Pick a pico projector: We review four of the best and brightest models

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Pico projectors—the tiniest of handheld projectors—continue to benefit from advances in miniaturization and power management. Although most pico projectors are still a tad too bulky for comfortable pocket portability, none of models in this round will weigh down a briefcase or purse by more than a pound; some weigh less than half that. Each one can throw a bright image on a wall or screen in an average-size room, even in the presence of lots of ambient light.

Beyond the basics, models differ in features and, of course, price. The four current products we looked at for this review—the Aaxa P4-X, the Acer C120, the Optoma PK320, and the 3M MP220—range in weight from less than 6.5 ounces to nearly 15 ounces.

Priced on Amazon.com on October 29, these particular projectors cost between $230 and $450. The heaviest and most expensive model, the 3M MP220, delivers the highest native resolution by a wide margin: 1024 by 600, versus either 854 by 480 or 854 by 800.

Three of the units we looked at are based on Texas Instruments' DLP (digital light processing) technology; one uses LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon). Connectivity options vary, as does support for assorted media file formats. All have USB cables, but not necessarily for connecting drives holding your content; with the 3M, you use the cable only to transfer media files to the projector's internal storage or to its MicroSD card. Firmware platforms also vary; some come with built-in apps and a real OS (typically Android), while others are more basic.

Pico projectors have become credible business tools as the technology has improved, but they're still not powerful enough to deploy in large rooms. Their mediocre audio capabilities render them poor choices for showing movies or presentations with soundtracks unless you reinforce them with stand-alone speakers (that’s fine for home use, but it would add to your carry weight on the road). In addition, without keystone controls, it can be difficult to correct for distortion caused by projecting an image onto a surface at an angle (your presentation will look trapezoidal instead of rectangular). Using a tabletop tripod is one good way to overcome keystoning.

Pico projectors are great tools for frequent business travelers who need to make presentations to small groups of people. They can also be fun toys for consumers who want to watch movies or play games on a big screen, especially on the go (just remember to bring some small speakers).

Now let’s find out who makes the best one. For complete details, click to see each of our four reviews:

  • Aaxa P4-X: HDMI support lets you connect this model to a Blu-ray player.
  • Acer C120: This model is very small and very bright, but it's also the least versatile of the group.
  • Optoma PK320: The best choice for business travelers, this unit supports HDMI, too.
  • 3M MP220: Although this unit is heavy, it offers high resolution.

Do you use a pico projector, for business or fun? Hit the comments and let us know your thoughts on these devices.

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