In size, shape, and power, the amazingly tiny Optoma PK-101 Pico Pocket Projector is similar to the3M Micro Professional Projector MPro110we reviewed recently. Both are pocket-size devices that actually can fit into a pocket with room to spare--and both cost just south of $400. Simply turn it on without any connections, and the PK-101 beams out a nice white rectangle, meaning it could function well as a small, albeit expensive, flashlight. More important, it does a much better job of linking with one of the most popular electronic devices in existence: the Apple iPod.
The PK-101 makes use of some amazing miniature technology. At 4.1 x 2.0 x 0.6 inches, it is not much bigger than the remote control bundled with many larger projectors, yet it's able to accommodate not only a DLP imaging engine and an LED lamp but also a rechargeable battery capable of powering the device for 1.5 hours--and even a tiny speaker. And unlike the 3M version, it wisely makes no pretense of being able to handle business presentations. In fact, this model lacks any VGA connector to link it to most laptops.
Rather, this model is meant strictly for after-hours work, when the lights are low and you are more interested in watching videos than pie charts. Just plug this projector's sole input connection, composite video, to any nearby camcorder, DVD player, or iPod.
To simplify iPod connections, Optoma includes an iPod kit with a dock connector that connected the PK-101 directly to a third-generation iPod nano without the need of Apple's $59 A/V adapter.
The PK-101 worked surprisingly well as an iPod accessory. In a very dark room, we were able to blow up images to about 8 feet in diagonal with the projector about 12 feet away--although we found the optimal size to be a 2-foot image at 3 feet away, depending on ambient light. In some video podcasts, the image quality and motion were amazingly good considering how low the native resolution is on this projector. A downloaded TV show, however, was remarkably grainy. Sound is passed from the iPod through the adapter cable to a tiny and noticeably tinny speaker hidden somewhere inside the PK-101. Fortunately, the LED lamp runs so cool that there is no fan noise to interfere with the sound.
One nice touch provided by Optoma is a small adapter that can be screwed into the bottom panel of the projector, for affixing it to a small tripod. Once attached, the PK-101 is very easy to position securely on a tabletop.
On our lab tests, the PK-101 performed fairly poorly. It was brighter than the MPro110 but still registered a paltry 10 ANSI lumens, less than 1 percent as bright as most new portable projectors. The contrast ratio was much better, at 240:1, which is as good as, if not better than, some much larger projectors.
Colors were quite good for a projector with a DLP imaging engine. Yellows--a traditional challenge for most DLP projectors--looked surprisingly bright. And although some video and TV images looked quite good, the PK-101 did not do well on a business presentation that had been saved as a series of JPEG images. The images were routinely grainy and showed significant interlace flicker. The tiny focus wheel was difficult to manipulate but did not go out of focus, which the did 3M model did.
The $399 Optoma PK-101 Pico Pocket Projector is an amazing engineering accomplishment, something we might not even have dreamed of ten years ago. But, as was the case with the similar 3M MPro110, this may be a technology in rapid transition.
Future models will probably benefit from more power, more features, and a lower price tag. However, the PK101's aims as an entertainment device are somewhat more modest than the 3M projector and better able to realize them. For now, if you're tired of squinting at iPod videos and can dim your viewing environment, this tiny projector may just be worth the splurge.