Is that a Pico Projector in your pocket?

This year’s International Consumer Electronics Show saw the debut of some of the first prototype video projectors that are as small as cell phones.

Now, just 10 months later, the first commercial products based on this cool technology are ready and so I settled down to watch a movie on one of them and came away impressed.

Optoma’s Pico Projector really fits in your hand. It’s no exaggeration to say its the same size as a cell phone or, to compare it another way, about the same length as an iPhone 3G but a little narrower and taller. The precise measurements are 10 centimeters long by 5cms wide by 1.5 cms tall and it weighs 114 grams.

There are just two controls on the device, a power switch and a focus control. Start-up takes a couple of seconds and then it’s ready to go. The LED light is not only the secret to its small size but also means there is no waiting around for it to warm-up.

Video and audio is fed in through a three-terminal 2.5mm jack plug. Optoma supplies a cable with the jack plug on one end and female RCA connectors on the other for connecting up to anything that can supply a standard-definition PAL or NTSC composite video signal. I tried it with an iPod, set-top box and DVD player and it worked fine with all of them.

The unit can be set down on a surface, propped up with a book or attached to a tripod. The underside has a small screw in which a supplied adapter can be attached so it will work with a standard tripod.

Perched on my desk and projecting its image against a sheet of paper it delivered a bright and crisp image that was easy to enjoy. So much so that it wasn’t until I got to the end of my second episode of “The Simpsons” that I remembered I was supposed to be working. And good timing too because the battery died half-way through the third episode.

After a recharge – which takes 4 hours – I selected half-brightness mode and was able to watch a 92 minute movie and 12 minutes of a TV show before the light went out. For the recharge, power is supplied via a mini USB connector but that’s all the connector can be used for.

Audio is played through a small speaker built into the unit which, when it was on my desk, was just fine for a TV show but I think I’d want to hook it up to something more substantial if I was sitting back and watching a larger screen image, especially for a movie or music video.

If you take it traveling with you then getting it to work on an iPod with a pair of headphones might be a hassle. The video and audio are combined on the iPod’s headphone jack on older models so you’ll have to come up with some patch leads to break off the video signal while still running audio to your headphones. This isn’t a fault of Optoma’s — you’ll have a problem using headphones when any other video display is hooked-up to an older iPod — but something to watch out for.

Newer iPods run the video signal out of the dock connector leaving the headphone socket free.
So, all-in-all it’s an impressive product, especially if you’re looking for something to make presentations to a small group of people while on the road. While it’s bright enough to be seen at short range you’ll have to turn the lights down if you want to get the full 60-inch image that the projector is capable of and won’t replace a traditional projector for a room of people.

For personal entertainment it works well too with the speaker but you’ll have to figure out a cable if you want to use it on the move, say in a train or plane.

It will be available in major international markets from December.

The Optoma projector isn’t the only one on the market. 3M, which was demonstrating the technology at CES, also has its own. The 3M “MPro 110” In addition to the video jack it also has a VGA port but offers a shorter battery life of between 40 and 60 minutes, according to 3M.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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