3 tiny projectors light up the big screen

They're small and light, but do ultraportable microprojectors measure up for business presentations?

Whether it's to clinch a sale, show off a new product or discuss a potential acquisition, the digital projector is major part of everyday corporate work. As a result, mobile workers who need to make presentations on the road have become beasts of burden, often hauling 20 to 25 pounds of gear, including notebook, projector, and a seemingly endless array of accessories, cables and adapters.

There's got to be an easier -- and lighter -- way.

Welcome to the era of the microprojector. Rather than squeezing a five-pound projector into an already overburdened bag, imagine slipping something the size of a cell phone into one of the bag's pouches. Better yet, how about your jacket pocket? Weighing less than a pound -- often much less -- these pocket projectors can rewrite the rules of business travel.

"These projectors will be a relief to anyone who's lugged a projector on a business trip," says Matthew Brennesholtz, senior analyst at Insight Media. "It takes one of the heaviest and largest items that businesspeople use and makes it one of the smallest and lightest."

Brennesholtz forecasts sales of at least 30 million tiny projectors by 2012, up from essentially zero this year. "This market is just getting started," he adds.

Unlike typical business projectors, pocket projectors are also aimed at consumers -- for showing a movie at a child's birthday party, watching the Super Bowl or having a video game showdown, for instance. All that's needed is a white wall or an old bed sheet tacked to the wall.

Still, projectors -- even tiny ones -- remain primarily a business product, and that's how I tested them for this review. To see whether these projectors have what it takes to fit into the typical road warrior's day, I gathered three of the newest and smallest projectors -- the 3M MPro110, the Dell M109S, and the Optoma Pico Projector PK-101-- for a shoot-out. (The Pico is so new it hasn't yet been released in the U.S.; it will be available on Dec. 15, according to an Optoma spokesperson.)

I put the three microprojectors through their paces by mimicking what road warriors do every day. I also measured how much light they create, and I tested the battery life of the two models with built-in batteries. (See "How I tested" for details.)

How microprojectors work

Microprojectors slim down by doing without the typical projector's high-intensity quartz bulb. By contrast, they use tiny LEDs to create the projector's beam of light. As a result, a pocket projector not only runs cooler but is more rugged. Rather than being fragile and prone to problems, its LED light source can run for as much as 20,000 hours, 10 times longer than a conventional projector bulb. That's about 25 years of use, four hours a day.

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