Gadling gear review – Aaxa Technologies P2 pico projector

Very early this year, we took a look at the 3M mPro110 pocket projector. That device came from the first generation pocket projection devices, and despite lackluster performance, we were pretty impressed with the technology. Now, 12 months later, pocket (or pico) projectors have matured to the point where they are no longer considered toys.

The first of this new generation devices comes from projector maker Aaxa Technologies. Their P2 pico projector uses the newest kind of projection unit, along with one of the brightest LED’s available. The basic specifications are quite impressive:

  • 33 Lumen brightness
  • 800×600 native resolution using an LCoS projection module
  • Built in media player with support for MP4/MP3/WMA/OGG/WAV/AVI/WMV/SMV/ BMP/JPG/GIF/TXT
  • 1GB onboard storage + MicroSDHC expansion slot
  • AV / VGA and USB inputs
  • Headphone/audio output
  • Integrated 1W speaker

Before I bore you any more – here is an image of the projector in action:

This is a photo of the built in media player, projected on my ceiling. The image is 40″ diagonal and is projected in a moderately dimmed room.

This image is of an MP4 movie played on my wall. Once again, the room was not 100% dark, and the diagonal is about 85″.

At this size, the movie is perfectly watchable. It may not be as bright as a “regular” projector, but for something this small, it is absolutely astounding to see it project this well.

And in this final image, you’ll see the projector at just over 100″. This is obviously well over what it is intended for, but even in a dimly lit room, the image is still great. Had the room been 100% dark, it would have looked even better.

The Aaxa P2 kit is equally impressive – in the box you’ll find the projector, battery, battery charger, AC adapter, AV cable, VGA cable (not shown), a tripod with battery pack adapter and a remote control. The only thing I would have liked to see is a carrying case for all the parts. Still, given its low price, this is a very complete projector.

Menus in the media player are fairly easy to navigate, and can be controlled using the buttons on the projector or the remote. The remote sensor is on the rear of the P2, but it managed to pick up the signal quite well.

Buttons on the device – volume and power on the side, and menu/input/media control are on the top. There is a physical power slider and an on/off button – the physical switch keeps the fan on, which you’ll need after using it for anything over 10 minutes as the LED tends to make the unit pretty hot.

That fan is actually quite loud for such a small unit – not “big projector loud”, but still loud enough to require the volume to be turned up a notch.

The AV port is the easiest way to feed a video signal into the projector. It includes an AV adapter for a composite signal with audio, making it easy to hook up an iPod or Zune. If you need better quality, you’ll need to use the D-Sub VGA port, though I did not test that with a component to VGA cable.

The unit is just 260 grams (0.57lbs) and measures 110x59x27mm (4.3″x2.3″x1.06″). As you can in the next photo, it is about the same size as the iPhone.

Wrap up

After playing with the Aaxa P2 for a couple of weeks, my faith in pico projectors is back. Don’t get me wrong – the first generation was fun to play with, but it was hardly something you could actually use for anything more than showing off.

The P2 produces images you can actually put to use in a presentation, or even to keep the kids entertained in a hotel room. And because you don’t need to fully dim your room, it’ll actually come in handy for last minute business meetings.

The Aaxa P2 retails for just $349 – which is the same price as the previous generation projectors launched at. With a higher resolution, about ten times the brightness and a whole assortment of included accessories, the value for money is evident. The added bonus of an integrated media player only makes it better.

To make the deal a little hotter, you can currently apply promo code “P2Holidays2009” to the purchase and take $30 off the final price. At $319 the P2 is a fantastic bargain and something that will probably make any geek jump with joy if they find it in their Christmas stocking.

The only projector that can match the specifications of the Aaxa P2 is the Dell M109S – but at $399 it lacks an integrated media player and battery pack. It is also quite a bit heavier.

You’ll find the Aaxa P2 Pico Projector over at the site of the manufacturer.

