The Rubik’s Cube of Pocket Projectors
By Brad Frischkorn
Imagine if a Rubik’s Cube could be tasked to do something more than merely tease the mind. Well, mini lasers have shrunk the power of a full-blown image projector in a space no bigger than that of the iconic 1980s toy.
SK Telecom, South Korea's largest wireless carrier, has created the latest head-turning IoT media gadget in its UO Smart Beam Laser Projector. Measuring just 2.2 inches per side, the blocky device is actually smaller than a standard Rubik's Cube, fits easily into the palm, and weighs just 6.9 ounces.
The Smart Beam falls into the category of ultra-short throw projectors, in which images can be illuminated onto reflective surfaces that may substitute for the old-fashioned movie screen. Typically, an opaque or white painted wall is good enough to make the gear work.
SK’s machine utilizes the latest in LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) technology as a laser power source, and can achieve a maximum brightness of 60 ANSI lumens. The lens allows for high definition 1280x720 resolution with a 16:9 aspect ratio, which works for watching movies or making presentations.
A key feature is auto-focus, which removes the need to adjust the machine when the screen size or distance changes. The projector can accommodate screen areas from 20”x20” to 100”x100.”
It is wired to use HDMI/MHL connectors, enabling a range of hookup possibilities from PCs to laptops and other portable devices. WiFi is also supported, but Bluetooth is not; the built-in speakers can be connected to an external audio device for more dynamic sound.
SK Telecom began marketing the unit in late 2015 and showcased it at the 2016 Hong Kong Electronics Fair, where project manager Myung Hoon Oh made the pitch for buyers.
“The portability enables a range of possibilities that just aren’t as convenient with a lot of comparable machines,” he says. “You can literally pack an entire multimedia entertainment system in a backpack for road travel. And for business presentations, in enables on-site rollouts that can be set up very quickly with a minimum of hassle.”
The Smart Beam’s portability is enhanced by an on-board lithium polymer battery that can last for up to two hours. Power can also be supplied via micro USB port. A sole button on the top of the machine serves for on/off and DLNA/Miracast connection, both of which work with the HDMI port.
SK Telecom displayed a working model in a closet-sized booth at the fair, where the latest Girls Generation video was projected onto a blank screen, piped in by WiFi connection via laptop. Sound was supplied by room speakers connected to the computer.
Luminosity and overall picture sharpness was reasonably impressive for such a tiny projector. Picture focus automatically adjusted in detail when Mr. Oh tinkered with the cube’s position atop a rudimentary table.
The unit retails for $400 or less, which puts it at a lower price point than some of its competition, which include AAXA Technologies’ P4-X Pico Projector and Celluon’s PicoPro.
Fuller sized B2B and home entertainment projectors can run well into the five-figure dollar range. Earlier this year, JPN profiled Ultmost Technology Group’s CasTV unit (see URL below).
PC Magazine analyst M. David Stone reports that while some color fidelity and balance suffers with the Smart Beam, particularly with yellows (which can show up with a greenish tint), color saturation remains strong, while the annoying ‘speckle effect’ that lasers sometimes emit has been successfully eliminated.
“White text on black is easy to read at sizes as small as 12 points, and black text on white is easy to read at 9 points,” he says. “Ultimately, the video quality is within the realm of acceptable for a pico projector.”
Still, if you want good sound quality you'll need to use an external sound system or a headset, he adds.
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