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Optoma ML300 Pocket Projector Review

Performance
4
Features
Ease of Use
Value
Intended Use:
Mobile Presentation
Optoma ML300 Projector Optoma ML300
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Street Price: n/a
Contrast:2,000:1
Lumens:300
Weight: 2.0 lbs
Resolution:1280x800
Aspect Ratio:16:10
Technology:DLP
Lens Shift:No
Lamp Life:20,000 Hrs
20,000 (eco)
Warranty:1 year
Connectors:  Composite, VGA In, HDMI, MemoryCard, USB (x2),
Video Formats:  480i, 480p,
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Optoma ML300 Pocket Projector

Mark Davidson, July 9, 2012
ProjectorCentral.com

The Optoma ML300 resists easy characterization. On the one hand, it's another example of a group of similar projectors that are built around LEDs and a 1280x800 DLP chip. On the other hand, while most of these projectors are minor variations on a theme -- or, more precisely, two themes, one for 500 lumen models and one for 300 lumen models -- the 300 lumen ML300 strays from the norm.

Not all of the differences are in its favor. For example, although it is only 2.1 lbs., it's closer in size to 500-lumen models than to other 300-lumen models, making it a little less portable than it could be. However, the large size gives it room for lots of ports, including a standard VGA rather than an oddball connector that needs a separate adaptor as with other 300-lumen models.

Very much on the plus side, you can leave bulky laptops at home and let the ML300 read files from microSD or microSDHC cards, USB memory keys, or its 2GB internal memory. If you prefer using a laptop or other image source, however, it offers a reasonably full set of connectors, including a mini-HDMI port. Given the $499 street price, this all adds up to an attractive balance between capability and cost.

Strong Points

Good data image quality. The ML300 did a good job on data image quality in our tests. Colors were fully saturated and eye catching in all brightness modes, and color balance was good, with suitably neutral grays at various levels from black to white in most modes. The brightest shades of gray were a touch yellowish in the brightest mode, but the bright modes in most projectors have inaccurate color so you can't really count this as a problem.

Also worth mention is that text is crisp and readable at small sizes. In my tests, with a 77" diagonal 16:10 image, text as small as 7 points was easy to read, as long as I was close enough to the screen to read it. Even from a distance of 6 to 9 feet, I found black on white text easy to read at sizes as small as 7.5 points.

Usable video quality. The ML300's video quality isn't in the same class as its data image quality, but it's watchable. Skin tones were a bit oversaturated, but I didn't see any motion artifacts or posterization (colors changing suddenly where they should change gradually). The projector also did a good job with shadow detail, with no problems on carefully lit dark scenes, and only a minor loss of detail on test clips that many data projectors have serious problems with.

Few rainbow artifacts. For those who see rainbow artifacts easily with DLP projectors, as I do, the ML300 offers the advantage of hardly showing them at all with data images, and showing them only a little more frequently with video. In my video tests they showed primarily in one test clip that's prone to causing them. In most scenes they showed up rarely or not at all. Most people probably won't see any of these artifacts and even those who are sensitive to seeing them probably won't see them often enough to consider them annoying.

Highly portable. At 1.5 pounds by itself, and 1.8" by 7.2" by 4.4" (HWD), the ML300 is roughly equivalent to a beach book in size and weight. Adding in the power block raises the weight to 2.1 pounds and gives you two pieces to carry. However, Optoma provides a soft carrying case with enough room to hold the projector, power block, and any cables, USB memory keys, or memory cards you need to carry. Even the fully packed case is small enough to fit easily in a briefcase.

Low running costs. As with most LED-based projectors, the red, green, and blue LEDs in the ML300 are meant to last the life of the projector, with a 20,000 hour rating, and no need to buy replacements.

Test Results and Connectivity

Brightness. The ML300 fully lives up to its 300 lumen rating, at a measured 298 lumens in its brightest mode. Other LED brightness mode presets ranged from 173 to 259 lumens. In my tests, this proved bright enough for comfortable viewing of a 77" diagonal image in theater dark lighting, with the same size still useable for short sessions, if a little washed out, even with moderate ambient light.

