Optoma’s latest Pico has arrived to deliver a much-needed performance boost the pocket projector scene. Does it succeed?
Around this time last year, we went walkabout with the first truly pocket-sized projector: Optoma’s PK101. And frankly, once we’d seen past the allure of its design, we were underwhelmed. The thing just didn’t chuck out enough light to actually do anything useful.
So it’s with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that we tackle Optoma’s latest bid for pocket-projection glory, the PK301. Hopefully its markedly higher £350 price (versus just £240 for the PK101) points towards a much more effective proposition.
Small – but not quite as beautiful
For all its faults, the PK101 was truly gorgeous, combining mind-blowing smallness with a slinky body straight out of Q’s James Bond workshop. The PK301, by comparison, is something of a munter.
Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Its sheer smallness (just 30mm thick) gives it some appeal. But its more conventional projector shape and less eye-catching finish both make it less likely to inspire jealous ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.
The PK301 gives its pretty-boy sibling a kicking when it comes to connections, though. The crazy lack of sockets on the PK101 is replaced by a mini-HDMI input, a micro USB input with provided adaptor, a micro SD card slot able to handle cards up to 32GB, a 3mm AV (composite video) input with provided adaptor, and a Universal I/O port for hooking up a PC, again with the necessary adaptor supplied.
You can even hook up iPods and iPhones to the PK301 via a (not included) Apple connection kit, and the SD card slot can handle Powerpoint files as well as photos and movie clips.
All this immediately makes the PK301 potentially much more flexible, easy to use and just plain handy than the PK101. Though it’s a pity – if hardly a surprise – that Optoma couldn’t stretch to including an HDMI to mini-HDMI adaptor.
The PK301’s potential usefulness increases even further with Optoma’s claim that it can drive a 120in image. This suggests a much higher brightness output from its three LED lamps than the PK101 managed.
It’s also reassuring to find the PK301 improving greatly on the PK101’s paltry 320x240 resolution, heading up to 854x480. The PK301 is also more ‘movie friendly’ in that it has a native widescreen chipset versus the PK101’s 4:3 one.
The PK301’s claimed contrast ratio is double that of the PK101 at 2,000:1, with one final helpful spec being 1.5 hours of life from a built-in battery if mains use isn’t possible. You can up battery life to five hours with an optional high-capacity battery.
It’s thankfully obvious within milliseconds that the PK301’s performance is on a whole different planet of usefulness versus the largely pointless PK101.
Pushed quite hard with a 5ft (60in) image, it produces a picture that’s actually bright enough to be watchable, at least in a darkened room. There’s not exactly much punch to proceedings, but brightness levels are sufficient to produce a sense of contrast, with visible shadow details in dark areas and none of the PK101‘s tendency to turn objects against bright backgrounds into mere silhouettes.
The projector’s presentation of black is decent, too, with less grey clouding than expected, and DLP’s tendency to show grey dotting noise only apparent if you’re really close to the screen.
You need to run the PK301 on its highest brightness output (only achievable when connected to the mains) to achieve engaging results at 5ft, though, which makes the projector’s cooling fans audible to the tune of 29db, and leaves the projector feeling hot. But these seem small prices to pay for enjoying a watchable image from a genuinely tiny projector.
Let’s not get carried away. For all of the PK301’s considerable improvements over the PK101, its pictures are still pretty basic. Colours look washed out and short of ‘pop’. Also, despite spending a frustrating 10 minutes faffing around with the focus ring, we couldn’t get a picture that looked consistently sharp or detailed. This is particularly problematic, of course, when it comes to data presentations.
While the PK301’s brightness output is streets ahead of the puny output levels of the PK101, its images still feel rather dull – even in a dark room – and struggle to make an impact when pushed any larger than around 30in when they have to compete with any ambient light.
The last thing to say about the PK301 is that the sound quality from its built-in 0.5W sounds every bit as tinny and distorted as you’d expect.
Optoma Pico PK301 review
A vast improvement on its predecessor and still charmingly small, but a lack of brightness means it’s still restricted to a life in dark rooms