Putting a Big Picture in a Remarkably Small Pocket: 4 Mini Projectors Reviewed

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With the warm spring beckoning us Northerners to the outdoors, thoughts of week-long beach vacations or camping trips bring on a serious dilemma: How in the world are we going to watch movies? OK, maybe, maybe not. But if you happen to be a millennial or a teenager with a smartphone, you know that its screen handily doubles these days for your old pappy’s big-screen TV. Except, it’s really not so big, is it? You can crowd in only so close when you’re trying to share your latest photos or a download of American Horror Story with a group of friends.

Today’s projector manufacturers have heard your cries for help, as well as those of business professionals who need to cart around projectors for presentations. And even the cries from guys like me, who, on a day off in a distant land, wouldn’t mind being able to watch a reasonably large and acceptably high-quality image of a high-def movie on whatever white wall happens to be nearby. After cocktail hour, anyway.

With this in mind, and a long-nagging curiosity about what these little boxes can actually do, I called in a few for a survey. And when I say little, I mean it. The largest of the four projectors I evaluated is but 6.5 inches wide x 1.3 high x 4 deep, about the size of a typical mass-market paperback book (if you still remember what those look like). The smallest, I kid you not, is about half the size of the iPhone you might use to drive it.

These projectors go by any number of descriptives, including pocket, mini, pico, and—I like this one—mini-beamer. What most have in common is that their diminutive size is made possible by none other than Digital Light Projection micromirror technology. Yes, that DLP—the one that helped revolutionize the home theater projector business, not to mention digital cinema.

DLP, for those unfamiliar, is based on a concept so preposterous on its face, it’s a miracle it even works, much less that Texas Instruments has disrupted entire industries with it and has now made it so ubiquitous and cheap that it’s available in projectors costing less than $200 on Amazon. At the heart of any DLP system is typically one DMD, or digital micromirror device (but sometimes, there are three). The DMD is an electro-optical chip, created using something akin to a semiconductor mass-fabrication process. A finished DMD has a silicon base, above which is suspended a multitude of tiny, square mirrors that nearly adjoin, like treetops in a rainforest canopy. Each mirror is suspended by a post and able to mechanically swivel between two positions, based on application of a static electric charge from below.

Each mirror represents a single pixel on the screen, and there can be millions on one chip; a 4K-resolution DMD has 8.8 million, each measuring less than one-fifth the width of a human hair. When a mirror is tilted to its on position, it reflects a beam from the projector’s light source that passes through the lens and on to the screen. Tilted to its off position, it dumps that light into an absorptive area, and that pixel goes dark on the screen. To get shades of gray, the mirrors oscillate rapidly—many thousands of times per second— to mitigate how much light strikes the screen.

Most single-chip DLP home theater projectors add color by sending the white light source through a multicolored filter wheel, or color wheel, that rapidly cycles among the primary colors. Signal processing coordinates the red, green, and blue picture information with those moments when the wheel is in the right spot to reproduce each color. But instead of using the typical high-intensity lamp and a delicate glass color wheel, which creates both bulk and the potential for damage from rough handling, these pico projectors typically use a multicolored LED light source or occasionally a laser. This eliminates the mechanical wheel, reduces size requirements, and makes these devices durable for travel and mobility.

Based on size and cost, you’ll find a wide variety of performance levels within the category. Along with their footprints, pico projectors vary greatly in their resolution and light output, not to mention the quality of their lens and optical elements, their connectivity, and their features. The smaller projectors produce less light but can be operated on battery power for true on-the-spot portability, while the more powerful units require a place to plug in for AC power. The four projectors under review here straddle both worlds. There are two shockingly tiny, battery-operated, breast-pocket projectors from Magnasonic and Sony, retailing for $170 and $350, respectively, and two somewhat larger and more fully featured models from Optoma and Vivitek, selling for $549 and $599. Three of the four are LED-driven DLP projectors; the Sony uses a laser light source and an alternative imaging device, as I’ll describe later. The projectors vary in resolution from a somewhat meager 650 x 360 pixels to 1920 x 800 pixels—essentially, 720p high definition. Rated light output among them runs from 25 to 800 lumens. So I was prepared for, and got, an interesting range of experiences.

