Bonnie Cha

A Tiny Projector to Beam Your iPhone Onto the Big Screen

I was recently out with friends, and when one of them wanted to share a YouTube video with the group, we made a pitiful scene: Four other adults and I huddled around one 3.5-inch smartphone screen, stretching our necks to get a good angle and straining to hear from the phone’s tiny speakers.

A smartphone’s limited screen size and viewing angles make it difficult to show photos and video to a group of people. But small portable projectors are one way to solve this problem.

Though they don’t offer the same power as a full-size projector, these mini projectors — often referred to as pico projectors – -can help display the contents of your cellphone, tablet or digital camera onto a larger surface, like a wall. Some companies are even incorporating pico projectors into their products, such as the Samsung Galaxy Beam smartphone, but it’s not a trend that’s likely to take off soon, so add-on accessories are a more common solution.

This week, I’ve been testing Micron Technology’s PoP Video pico projector for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which plugs into those devices via a built-in dock and runs on a rechargeable internal battery. At $99, it’s one of the most affordable pico projectors. Brookstone and WowWee offer similar products, but they cost $150 or more, and project photos and videos at a lower resolution.

For iPhone users who really like to share photos and short videos with groups of people, the PoP Video is a neat way to do it, and the picture quality is decent for the projector’s size. But it requires a really dark room to work properly, and I wouldn’t recommend it for watching full-length movies. And this isn’t a business tool: Professionals who need to make presentations on the go should opt for a slightly larger projector that can offer more brightness.

I tested the PoP Video with my iPhone 4 in my apartment, and also at a friend’s party. At home, I used the projector to view a slideshow of my iPhone camera pictures, YouTube videos and copies of “Toy Story 3” and “The King’s Speech” from my iTunes library. You can also view Web sites.

When using the projector, you’ll want to turn off as many lights as possible and cover up any windows. I have a large window in my living room, and with the curtains drawn, pictures and video still looked washed out during the daytime, as some sunlight leaked through. Moving the projector closer to the wall brought more details into focus, but it also made the picture size smaller.

I got the best results at night. I set up the projector on a ladder (my coffee table was too low) with a small box underneath it, and had it positioned about four-and-a-half feet away from the wall. This projected a roughly 35-inch image that allowed me to watch a movie from my couch. Micron says the PoP Video’s optimal projection range is five to 50 inches, and while I was able to get up to 50 inches, the picture quality wasn’t that good.

The PoP Video displays images at a 960 x 540 pixel resolution — better than the Brookstone Pocket Projector’s 640 x 360 pixel resolution and the WowWee Cinemin Swivel’s 480 x 320 pixels. Even so, I wouldn’t plan a movie night around the PoP Video. Though the projector delivers pretty sharp picture, colors look dull and there’s little contrast. Even a colorful movie like “Toy Story 3” looked faded.

Micron does offer settings for adjusting contrast, brightness, sharpness and gamma, which helps with color correction, but after playing with the controls, I found that these changed settings don’t make a huge difference.

While the PoP Video doesn’t make for a good movie projector, it does succeed as a quick and easy way to show off photos and short video clips to a larger group. When I brought it to my friend’s party, people were impressed that such a portable projector existed, and that it actually worked.

Since I was only showing a few photos and short videos, I just held the projector in my hand and stood about five feet from the wall. To focus, there’s an adjustable slider switch on the right side of the PoP Video.

With about five partygoers gathered around me, we were able to see the pictures and YouTube clips without a problem; though they, too, noticed the issues with color and contrast. There’s also the challenge of finding a dark-enough room, and the projector doesn’t have a built-in microphone, so you need to rely on your iPhone or iPod speakers.

Micron Technology estimates that the PoP Video will last for two hours of battery life, and it delivered just that in my tests. I played “The King’s Speech” from my iTunes library, and the projector died with about 20 minutes left in the movie.

The PoP Video is 3.5 ounces, and fits easily in a pocket at 4.4 inches tall by 1.8 inches wide and 0.6-inch deep.

Setting up the PoP Video to the iPhone could not be easier. You simply pop out the green connector at the bottom of the projector and then dock your iPhone or iPod. The PoP Video works with the iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S and third- and fourth-generation iPods, but I wish the projector held the iPhone more securely in place. Even though the projector has rubber strips to grip the iPhone or iPod, it could benefit from some side rails. As it is, my iPhone felt like it could easily detach from the accessory.

When you first connect your iPhone to the projector, it will automatically prompt you to download the free companion PoP Video app. The app acts gives users direct access to YouTube, Facebook, their photo and video library and the Web. You can project other services — including Netflix and Hulu — using the PoP Video, as long as the app supports this functionality.

Micron says it is working to expand the list of supported apps, including one that will let customers project Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and the like.

A pico projector like the PoP Video by Micron Technology isn’t a must-have accessory for everybody, and it has its limitations. But if you love showing off photos and videos to groups of people, the PoP Video offers simplicity, portability and an affordable price tag.

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