Or you can park the projector on a little tripod — it comes with a tiny, screw-in tripod adapter — and project tonight’s dorm-room Wii marathon onto a bed sheet or someone’s T-shirt.
Or you can lie in bed and point the thing straight up. In a dark room, you’ll have yourself a huge, bright movie playing on the ceiling.
There’s no keystone adjustment to compensate for when the projector is facing the screen at an angle. The 20,000-hour bulb is not replaceable. And the picture resolution is only 480 by 320 pixels — on paper, much coarser than the 1024-by-768-pixel (or higher) resolution of a tabletop projector.
But you know what? Pixels are overrated. Nobody will complain about the sharpness of the Pico’s image, especially after you find just the right spot on its little Focus dial. Over all, the Pico does surprisingly well.
So what can you watch on this thing?
It comes with a special composite cable. On one end, there’s a special, tiny audio-video pin that goes into the projector. On the other end, you’ll find the familiar three-headed, red-white-yellow RCA cables. These are female jacks, made to mate with the male composite cables that come with just about every DVD player, VCR, game console, digital camera and camcorder ever sold.
So in a pinch, the Pico projector could replace a TV set when you’re using full-size gear like DVD players or game consoles.
But the true mission of the Pico’s miraculous miniaturization is connecting to fellow micro-gadgets: digital cameras, cellphones, iPods or iPhones, for example.
The necessary adapter for the iPod or iPhone comes with the projector. Old video iPods require only the short black cable, which goes into the iPod’s headphone jack but carries both audio and video. You also get a plastic nub that snaps onto the bottom of the iPhone or more recent iPods; the short black cable connects the nub to the projector. (The projector produces an image only when videos are playing. It doesn’t show, for example, the iPhone’s Web browser, e-mail program or other applications — a shame for instructors or anyone else who might like a way to demonstrate the iPhone’s workings to more than one audience member at a time.)
To connect a digital camera, so you can show off your stills or your videos, or to connect your camcorder, you use the composite TV cable that came with it. Optoma plans to make adapter cables available for other smartphones in the coming months, starting with a Nokia cable for $10.
The Pico projector does so much so well with so little, it might sound ungrateful to bring up its one really embarrassing shortfall. But somebody has to say it: What about the sound?
The Pico has a built-in speaker, yes, but it’s about the size of a hydrogen atom. With the iPod volume cranked to full, the Pico puts out about as much volume as you ordinarily hear leaking from earbuds on somebody sitting next to you.
In other words, the projector is as bad with audio as it is good with video.
If you’re using an iPod, iPhone or cellphone, your last, best hope is the headphone jack. You can listen through earbuds, of course, although that’s not much of a communal experience. (A headphone splitter would at least let you invite a friend.) Or you can connect that headphone jack to a portable speaker — but now, of course, you’ve got a much more complex rack of gear, and you’re way beyond the realm of jeans pockets.
Even so, the Pico projector is the first of its kind — other micro-projectors are on the way — and over all, it’s awesome. When it goes on sale in two weeks, it will give parents a completely portable backseat-of-the-minivan movie theater for the kids. It will let photographers display their portfolios with much greater size and impact than they’d get with a scrapbook — right from the digital camera, if need be. It will permit spur-of-the-moment demos or pitches for corporate presenters or independent filmmakers, wherever they happen to be, without having to set anything up or reserve a room.
Miniaturization: it’s a blast, man. Gotta love those engineers. Just wait till they get their hands on air-conditioners, TiVos and jet engines.