Highly Recommended Award
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The hot trend in pico projectors these days is alternative light source technology. This can mean LEDs, which last much longer than traditional lamps, but the latest and greatest thing is laser projection. The Microvision ShowWX is a WVGA (848x480) laser pico projector that delivers serious performance. Its 10-lumen output is perfect for small image sizes, and the use of laser projection means the image is always in focus--no matter what. So project wherever you'd like, whenever you'd like. With the Microvision ShowWX in your pocket, your presentation is ready when you are.
The ShowWX is not the first projector to use laser diodes, nor is it the most fully featured. But with an MSRP of $549 and street prices a hundred dollars below that, it is one of the least expensive. If you've been looking for a pocket-sized presentation powerhouse, the ShowWX might be the right projector for you.
Ultra portable. Projectors have been labeled "pocket sized" for years, but only a few have been small enough to actually fit in your pocket. The ShowWX measures a scant 4.6" long by 2.4" wide by 0.6" thick, making it about the size of a cellular phone or iPod. It weighs only four ounces with the battery installed. Shove it in your pocket and you might forget it's there.
Laser Projection. The big advantage of the ShowWX is that it's always in focus, whether you're projecting a 6" diagonal image or a 60" diagonal image. You can even project on uneven or curved surfaces without any loss of focus. The other big advantage, of course, is lamp life. While the exact life of the laser diodes is not specified, laser diodes in general last much longer than high-pressure lamps do, and most are on par with LED lifespan (≥ 20,000 hours).
Light output. The ShowWX is rated at 10 ANSI lumens, and our test sample measured between 8 and 9 lumens. That doesn't sound like much, but when you're projecting a 20" to 30" diagonal image, it's plenty bright--even in ambient light. In the manual it discusses the possibility of using the ShowWX on a 100" diagonal screen in a light-controlled room. While the image is still visible in such a setup, it is also quite dim.
Included accessories. When you purchase the ShowWX, you don't just get the projector. The package includes the projector and its rechargeable battery, of course, but it also includes the wall charger, which has interchangeable prongs. This allows you to charge the ShowWX while abroad, but you'll need to purchase the correct prongs separately--they aren't included. Also in the box are a plethora of connection cables, including USB, composite video, and an iPod cable. Many manufacturers advertise iPod compatibility but don't include the cable, forcing you to purchase it separately. With the ShowWX, you can get started right away. The box also holds a carrying pouch and wrist strap.
User replaceable battery. Battery life on the ShowWX is a touch under two hours from a full charge, but that's not the whole story. The battery in the ShowWX is easy to swap--just lift the battery door and make the change. Replacements are inexpensive, at about $30 each. This allows a presenter to stockpile charged batteries and keep their projector up and running for longer than two hours, albeit with slight breaks in-between. If you have a whole day of presentations planned and no time to charge between them, this is a lifesaver. On a more technical note, all batteries will stop holding a charge, eventually; when this happens, you'll be thankful that battery swaps are so quick and easy.
Connectivity. The ShowWX takes all video connections through its rear input port, while a side port is used for charging and firmware updates (note that the ShowWX will take a charge over USB, in case you have a laptop but no access to a wall outlet). Composite video and iPod cables are included. VGA connections are possible with an optional VGA dock ($50). The dock connects to the port on the projector's rear and is the only way to connect a laptop to the ShowWX. And while the projector does not have a speaker, there is a 3.5mm (standard 1/8") headphone jack for audio pass-through from an iPod or cell phone.
WVGA Resolution. With its 848x480 native resolution, the ShowWX has the potential to be used for movie display when connected to an iPod or other video-capable device. At native resolution, the ShowWX is sharp and clear, thanks in no small part to its constant, perfect focus. There is no visible pixelation to speak of until the image exceeds 60" diagonal at which point you can see that the image has pixels if you concentrate. The inter-pixel gap is nigh undetectable.
One thing to be aware of is that not all current iPods can output native 848x480 video. If you wanted to use the ShowWX as a video projector and keep native resolution, you should make sure that your iPod can output WVGA.
Adjustable image alignment. Normally found on much more expensive projectors, the ShowWX has an image alignment feature. If the picture appears soft or out of focus, using this feature can help to bring things back into proper alignment. A simple vertical line is shown; using the up and down buttons on the side of the projector, you simply move the line back and forth until it is sharpest. While our own ShowWX did not show any signs of misalignment, it is a nice feature to have.
