Companies that manufacture ultra-portable video projectors like BenQ’s Joybee GP1 typically aim these devices at the business market, targeting corporate road warriors who travel from client to client making PowerPoint presentations. In an interesting twist though, BenQ is pitching this device squarely at the family.
In fact, the press release announcing the product’s availability suggests a scenario in which a consumer loads up a USB thumb drive with digital photos and videos, throws it in a box with the projector, and mails it off to great grandma. Bear in mind that since the Joybee can host a USB storage device or even an iPod (with the optional dock), it doesn’t need to be tethered to a PC (although it can be). The big question though: Will great-grandma be able to make heads or tails of the gear when it shows up on her doorstep? We imagine less tech-savvy folks will need at least some handholding to get started—along with a very dark room and a very white wall, if not a bona fide projector screen—although the device is pretty easy to figure out.
That said, the Joybee GP1 isn’t the tiniest projector we’ve seen—Optoma’s Pico PK101 is small and light enough to carry in your pocket—but the Joybee GP1 is brighter, more versatile, and considerably more useful. Both devices are based on Texas Instruments’ DLP (Digital Light Processor) technology, which creates an image by reflecting light off a grid of microscopic mirrors mounted on a semiconductor. Each tiny mirror creates a pixel by swiveling to either reflect light through the projector’s lens or to redirect it to an internal heatsink. If all the light is directed to the heatsink, the projected image is black; toggling between the two states creates a grayscale, and shades of color are produced by using red, green, and blue LEDs as light sources. BenQ claims the LEDs it uses can last upwards of 20,000 hours, which means the device will likely outlive its usefulness before its light source ever fails.
The Joybee measures 5.35 inches wide, 2.12 inches high and 4.72 inches deep and weighs 1.4 pounds: Not quite small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but enough that it’s easily stashed in a backpack or briefcase (BenQ includes a nylon carrying case). Unlike the aforementioned Pico PK101, this device requires AC power and cannot run on batteries. But whereas that device accepts only a composite video signal, the Joybee can accept VGA, composite video, or component video (although this requires a VGA-to-component adapter cable, which is not provided). Unfortunately, the stubby cable BenQ does provide is just 30 inches long, which makes PC connections a royal pain in the neck. The owner’s manual suggests using a VGA extension cable, but how many of those are laying around your house? If you intend to use the projector to watch movies or play games, there’s a tiny built-in amplifier that puts out two watts of power to a single speaker.
BenQ claims the projector’s built-in USB reader can support both USB flash-memory devices and 2.5-inch USB hard drives, but its port didn’t provide enough power to spin up either a 250GB Western Digital Passport drive or a 250GB Seagate FreeAgent Go drive (both of which are based on 2.5-inch mechanisms). We had better luck with a 4GB thumb drive; when we plugged that in, the projector displayed a three-item menu for accessing digital photos and digital video stored on the drive. Choose the photo menu and the projector automatically launches a slideshow; pick the video menu and you can choose from an index of digital videos stored on the drive. The third menu item provides options for how media in the other two categories is displayed (interval between slides, visual transitions, and so on).
You can control most of the projector’s functions using a backlit, touch-sensitive panel on top of the device, or you can use the provided infrared remote control. The buttons on the credit-card-sized remote are divided into two categories: Controls for the projector and controls for the USB reader. If you’re watching a slideshow or a video, you can use the transport-control buttons to play, pause, and skip forward and back. The projector controls determine which input source is active and provide access to the projector’s many other controls.
This is another area in which the BenQ goes farther than most pocket projectors we’ve seen. You can adjust everything from the projector’s brightness level (choose from default, PC, Photo, Movie, or user modes) to its aspect ratio (its native aspect ratio is 4:3, but it can proportionally stretch and scale to fill the screen or just present the image in a 16:9 aspect ratio). Another setting helps compensate for the type of wall you’re using in lieu of a projector screen—including one for a blackboard. But the auto keystone feature is our favorite—we were surprised at how quickly and effectively the projector could automatically compensate for situations in which it wasn’t perpendicular to the screen, a state that causes either the top or the bottom of the image to be wider than the other half.
A large ring, accessible from the top of the enclosure, renders the projector’s lens very easy to focus. You can set the Joybee on a tabletop and use its adjustable foot to set its projection angle, but we took advantage of the threaded socket on its bottom and mounted it to a camera tripod. The projector can be mounted upside down or used in a rear-projection setting, too.
According to BenQ’s documentation, the Joybee can project an image as large as 80 inches (measured diagonally) from a distance of just 6.67 feet. Forgoing the digital zoom feature and setting the projector’s to its native resolution of 800 x 600 pixels, we were able to project a 53-inch image from a distance of eight feet.
But that’s not quite as impressive as it sounds. While moving away from the screen creates a larger image, it also means that its light is spread over more surface area. We used an Epson Accolade Duet screen for our tests (an 80-inch model that expands left and right, instead of up and down, which means it can present a projector with a surface area with either a 4:3 or a 16:9 aspect ratio). BenQ doesn’t publish the projector’s brightness specification (measured in ANSI lumens), but we perceived it to be considerably brighter than Optoma’s Pico. We achieved the best results at night when our media room was completely dark, but we achieved an acceptable performance during the day by darkening the room with heavy drapes.
But don’t expect miracles—this certainly isn’t the type of device you’d want to build a home theater around. It’s good for the occasional slide show, home movie, or even a quick console or PC gaming session, but too much ambient light quickly drains the life out of images.
We turned to DisplayMate Technologies’ DisplayMate Obstacle Course for a more critical evaluation, and that benchmark software made short work of exposing the Joybee’s limitations. You don’t notice it as much in photos and videos, but studying color bars quickly reveals how saturated reds turn to muddy browns and deep blues shift toward purple. The projector’s grayscale performance was also subpar, with what should have been true black represented by dark gray, instead.
Details turn mushy when an 800 x 600-pixel image is spread across a large surface area, but we found that we could easily read the text in DisplayMate’s benchmark eight feet from the screen when it was displayed in a 10.5 Arial font; PowerPoint presentations also looked perfectly acceptable.
The Joybee’s $499 price tag pushes it well beyond the realm of an impulse buy, so consumers should be well aware of what they’re getting with this device. This isn’t the right choice if you’re looking for a permanent home-theater projector to connect to a PC or a Blu-ray player. But if you want a projector you can travel with or even just move from one room in the house to another, it’s a better option than many of the other ultra-portables we’ve looked at.
- Ultra portable
- Lots of control options
- Can host a USB device or an iPod (optional dock required)
- Not bright enough to overcome much ambient light
- Video cable is too short
- Low native resolution