Good brightness uniformity. The projector also did a good job maintaining uniform brightness across the screen in my tests, with a measured 80% brightness uniformity. The difference was barely enough to see on a solid white screen and impossible to see on a screen broken up by text or graphics.

Good Connectivity. The ML300's connection options count as a strong point. The array of connectors on the back and one side include a standard VGA port for a computer, a mini HDMI port, a microSD card slot, and a USB A port for a USB memory key or for Optoma's $29 optional Wi-Fi dongle. In addition, there's a micro USB connector for (a) direct USB display from a computer and (b) transferring files to and managing files in the 2GB internal memory. Finally there are two miniplug jacks;one is for stereo audio and composite video, and one for stereo audio output.

Optoma says that the projector can read 14 file formats directly from memory, including the most common image, video, and audio formats. In my tests I confirmed that it can read JPG, PDF, XLS, TXT, and Word DOC files.

Also worth mention is that Optoma's optional Wi-Fi dongle works with PCs, Macs, and both iOS and Android devices. I had some setup problems with both a PC and an Android phone in my tests, but only because critical information wasn't included with the projector. The setup process itself is straightforward, and Optoma says that it's working on including more complete instructions.

Limitations

Low audio volume. The ML300's audio quality is almost irrelevant, because the volume from the 2-watt speaker is too low to hear well from even a few feet away. If you need sound, plan on using an external audio system or headset.

No zoom. As is typical for small projectors, the ML300 doesn't include a zoom control. Given the small size, however, moving the projector to adjust image size is easy, and once you've used it a few times, you'll know approximately how far to put it from the screen for the image size you want. In my tests, I got a 77" diagonal image at just over 8 feet from the screen.

Noise. The ML300's fan noise ranges from reasonably quiet in the least bright mode, to potentially annoying in the brightest mode, at a rated 36 dB. If you're sensitive to noise, you'll probably find it bothersome. And note that even with the fan going full blast, the ML300 gets surprisingly hot to the touch.

3D works with computer output only. The ML300 offers limited 3D support. Optoma says it will work only with computers that have a Quad-buffered, Open GL 3D-compatible graphics card. And to use 3D, you'll have to buy DLP-Link glasses separately.

Scaling artifacts. One image quality issue worth mentioning, although it's less of a problem than with competing projectors, is scaling artifacts. Even with a 1280x800 signal, the ML300 adds unwanted extra patterns to large areas filled with repeating patterns of fine lines or dots. Scaling artifacts like these shouldn't show up when the signal matches the projector's native resolution.

However, these artifacts weren't a surprise because they also appear with every other projector I've tested that uses the same DLP chip. As I've reported in other reviews, Texas Instruments says that the projector doesn't scale the image at 1280x800, but it also says that the issue is likely at least partly due to the chip's architecture. Beyond that, TI has not provided an explanation for the artifacts.

In any case, you are not likely to see these artifacts unless you use patterned fills in your graphics rather than blocks of color. Even better, as demonstrated by the projector's highly readable text at small font sizes, the ML300 avoids the soft focus effect from anti-aliasing that shows on most other projectors built around this chip. For most purposes, the soft focus effect is the more serious problem, and by avoiding it, the ML300 makes the scaling artifacts a minor issue at most.

Conclusion

The ML300 shares the same niche and many of the same advantages as every other recent 300- and 500-lumen projector. A little larger and heavier than pocket projectors, it's still small and light enough to carry without a second thought, but it's enough brighter to give you a significantly bigger usable image for any given level of ambient light.

That said, the ML300 also stands apart. Compared to other 300-lumen models, it's larger and heavier. But it also offers more connection options, including a standard VGA that eliminates the need for an adaptor. Compared with 500-lumen models, it's lighter than most even with its power block, almost as bright, and notably cheaper. Add in the good data image quality, usable video quality, and relatively rainbow-free images, and there's more than enough here to make the ML300 a solid choice for mobile presentation.

(05/22/19 - 10:41 AM PST)
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