New pico projectors debut, aim for prime time

In-Stat says market to top $1 billion by 2013

Microvision showed its laser-powered Showxx projector at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Jan. 6.

Microvision showed its laser-powered Showxx projector at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Jan. 6.

New pico projectors are making their entrance at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, offering a better image quality that manufacturers hope will let them break into the mainstream.

Pico projectors are tiny projectors, not much larger than a cell phone, that connect to a laptop or smartphone and display movies, PowerPoint presentations and other file types. They attracted some buzz at last year's CES, but the image quality on some of the devices left a bit to be desired.

Nevertheless, In-Stat has predicted (PDF) the market for pico projectors, including those embedded into cell phones and other products, will top US$1 billion by 2013.

Several companies are showing updated models this year. Microvision is showing the Showwx, which the company says is the first product that uses lasers to project the image, giving it a bright, WVGA-quality image that can be up to 200 inches across the diagonal in a darkened room.

It has no internal storage but connects to an iPod, iPhone, laptop or other device with a TV-out or VGA connection. It measures 12 cm by 6 cm and weighs 122 grams. A replaceable lithium-ion battery lasts only 90 minutes but the device can also be charged through a Micro USB port.

The Showxx went on sale recently in parts of Asia and Europe, and Microvision hopes to start selling it directly to consumers in the U.S. in March for about US$500.

While the Showxx is aimed mainly at consumers, 3M showed an update to its MPro 120 projector that's targeted mainly at the mobile worker crowd.

The MPro 150 has a brighter LED bulb than its predecessor, at 15 lumens, and is 3M's first pico projector with internal storage, so it can be used without attaching it to another device. It comes with 1GB of internal memory and a micro SD slot for adding more.

Content can be loaded via a USB port, but it also has VGA, component and composite connectors for connecting to laptops and other devices.

The MPro 150 uses an LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) technology for the projector, and can display images that are up to 50 inches across the diagonal at VGA quality. As files are added to the device it automatically sorts them by file type into folders to make them easier to find.

It also serves as an MP3 player, with a headphone jack and integrated speakers, and it comes with a small tripod. An adapter cable for connecting to Apple products is an optional extra. The MPro 150 will be sold through Amazon.com and from 3M's Web site starting next month, for about $400.

Several other vendors are also vying for attention, including Sparkz which recently launched an elaborate docking station projector for iPhones and iPods.

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