Product review – 3M MPro110 Pocket Projector

No, the title does not say pocket protector, this review is going to give you a closer look at one of the first pocket projectors in the world.

The 3M MPro110 pocket projector is about the size of a late 90’s mobile phone (4.5″x2″). On the front of the unit is a small lens opening, on the back is where you’ll find the power and video connectors, and on the side is a single power button and a lens focus wheel.

The MPro110 is powered by an internal Lithium-Ion battery pack which should offer enough juice for about an hour of continuous use. Inside the unit is a tiny 3M projection module, which uses an LED light for illumination.

Of course, as regular travelers, you are probably scratching your head wondering just why on earth you would ever consider carrying a pocket projector in your luggage. To answer this, I’ve put together a couple of scenarios where the projector could come in handy.
The first, and probably most logical scenario for the projector is to give business presentations using your laptop or Netbook computer. Anyone out there who has had to drag a projector through the airport will understand just what a pain in the ass it is, not to mention having to deal with the constant threat of the poor projector being damaged mid trip.

The second, and more fun scenario is using the projector for entertainment. The MPro110 comes with connection cables for standard video sources as well as a VGA cable for connecting it to a laptop or other device with a VGA plug.

So, how well does the projector perform in each of these 2 scenarios? This all depends on your expectations. If you turn the projector on with the expectation of getting super bright images like on a normal projector, you are going to be quite disappointed. If you turn it on expecting very little, you are in for a pleasant surprise.

The projector projects its image with a brightness of about 7 lumens. When you compare this against a regular projector which has an average output exceeding 1000 lumens, you’ll understand that the image is not going to be suitable for every situation. First of all, the room really has to be dark, secondly, the image can really only be focused when it stays smaller than about 70 inches diagonally.

Both of these restrictions make finding a suitable wall or screen quite hard, but by no means make the projector useless. In fact, I’m actually very impressed with the results from such a little box.

Looking back at both of those scenarios I mentioned; presentations and entertainment. Giving a presentation with the MPro110 is quite possible, but the room really will have to be dark, and it only makes sense when you have just a handful of people sitting around a table looking at the wall.

(This image actually looks brighter in real life, this game is being projected on a wall and measures 65″ diagonally)

Entertainment is actually where the projector excels. I connected the unit to my Sprint Smartphone running the Slingplayer remote TV application, and within minutes I was watching live TV on a massive screen on the wall. If you find yourself stuck somewhere without a TV, you simply turn on the device and turn any open wall space into your own little movie screen.

Image quality in each scenario is surprisingly good, not “plasma TV” good, but by no means unusable.

This brings me towards the end of my brief review, but not without mentioning some of the drawbacks and flaws of the MPro110.

  • Image quality – I’m going to go easy on the pocket projector, it is after all a first generation device. But it really does have to be pointed out that the dim and low resolution image from the unit will make it useless for all but a small handful of people with a very specific need.
  • Usability – This one annoyed me more than anything else. The projector does not come with a carrying case, lens cover or even rubber feet on the bottom. When you plug the thick video cable in the back of the projector, it slips and slides all over the place. I solved this by carrying a mini tripod, but I can’t help notice this lack of foresight by 3M.
  • Lack of control – The projector has just one button; power. There is no keystone option (for projecting at an angle), no integrated speaker, no brightness or contrast controls and no battery indicator.

I’m convinced that 2009 will bring us more developments in this arena, and I’m not totally disappointed with the 3M MPro110, it really is an amazing technical achievement. But at the end of the day I’m just not convinced there are that many people out there who could really benefit from it.

I’m a geek, and I could see myself carrying this device on a regular basis, and I think many fellow geeks would think like me, but the general public would probably have a hard time justifying the $359 purchase price (MSRP, retail prices are around $300). The future of these devices probably involves the projection hardware being integrated inside all kinds of devices. Just imagine the 9th generation iPod in 2011 being sold with an integrated projector!