Review: Pico P1 portable iPhone/iPod projector

aaxo Pico P1 portable iPhone/iPod projector

For many, including myself, the iPhone has quickly become one of the most indispensable gadgets in our lives. The iPhone owes its great success in large part to the sheer number of devices it can replace. Obviously it is both a phone and an iPod, but it is also can serve as a GPS unit, does an admirable job serving as a Nintendo DS/PSP-replacement, and it also packs in a decent amount of laptop functionality with its above average web browsing and e-mail abilities. But can it serve as a home theater replacement? A quick look at its 3.5″ screen would be enough answer for most people, but what if you could bump that up to, oh, say 60″? Well, that’s just what AAXA Technologies Pico P1 portable projector does, and it does it in a size not much bigger than the iPhone itself.

aaxo Pico P1 portable iPhone/iPod projector
Above: The P1 comes with an RCA audio/video adapter and power cable, but you’ll likely want to purchase an iPod cable (right) for an extra $15.

The Pico P1 is a 6-ounce portable LED projector that can project virtually any standard definition video signal (meaning 640×480 resolution) at sizes up to 60-inches, depending on ambient light situations (obviously the darker the room, the better).

aaxo Pico P1 portable iPhone/iPod projector

The P1 ships with a standard RCA input cable, but additional cables can be purchased from Pico for the iPod/iPhone, as well as the PSP. Operation is extremely simple. A switch on the back allows you to select either DC or battery power (the battery lasts just under an hour, in our tests), and thanks to the LED lamp there is virtually zero bulb warm up down time. There is only one input (a mini plug that handles both video and audio). For iPhone/iPod users, a volume knob on the side of the P1 and a focus knob near the lens are likely the only two controls you’ll end up touching, however there are a series of silver menu buttons on the top of the unit which can be used to navigate files stored on the 1 GB of internal memory, or on a micro SD card if you’re into that (one slightly odd design choice is there is an extra volume button on top for memory-based play, not sure why that is). The Pico P1 can play back a decent range of file types, such as MP4, AVI, WMA, JPG, GIF, etc for slideshows. Overall, design-wise the P1 will not win any awards, but hey, you’re supposed to be using it in the dark anyway, right?
🙂

aaxo Pico P1 portable iPhone/iPod projector

The audio/visual experience

There is a built-in speaker on the P1, but odds are you will want to use either headphones or plug the projector into some sort of speaker, as the P1’s audio capabilities are underwhelming to say the least, and in reality it gets some stiff competition from the P1’s fan which turns on as soon as the lamp is active. Given that the P1 uses an LED lamp, I am not sure why the fan must run constantly (maybe the image processor runs hot?) but the fan is an issue. AAXA claims the P1 can project up to a 60-inch image depending on ambient room light conditions, and it certainly can, depending on how liberally you define the word “image”. As you may suspect, the closer you are to the screen, the better the image the P1 projects. Colors and contrast fade as you add distance between the screen and the projector, however, and at 60-inches the image is noticeably lacking both. While picture clarity depends greatly on the source material and lighting conditions in the room, let me just say that while watching a dark movie like Hellboy 2, projected on my ceiling as I lay in bed, I was glad I had already seen it.

Looking at the physical size of the unit, it’s hard to be too critical of the picture the P1 produces. But looking at its price tag you can feel a little better in bashing it. For $240, plus $15 for the iPod/iPhone cable, it’s kind of a lot to spend on what comes very close to providing the viewing experience of my kids’ Viewmaster projector. So, while a 1-foot projection distance from a wall the P1 provides a clear and fairly vibrant image, as the projector is pulled back and the image size increase, picture quality declines rapidly. The P1’s lamp just is not all that powerful, and when AAXA recommends a dimly-lit room for best results, they mean pitch black. Even my bedroom’s alarm-clock lamp seemed to hamper the image a bit. To put it in perspective, the P1 boasts 12 lumens of brightness, while their $3000 home theater projectors dish out 1500 lumens. This is not to say the image is unwatchable, however, but I would much prefer to watch a movie on the iPhone’s native screen than the P1’s if given a choice. The P1 makes sense for times when you want to share the movie watching experience with friends, but this is not going to come close to providing you with an on-the-go cinematic experience, and I wouldn’t suggest doing any type of important board room presentations with this.

aaxo Pico P1 portable iPhone/iPod projector
Above: This picture was taken in a pitch black room, at a size of about 45 inches or so. As you can see, the image is certainly watchable, but definitely lacks contrast and color saturation. Brighter scenes work better than darker ones.

aaxo Pico P1 portable iPhone/iPod projector
Above: As you move closer, the image has better saturation and contrast. This shot is an approximate 20-inch wide projection.

aaxo Pico P1 portable iPhone/iPod projector

It DOES have a niche though

While most adults would likely not find themselves with enough opportunities to get their money’s worth from the P1, I’ll tell you who LOVES it – kids. In fact, kids will CREATE opportunities to use the P1. As a frame of reference, I have a 5 and a 7 year old, and they left me alone for 2 hours at a time watching videos of Spongebob, Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, and Transformers projected on the ceiling (yes, I am raising my kids to basically only like cartoons I liked growing up). Kids do not notice things like image quality, all they know is the image is BIG. They love projecting it on the ceiling, on the walls, on each other… my daughter and her friend set up movies on the inside of a tent during a sleepover. The only hitch is you really DO need to have some sort of external speaker system, no matter how crappy, to boost the audio enough for multiple kids to watch. Obvioulsy having to lug around external speakers (and power cords) will take away a bit from the P1’s portability.

Conclusion

Given its small size, the Pico P1 delivers a much better viewing experience than you might expect, but not one that quite justifies its price. Any true home theater buff knows the 12 lumens the Pico P1 dishes out aren’t going to provide an amazing viewing experience, and when you realize the P1 is not much bigger than an iPhone, what AAXA has accomplished with the Pico is indeed impressive. While I cannot really recommend the P1 to any movie-loving adult hoping to impress another moving-loving adult, kids, however, will love it just the same, and their friends will think it’s cool. Unfortunately, for most of us the decision to spend $255 on a projector that will likely be used solely by your kids is a tough one. However, if your child has an iPod or iPhone, and a healthy respect of electronics, the P1 is an awesome toy that will keep them busy for hours. But yes, at the end of the day, it is a toy.

AAXA Technologies Pico P1 portable projector


Price: $239 plus $14.99 for an iPod/iPhone cable
Pros: Small, fun for kids, accepts SD cards
Cons: Loud fan, low audio from built-in speaker, need extreme darkness to obtain enjoyable results, image loses contrast and colors quickly as size of image grows, expensive for a “toy”

Comments
4 Responses to “Review: Pico P1 portable iPhone/iPod projector”
  1. Jonro says:

    Thanks for the review. That’s an interesting device. I suspect that in a couple of years, we’ll be able to buy a more capable version. I suspect that this will be available on buy.com for $75 in a few months, when a new model is released.

  2. Greg says:

    But the business application possibilities are interesting, and you didn’t even touch on these. The ability to travel with my iPhone and something like this, if useable–maybe not now, but next gen?–would be outstanding.

  3. Was this the projector used in the TEDTalk where Patti Maes demonstrated Pranav Mistry’s “Sixth Sense” contraption? See http://bit.ly/14X5iv

  4. Paul Clarke says:

    Just bought this unit. Works great. Does anyone know if there is a maximum size for the micro sd card? The 2 gig unit works, but would like to have a larger one.

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