What is a Pico projector? This popular innovation in projectors has come about due to the capabilities of smart phones, personal digital assistants and digital cameras. Otherwise known as pocket projectors or mobile projectors, a Pico projector is a handheld mini projector.

Because devices like smart phones have exceptional capacity for both still and video images, a device was needed to project those images to a size that can be shared by more than just the owner of the smart phone. Therefore, we have the Pico projector, which is able to project the phone’s images onto a viewing surface.

Actually, Pico projectors have been around since about 2009, but the earlier projectors were more a toy than a serious presentation projector. The lumen output was dismal. Even today, there are still brightness limitations for the Pico projector. The lumens for a Pico projector are a fraction of what you can obtain from the larger projectors, with which we are all familiar. Most Pico projectors are at 200 lumens or less.  

The strength of the Pico projector is for personal presentations where the presentation is less than 2-3 hours long, as that is the limit for the battery. It also allows projection of video, photos, pdf, and Powerpoint presentations without the need of connecting to a PC or laptop. 

Pico projectors employ Texas Instruments’ DLP technology, Micovision’s beam-steering or LCoS. DLP technology has slightly lower resolution than LCoS due to the tiny mirrors used in DLP.

LCoS is a combination of DLP and LCD — a LCD panel on a mirror. The amount of pixels is less restricted than LCD or DLP because the electronics can be placed under the pixel rather than next to it. This high pixel density means high resolution.

Microvision’s laser scanning projectors have very good color gamut and low power consumption due to the use of lasers as the light source; and the images are always in focus.

Most Pico projector manufacturers have a one year warranty, except ASUS, which has a two year warranty. You can expect to get 15,000 hours of lamp life from a LCoS projector and between 20 – 30,000 hours from a DLP projector. I could only find three projectors that have WXGA (1280 x 800) resolution — the AAXA P2 Jr., ASUS P1, and the FAVI J5 Pico HD, while most projectors have VGA (640 x 480) resolution.  Most Pico projectors are under a half pound, but there are a few that are heavier, up to one pound.  

The ASUS P1 is the most expensive model at $865.00, but it has strong features to justify that cost. The remaining projectors are priced all over the place, so you can certainly find something within your budget. If contrast is important to you, the FAVI J5 HD has a contrast ratio of 2500:1. Most Pico projectors have a contrast ratio of 1,000 – 2,000:1with a few under 1,000:1.  Depending on your mobile device, you will want to check if the projector has HDMI and USB ports.

Some projectors have wireless networking, including the, PhoneSuit Lightplay, Portronics Smart, FAVI J6 LED PICO and J7, and the Megapower ML-131and ML-51.

If you are into 3-D, you’re out of luck with the Pico projector. If you want audio, check the specs of the projector as some have stereo, some mono and some no audio. With the projectors that have speakers, you can expect the audio to be 20 – 30 dB.  

So, what Pico projectors are selling the best? There is no definitive report on this, as Internet sales on Amazon and dealer sales have little in common. But, I will try to pick Pico projectors that you might want to consider as you search for the perfect projector for your needs.

The Megapower ML-131has the Android 4.2 operating system with touch-pad control. It is a DLP projector with a microSD slot, supporting up to 32 GB SDHC, and both HDMI and USB ports, as well as wireless networking. It has a wireless connection to smartphones via DLNA. It’s very compact at .5 pounds. The LEDs are expected to last 30,000 hours.

Aaxa has five models in the top ten projectors sold by Amazon. The latest is the LED Android, which uses the Android 4.2 operating system with a high performance dual-core processor. It has 1 GB of DDR memory and 4 GB of onboard memory, as well as WiFi and Bluetooth.

The Brookstone HDMI Pico projector connects to most smartphones, tablets, computers, and DVD players via HDMI. The resolution is 1280 x 800 with 200 lumens. It has two speakers and three hours of battery life.

The FAVI J6 -LED-PICO features a memory card reader, USB port, WiFi, tripod and soft carrying case. The projector can connect to devices via HDMI, USB and MicroSD. It has one mono speaker. The display is DLP with a native resolution of 854 x 480 and 85 lumens of brightness. The J6 has a 3 hour battery life.

The ASUS S1 is meant for both casual home use and for business presentations. It has a native 854×480 resolution, with 16:9 aspect ratio, and 200-lumen brightness, making it bright enough for home or business. It has HDMI and USB ports. It has a strong 2 watt speaker. Lamp life is 30,000 hours and the battery will run for three hours.

The Optoma PK320 is a 100 lumen Pico projector that is small, light, and full-featured. Its 854×480 native resolution works well for both widescreen movies and standard 4:3 presentation material. You can store your images in the projector’s internal memory or store them on a USB memory stick, eliminating taking your computer along. Unlike most of its competitors, the PK320 has a built-in Microsoft Office compatible viewer that handles Word and Excel files without file conversion.

Although Pico projectors are stand alone devices, we will see them being merged into smartphones in the future, as attested to by the Galaxy Beam, an ultra slim projector-smartphone.

The Galaxy Beam enables you to create your own home theater practically anywhere to watch movies or stream live games. Wherever you are, the projected screen creates a pleasurably intimate theater space. The Beam connects with WiFi, BT 3.0+HS, USB, MicroUSB, and it has a 3.5mm ear jack. It puts out 15 lumens for projection up to six feet away. The battery will give you three hours of projection time. The idea is intriguing but the combination will have to be much brighter to compete with stand alone projectors; and I don’t think that this will happen, as more light will require a larger profile, which will take away from the concept of a phone.

It is expected that the Pico projector market will reach $9.32 billion by 2020, growing at a 39% yearly rate. This is definitely a  market that will become an important part of the projector industry.