I should add a note about audio: Each of these projectors has a tiny built-in speaker, which worked, barely, for reproducing intelligible dialogue and sounded about as good as you’d expect from a driver the size of a fingernail, powered by a wee 1- or 2-watt flea amp. But each projector also has a 3.5mm minijack audio output, into which I plugged my home theater rig for playback. This helped create an immersive experience irrespective of image size, though you probably won’t have a theater system nearby when you use these projectors in the field. A good portable powered speaker with an analog input is a highly recommended accessory if you plan to watch movies or music videos.

How We Tested

Given their small form factor and relatively low cost, it would be unfair to hold these products to the standards we apply to full-size home theater projectors, even the budget models we test. That said, a good picture is a good picture, and while we should expect to give up some image quality, maybe even a lot, for the convenience and wow-factor associated with whipping a credit-card-sized projector out of our jeans pocket in a social setting (my hero!), it’s helpful to understand the trade-offs and know how close these picos come to hitting an enthusiast’s sweet spot.

That said, I zeroed in on light output as the most critical attribute and came up with a repeatable test procedure to gauge each projector’s ability. First, I mounted the projector on a traditional camera tripod, which allowed me great ease in moving the projector’s distance from the screen and swiveling it up, down, right, or left to eliminate the keystone effect that results in non-parallel sides. This is a more prominent issue with temporary setups and small screen sizes. Most of the projectors had digital vertical keystone correction that I’d have been happy to tap for a one-time portable application, even though we strongly recommend that this be avoided in a permanent home theater installation to avoid artifacts or loss of sharpness. I skipped it here as well for purpose of evaluation.

For each projector, I set up first for a 65-inch-diagonal image as my preferred image size, on the thinking that if I’m carrying around a projector, even a small one, it would be nice to know it can deliver a reasonably viewable picture at least as large as a reference flat panel at home. For projectors that offer different video modes, I selected the one that had the best default color for movies. After measuring and recording peak white light output and throw distance at that 65-inch size (in a dark room and on my reference Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 1.3-gain white matte screen), I physically moved the projector (none of these has an optical zoom adjustment) to whatever throw distance delivered 12 foot-lamberts of output, then measured how large an image the projector could cast at this brightness. I selected that number of 12 ft-L as about the lowest light output that any of our reviewers have successfully used in their darkened home theaters, though usually with a much larger image. I also measured black levels at both the 65-inch and 12-ft-L sizes to calculate contrast ratio figures. (Don’t consider them absolute, but you can use them for comparison among our test subjects.) Beyond this, I looked at the range of specified image sizes the manufacturer recommends and measured peak white at both the smallest and the largest image size advised for that unit. You can find my results in the accompanying chart.

Then, I looked at a few test patterns and some content. I viewed segments of Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation and The Martian on Blu-ray through each projector’s HDMI input from my Oppo BDP-103 universal disc player. I also watched an Amazon Prime high-def download of Ex Machina via my iPad 2 through a 30-pin-to-HDMI adapter and checked out some live high-def and standard-def YouTube streams, on the thinking that a portable device is likely to be the source in most applications. Along those lines, I also fed those projectors that featured a USB input and an integrated media player some standard-def video clips from a thumb drive.

Although I created a level playing field to compare these projectors in a highly favorable environment, the nature of how they’re used will likely put them in less ideal conditions. All front projectors do better in a pitch-black room; that might work for night-time movie viewing, but not a business presentation. And a white sheet or a white/off-white painted wall won’t likely have the reflective properties of my reference screen. That said, the two brightest of these projectors did produce a surprisingly watchable image even with the room lights on, and so did the little guys if the image was small enough. Be prepared to adjust your expectations and ratchet down your screen size, maybe to a large degree. But whatever situation you find yourself in, if the goal is simply to get a decent picture up that a small group can enjoy, you can probably get by with any of these.

