- Inexpensive for what it offers; impressive for the price
- Delivers highly watchable film and video as well as vibrant, saturated color for graphics
- Accepts 1080p input and downconverts to its native 854 x 480
- Built-in rechargeable battery
- No wired or wireless audio out
- No controls on the projector; lose the remote, and you can't choose a video source
- Focus wheel is tricky to use, making it hard to get a sharp image
The ViewSonic M1 Mini is the perfect laptop or phone accessory for road warriors who want to give presentations and a spot-on companion for anyone who wants to show photos or watch video in informal settings. Even better, the $169 price is almost too low to believe for what it offers.
The most eye-catching aspect of the ViewSonic M1 Mini is its street price: $169. And if you think that's too low for any projector worth considering, think again. Whether you're a road warrior who needs to show presentations or someone who wants to show off photos or video to friends, the M1 Mini is up to the job. It's bright enough to give you a much bigger image than a phone or laptop screen—which is an advantage even if you're an audience of one and a real boon if the other choice is crowding around a tiny screen.
It's also small enough to bring along without a second thought, particularly since its built-in battery charges over a USB cable, so there's no need to carry a bulky power block. And it doesn't hurt that it delivers both highly watchable video and business graphics with vibrant, saturated color.
The ViewSonic M1 Mini is built around an LED light source rated at 30,000 hours and a native 854 x 480 (FWVGA resolution) 0.20-inch DLP chip. Even in wide-format 16:9 aspect ratio, the resolution is low by today's standards, but it's enough to deliver sufficient detail for a typical PowerPoint presentation or for watching film and video. And to make connections easy, the M1 Mini can accept video signals from 640 x 480 up to 1080p, and downconverts as needed to its native 854 x 480. When I set my Blu-ray player to automatically negotiate the resolution, the M1 Mini established a 1080p connection.
The projector weighs only 11 ounces, and it comes with three swappable panel colors for the top—gray, yellow, and teal—so you can change its look if you like. It measures just 1.1 x 4.1 x 4.3 inches (HWD) including the integrated stand that covers most of two sides of the projector and also serves as a lens cover.
To set up the projector, you can pivot the stand below it, and tilt the M1 Mini up or down to aim at whatever you're using as a screen. Alternatively, you can pivot the stand so it's above the projector, where it looks like a handle, and rest the M1 Mini on its four rubber feet.
Beyond that, setup involves little more than plugging in a video source, turning the projector on, and positioning it. As is typical for projectors this size, there's no zoom—so you have to move the projector to adjust image size, and focusing is a little tricky because focus changes a lot with very little movement. If you have to tilt to point at the screen, you can use either auto or manual +/- 40 degree vertical keystone correction to square off the image.
Discussing the projector's brightness is also tricky. ViewSonic rates the M1 Mini at 120 LED lumens and 50 ANSI lumens. The LED lumens are based on a comparison with a lamp projector and the well-established observation that the perception of brightness is influenced by the more saturated, purer color produced by LEDs. In other words, the rating says the image from the M1 Mini looks as bright as the image from a lamp-based projector that a meter will measure at 120 lumens, even though the same meter will measure the M1 Mini at 50 lumens.
This advantage for LED projectors is greatest in a dark room, noticeable at low levels of ambient light, and effectively disappears in brightly lit offices and rooms with lots of bright sunlight. (For more details on the perceived brightness issue see the ProjectorCentral article Are "LED lumens" a Real Thing?)
With that as context, I measured the M1 Mini at 44 to 48 lumens, depending on the color preset. Plugging those numbers into the appropriate formula shows that to get the 16 ft-Lambert image brightness generally considered the right target brightness for a dark room, I could fill a 30-inch diagonal 1.0 gain screen with the lowest brightness or a 31-inch screen with the highest.
In addition to taking measurements, I set the projector up with the largest image I judged subjectively as bright enough. What I found was consistent with ViewSonic's claim that the image is perceived as brighter than expected from the ANSI lumen measurement.
I wound up with a 43-inch diagonal image for brightly lit content like news or game shows, both with lights off and with low and moderate levels of ambient light. Even for movies with dark scenes, I wound up with a 38-inch image. The throw distance for a 38-inch image is roughly 3.3 feet. (For the distance for screen size you want, see the ViewSonic M1 Mini projection calculator.)
One last setup note is that the onboard 2-watt JBL speaker delivers excellent sound quality for such a small projector and enough volume for a small room. However, there is no wired or wireless audio output. If you need more volume or better sound quality, you'll have to find a way to connect a headset or speakers to your source component.
