Wednesday, November 12, 2008

3M MPro110 Handheld Mobile Projector: Lightning Review [Review]


The Gadget: 3M's pocket-friendly MPro110 projector packs a sizeable screen into a tiny, battery-powered package. It's mainly for fast-moving business types, but could it also be an alternative to buying a 40-inch TV?

The Price: $350

The Verdict: I am in love with the concept, and this little LCOS-based 640x480 projector does some amazing things given its size and resolution. But even understanding its limitations, it still has some major build-quality issues that prevent it from true awesomeness.

As a portable projector for still presentations and videos alike, it has its strengths and weaknesses. It powers up easily, connects to composite and VGA sources (including component if you have the right cable adapters), and never gets so hot you can't touch it. It's got a tripod screw like most cameras, so you can easily position it where you want to. 3M doesn't disclose the lithium-ion battery life though it should given the LED's constant brightness. Still, plugging it into a wall isn't a big deal, so battery life may not matter. (I will continue to test that and update if there's anything significant.)

The MPro110 isn't going to be of help in a big boardroom—you can only get up to a 40-inch screen (by positioning it about 6 feet), but even then, fine details are blurred. Your best bet for readable viewing is a 20-inch screen at 4 feet. Update: It supports up to 1024x768 resolution input, but it doesn't display at a resolution greater than 640x480. Ironically, the fuzziness is more of a problem for the businesspeople for whom the product was intended—I didn't suffer much watching slightly blurred DVD rips or cable-box TV at the full 40 inches,! though like most projectors, near-pitch darkness is required.

As you can see from the shots, there's some pinch distortion and not a lot you can do about it. There's no optical or digital compensation like on larger projectors—in fact the only control besides on/off is focus, and that only goes so far. Brightness-wise, it's okay, but it suffers noticeably the farther back you pull. Its colors are impressive, especially here, given the fact that I was projecting against a dark yellow wall.

Again, I was forgiving of limitations based on size and functionality—my biggest problems were in construction. The focus dial felt flimsy and wouldn't hold its place if jostled. Worse, it was hard to keep my computer connected, because the projector's VGA cable wouldn't stay inside the projector's jack.

Yeah, $350 is a lot for a toy, but it's not the reason I wouldn't recommend this. If 3M could apply more quality control, this would be a novelty more of us might carry. I can see it being a fun way to watch movies in hotel rooms when traveling, and as the technology behind brightness, throw and resolution improves, these could become hot sellers indeed. [3M MPro110 Product Page]