Jun 1, 2006 12:00 PM,
By Jeff Sauer
Tiny LED-lit DLP projector opens doors for projection experiments.
A novelty perhaps — and novel to be sure — Mitsubishi’s PocketProjector ($799) is a tiny form-factor projector (1lb.) that may solve some very practical display needs. Yet it’s also a potentially revolutionary new look at an old technology that could open new doors. While there is a lot of interest in the PocketProjector for more consumer-oriented applications, traditional integrators shouldn’t ignore the possibilities for new business applications.
I suppose a few years ago, when projectors were getting smaller by the month (anecdotally, anyway), a 1lb. projector seemed inevitable. But projector miniaturization hit a laws-of-physics kind of roadblock after InFocus released the sub-kilo LP120 more than three years ago. Most projector activity in the interim has been about affordability, and it took a radical departure from the norm for Mitsubishi to take the next step downward.
SEEING PROJECTION IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT
The PocketProjector’s light comes from an array of three LEDs rather than any sort of traditional projection lamp. And while a different light source may not seem so revolutionary on the surface, the ramifications are significant. First, because LEDs are solid-state devices that can be turned on and off within nanoseconds, they eliminate the need for the DLP color wheel. So the PockeProjector leverages existing technology while affording fewer moving parts and a smaller form factor. The LEDs also give the PocketProjector a full-brightness boot-up time of less than 10 seconds. However, throw any 21st-century performance expectations out the window.
The PocketProjector’s three-LED array produces significantly less light than any sort of traditional lamp. Specifically, I measured the PocketProjector’s brightness at a mere 14.5 ANSI lumens and full on/off contrast at just 578:1. Brightness increased to 17.4 ANSI lumens in High Brightness mode, but those are prehistoric numbers compared to anything else on today’s projector market. They also severely limit the grayscale range, particularly on darker scenes. Of course, we’re a little jaded by the 1000-lumen default of even today’s dimmest models, but consider how bright a single candle can look in a dark room. Indeed, the PocketProjector can produce a perfectly legible 40in. spreadsheet image in a windowed room on an overcast afternoon. Smaller images, of course, appear even brighter. Nonetheless, that point of reference is very different from what applies to traditional projectors.
The PocketProjector’s native resolution is also a retro SVGA: indeed, SVGA without very good scaling up to even 1024×768. An onscreen warning comes on at 1600×1200 suggesting that you’ll get better image quality by switching the source to a lower resolution, and it’s certainly true. The PocketProjector also takes several seconds synching to new resolutions or switching between sources. And, while secondary colors and primary blue were surprisingly accurate, and red was actually well outside the REC.709 color gamut reference triangle, with green pushed far toward blue in the projector’s “Standard” configuration.
And advanced features? Forget about it. The PocketProjector has a fixed lens (manual focus), limited connectivity (only a 15-pin, composite, and S-Video with no audio), and very few menu options (although it does offer manual vertical keystone correction). Altogether with a lack of brightness and lower resolution, those may be pretty big sacrifices to ask of the typical projector buyers.
A DIFFERENT WINDOW ON PROJECTION
The PocketProjector really isn’t for the typical projector buyer. Sure, a tiny portable projector could be a utilitarian boon for the traveling PowerPoint presenter — even with its relatively diminished power (indeed, a next version with a USB port and a built-in PowerPoint viewer could be very handy, affording laptop-free presentations). But the PocketProjector’s image size really isn’t much of an improvement over a laptop computer screen. It’s more likely that the PocketProjector’s success will depend on users finding new ways and places for front projection, and that’s really what’s most exciting about this new technology.
Mitsubishi’s promotional material, for example, talks about users taking a PocketProjector camping, or in RVs, minivans, or trucks, since it’s extremely portable and can run for about 2.5 hours on an optional battery pack (about $200). That’s long enough for most movies, and certainly for sharing digital photos (another reason for a USB port) or camcorder footage. As a personal video monitor, it’s also apparently getting lots of interest for portable computer/video gaming. And there is reportedly serious interest from at least one car manufacturer in OEMing the miniature projection technology to project semi-transparent dashboard information onto cars’ windshields.
That’s all clever stuff, and maybe they’ll sell a bunch, but what does it mean for the AV contractor? What can a professional do with a seemingly under-powered projector? That answer is, as yet, to be determined, although I’d bet clever integrators will come up with some interesting ideas of their own.
For example, imagine a shoe store with a sneaker display lit up by a small overhead projector. Now, imagine the projector shining different designs and colors, perhaps on demand from customers at a touchpanel kiosk, onto the sneaker, thereby essentially showing shoppers different colors and configurations of the same shoe.
The PocketProjector’s small size is ideal for hiding it in out-of-the-way spots at nightclubs, on stages for live shows, and in other entertainment venues where a varied presentation of colors, patterns, and images might enhance the overall experience.
Projectors can display much richer store window information than the text-only LED tickers that often might call out a sale or promotion. And the PocketProjector can offer a large-screen image for a lot less than a flat panel monitor, all while placed more discreetly and securely than an overt panel. Indeed, hidden PocketProjectors could also be used to display timely or directional information, only coming on when necessary, as in cases of an emergency.
The appeal of the PocketProjector is clearly in its size and utility, if not its price that, thankfully, doesn’t scream “first generation.” Brightness and image quality are admittedly modest by typical standards, but it is easily the most portable, or discreetly installable, projector available to date. And both of those options should yield some novel applications.
Pros: Tiny size and portability allows for interesting applications at a low price.
Cons: Sub-par image quality; no USB port yet; very few advanced features.
Price: $799 (street)
Brightness: 17 ANSI lumens
Contrast: 578:1 full on/off
Native resolution: SVGA (800×600)
Configuration: 0.55in. 12° DDR DMD
Light source: Three LEDs by LumiLEDs, rated 10,000 hours
Lens: Manual focus
Projection distance: 40in. diagonal at 53in.
Screen size: 12in.-60in. diagonal
Keystone: +/- 25 ° vertical
Dimensions (W×H×D): 4.85″×1.85″×3.85″
Weight: 1.03lbs. (opt. battery pack: 0.76lbs.; power brick and cord: 0.58lbs.
Warranty: One year parts and labor (three years or 10,000 hours on DLP chip).