Here's a more complete list of the ViewSonic M1 Mini's key features:
- Surprisingly low price at $169
- Small and light: 1.1 x 4.1 x 4.3 inches (HWD); 11 ounces
- Built-in stand doubles as lens cover
- Auto and manual +/- 40 degree keystone correction
- 854 x 480, 0.20-inch DLP chip delivers 16:9 aspect ratio at SD resolution
- Accepts video input from 640 x 480 up to 1080p
- 120 LED lumen rating based on its perceived brightness, 50 ANSI lumen rating
- 500:1 dynamic contrast ratio rating
- 30,000 hour lifetime for light source
- HDMI 1.4, HDCP 1.4 port and USB input with media player
- Three color preset modes plus one User mode
- Onboard 2-watt mono speaker
- Credit card-style remote
- 1-year warranty, includes light source
- Built-in rechargeable battery, 2.5 hours battery life on a full charge
- Can connect to a USB port, including ports on power banks, to charge; when discharged, requires a 5-volt, 2 Amp power source to run
The M1 Mini offers three color presets—Brightest, Movie, and TV—that each let you change only the color temperature, plus a User preset that adds brightness, contrast, sharpness, contrast, and tint settings. Unfortunately, the menu covers almost the entire screen, and repeatedly opening the menu, making a change, and closing it to see the effect is cumbersome. Few people are likely to take advantage of the extra settings for User mode.
That said, it's worth experimenting with the color temperature settings in all of the modes. It has a noticeable effect, and with no color management system to fine tune the colors, you might as well pick the setting that looks most natural to your eye.
Between the two modes that tied for brightest in our tests—the Brightest and User modes—the User mode was the clear choice for both presentations and video when you need the extra brightness. Both showed a slight green bias, but it was more obvious in the Brightest mode than in User mode. Light colors like light yellow and light cyan also tended to come out a little too pale in the Brightest mode. And User mode also did the better job of maintaining subtle gradients in midtones, which gives rounded objects like faces in photorealistic images a more three dimensional look.
If you don't need to squeeze every last lumen out of the projector, the Movie and TV modes both provide even more acceptable color than the User mode. Movie mode showed a slight red shift in flesh tones, but no obvious color problems in photos without people. For presentations, light colors were even better saturated than in the User mode, and colors in graphics were more vibrant. The Movie mode also did the best job of any mode for maintaining subtle gradients.
The TV mode splits the difference between the User mode and Movie mode in most ways. In particular, color saturation for graphic presentations was better than in the User mode, but not quite as good as in Movie mode, and the sense of three-dimensionality on faces and the like fell somewhere between the two. It also has the best color balance of any of the modes.
All this makes the Movie mode the mode of choice for presentations, including presentations with photos that don't include people. If there are faces, the TV mode is the better choice thanks its more natural looking flesh tones. For video and film, TV mode is the better choice as well.
Viewing. As you would probably expect at this price, if you apply the same standards to the M1 Mini as you would to a home theater projector, you'll find plenty of shortcomings. The SD resolution was necessarily soft focus compared to 1080p, and even in the TV mode, some colors fell outside of a realistic range.
When watching a news broadcast, for example, as well as Casino Royale, the sky occasionally was more turquoise than blue. But the image sharpness was suitable for the resolution, and most colors in most content were close enough to what they should be that you wouldn't notice a problem unless you had a reference image to compare with or were familiar with the content from having watched it multiple times.
Very much on the plus side, I didn't see any rainbow artifacts, which I tend to see easily. However, our usual suggestion still applies. If you are particularly sensitive to rainbow artifacts, or don't know if you are, it's best to buy from a vendor who allows easy returns, so you can test the projector out for yourself.
Viewing two episodes of Watchmen, I found the M1 Mini eminently watchable on all counts. Colors, including flesh tones, were accurate enough to look realistic. And even with lights on, colors were nicely saturated, contrast was good, and dark scenes held shadow detail. Most telling, at no point did I feel compelled to give up on the M1 Mini and switch to a brighter, higher resolution projector.
Ultimately, the ViewSonic M1 Mini proves that some things that sound too good to be true can still be true. It won't replace your home theater projector, but it can serve nicely if you need a projector you can set up in a basement playroom on rainy days, or take with you, whether for presentations, streaming video or playing videogames in your hotel room, or showing your own photos and videos to friends.
Arguably the M1 Mini's most serious shortcoming is that if you lose the credit card remote you can't use the projector, since there are no controls on the projector itself to get past the wake-up screen and chose a source. (Thankfully, replacement remotes are available.) Far more important is that the M1 Mini delivers a more-than-acceptable image for both presentations and video, it's small and light enough to bring along without a second thought, and at $169, it's a tremendous value for what it delivers.
Brightness. Our results for Full and Eco power settings were as follows for each color mode:
ViewSonic M1 Mini ANSI Lumens
Brightness was the same with or without an external power source connected.
Brightness Uniformity: 86%
Color Brightness: The measured color brightness came out to 100% of white brightness in every mode. With no difference between the two, there's no affect on color accuracy, and color images will be as bright as you would expect from the white brightness measurement.
Lowest Measured Input Lag (1080p): 33.0 ms
Fan Noise. ViewSonic rates the M1 Mini at 26 dB for full power and 25 dB for Eco mode. However, I didn't hear any difference between the two. In either mode, the volume is little enough to be masked by ambient noise in a typical family room or office, and quickly fade into the background in a quiet room.
- HDMI VERSION 1.4 (with HDCP 1.4)
- Micro USB for power in
- USB 2.0 Type A (Reads photos, video, and music files from USB memory key; plays photos as slideshow)
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our ViewSonic M1 Mini projector page.