I wrote in my Jan. 17 column that some of the most remarkable gadgets I saw at the recent Cherry Picks demo show have been the smallest ones, such as a Bluetooth adapter that's only 0.4 inch (1 cm) long.
Another device demonstrated at the same event fits the bill, too. Its maker claims that it's the "tiniest projector in the world." Since the gizmo is smaller than 4 by 5 inches (99 x 121 cm) and only 0.9 inches high, this boast just may be correct.
A New Class of LED Projectors
Like many tiny projectors that are now coming on the market, the Bumblebee can be operated using battery power if AC is not available near the projector table. The battery sits underneath the projector, as shown in the photo at left, and adds an additional pound and almost an inch to the device's height.
The Bumblebee, which is just now becoming widely available in the U.S. market, faces stiff competition. Other makers and their lightweight light boxes include the Casio Super Slim XJ-S35, the InFocus Work Big LP120, the Mitsubishi Pocket Projector PK20, and the Toshiba TDP-FF1AU. All have relatively small price tags (about $700 to $1,600 list) and fewer lumens than their more-common big brothers.
The remarkable story here, however, isn't which unit can throw the brightest picture but that these models show off the capabilities of today's newest lighting technologies.
The Bumblebee, along with some competing units, uses a new kind of LED. It's bright enough to display a TV-size image in a darkened room but tough enough to claim a life of 10,000 to 20,000 hours. That's far longer than the older, metal halide bulbs used in larger projectors, which typically burn out within 1,000 to 3,000 hours. You might never need to replace the bulb in a projector like the Bumblebee.
Small and Light Rather Than Big and Bright
Despite the longevity promised by the new LED lamps, they aren't soon going to replace traditional projectors in classrooms and conference rooms. Boxlight claims that its palm-sized unit projects only 150 lumens when displaying a 28-inch diagonal image. The maker suggests a throw distance of only 6.7 feet (2 meters) from the wall or screen you're projecting the Bumblebee's image onto. And you'll want the room to be quite dark.
By contrast, no pun intended, Casio claims that its 4-pound XJ-S35 can project 2,000 lumens. That's comparable to some larger, AC-only projectors. This brightness comes at the expense of some miniaturization, however. Casio's model is much heavier than the Bumblebee and is also about double the cost.
The breakthrough is that units this small can function as projectors at all. When you can literally cradle your light box in the palm of your hand, carrying a mini-projector with you becomes an attractive possibility rather than a loathsome chore.
Getting Your Presentation on Screen
Like many larger projectors, the new itty-bitty ones allow you to run a presentation from a laptop or let you leave it home, as you choose:
• SD cards can be slipped into slots in some of the mini-projectors to run your presentation. You use a full-size computer to load onto the memory card a series of JPEG files to display or, in some cases, a collection of digital videos. Once you've done this, you can run the projector using only the card, with no laptop present.
• S-video and composite video are supported by some units, so you can run a presentation from a VCR or DVD player. Again, no laptop is required.
• iPods can even be used by some projectors as the source of a presentation.
The contenders are too new to have whittled the competition down to only one or two major players. There will certainly be further developments and rapid advancements in projector technology in the coming months and years. But if you need a small projector now, there's no compelling reason to wait.
If you haven't considered traveling with a projector because all the models you saw were big and bulky, you may want to rethink that assumption.