Magnasonic PP60 DLP LED Projector

PRICE : $170

AT A GLANCE

Plus

  • Incredibly small and lightweight
  • Uncomplicated operation

Minus

  • Best with small image size
  • Only two hours on a battery charge
  • Mono audio output
THE VERDICT

Don’t expect much more than utilitarian image quality, but the diminutive Magnasonic PP60 is a fun product that provides ultimate portability and delivers fair value.

Magnasonic claims that this is “the world’s smallest portable DLP projector,” and I don’t doubt it. The PP60 is only a touch bigger (and thinner) than a pack of playing cards, and it barely tips the scale at 4.5 ounces; it’s hard to accept that any functional projector could fit in such a tiny, lightweight form factor. It carries a $300 list price but is promoted on Magnasonic’s website for $170, so I’ve evaluated it in that context.

You do sacrifice brightness and picture detail for the PP60’s size and portability, as it’s rated for only 25 lumens of light output and a somewhat meager 640 x 360 pixel resolution. But you get a fair amount for your money: It’s well thought out and reasonably well performing (considering the form factor), and it comes with a nice mix of cables and accessories. The built-in battery gives you two hours of play time before requiring a three- to five-hour charge from your computer or phone charger—perhaps a bit short for some movies or a sports event. A single HDMI input accepts signals up to 1080p and is MHL compliant for connection to compatible smartphones. Magnasonic includes a short standard HDMI cable, a micro-HDMI-to-HDMI adapter, an MHL adapter, and a 5-pin/11-pin converter for Samsung Galaxy phones. There’s a small carry bag for travel and a cute little fold-up plastic tripod that should come in handy for table or counter setup.

Controls here are about as straightforward as they get—no fancy picture adjustments or even a menu to navigate, which guarantees very simple setup and operation. An on/off slider and a pair of up/down volume buttons are on one side, and the HDMI input, micro-USB charging port, and 3.5mm headphone output are on the other side. (Oddly, the headphone output delivered only the left channel of a stereo HDMI signal to my hi-fi rig and a pair of headphones I plugged in; I assume it’s a mono output, though that probably won’t matter with most portable speakers.) The tiny speaker fires off the top, and there’s a mechanical thumbwheel above the lens opening to adjust focus. And…you’re done.

Recommended image size starts at 10 inches—no bigger than the average tablet, really—and tops out at 60 inches diagonal, 5 inches smaller than my target. To be a little more fair, I evaluated mostly at 50 inches, though the picture still lacked any real punch, and it turned out that 30 to 35 inches diagonal gave me a more satisfying experience, improving both sharpness and contrast. (Achieving 12 ft-L brightness required an even smaller image of just 21 inches.) There were some odd halo-like reflections cast near the lower right corner of the image, but they were noticeable only on black transitions. I also spotted some occasional brightness pumping I couldn’t explain, but again, nothing that was particularly bothersome. And in an early scene of Ex Machina, when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is approaching the entry to his boss’s compound, the projector struggled with some motion artifacts and moiré on the vertical slats of the gray wood fence as the camera panned across it. Again, such an inexpensive product can’t be chastised for this.

Even with a smaller, punchier image, I couldn’t help my expert eye from seeing everything that was right or wrong: pretty good, though not great, color accuracy (such as in the hyped greens of the tall grass in the opening of Rogue Nation) and skintones that were acceptable but ultimately too red. Focus was about what you’d expect from a lens opening smaller than the diameter of a pencil eraser—a touch soft but (with careful adjustment) sharp enough to allow me to get sucked into the program. Not surprisingly, shadow detail was hard to come by, as the image tended to crush blacks in the name of delivering more impactful contrast.

Let’s put all that in perspective: This is a low-low-budget $170 projector that’s as big as my wallet and half as thick. By A/V enthusiast standards, it’s a toy. Despite its obvious shortcomings, I was always amazed at what it could do and never really held against it what it couldn’t. Crossing the $500 mark gets you into a different class of product that starts to mimic what a “real” projector can do. But if your goal is to just walk around with a really cool little wafer you can pull out at any moment to put up a surprisingly viewable image, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The Magnasonic PP60 seems to know its target audience and serves it well for not a lot of money.

