to play videos for 1 hour and 34 minutes on its internal battery, the longest of the three that had batteries. It has the best battery gauge of the group: four LEDs on the projector's case. But there's a big gotcha to running on battery power: When you unplug the projector, the light level drops 20%.

The Miroir comes with a one-year warranty.

Bottom line

The Miroir MP150W stands out for its ability to connect to phones and tablets without a cable. Too bad it can't compete on brightness or image quality.

Optoma ML750ST

Looking like a downsized traditional projector, Optoma's ML750ST leads in brightness and comes the closest to fulfilling the promise of mini projectors, but is the largest of the four and lacks the ability to run on battery power.

Optoma ML750ST mini projector Optoma

The Optoma's white and gray plastic case measures 2.1 x 4.4 x 4.8 in. and weighs 1 lb. That's six times the size and three times the weight of the Cube. With its AC adapter, the travel package adds up to 1.8 lbs. The Optoma comes with a padded bag with room for its AC adapter and cables; it's the only one of the four projectors reviewed to include a lens cap.

The projector has an adjustable front leg for setting it up on a table or shelf as well as a tripod mount underneath for a quick and accurate setup. You can choose between automatic or manual keystone correction.

The Optoma's DLP imaging engine delivers 1280 x 800 resolution. The projector connects with VGA and HDMI sources as well as MHL-equipped phones and tablets.

On its own, the Optoma lacks the Miroir projector's ability to connect wirelessly. However, there is an optional add-on that will do the trick: Optoma's $29 USB Wi-Fi dongle (Amazon price), which works with the HDCast Pro app (available for Android and iOS) to let you link a phone or tablet to the projector.

The projector has the luxury of both a microSD card slot and a USB 2.0 connector, and can project a variety of material from a USB drive, including images, videos, Office documents and Acrobat PDF documents. This allows you to rehearse a presentation -- or even take it on the road -- without a computer.

You can create a vivid 48-in. image just 26 in. from the screen, by far the shortest throw distance of the four, enabling quick setup and making it better suited to small meeting rooms and other tight spaces. The projector starts up in 5 seconds, and you can precisely focus its image by rotating the lens. It has a simple but effective control panel on top that lets you open the menu. There are LEDs to alert you of overheating or an internal error.

The Optoma's tiny remote control gives you the ability to play, pause and skip forward/back video; blank the screen; adjust the volume; and get into the projector's detailed operational details and settings. Like the LG Minibeam, the Optoma provides five projection modes: Bright, PC, Cinema, Photo and Eco. Unfortunately, you can't create your own mode by customizing the system's settings.

In Bright mode, the Optoma was capable of a brightness rating of 601 lumens. That's slightly off its 700-lumen spec, but easily the brightest of the four projectors reviewed here; it was just bright enough to let me use the projector with the lights on and the shades up -- resulting in strong images that didn't get washed out. That said, the Bright mode also makes everything look bluish and cold.

The PC mode drops the projector's brightness by 15% but makes flesh tones look a lot better. It also quiets the loud fan, which at full blast is an annoying 45.5 dBA.

Like the Cube and the LG Minibeam, the Optoma has a single speaker, but it sounded the best of the four. It lacks the internal battery of the other three, so it's a slave to the AC outlet.

The Optoma adds something the others lack: a two-year warranty. All three of the rival projectors include only one year of coverage, an important consideration for a device that's meant for travel.

Bottom line

Oddly stuck between the old and new worlds of projectors, the Optoma ML750ST is the most traditional of the four mini projectors I reviewed. It may not be the smallest or have a battery, but it is the brightest and best for those who want to take a display across the hall or across the globe.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon