Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
Projectors aren't toys. Or, at least, projectors usually aren't toys. The Optoma Playtime PT100 is a toy, or close to one. This LED-powered projector is as simple and as foolproof as can be, more straightforward than most pico projectors, even. However, it also has a price that's almost too low to be believed. Hook it up to your kids' game system and let them enjoy playing on the "big screen." Or install one in your car for a great rolling entertainment system. At street prices of only about $180, you can put the PT100 more or less wherever you'd like.
Applications / Best Uses
How much projector can you get for less than two hundred bucks? The PT100 only puts out about 40 lumens. It has no zoom, no lens shift, no remote control, and very few menu options. There's no way to adjust color or contrast--the image looks how it looks. However, none of that really matters for the PT100's intended purpose. When you're setting up a projector for your kids, you don't need or want a bunch of options, because the kids will find a way to break something. A remote can get lost or broken. By keeping it simple and inexpensive, Optoma has made the PT100 essentially kid-proof, if not disposable.
Since the PT100 only produces about 40 lumens in its brightest mode, you'll need to be mindful of image size in relation to room lighting. If your room has any significant ambient light, like a 100W lamp, you should keep the image under 20" diagonal at most. At this size, highlights are bright and colors are vibrant and saturated. Color accuracy is rough at best, but it's easy enough to see what is happening on the screen. Shadow detail suffers, especially in very dark scenes, but the PT100's competitors in this price bracket are pico projectors which look far worse under the same conditions. In a completely dark room, you can double the image size to 40" diagonal and still produce an acceptable picture.
The best places to put the PT100 are places you wouldn't normally think to put a projector. Consider it instead of a television for the kids' game room. Take one on the road for family movie night in your hotel room. Set one up in the back of the minivan (plus one of the many available portable screens) for a rolling theater. What it's not built for is home theater, or for that matter mobile presentation, for which it is too rough around the edges.
Highly portable. The PT100 is a tiny machine, measuring approximately 8" by 8" by 3". Together with its power cable, it weighs less than two pounds. Add in a netbook and a VGA cable and you'll still come in under five pounds, creating a very compact package. Alternately, an iPod or other media player with a composite video output would be an excellent companion and help to keep bulk to a minimum. The PT100 does require A/C power, unlike pico projectors, but it is also much brighter than these tiny machines. And, unlike other microportable projectors, the PT100 does not have a huge outboard power brick. Its A/C adapter is no larger than a typical cell phone charger.
Light output. Rated at 50 lumens, our PT100 measured 41 lumens in Bright mode, the default image preset. This is the brightest setting available, just as the name implies, and we did not see enough of a difference in color accuracy, saturation, or contrast to justify using either of the two other image modes. As it stands, 41 lumens limits screen size to about 20" diagonal in ambient light and 40" diagonal in a completely dark room. Some users will be happy with a dimmer, larger image, but those who prefer a bright picture will want to keep these maximum screen sizes in mind.
LED lamp. Since the PT100 uses an LED lamp, you don't need to worry about lamp replacements or maintenance costs. The projector has an estimated lamp life of 20,000 hours, which is how projector manufacturers say "a very long time." Run straight through, 20,000 hours is a little under three years. Divided up into two-hour chunks, the PT100 can display 10,000 movies, or one movie per day for the next 27 years. It's safe to assume that you will not own the PT100 any more in 27 years, so forget lamp life and move on to other concerns.
Sharpness and Clarity. The PT100 uses a native 854x480 pixel matrix, which is the same vertical resolution as a DVD. To get the best possible picture out of the PT100, connect a DVD player with strong deinterlacing performance to the PT100 using a Component-to-VGA adapter. This gives you a relatively high quality source, the best analog connection available, and does not require any scaling on the part of the projector.
When it comes to detail clarity, the PT100 does a respectable job. Most DVDs are reproduced cleanly, though particularly good DVD transfers tend to lose some fine detail as the projector reaches the limits of its resolving power. Realistically, though, the PT100 performs better than expected for such a small, inexpensive projector, and outperforms many pico projectors in this area.
Onboard 1.5W speaker. The PT100 has a small 1.5W mono speaker onboard, accessible through the set of RCA stereo inputs on the rear connection panel. This is invaluable when used with a source like an iPod or DVD player which lacks speakers of its own. When paired with a laptop, it is likely that the computer's onboard speakers will pack more of a punch than the projector's speaker will. This is just as well, since connecting a standard 1/8" output from a computer to a stereo RCA input requires an adapter cable not included in the box.
No onboard media player. One item that would improve the PT100's value as a portable projector would be an onboard media player, such as that seen on several pico projectors. These allow projectors to be used independent of source devices like laptops, iPods, and DVD players. Since the PT100 does not have a media player, you will always need a source device of some kind.
No battery. While the PT100 is very portable, it would be even more so with a battery. Several microportable projectors have optional battery packs allowing them to be used in places where a wall plug is not available. Since the PT100 has no way to be used independent of a source device, such as an onboard media player, this is less critical--you will always be tied to at least one other device, so being tied to the wall as well is not such an inconvenience.
Short power cable. What is inconvenient, though, is the short length of the included power cable. The PT100's power adapter cable only reaches about six feet, which leaves you tethered to a wall most of the time. The only way around this is to use an extension cord or surge protector, which is trivially cheap but also adds bulk to an otherwise lightweight setup.
90 day warranty. The warranty period for the PT100 is a mere 90 days, which makes the projector feel even more like a toy. Most other projectors have much longer warranties, typically one year long or more. Of course, if the PT100 should fail out of warranty, a replacement is less than $200--less than a replacement lamp would cost for other projectors.
Difficult to focus. The PT100 has no zoom, so the only lens adjustment you'll need to make is focus. However, the focus knob itself is sticky, and the projector is very light, so adjusting focus sometimes knocks the projector around, thereby ruining focus. You can see how this could get annoying. Use two hands when focusing the projector, and make sure one of those hands is holding it in place while you turn the focus knob.
Optoma's Playtime PT100 is an impressive little projector with a rock-bottom price. It is one of the least expensive ways to put a bright, vibrant picture on the wall at a reasonable diagonal size for video games or movies. While it is built for games, it can serve double duty for film and video anywhere you need it. It is certainly not perfect, and it offers almost no picture adjustments. But for less than $200, it is a great little projector.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma PlayTime PT100 projector page.