Specs
  • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 3.9 x 0.5 x 3
  • Weight (Pounds): 0.28
  • Resolution: 640 x 360
  • Brightness: 25 lumens
  • Inputs: HDMI Ver. 1.x with MHL, Micro USB (power/charging)
  • Outputs: 3.5mm mono analog audio
  • Miscellaneous: Recommended image size (inches), 10-60; throw distance (feet), 1.6-12.5

Sony MP-CL1 Laser Projector

PRICE $350

AT A GLANCE

Plus

  • Compact form factor
  • Auto focus
  • Acts as phone charger

Minus

  • No way to fine-tune focus
  • Some laser sparkle
  • Overly warm color balance
  • Only two hours on a battery charge
THE VERDICT

Sony’s super-cool laser projector delivers an acceptable image and easy setup when compactness and portability are paramount.

Instead of a DLP chip and an LED light source, Sony’s MP-CL1 uses a laser to literally scan its 1920 x 720-resolution image. The laser diode (which is spec’d for 2,000 hours but lasts up to 10,000, Sony says—versus 20,000 to 30,000 for LED) is directed into something called a MEMS mirror. The mirror physically moves to precisely control the beam and create the image. What? You’ve never heard of MEMS? It stands for “micro electric mechanical system,” and it describes a chip that’s fabricated like a semiconductor but includes both electrical and mechanical elements to perform a specific task. Sound familiar? That’s right: DLP’s Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) is also a MEMS.

An interesting advantage to Sony’s laser approach is the ability for each pixel to retain its sharpness on the screen with no need to mechanically focus a lens. It’s an odd experience to move a projector in or out and watch the image zoom accordingly but with no need to adjust focus. The MP-CL1 will even keep the focus uniform across an image cast on an undulating wall, or if part of the picture sits atop a bump-out or other obstacle. No focus control is even provided.

The MP-CL1 is impressively solid, with a sleek black metal case about the size of a standard iPhone. It comes with a USB-to-micro-USB charging cable (the unit works two hours on a charge), an HDMI-to-mini-HDMI adapter for the projector’s mini-HDMI/MHL input, and a plastic kickstand that casts the image slightly upward for coffee-table placement. (The tripod insert found with the other projectors is absent here; I had to tape the Sony to my tripod. Also absent is a carry bag.) Along with HDMI, you can connect with Wi-Fi mirroring from Android sources. There’s also a regular USB port that will charge your phone in a pinch from the MP-CL1’s battery. The projector accepts signals up to 1080p.

Along one side of the MP-CL1 is an on/off button and a little swivel/plunger control used to access the menu, navigate up/down, and then select. The menu is surprisingly extensive and includes controls for vertical and horizontal keystone correction, contrast and brightness, and color saturation and hue. An alignment menu is used to periodically reconverge the laser’s red, green, and blue primaries.

I was wowed by the Sony’s technology, form factor, and user interface, and it threw a respectable image, though not without some noticeable flaws. First, the good: Although it has only 37 lumens of light output, it’s rated to cast pictures from 40 to 120 inches, so my 65-inch image target was well within its range. The 2.2 ft-L or so that I measured at that size, while still meager, was a bit brighter and had more perceived punch than the Magnasonic’s image. This was thanks in part to the Sony’s ability to achieve a much deeper black than any of the DLP models I tested (see the accompanying chart). It had, by far, the best measured contrast ratio of any of the four projectors at any image size, though its lack of brightness was still limiting, even at 65 inches. Ultimately, I found that pushing the projector in for a 50-inch image gave it satisfying brightness, though that shrunk to 30 inches to get to my 12 ft-L ideal target.

