Straight to the point
A robust, pico-class projector with impressive image quality, flexible input options and a veritable showbag of included accessories. Despite some obvious opportunities for improvement, this projector is ready for the roaming entertainer and travelling professional – outperforming many substantially more expensive (and larger) pico projectors. RRP of AUD479.00.
NOTE: A complete set of images taken for this review is available, in full size, in this Flickr gallery.
The distributor’s spiel
Information taken from the Merlin Digital (AU) website on 27 January 2011:
Imagine being able to show your friends and family videos from your media player or mobile phone at up to hundred inches in size. Ever wanted to show the photos on your digital camera or PDA whilst you’re out and about? Well, now it’s possible with this revolutionary new projector you can hold in your hand. No need to worry about connecting to media player or PDA either; the Merlin Pocket Projector Pro has a built in Media player that supports all major Video formats such as DIVX, XVID, VOB and audio and picture formats.
The latest LED technology, Merlin’s projector expertise and Texas Instruments tried and trusted DLP® chip technology, (used in millions of business and home cinema projectors the world over), come together to produce astonishing image quality from such a small projector. There’s no need to worry about replacing the lamp either – the Merlin has a lamp-life of an astonishing thirty thousand hours: enough for more than twenty five years of life, even if you use the projector three hours a day, every single day of the year.
I’ve owned a number of lard-arse projectors over the years, and used them for both home and work purposes. In the last 12 months, I’ve been carrying-about smaller projectors including the Acer K11 (mini class) and 3M MP160 (pico class) as companion presentation devices for my laptop and iDevices (iPad / iPhone). While I don’t profess to be an expert in the field of projectors, I do know what my eyes and ears tell me, and this is their story.
All images and videos used to accompany this review were shot on my camera’s phone, so don’t expect any works of art. Similarly, they should not be used as sole evaluation measures for the quality of the projector’s output. Photographing or videoing a projected image with a camera phone is not an exact science.
Out of box experience
The sales package is clearly designed for direct channels – the projector arrived better-protected than an armadillo in a Kevlar suit! Seriously…
- Remove the plastic shrink-wrap
- Remove the full colour-printed outer display sleeve
- Remove the lid of the robust inner box
- Remove bagged projector from solid block of die-cut foam
- Remove projector from silver anti-static bag.
It was interesting to note that some of the video codecs printed on the display sleeve has been redacted with a black marker. Once I delved into the manual (more on that later), I learned that the black marker was covering-up RM, RMVB, FLV and WMV. Not supported or doesn’t play back smoothly? We’ll leave that to later.
It’s clear that Merlin Digital has sourced an OEM product and branded/packaged it for their customer base. However, the impact of their distinctive marque on the outer sleeve and the projector itself was somewhat diminished by the discombobulated presentation of the rest of the package, including a myriad of cheap unsealed plastic bags and a plethora of unbranded or cross-branded accessory items. Indeed, the box states Pocket Projector Pro; the projector unit sports the moniker Mini Multimedia Projector; while the included remote says Micro Projector. Eh? Oh, and that bright white remote? It looks like like a cheap, aftermarket iDevice accessory.
Talking of accessories, let’s look at what’s in the box along with the projector itself:
- Infra-red remote control
- Lithium Ion battery (the ubiquitous NP-120)
- 3F-3F RCA adaptor
- USB A to USB mini cable
- FM audio transmitter
- Car charger
- VGA cable
- Composite video / Component Video / Stereo Audio cable
- Tripod stand and bracket
- AC adaptor with European plug
- Australian AC travel adaptor plug
- User manual
Unfortunately, Engrish is the order of the day in the printed manual. Hey, it’s great for a few cheap giggles, but that’s about it. Thankfully, the projector is so damn simple to use that the manual is not necessary anyway.
The projector feels solid, with a a study metal chassis and well-fitting components. The top-mounted, backlit touch controls look great against the piano-black gloss finish. The quality of the screen printing near the ports and focus dial could be improved as it looks cheap (subjective and somewhat trivial, I know). The fan is VERY quiet and does a great job of keeping the unit cool. The included tripod and bracket do their job as an adjustable mount for the projector, but they are unquestionably cheap’n’cheerful in terms of quality.
