The pocket rocket we’ve been packing in our pants recently (full name: Optoma DLP EP-PK-101 Pico Pocket Projector) is one of the first mini projectors to hit the market. It’s also one of the best, even though a number of flaws spill from the tiny device.
Styled like a ’40s-era Zippo, the piano-black portable feels more natural in the hand than a lot of cellphones. That’s because of its narrow frame and lack of buttons — it only has a power switch and a focus-control wheel. The brightness can be dialed back to a half lumen for small projections (9 inches or less). But for anything larger, you’ll want to bump the power to full blast. The Pico’s body will barely make a dent in your bag with its 4.2-ounce heft, but when carried in a tight-fitting pocket it feels a little ungainly.
But it’s not size that matters to us, it’s the video components! The projector is comprised of a combo-rig LED lamp and a DLP chip (courtesy of Texas Instruments) that sets the resolution at 480 x 320 pixels with a range output of 9 lumens. Yes, we know this is low compared to full-bodied projectors like Benq’s gargantuan MP512 ST 2500-lumen projector but for something this small, it’s remarkable.
While brightness isn’t everything, the comparatively low light output means any projections from the Pico effectively can only be seen in dark places. This limitation we found a bit … irritating. Who wants to go through the hassle of locking themselves in a light-sealed room just to watch an episode of 30 Rock?
If you are willing to encase yourself in some sort of photon-free chamber, the Pico’s picture really does shine. The PK-101 has an impressive 1000:1 contrast ratio, paired with LEDs that have an estimated 20,000-hour battery life — that’s twice as long as most other projectors, even full-sized ones.
Early reports indicated the Pico’s color palette would flavor blue hues, but our tests didn’t find that. All we saw was color that was vibrant, clear and rich — provided you’ve set the projector the right distance from the screen.
We tested the Pico over eight different distances ranging from 8 inches to 8 feet. Turns out the sweet spot for the projector is between 31 and 72 inches. Anything under that and the picture gets muddled; anything over that and it gets washed out.
While the projector is equipped with a tiny, 0.5-watt speaker, the sound quality is positively Podunk (think ’80s-era clock radio). For enhanced audio, you’d seriously be better off plugging your own sound system into the Pico’s 2.5-mm jack AV Input. The unit’s volume-control jack currently works with Apple portables (Optoma is working on Nokia phone compatibility).
Making audio matters worse, when we connected the player to an iPod-iPhone kit, the external speaker shut off and forced us to listen to a movie on a set of earbuds. Hear that? That’s the sound of us being not amused.
Once Optoma addresses some of these glaring compatibility issues and amps up the Pico’s luminosity, it’ll have some serious chops as a projector. But for now, its size and shortcomings make it come off like a kid’s toy. Albeit the best kid’s toy of its kind. Anywhere.