At any image size, I was troubled by a color balance that leaned too far red in the dark areas of the picture. This was quickly apparent in the already golden-red landscape in the opening scenes of The Martian, as well as in Rogue Nation, where it made the dark wood of a record-store listening booth and the paneled walls of a Senate hearing room take on a reddish hue instead of the natural dark brown walnut seen on a proper display. This was mitigated by reducing the color saturation a touch, but the hue control wasn’t much help. And despite the projector’s 720p resolution, that last bit of sharpness was always missing, even from small images, and it made me yearn for a lens adjustment for fine-tuning. Finally, the nature of laser projection is that you get pearlescence in lighter areas of the image that becomes more apparent with camera movement. The MP-CL1 has technology to tame this so-called laser sparkle, though I did spot it occasionally. It wasn’t particularly bothersome.

Again, it’s only fair to lower the expectations for a $350 projector that is so small and so remarkably high-tech for its price, and whose intended purpose is really just to deliver mobility and a useful image when you need it. Most users will likely be amazed by the Sony and what it can do and will readily forgive its faults, if they even notice them. And while you’ll find alternatives at its price that might deliver a brighter and perhaps even sharper image, they most certainly won’t have the incredible portability or cool factor of the MP-CL1.

Specs
  • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 5.9 x 0.5 x 3.1
  • Weight (Pounds): 0.46
  • Resolution: 1920 x 720
  • Brightness: 37 lumens
  • Inputs: HDMI Ver. 1.4b with MHL 2.2, Micro USB (power/charging)
  • Outputs: 3.5mm stereo analog audio, USB (for charging external devices)
  • Miscellaneous: Recommended image size (inches), 40-120; throw distance (feet), 3.77 at 40-inch screen size

Vivitek Qumi Q6 DLP LED Projector

PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE

Plus

  • Powerful big-picture brightness
  • Extensive image adjustments
  • Accurate color reproduction
  • Exceptional flexibility

Minus

  • So-so blacks
  • Slightly soft focus

THE VERDICT

For such a small footprint, Vivitek’s Qumi Q6 impresses with its big, bright picture, excellent color, and generous feature set.

Stepping up from the tiny, battery-fed Magnasonic and Sony portables to Vivitek’s AC-powered, $599 Qumi Q6 puts you into new territory. At a compact 6.5 inches wide x 1.3 high x 4 deep, it’s not going to slip into your pocket, but it will fit easily in a briefcase or backpack, and it comes with a padded carry pouch that holds the projector, its small power brick, the credit-card-style remote, and the included HDMI and HDMI-to-mini-HDMI cables. It’s a stylish little thing with rounded corners that comes in seven colors, including the snappy brushed gold of my review sample. There are unraised and fairly invisible touch-sensitive controls on the top for operation and menu access that proved annoying—I inadvertently excited them every time I touched the projector. So I stuck with using the remote.

The Qumi Q6 is loaded with features and connections. There are two HDMI ports (one MHL compli- ant) and a USB port for a flash drive loaded with video or photos; an integrated Office Viewer opens Word, Excel, PowerPoint, text, or PDF documents. You can store content in the Q6’s 4 gigabytes of internal memory or tap built-in wireless connectivity from either an Android or iOS device via a third-party app for your device from EZCast. I found the app suitable for use with static content, but less so for streaming video, where it tended to stutter and buffer on hi-res YouTube clips. There’s a tiny built-in speaker and a 3.5mm analog stereo audio output. And the Q6 displays 3D video via 144-Hz DLP-Link glasses (not supplied), though only from PC sources playing 1024×768, 120-Hz signals and not from 3D Blu-ray players.

Compared with the true pocket projectors, the Q6 trades a bigger footprint and wall-power requirement for 800 LED-driven lumens of light output, while still delivering 1280 x 800 (WXGA, 720p) pixel resolution from its 0.45-inch DLP chip. The projector is spec’d for images from 30 to 90 inches, and at my target 65-inch size, peak white measured a bright 17.8 ft-L. Image size at 12 ft-L, my suggested minimum for dark-room movie watching, was a large 82 inches. And out of the box, the Q6’s color tracked like a more expensive projector’s, with grayscale hovering close to the 6500K (D65) color temperature standard across the full brightness range in the Movie preset.

