Looking into the future, concept artists often equip their dream iPhones with built-in pico projectors. That feature probably isn't coming to an iPhone anytime soon, but Micron Technology's $99 Pop Video pico projector accessory may be the next best thing.
The key feature here is the 30-pin connector that lets you dock your iPhone or iPod, forming one compact unit. While some of the larger pico projectors like the BenQ Joybee GP2 have an integrated dock, the Pop Video is designed to be much more portable, fitting into a pocket when not in use.
Brookstone is offering up a similarly styled pico projector that's simply called the Pocket Projector for iPhone 4, but its native resolution is lower at 640x360 pixels than the Pop Video's 960x540 pixels, and the Brookstone accessory costs $229.
|Pop Video||Main specs|
|Dimensions||4.4 inches by 1.8 inches by .6 inch (HWD)|
|Weight||3.5 ounces (97g)|
|Input||30-pin dock connector|
|Video output||qHD (960x540-pixel resolution)|
|Battery||Built-in lithium ion rechargeable battery|
|Play time||Up to 2 hours with full battery charge|
|Charging||Micro-USB charging (1.2-compliant)|
|Charge time||About 4 hours|
|iOS version||5.0 and greater|
|Compatible with||iPhone 4/4S and third- and fourth-generation iPod Touch|
As for the light engine inside the Pop Video, Micron uses something called FLCOS microdisplay technology, which is cheaper to produce and more energy-efficient. It's worth noting that the company doesn't list brightness specs (lumens). That's partially because it's trying to avoid getting into the brightness game, which is a little like the contrast game with TVs or the watts-per-channel game in audio, where numbers have a tendency to get inflated. It's also because the Pop Video just isn't that bright, coming in at less than 10 lumens. But the product developer told me that there are more important factors that go into making a good picture than just brightness -- and he's mostly right.
How is the picture?
The first thing I'd advise is to turn the lights off. The projector just doesn't work well in a lighted room, unless you project a tiny picture that isn't much bigger than your phone's screen. But in dark conditions projecting on a plain white wall, the picture was OK. And in this case OK means pretty good. Or good enough.
I set up a little viewing area in an office and projected about a 30-inch image on the wall (the manual says you can go up to 50 inches but the sweet spot is more in the 25- to 30-inch range). For source material, I used an iTunes copy of "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." It's a 1.8GB file and about as high-quality as you're going to get coming from an iPhone.
I watched the movie for a while myself and then had our video guru David Katzmaier come in and take a look. Katzmaier echoed what I was thinking: "The color's oversaturated, the picture's soft, and the contrast isn't good," he said, "but for what it is -- and its price -- I think most people will be fairly impressed. It's good enough." (Note: you can make some picture tweaks via the free Pop Video app, but we didn't have any luck improving the picture quality beyond the default settings.)
We both agreed that the bigger issue was getting the projector set up properly. For showing photos, you can hold it in your hand and project against a wall, but for any serious video watching, you've got to lay it on a flat surface and make sure it's sitting at the right height. I ended up creating a little projection tower out of a box, a CD cover, and a plaque we had lying around. I then stuck a coin under one side of the projector to tilt it slightly to the right and get the image more geometrically correct.