Silent operation. With no exhaust fan, the ShowWX is more or less silent. There is a slight hum from the laser diodes, but overall the ShowWX is exceptionally quiet, even for a pico projector. Despite the lack of fan, the projector never gets terribly hot; even after running for an hour and a half, it is still comfortable to hold. One thing to watch out for: placing your iPod on top of the projector is tempting, and an easy way to keep things together. It also increases heat build-up in the projector. If you plan to run the projector until the battery dies, try not to place anything on top of it or too close to either side.
No internal storage. One of the hot ideas making its way into projectors these days is PC-free projection. Taken one step further, some pico projectors have onboard memory or MicroSD memory card slots. On these projectors, you load the documents you'd like to use, and the projector decodes and displays them internally. The ShowWX does not have this capability, which means you will always need to have a source connected in order to project. Presenters looking for the ultimate in portability might look elsewhere for just this reason.
No tripod mount. Incorporating a screw mount for a miniature tripod is a great convenience feature, but the ShowWX does not have one. This means you're forced to hold the projector or set it down on the table. The projection angle is well suited to this - the bottom edge of the image is at the same height as the lens centerline, so the whole image will appear above the table - but a tripod mount would increase flexibility and make the ShowWX more versatile. Tripods also make small projectors like the ShowWX harder to "muscle around." Sometimes, since the projector is so light, tugging on the cord can move it around on the table.
Pincushion distortion. The ShowWX's projected image showed some signs of pincushion distortion, where the sides of the image bow inwards. While it is not likely to be a problem when viewing photographs or video, it is especially evident when using Excel spreadsheets or other highly linear documents. Even some text documents can show evidence of bowing. If your application is highly dependent on exact geometry, this projector might not be for you.
Shimmer. The ShowWX, like some other laser projectors, has a shimmery, glittery quality to the image, especially in fields of solid color or white. The whole image appears to sparkle at times. This is one of those artifacts that affects different people in different ways; some folks don't mind the shimmer, while your humble reviewer finds it incredibly distracting. During a 10-minute sales pitch, the audience will probably ignore the effect, but a two-hour quarterly meeting might be a different story. If in doubt, find a retailer that stocks the ShowWX and takes returns--just in case.
Difficult menu system. With several image options and even three different lamp settings, the ShowWX has a complicated menu system for a pico projector. Normally, we are all in favor of more options--more options mean more people can customize the projector so it's just the way they like it. However, there are a few things working against the ShowWX in this category.
For one, the menu is somewhat complex, with several nested options. Secondly, you're navigating this menu system using three buttons: up, down, and Menu. Menu also serves as Enter, which can get confusing. Third, some of the options available do not change much. The three brightness modes (high, medium, and low) have limited effect on a 10-lumen projector, and there's no real reason to switch away from the default High brightness mode. Lower brightness modes will land you another ten to fifteen minutes of battery life, but at the cost of three to five lumens. There are some color modes, and the brightest one (Brilliant) is selected by default. Standard mode has slightly better shadow detail, but in a room with ambient light the difference is almost nonexistent. Inverted mode is handy for text documents in dark rooms, since it makes black text white and white backgrounds black. In short, this is one occasion where a manufacturer could have done with fewer options rather than more.
Microvision ShowWX versus AAXA L1
When it comes to laser pico projectors, the ShowWX's main competition is the AAXA L1, another laser pico we reviewed earlier this year. It costs $150 more than the ShowWX, and the two use different resolutions and aspect ratios: the L1 is 4:3 at 800x600 native resolution, while the ShowWX is 16:9 at 848x480 native. Both are advertised as pocket-sized projectors; additionally, both will actually fit in your pocket. If you display a lot of Powerpoint presentations or text documents, 800x600 might be a better resolution for you. If, however, you find yourself showing a lot of video, 848x480 is probably a better fit.
So aside from a different resolution, what do you get for the extra money? Well, the L1 is twice as bright as the ShowWX. It weighs an additional two ounces, but those two ounces are well spent: the L1 has 160MB of onboard storage and the ability to project from a USB flash drive (a 2GB drive is included to get you started). While the L1 lacks an onboard tripod screw mount, it does include a cradle that holds the projector so it can take a tripod.
This is not to say that the L1 is better than the ShowWX. $599 is a lot of money for a pico projector, and the image is about the same, quality-wise. So if all you need is a good looking picture, the ShowWX is a great choice. And if you don't need the extra features provided by a projector like the AAXA L1, you can save yourself quite a bit of money in the process.
The Microvision ShowWX is attracting a lot of attention for its combination of small size, light weight, laser technology, and low price. And it's true--for less than $500, it is hard to get a better, more vibrant picture in a pico projector than that of the ShowWX. For what it is designed to do, it is a fantastic projector.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Microvision SHOWWX Laser Pico projector page.