Menu options were closer to those of a more serious rig: about a half-dozen picture modes for presentations, gaming, movie-watching, or other scenarios, including a Bright mode that boosts light output even further but didn’t share the accurate color of the Movie preset. Other settings included automatic or manual correction for vertical keystone; three color temps (including the preferred Warm setting for movies); gamma adjustments from 1.8 to 2.4, and the usual contrast, brightness, sharpness, color, and tint controls. A low-power mode provides a slower fan speed, but even when I used the high setting and sat within 3 feet of the projector, I never found fan noise obtrusive, and it disappeared completely when I was watching content at normal volume.

After I did some casual fiddling with the picture controls, image quality was really quite good with the Q6. That field of tall green grass that opens Rogue Nation now looked more natural and saturated compared with the performance of the pocket projectors. And in the excellent Blu-ray transfer of The Martian, fleshtones were well rendered (if perhaps leaning just a bit pink)—notably in close-ups of the crew in their space station and mothership, as well as in the face and torso of stranded astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) as he strips off his space suit early in the movie to dress his body wound. The familiar red, white, and blue NASA logo rang true. The Qumi also nicely handled the dark “gray fence” scene from Ex Machina, where I saw less video noise in the gray slats and no distracting moiré on the vertical lines as the camera panned across.

So, what’s not to love? The caveats again fall under the category of nitpicks from a spoiled enthusiast, and they need to be taken in the context of what is still, after all, a pretty small and inexpensive projector. That said, the Q6’s worst faults were a fairly high black level compared with what a more expensive and larger projector might do (letterbox bars were closer to a light gray than black) and a lack of really fine focus, especially at 65 inches and beyond. Thanks to the bright, punchy picture, the lack of deep black was easily forgiven, even on scenes in The Martian that mixed bright highlights with the black background of deep space. Focus was mostly sharp, and close-ups easily revealed details in Watney’s stubble, as well as in the grass-covered camouflage hat worn by Benji (Simon Pegg) in Rogue Nation. Still, I did find myself frequently revisiting the focus thumbwheel, yearning for that last modicum of sharpness that the Q6’s small lens just couldn’t muster.

Like I said, these are enthusiast nitpicks. Ultimately, I spent many hours being engrossed by the pictures from Vivitek’s Qumi Q6, and I found it a surprisingly good projector that delivered impressive pictures for its size and cost.

Specs
  • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 6.5 x 1.3 x 4
  • Weight (Pounds): 1.0
  • Resolution: 1280 x 800
  • Brightness: 800 lumens
  • Inputs: HDMI Ver.1.4b (2, 1 with MHL); USB (Type A) with document reader
  • Outputs: 3.5mm stereo analog audio
  • Miscellaneous: Recommended image size (inches), 30-90; throw distance (feet), 3.28 to 9.84

Optoma ML750ST DLP LED Projector

PRICE $549

AT A GLANCE

Plus

  • Convenient short-throw setup
  • Bright, big, contrasty pictures
  • Excellent focus and detail
  • Great out-of-box color

Minus

  • So-so blacks
  • Noticeable fan whine
  • Wireless dongle not included
THE VERDICT

The enhanced setup and performance from the Optoma ML750ST’s high-quality, short-throw lens make this AC-powered mini projector an easy recommendation.

The “ST” in the model number of the Optoma ML750ST stands for “short throw” and denotes the newest version of the previously released (and still available) ML750. A shortthrow lens allows a projector to sit closer to the screen for a given image size. This can be a real convenience when you’re trying to blast a large image from a tabletop, which might otherwise require the projector to be placed behind audience members (who cast shadows with every trip to the loo). But I quickly found that a short-throw lens seems to yield another, more significant benefit. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Measuring 4.1 inches wide x 1.5 high x 4.2 deep, the ML750ST is rated for 700 lumens from its LED light source, and it uses a 1280 x 800 (WXGA, 720p) resolution DLP chip. The projector has a single HDMIMHL input, a “universal I/O port” with an included adapter for a VGA computer connection, a microSD card slot that adds up to 32 GB to the onboard 1.5 GB of internal memory, and a USB port for a thumb drive. Like the Vivitek Qumi Q6, which costs $50 more, there’s an integrated document reader, but unlike the Q6, wireless mirroring from an iOS or Android device requires an optional USB dongle (model WUSB, $30); as with the Q6, wireless connectivity requires the use of an EZCast app. Viewing 3D requires a PC-driven 1024×768, 120-Hz signal and DLP-Link glasses (not supplied). Control is via buttons on the projector’s top or the included credit-card remote. A protective carry bag is provided.

