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Monday
Dec082008

Optoma Pico PK101 Review

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Optoma Pico Review.

At present there are only two kinds of pocket sized Pico projectors available to buy. This might be a surprise, given that there are quite a number of different pocket projectors on the market - however  the technology inside the box comes from just two sources. There is the LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) optics made by 3M that drive their 3M MPro 110, the Aiptek Pocket Cinema V10, and numerous other rebrands , and then there is the Texas Instruments DLP chipset used in just one projector, the Optoma Pico.
Both project a 4:3 aspect ratio and use low power high brightness LED bulbs that never need replacing. On paper the LCoS looks better as it produces a 640x480 image whereas the DLP is only 480x320 - however numbers aren't everything.....

After scouring the net for weeks looking for reviews, I could only find negative comments about the LCoS devices and positive ones about the Optoma.

There is one other pocket projector technology that promises to trump both of these - and that's lasers. The Microvision Show will use coloured lasers to draw the image on the wall and will therefore need no focusing. Unfortunately this model has been "coming soon" since 2007 and its release is currently suggested for "next year". I want my projector now so bought an Optoma Pico and I think I've made a good choice.

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The people at Optoma certainly know how to put together a product. The packaging is very nice and the contents of the box are even better. Optoma supply two batteries, both of which last 90 mins and both come fully charged in the box (which is a nice touch). The other contents of the box are a compact carrying case, a USB cable (to power the projector/charge the batteries) a USB to mains plug, a screw-in tripod mount socket and a 2.5mm to composite phono sockets lead. Note that I wrote 'sockets' rather than 'plugs' - this means that any device with yellow, red/white phono out plugs can plug in to the Pico's lead).p1030190

There is just one omission from the box - the iPod connectivity kit. This will plug between the projector and the dock connector of an iPod/iPhone with a single wire with an inline volume control. 

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Unfortunately this isn't yet available in the UK and after contacting Optoma they confirm that it will only become available in 5 weeks, so I had to resort to going to the Apple store and buying the official Apple composite lead/USB charger set for £28. I'm going off topic here - but this lead is a major rip off. Apple have locked-out any cheap third party leads from working with the iPhone 3G, apparently there is an authentication chip inside the official lead that has yet to be successfully duplicated. So if you want to get video out of any iPhone its the £28 lead or nothing. Anyway that's not Optoma's fault, but if their iPod connection kit was available now, I wouldn't have had to buy Apple's cable (perhaps the delay is down to that damn Apple authentication chip).

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The Pico is a beautifully simple device that has clearly been very carefully thought out. With it's 480x320 resolution there was no point in having a VGA or component input, composite is sufficient. The Pico only has two controls - power and focus. Using a USB lead for power means that there's no need to carry a large adaptor and most travelers already have a mains to USB adaptor for any country they are likely to visit.

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My intention is take this on holiday with my iPhone and use it to watch transcoded TV episodes on the wall of my hotel room/cruise ship cabin. Last time I went on a cruise I took my Macbook along to screen a few Xvids on some evenings  (Experience has taught me that 14 days on a cruise ship without any TV other than CNN is just a bit too long). Taking the Macbook wasn't a good idea. Leaving an £800 notebook  full of personal information unattended in my room was a big worry, not to mention the hassle/weight of transporting it on planes, through customs etc. In contrast I'll be able to lock the Pico in the room's safe.

So how does it perform. The first thing to mention is that the Optoma Pico rather obviously needs to be operated in a dark room. As long as this rule is followed it produces a perfectly watchable picture up to 50 inches. Motion is fluid and blacks are black. If I was being picky, primary colours are perhaps a touch bright at times and there appears to be a reduced range of gray shades. That being said, I grew up watching CRT TV screens that produced significantly smaller and poorer quality images than this - so taken in context this is really pretty amazing stuff. The relatively low resolution really doesn't cause any problems on a image of this size when viewed at a normal distance, in fact I wouldn't know that it was anything less than DVD resolution unless I had read the specs. My full size home theatre DLP  projector produces an excellent 1280x720 96" image so using that as a base, one should be able to view the Pico's 480x320 image at somewhere between 30"-40" without any issues - and this is true.

