Recently, a friend of mine blurted out upon seeing the size and array of inputs on my LG HX350T projector, “This is the SMC Barricade of projectors!” The SMC Barricade was a great wireless router. Hackable, cheap, simple, versatile. Nothing like high-end, but a reliable piece of gear that did far more than its size and price implied. It’s a fair description of this projector. It’s easily portable (1.7 lbs), has thoughtfully arranged inputs and menus, and comes with a nice full-size (not membrane-keyed credit-card sized) remote control.
I’ve been watching LED projectors for a while. This is my second, and the first I’ve actually bought (the other was a demo unit). While at 300-lumens it’s no longer the brightest LED-based projector in its price class (Optoma now has one with slightly better resolution claiming 500-lumens ), as far as I know this is the cheapest LED option at this junction of brightness and resolution to feature a built-in tuner. The tuner works well enough, though I’ve tried it only briefly and with conventional (non-HD) resolution. For $50 less, you can also go tuner-free.
Besides the coax input for cable signal, there are inputs for a composite TV signal, VGA, and HDMI signals, as well as a USB slot. You can plug in a USB key with video files in any of a fairly wide array of supported formats, and play them straight from there. It’s not the very smallest LED projector on the market, but it’s hard to see how it could be much smaller and still have so many input options.
All the inputs in the world don’t matter if the output doesn’t look good though, and I’m happy to report that, to my eye, it looks great. On any white (or even light-colored) wall, the image is sharp enough for my taste; on a screen, though, it’s even better. (I’m using it with an Epson Duet 80” screen, selected for portability, and for having a wide-screen mode.) Realism dictates that a 300-lumen projector be used in a room that’s not brightly lit. In a dark room, it has no problem providing a 6-8 foot 720p movie screen. You’ll never mistake the output for that of a multi-mega-lumen high-end projector. This is a game of trade-offs. For my purposes, computer demos, home video screenings, late-night movies, and projecting scary scenes for a home-made haunted house, it works fine so long as I can control the lighting. In a room that’s merely dim, it still looks great in the 40″ range, which is a pleasant way to use it as an adjunct computer monitor.
Speaking of which: this projector is very nearly plug-and-play on my laptop, which is currently running Linux Mint (Debian Edition). I had to click on the “Monitors” control widget to specify its spatial relationship to the laptop’s own screen, but that’s about it. Even for this perpetual newbie, it was blessedly trivial. I plugged in the HDMI cable, and suddenly I had my first dual-monitor setup.
The sound is an understandable weak point in a tiny projector. Rather than harp on this, I accept that the output of the miniscule in-built speaker is on the wrong side of mediocre, and choose to adopt the attitude of “You mean it has *sound*?!” If you want better sound, or surround sound, bring your own. (There’s a stereo minijack on the back, which can be connected to a stereo, or computer speakers, or headphones; you could instead hook up your video source itself to whatever sound system you’ve got on hand.)
My only other niggles with this device: the first is that the focus wheel doesn’t have much throw. I haven’t actually had any trouble getting acceptable focus, but I wish it had more room for fine-tuning. The second is that there’s no zoom lens, so you must figure out a physical arrangement of projector / screen / source that works for you. A cheap camera tripod might be in my future.
It comes with a fairly nice carrying bag and cables for VGA and analog signals, but not HDMI. My advice: go mail order, and save the big-box store markup on an HDMI cable.
The Optoma I mentioned beats this one on most specs, but weighs (a bit) more and does (slighly) less, so I remain happy and declare this a very cool tool. And I’m looking forward to its successors!