No matter how many pocket (or ‘Pico’) projectors we see, it still brings a smile to our face to see a new model plop through out letterbox. There’s just something about the spectacle of a gadget little bigger than a smart phone producing pictures 60in across that never grows old.
Sadly, much as we love the idea of Pico projectors, their picture quality often lets them down. Producing enjoyable or even useful brightness and colour performance frequently proves a bridge too far for our pint-sized friends.
Which is precisely why we’re more excited than usual at the arrival of the ShowWX Pico projector. For, in a world first, this model ditches the usual LED light sources in favour of potentially light-boosting, colour-enhancing lasers.
As well as hopefully boosting the ShowWX’s performance, the use of a laser seems to have helped its maker, Microvision, make its groundbreaking projector remarkably small and light – even by Pico standards.
Its body is just 14mm high, 60mm wide and 118mm long, and even with its battery it weighs just 122g. So it truly is a device you can stick in your pocket and forget till you need it.
The ShowWX wears its smallness well, too, with its cutely rounded edges, glossy finish and bold but likable blue finish. The only bum note is the tiny lens on the front, which looks cheaply built versus everything else.
Accessory ups and downs
The ShowWX ships with a rechargable battery good for a very respectable 90-120 minutes, and it doesn’t skimp on the other accessories either. Also included are a wall charger, an iPod connection cable, a composite video adaptor, a storage pouch, a micro-USB cable and even a wrist strap.
It’s disappointing, though, that the VGA dock for hooking the projector to laptops isn’t included, but instead is sold as an optional extra.
It’s also a slight shame that while it connects to iPods via good quality component video signals, you’re restricted to relatively low-quality composite video feeds with other video sources. Though we guess it’s probably a bit unreasonable to expect visual perfection from a machine like the ShowWX.
Lots of numbers
Turning to the projector’s other specifications, its light output is rated at 10 Lumens, its claimed contrast ratio is a strikingly high 5,000:1, and it’s reckoned to be capable of producing a picture anywhere between 6in-100in wide.
Its resolution is a solid 848x480, showing that it’s a native widescreen device, and it has a near 1:1 throw ratio with no zoom or focus rings. Actually, the nature of laser lighting means the image will always be in focus, with no adjustment from you.
Please note, however, that the ShowWX has no built-in speaker if you want sound to accompany your impromptu presentations, and nor is there any remote control. Power up the ShowWX and it immediately proves a crushing disappointment. For the hoped-for leap in brightness just doesn’t materialise.
Dull, dull, dull
In fact, its pictures are the dullest we’ve seen since Optoma’s now-ageing PK101, being barely watchable even in a completely dark room at our reference 5ft size. We checked the projector’s brightness setting in case it had arrived set too low, but no – it was running at its highest setting.
The picture didn’t really become watchably bright until we reduced its size to just 30in. And even then it wasn’t exactly burning our retinas.
Unfortunately, the lack of brightness is far from the only problem with the ShowWX’s pictures. We also felt distracted by a shimmering, gleaming effect lying across the top of bright parts of the picture that’s particularly troublesome with PC feeds.
Motion reproduction is flawed, too, with noticeable judder and stuttering. There’s evidence at any sort of image size of horizontal black lines in the picture. And despite the lasers meaning the picture is always in focus, it never looks sharp or detailed.
Even colours aren’t the revelation we’d hoped for, with tones consistently looking dull and muted – though this might just be the effect of the general lack of brightness.
Is there any good news? Well, the projector runs pretty much completely silently and its reproduction of black colours is very good – though don’t expect to see any shadow detailing. However, ultimately it's the numerous flaws that dominate.