3M’s MPro110 is the first of a new wave of tiny digital projectors about to wash onto the market. This sector saw some bounce earlier this year with Microvision, Texas Instruments and 3M all talking up their respective micro projector ventures, which will eventually find themselves incorporated into cellular phones, cameras, etc. But the MPro110, available here and now, follows a more traditional route. A pocket-sized digital projector that handles feeds from both VGA and composite video sources, we’re happy to report that it’s a solid fit for the average road warrior. And yes, it really does fit in the palm of your hand.
Features and Design
The darling feature of the 3M MPro110 is, naturally, its size. At roughly 4.5 inches long, two inches wide and just under an inch thick, the device is bigger and thicker than a Blackberry Pearl smartphone, but smaller than a 2.5-inch portable hard drive. The case is essentially an oblong box with rounded corners. The sides are black plastic, but the top plate, front end cap and door for the rechargeable battery on the back are matte silver.
Inside is 3M’s micro projector engine. The imager technology is Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS). The projector’s native resolution is VGA (640×480 pixels), but it will display up to WXGA (1280×768) quality. Light is provided by LEDs and output is rated at 12 lumens. The unit further consumes 1.5 watts and 3M states that the Lithium Ion battery will give 40-60 minutes per charge (it can of course be used while the AC adapter is plugged in).
The lens is recessed and thus protected from damage or fingerprints, and a thumb wheel adjusts focus. The MPro110 accepts VGA or composite video signals and has separate ports for each as well. 3M indicates that those two inputs should cover most of the devices you might be interested in connecting to the MPro110 including computers, PDAs, smartphones, camcorders, digital cameras or media players. A sliding power switch, DC-in power port and light that indicates on or charging state rounds out the I/O.
The top plate has a glossy black insert that looks like it could be a screen, but it’s purely decorative. The bottom has a quarter-inch threaded socket, handy for mounting the unit on a tabletop tripod. The unit is fan-less and the cooling grills on the top, side and bottom add some interesting surface texture too. In short, overall, it’s an attractively bland design.
What’s in the Box
Along with the projector, 3M includes an AC adapter; composite video (with an RCA plug gender changer) and VGA cables; a main manual; quick-start guide; and supplemental battery manual.
Image Courtesy of 3M
Performance and Use
The projector is extremely basic, offering no way to control any parameters such as output level, resolution or keystone correction. Setting up is therefore just a matter of plugging in the source video, aiming and focusing. Because the device is so small and light, adjusting its position can be a challenge, and this is where the quarter-inch threaded socket comes in handy. Mounting it on a tabletop tripod makes it easier to refine position so that you get a reasonably rectangular image.
3M says the unit’s projection distance ranges from 10-71 inches, producing image sizes of 5-40 inches. On our test unit, we couldn’t focus sharply once our projector-to-screen distances went beyond approximately five feet, although large text in PowerPoint slides could still be easily read. A bigger issue is the limited light output. Even entry-level tabletop projectors offer 1,200 Lumens of light output, so you can imagine that the MPro110’s output of 12 Lumens is dim, and to see an image projected from six feet away, you’ll need a darkened room. The inverse square law of light output teaches a strong lesson here: The bigger you want to project, the dimmer the image will be — and the more faded the color.
We used a 20×30 inch sheet of white foam board as a makeshift screen and from 42 inches away, the MPro110 could fill it with a 30 inch (measured diagonally like a TV screen) image bright enough to see in a room lit by normal daylight. (Though you’d never mistake it for being eye-piercingly bright…) At this level of magnification, you could make out screen text on most Web pages and video from a camcorder was easy to watch. However, colors were starting to lose their saturation.
Moving along, LEDs are known for their coolness of operation, and the MPro110 gets just slightly warm in use. The big bonus here really being that the device is completely silent since it has no fan.
On the downside though, the lens exhibited strong pincushion distortion. This was quite distracting when projecting a computer display, since distortion is most noticeable on rectangular forms like documents or Web pages. When utilized with video content, it was less bothersome, and in both cases, the distortion wasn’t really noticeable towards the center. Worth noting: On our test unit, the lens focusing mechanism further seemed loose and prone to rattling.
The VGA cable that comes with the unit is around 18 inches. That’s quite short, but the cable is also too stiff and bulky, given the size of the device it is being connected to. The projector uses a proprietary connector, which was easy to dislodge when trying to position the unit. The composite video cable is a common design with a 1/8 inch jack on one end and an RCA connector on the other.
If you compare the MPro110 to a standard digital projector, it comes up short on many measures. Think dim output; limited enlargement; a lens that’s not corrected for linear distortion; native VGA resolution; and a total dearth of added features like audio or HD inputs. But consider the gadget on its own merits, and there’s also much to add to the list of pluses. Frankly, what’s not to like about a battery-powered device that fits in your pocket and gives you a usable, virtual 30-inch display? As a first-generation proof of concept product, 3M’s MPro110 delivers a solid, satisfying performance. Regardless, there’s still plenty of room here for growth and refinement.
• Battery powered
• Highly portable
• VGA and composite video ports allow connection to a variety of devices
• Cool fan-less operation
• Dim output limits range of useful enlargement
• VGA cable is stiff, bulky and short
• Lens suffers from pin-cushioning