A special call-out for the rechargeable battery of choice for this unit. The NP-120 was used in a number of the Fuji Finepix and Casio Exilim series digital cameras. Because of its compact size and simple rectangular shape, battery is now used in dozens of rechargeable devices. As such, aftermarket NP-120 batteries be purchased VERY cheaply on eBay. This is great news if you’ll be travelling extensively without a means to recharge the battery or run the projector from mains supply.
My testing including playback of a variety of file formats (from on-board memory and MicroSD card) and using the VGA input to project from my laptop and iPhone. I did not test input from the component video cable. To reiterate, there’s nothing scientific about my testing here. I just threw the image onto a variety of surfaces, everything from a $1200 retro-reflective high-gain projector screen at work to our (vile, dark green and ‘fruit bat poo-spattered’) garage roller door at home.
- User interface: Bright, bold, simple, snappy and totally intuitive. Also, no learning curve to speak of – a good thing considering the somewhat pathetic printed user manual. Navigation via the hardware buttons mirrors functionality of the infra-red remote.
- Image quality: Surprisingly-good. Colour, contrast & brightness needed no calibration. This is a good thing as there are no such adjustments available on this unit. Like any digital display, outputting video at its native resolution (640 x 480) yielded the best performance.
- Audio quality: The on-board 0.5W amp and mono speaker is far from gut-wrenching, but is passable in a quiet room. The reason for including the bonus wireless FM transmitter quickly became obvious. But, seriously, how often do you have access to an FM radio with speakers in a meeting room?
- On-board media player file support: A mixed bag of results. Generally good file support, however high bitrate audio and high resolution video tended to result in audio-video sync issues.
Above left: Partially-sunlit room. Video projected to screen size of ~300cm (diagonal). 46″ LCD TV shown for scale. Main menu shown.
Above right: Completely dark room. Video projected to screen size of ~180cm (diagonal). Main menu shown.
It easily out-performed the 3M MP160 in all aspects of image quality except contrast (where the 3M offered better blacks), but was trumped by the (significantly larger and significantly more expensive Acer K11).
Your only real adjustment on this Merlin unit is the focus. No keystone correction etc, either, so level positioning of the unit is important.
The unit ships with 162MB of sample audio, video, photo and text files. Sadly, they do nothing to showcase the performance of the unit – especially the massively-compressed video files and gibberish text files. Also, surely they could do better than some tired-looking flower photos, old movie trailers and a cheesy Korean(?) pop music video. Failing that, just ship it without sample media.
MPEG4 Good (A/V sync issues with large files) AVI (DIVX, XVID) Excellent (just don’t feed it 720p + files!) 3GP Excellent VOB Good (A/V sync issues with large files) WMV Invalid File Format RM, RMVB Invalid File Format FLV Invalid File Format WMA Good (but did not like WMA Pro files) MP3 Good (clipping with files >256kbps) WAV Excellent APE, FLAC, OGG Not Tested AAC Excellent AC3 Excellent JPEG Good (choked on a silly 4256 x 2832 image) GIF Excellent BMP Excellent TXT Excellent (text is text, right?
- VGA playback: Superb! This is where the Pocket Projector Pro comes into its own. Windows 7/Windows XP (and presumably any other OS with basic VGA out support) auto-detects the second display and you’re up and running within seconds. Powerpoint and Acrobat files looked great; my X201 multi-touch tablet transitioned into massive electronic whiteboard; and my iPhone (via the VGA dongle) became a mini mobile theatrette.
- Battery: Stellar. Easily achieved the claimed 60mins life with playback of video files from the on-board memory. Managed 86mins projecting video from my laptop. Charging via mains, USB or car charger.
What I’d change If I was the distributor or manufacturer
- Ditch the car charger, composite cables, RCA adaptor, FM sender
- Ditch the white remote and replace with a black one
- Ditch (or improve) the sample media files
- Ditch the user manual and replace with a getting-started sheet written in proper English
- Include a cloth/velour carry pouch or small padded bag
- Include a proper AU-plug mains charger
- Improve the on-board audio output
- Improve the sample media files on the unit
- Improve the consistency of the branding
- Push the RRP to under the $400 price-point for mainstream uptake
A robust, pico-class projector with impressive image quality, flexible input options and a veritable showbag of included accessories. Despite some obvious opportunities for improvement, this projector is ready for the roaming entertainer and travelling professional – outperforming many substantially more expensive (and larger) pico projectors. Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of AUD479.00.