Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
The Optoma PK201 pico projector solves a problem common to all portable media players, which is the tiny screen size limited to the physical dimensions of the device. Able to comfortably fit in a pocket, the PK201 has the ability to produce an image that is viewable in normal lighting at a size up to twenty times greater than an iPhone screen. A full feature set combined with a crisp and saturated image make the PK201 a great standalone alternative to small screen portable media devices.
The PK201 can be used with any video source - portable media players, phones, computers, etc. The LED driven light engine allows the PK201 to be used like a normal monitor or flat panel without lamp hour considerations like most projectors. It provides a quality image and is ideal for one who views media on the go or one who requires a mobile display around the home or office.
Feature Improvements: I reviewed the earlier version of this projector, the PK102, in December of 2009. The PK201 addresses most of the limitations I identified in prior version and adds a few other important features. The PK201 includes a Contrast control that allows for maximum image brightness while maintaining image detail at high picture levels.
The PK201 adds a micro SD card slot that supports cards up to 16 GB in size, giving the ability to directly display picture and video on the PK201 from a camera or other source devices by simply transferring a memory card. Resolution is also increased, from the native 640x480 resolution of the PK102 to 854x480 of the PK201.
The native resolution is increased by a respectable 33%, but the real advantage of the PK201 is with wide screen material. The PK201's resolution is 52% greater than the 4:3 aspect ratio PK102.
Audio capability is also improved in the PK201 with the addition of a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Picture Quality/Brightness: The Optoma PK201 is a DLP projector driven by a LED light engine specified at 20 ANSI lumens. It measured very close to the lumen spec at 18.6 ANSI-lumens or 93.2% of the specification. While a 18 ANSI-lumen output might seem insignificant in the era of 1,000 lumen home theater projectors, this level of brightness in sufficient to create a reasonable sized image that can be appreciated in normal room lighting. Using the PK201, one can reach a screen size of 14 inches wide (16 inches in diagonal) and still exceed 25 foot-lamberts on a unity gain surface.
The picture displayed by the PK201 at this screen size is dynamic with a nice degree of image punch. The PK201 can also support screen sizes significantly larger and still produce a satisfying image. I was able to throw an image size of about 40 inches in diagonal (to simulate a common flat panel size) and found the image viewable with a lamp on in the room, but much improved when all lighting was turned off.
While the PK201 will not replace a flat panel for daytime viewing, it could be an ultra-portable alternative to a flat panel when used in areas with minimal lighting. In my theater room, using a Da-Lite High Power with the PK201 positioned for optimal screen gain, I felt the maximum image size of the PK201 at about 60 inches of diagonal was watchable in the total dark from a brightness perspective, but felt that a 40-inch diagonal was a better balance between image impact, brightness and clarity.
Sound: While the earlier PK102 has a built-in media player, the audio reproduction was limited to using the projector's internal 0.5-watt speaker. The PK201 adds a 3.5-inch headphone jack for use with headphones. The sound quality of the headphone output using the built-in media player is decent, but has a noticeable noise floor most evident in quite passages at near peak volume levels.
When using an Apple iPhone as the video source, I was able to either listen to the audio using a headphone connection on the phone or from the PK201's audio out. Overall, I preferred the sound quality using the direct iPhone audio output, but the sound quality of the PK201 is more than sufficient to be used as a standalone device. The PK201's internal speaker is functional, but quiet. The maximum audio output from the speaker was not sufficient to overcome even a modest amount of ambient noise.
Cost of Ownership: The PK201 can be found for under $300 on-line. Optoma rates the light engine of the PK201 for 20,000 hours of run time. Over the course of 20,000 hours, a standard projector would need quite a few bulb replacements at many times the PK201's total cost. For a fraction of the total ownership cost of a standard projector, one can use the PK201 for a nearly unlimited time.
Battery: Optoma specifies battery life of the 3.7V li-ion rechargeable battery as 'up to one hour'. In normal performance using an external source, I found this to be accurate using the normal brightness mode. Using the low lamp mode, I was able to get an additional 10 to 15 minutes of run time.
The PK201 will charge when powered off and plugged into a computer using a micro USB cable. However, if the projector is powered on when connected to a PC over USB, the projector's display shuts off. Optoma provides an optional cable for connecting the DC power in on the USB port. Using this connection, it should be possible to power the PK201 as long as the USB source device is active.
Throw distance and lens performance: The PK201 has a fixed throw ratio of 2.20:1. When using the PK201 as a secondary computer monitor, I was limited to a 10-inch wide screen size by the 22.5 inch width of my desk. Image sizes up of to fifty percent greater are viewable in normal, non-direct room lighting. So a zoom lens allowing a wider projection angle would be a nice additional feature. However, it would probably add complexity and cost to the design.
Another limitation of the lens is a significant amount of light spill around the edges of the projected image. The area of light spill was relatively large - it reached approximately 50% beyond the width of the image. Although the focus mechanism is improved over the PK102, I still had difficulty in dialing in an acceptable focus once image sizes reached larger than the 40-inch diagonal range. Consistency in focus across the screen was difficult to maintain at image sizes near the maximum.
Resolution: The PK201 has a 480-line vertical resolution equal to that of DVD and other NTSC sources. This helps it perform well with video material. However, the 854x480 native resolution can be a limiting factor when it comes to using it as a computer display. The PK201 supports multiple computer resolutions (up to 1280x800). Its native 854x480 format will map standard VGA (640x480) without scaling, but SVGA (800x600) and higher resolutions will require compression and the associated artifacts that come with it.
When using the PK201 as a computer monitor, you need to choose between the degree of scaling artifacts you have, and how much scrolling around the image you want to put up with. Using higher resolution signals will reduce the need to scroll around, but artifacts get exaggerated and the picture is not as sharp. I preferred using an 800x600 resolution for general office type work, as this was a good balance between scaling artifacts and the amount of scrolling that was required.
A common question arises when pico projectors are discussed: "Wow, that is cool, but what do you use it for?" There is not a short answer to this with the Optoma PK201. During my testing I used it as an external iPhone display. I also used it with a Motorola Droid to display pictures and video podcasts by plugging the Droid's micro SD card into it. The PK201 was also useful for watching movies and displaying photos using the internal media player. I also used the PK201 around the office as a secondary computer monitor and as the ultimate on-the-spot presentation device with Microsoft PowerPoint files converted with the included ArcSoft software.
With 18 ANSI lumens of light output, there is sufficient image brightness for a variety of uses. With major improvements over the prior model, the PK201 is a fully featured projector that you can carry around in a pocket and forget it is there. Portable media is becoming ubiquitous; if you have ever wished you could fit a 14" (or larger) display in your pocket, I would highly recommend the Optoma PK201.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma Pico PK201 projector page.