Pico Projector Review
Tried and Tested: Optoma PK101 Pico Projector
From the age of 10 my career ambition had always been to join the Police force, but like so many graduates I left university with significant debt, and I very quickly discovered that a career in the Police force wouldn’t help me pay this off quickly enough.
So for the quick financial rewards I embarked on a career in sales and I took a graduate job for a small IT company where I started out selling projectors and plasma screens. Back then the smallest projectors weighed in at just over 15kgs and cost upwards of £10,000, so when I was asked to review the Optoma PK101 Pico Projector which weighs in at an amazing 115g (yes that’s only 4oz) and with a footprint smaller than an iPhone I simply couldn’t resist.
This projector can literally fit in your pocket. It is powered by a rechargeable battery that lasts around 90 minutes, so there is no need for a power cable and plug that would probably weigh more than the projector itself. My unit came with a spare battery, so in theory you have around three hours of power for when you’re on the move. It’s also possible to power the unit via the USB power input.
The sole connectivity is through a composite video connection perfect for DVD players, camcorders and more importantly linking with some of the most popular devices on the market today, in particular the iPod and iPhone. The challenge comes when trying to connect the device to a laptop as the Pico Projector doesn’t have a VGA input, unlike just about every other projector on the market. To connect to my laptop took lots of Google searches to find the right cable combination.
Image & Performance
With a device of this size it’s not at all surprising that you need to ‘adapt’ your environment to accommodate for the lack of brightness. The simple rule-of-thumb is the darker the room the better the Pico. This unit is not designed for environments where you cannot control the light conditions. In a board room you’ll need to close the blinds and turn out the lights for the Pico Projector to be of any real value.
As with any projector, the further you take the Pico away from the screen the larger the image. In an almost pitch black room the largest image it could accommodate was around 7-8 feet, any more than this and the unit really struggled. The Pico performed best displaying a diagonal image of around 2 feet, but the lighter the room the smaller the image needed to be.
In a controlled environment the published results for the projector are very poor; the brightness (in the projector world measured in ANSI lumens) came in at 10 ANSI lumens. Most portable projectors today (at around half the footprint of a laptop and 4kgs) have a brightness of around 2000 ANSI lumens, so in comparison the Pico isn’t on the same playing field, but let’s not forget the footprint and weight of this unit.
The Pico Projector has a claimed contrast ratio of 1000:1 (contrast ratio is they way manufactures measure the difference between black and white, the greater the ratio the better the colour definition). In reality I’d be very surprised if this was the case, I’ve read other tests that show the contrast at 250:1. This however is not a bad performance, and the image quality for high quality video-casts downloaded from the likes of iTunes is surprisingly good and watchable. On the other hand the Pico really struggled with images from my laptop; they were grainy and often flickered.
The Pico Projector uses a technology called DLP (Digital Light Processing) which is how Optoma can develop such a small unit. DLP usually struggles with certain colours but this unit performed surprisingly well.
Believe it or not the Pico Projector even has a small built-in speaker. At 0.5w sound is not great quality, or particularly loud, but what can one expect from a unit of this size? Unlike most projectors there is no fan noise to fight with, so at least the small speaker has a chance. Personally, I prefer to use the sound from my laptop or iPhone as the quality is sharper and louder, but as least you know the Pico has a loudspeaker if “needs must”.
Selling with the Pico Projector
The Pico Projector isn’t about to change the technology I use to deliver a sales presentation. I’m afraid to say that right now I’d have to continue using either my laptop or my current portable Sony projector in preference to this first version of the Pico Projector. Although my Sony projector is significantly heavier (around 4kgs instead of the Pico’s 115g) and bigger (the footprint is about half the size of my laptop, whereas the Pico’s footprint is smaller than an iPhone) I couldn’t run the risk of not being able to block out the natural light to allow my audience to see the screen clearly. Even if I could, there is still the issue of the image quality, and this isn’t up to standard, yet!
If you’d have asked me 11 years ago when I was first selling projectors if anyone would ever produce a unit of this size, at this specification, and at this price, I’d have laughed at you. There is no doubt that this is amazing piece of engineering. But for business presentations right now I’d pay a fraction more for a larger, more powerful, unit.
For watching videos from my iPhone in an environment where I can control the light the Pico Projector is a “nice to have” but I’m not sure I’d spend £225 of my own money! [Editor's note - Richard has actually offered to return this unit.] I’m sure future models will be more powerful, with higher specs. Then, this size of device will be used daily without a second thought from any of its users. Unless they happened to have had a previous career selling projectors, when they might remember trying to carry two or three of the original 20kg projectors into an office for a client demo.
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