The Optoma’s menus are fairly sophisticated and offer Cinema, Photo, Eco, Bright, and PC presets with adjustable contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue settings, along with three color temp options. The Cinema mode was essentially accurate for contrast and brightness, and grayscale tracking stayed close to the D65 standard. Manual or automatic vertical keystone correction is provided.

As for that extra benefit of a short-throw lens: Upon setting up the Optoma, I quickly realized that its proximity to the screen appears to give it more efficient use of the available light output. The projector threw its 65-inch image from just 44 inches away from the screen, much closer than any other projector I tested, and it gave me a super-bright (for an LED mini projector, anyway) 23.1 ft-L peak white output. For the sake of comparison, the Vivitek measured a still excellent 17.8 ft-L at the same image size from 87 inches away, though with 100 more rated lumens output.

The Optoma’s brightness edge was quite noticeable, and with black levels comparable to the Q6’s, the added brightness also brought it some additional contrast and punch. The Martian suddenly looked awesome in a way it hadn’t before, taking on the kind of engaging brightness, contrast, and color that I’ve seen from this disc on my reference projector. The colors generally seemed more saturated and had more pop, and I began noticing things like the American flags on the astronauts’ space suits. Meanwhile, stark whites displayed in the exteriors of the space ships or in the pristine cleanroom-like interiors were appropriately neutral, and shadow details became more obvious in darker areas of the image. While watching the Rogue Nation opener, I noticed for the first time, in the background, the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds—and I even noticed that the woods behind the field where Benji is hiding were shot near the twilight hour and hanging onto their last bits of fall color. Focus, adjustable via the Optoma’s lens ring, remained satisfyingly crisp at all times, even when I temporarily blew the image up to my full 92-inch screen.

Like the Vivitek, however, the $550 ML750ST was not without its faults. Deep blacks remained fairly light by enthusiast standards, though again delivered no distracting penalty on most content, thanks to the high brightness. More serious to me was fan noise that, though not particularly loud, seemed higher in pitch than I’m used to and called some attention to itself within 5 feet or so of the projector. It was drowned out by movie soundtracks at normal volume but might be distracting during a slide presentation. And though the Optoma is rated for an image up to 200 inches, don’t count on that. At 170 inches, the largest I could test in my room, it was way too dark to see any of what makes this projector’s performance stand out.

But at any reasonable image size up to 80 or 90 inches, the ML750ST was indeed special. At the beginning of my survey, I knew I’d have to lower my enthusiast expectations and account for the engineering trade-offs required to achieve compact size and affordability. What I didn’t expect was to find even one projector among four that I could comfortably recommend for even quasi-serious movie watching. No, the Optoma won’t go as bright or as black as my $4,000 reference projector. But it practically fits into the palm of my hand, and it threw a highly satisfying image for my critical eye at about one-seventh of the price. The ML750ST just wowed me with its combination of performance, portability, and low cost. It’s a great value.

Specs
  • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 4.1 x 1.5 x 4.2
  • Weight (Pounds): 0.8; power supply, 0.3
  • Resolution: 1280 x 800
  • Brightness: 700 lumens (LED Brightness spec)
  • Inputs: HDMI 2.0, with MHL; USB (Type A) with document reader; universal I/O (VGA with supplied adapter); microSD; Wi-Fi mirroring (optional dongle required)
  • Outputs: 3.5mm stereo analog audio
  • Miscellaneous: Recommended image size (inches), 25-200; throw distance (feet), 1.4 to 11.3

(soundandvision.com, http://goo.gl/jBN6vl)

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