The only negative to the Optoma is the internal speaker - it sounds like you would imagine for it's size - like a mobile in speakerphone mode.  My solution was to use an alternative speaker, and to that end I bought a heavily discounted battery powered Altec Lansing - Orbit speaker from Amazon. This plugs into the iPhone's 3.5mm headphone socket and luckily the iPhone still routes audio through here even when the AV cable is attached to the dock cable

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So to sum up its another very positive review for the Optoma Pico PK-101. It does what it sets out to do very well. 

Its most immediate competitor is the Aiptek Pocket Cinema V10. The Aiptek offers a 640x480 resolution and has an inbuilt memory card reader and the ability to play MP4 files. Unfortunately reviews of this device are not positive. So unless someone figures out how to make a pocket projector that uses the LCoS technology effectively or Microvision finally release their laser-based Show device (and at what cost?) it looks like the Optoma is the best battery powered pocket projector currently available. It's definitely a niche product, but if you think you need a pocket projector, the Optoma is the one to get.

EDIT - Since posting this review I've managed to get hold of the iPhone/iPod connectivity kit  - for more details CLICK HERE

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Reader Comments (15)

Thanks for the review... I've now got the Pico too. And I'm scouring the net to find a solution to connect its component (female) to my Macbook Pro. Any suggestions ?

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDave

I haven't tried this myself - but I'm pretty sure you just need the Apple Micro DVI to Video adaptor

http://store.apple.com/uk/product/MB202G/A?fnode=MTY1NDA3Ng&mco=MjE0ODQ2Mw&p=1&s=topSellers

As well as a male to male phono coupler.
http://www.maplin.co.uk/module.aspx?moduleno=218488

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTechmoan

Techmoan, I must say that it sounds real elegant. With the MBP '07 model, I'd have to use
http://store.apple.com/us/product/M9267G/A?fnode=MTY1NDA5OQ&mco=MjE0NTg4NQ

I'll be checking it out (at the brick&mortar Apple store) in the morning and will feedback.

I did manage to hook it up to an N95. But the video store said I had to use a converter (a box) to adapt the DVI of the Mac to the composite of the Pico.

Quite some loss of quality is to be expected...

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdave - from Amsterdam

Like a charm. It's a slightly more expensive option, to be using that Apple DVI to Video cable, but it's way Apple: the screen resolution adapts automatically.

Just click it into a male-male Yellow Video (composite) cable and you're in business (presentations, for small audiences). And pleasure, for that matter, since I've bought it in order to be able to project movies away from home.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdave - from Amsterdam

Good news Dave - glad it worked for you. I didn't think of using a standard phono lead - obvious really.
I'm not too sure how well text would show up in this resolution - but I suppose as long as you keep your fonts large , your room dark and your audience close, you shouldn't go too far wrong. The intimacy might even help the presentation.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTechmoan

where can i buy one

December 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteral

Unfortunately without knowing what country you are in I can't recommend a dealer. Here in the UK I got mine from Dixons online. If you put PICO PK-101 into a Google shopping search you should get a page of results.

December 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTechmoan

How can you hook this up to the new macbook?

January 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteratomic

Does the Pico project the main screen of an iphone or if i was surfing the net on my iphone is this also projector or will it just project video files

January 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Roche

Just video (or photo slideshows) unfortunately. The iPhone is technically capable of doing video out during games but Apple have disabled this in the firmware. . Some work towards unlocking this functionality has been done on Jailbroken iPhones.

January 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTechmoan

This is really a cool gadget, with 9 lumens it may not be able to compete with existing projectors (which are big, heavy and some times noisy) but it is first of it's kind and have defenitely opened up windows of opportunity and taken first step towards new developments in this direction http://www.knowtheworldaround.com

January 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterslym

[...] or photos with others while traveling, it might just be the device for you.  Here is a link to a great write up about the device from a consumer perspective.  My only update to the article is that the version I purchased in the US did include the [...]

These pocket projectors have progressed in functionality over the last couple of years, and I'm curious whether you have any recent updates on them or comments about them today? Thanks.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAregee

@Aregee Sorry, I sold my Pocket projector after I realised that I didn't use it enough. I haven't really looked into them since.

May 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

So who can help me to understand what cable do i buy to connect my macbook to my pico pocket pk101. i really need this, please help me!
I just get in the box the av-cable but what other cable do i need to buy to connect it to my macbook ??

Regards

Alex

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Crush

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