Picture This: Pocket Projection

The power of a pocket-sized projector.
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Picture This: Pocket Projection

Mar 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

The power of a pocket-sized projector.

Wallet, car keys, cell phone, date book, black book, itinerary, airplane tickets, theater tickets, parking tickets, parking stubs, parking pass, bus pass, building pass, passport, flashlight, light meter, volt meter, cable splitter, cable adapter, microphone, Ethernet hub, two-port VGA switch, digital camera, DV camcorder, USB drive, battery pack, business cards, deck of cards, carton of milk, can of soda, stuffed animal, animal crackers, children's shoes, toy train, harmonica, lip balm, lipstick, hand lotion, face lotion, electric razor, face plate for the car radio, transistor radio, rolled-up copy of Sound & Video Contractor magazine, portable novel, iPod, MP3 player, pennies, penknife, pens and pencils, protractor, note pad, PDA, padlock, paintbrush, projector…

Mitsubishi’s new PocketProjector

Of those things that can fit in your coat pocket, amazingly the projector might not be the biggest. At least, that should be true when Mitsubishi ships its newly announced PocketProjector, a 14oz., DLP-based personal projector, sometime this summer. (Mitsubishi is the first to formally announce a projector that weighs in at less than 1lb., but several companies are working on a similar DLP-based design, including InFocus, BenQ, Samsung, and LG Electronics.)

By putting a projector in your pocket, you'll also essentially be fitting a full-sized monitor in there too, for viewing presentation slides, Excel spreadsheets, charts, digital photos, movies, and more. Imagine a salesman, educator, or trainer walking into a meeting anywhere; pulling a PDA and projector literally out of his pocket; and delivering a presentation, giving a lesson, or showing a technique. Or, imagine a businessman in a hotel for the evening, sliding a DVD into the D drive of his notebook computer and watching a watching a large-screen movie on the white room wall. Picture a family of four, back from a fun-filled vacation day at an amusement park, connecting their camcorder and previewing the video they shot that day.

Just imagine a new SVGA projector for less than $700! $699 is Mitsubishi's announced expected street price, and that will include an AC cable and separate power brick (which, incidentally, might almost double the projector's carrying weight). Mitsubishi also expects to offer a battery pack that will let the unit run without a power cable, as well as other “Convenience Packs” that might include some kind of pop-up screen or other vertical market-oriented accessories.

Now, if you follow projectors and understand a little of the technology, there are a few things here that should jump out at you. For example, projectors' bright lamps are electric hogs, and the amount of time one could run off a battery pack would ordinarily be measured in minutes, not hours. The PocketProjector, however, uses much lower-powered LEDs (a red, a green, and a blue) that will make such battery-powered usage practicable. While Mitsubishi can't comment quite yet on how long a charge will last, it would certainly get you through a presentation.

LEDs also last a lot longer than typical 2,000- to 4,000-hour projector lamps. Mitsubishi anticipates LED life to be on the order of 20,000 hours. That combination of low power and long lamp life could make the new PocketProjector an interesting option for the always-on needs of public signage or point-of-sale displays.

The $700 pricing should also raise an eyebrow. Admittedly, projector prices have been coming down, especially on SVGA models (now less than $1,000 for some models). While the $700 to $800 mark might indeed be the next logical step, size breakthroughs have regularly commanded a price premium. So, it's probably not a surprise that the PocketProjector is not your typical model.

THE DIFFERENCE (DEVIL?) IS IN THE DETAILS

The PocketProjector's imaging engine is the same as many other SVGA models currently on the market, using Texas Instruments' 0.55in., 12-degree, DDR DMD DLP technology. But, because it uses Lumileds' LEDs instead of a high-wattage lamp, the entire light engine and cooling assembly can be dramatically smaller. That's yielded dimensions — 4.75"×1.8"×3.82" — that make the projector smaller than a box of 500 business cards.

The caveat is that the three LEDs aren't going to give off nearly as much light as a traditional projector lamp. Specification details are still hard to come by, pending final product development, but Mitsubishi admits that it is currently expecting a brightness of between 10 and 30 lumens (a far cry from the 400 lumens reported here last month following public demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show). So, while the PocketProjector's imaging engine is current DLP technology, and thus able to produce a relatively good-looking image, the very low brightness means that we've gone back to the literal dark ages of projection when it comes to the need to control ambient light.

Mitsubishi unveiled an early PocketProjector prototype at CES, but the projector was demonstrated in a very small and dark space. Under those conditions it produced a nice-looking 35in. to 40in. diagonal image. Preliminary specifications list a projected image size of 12in. to 60in. diagonal, although it's evident that a 60in. picture would demand almost complete darkness. On the other hand, InFocus demonstrated its comparable prototype (no formal announcement or specifications have been released) on a much smaller 12in. to 15in. screen.

For the family of four reviewing their vacation footage, that 12in. to 15in. screen is certainly better than the 2.5in. LCD on many consumer camcorders. It will also be an improvement over a PDA or miniature notebook screen for ad hoc presentations or visualizations. But it is hardly different from the LCD screen on most notebook computers, and not as bright. Does that ultimately diminish its usefulness as a presentation tool?

There's no doubt that the modest light output from the PocketProjector reduces its value in traditional applications. A bright conference room or classroom will effectively render it useless. The question really becomes whether a product like the PocketProjector can find new uses for front projection.

Perhaps we might see a bundle with a digital camera or camcorder maker. Maybe the screen manufacturers can create a new version of pop-up, high-gain screens to facilitate presentations in non-traditional settings. And, although Mitsubishi does not have plans to do so at this time, going wireless could offer even more usage options.

On the other hand, the projector's small size, long life, and low power are potentially ideal for point-of-sale window displays or in-store merchandizing or mood enhancement. A high-gain rear-projection screen could make it very affordable for lobby or informational signage. And such a tiny unit could be a boon for live theater staging sets. In that way, while a 0.88lb. projector might seem like the ideal portable projection solution, it may have even more appeal as an installation product. But, that will be up to your imagination.

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