I’ve always raved about how much better it is to watch movies on a big projected screen, but there’s a small problem: projectors are prohibitively expensive. Though you can get a half-decent 40-inch HDTV now for less than $500, even a budget projector will set you back at least $750 for 720p quality – and remember, any pixellation is infinitely more noticeable once it’s being blown up to typical projection size, so standard definition just isn’t an option anymore.
We’ve purchased a budget LED projector to see if you can get that same big screen experience from something half the price. It cost just less than $400, purchased directly from the manufacturer ATCO in China – including delivery. Not only does it offer an admirable 3800 lumens of brightness, but it also comes with Android built-in for media player capabilities. This is the cheapest projector you’ll find that does HD at a good brightness – you can buy “Pico” projectors for less, but those may as well be powered by a flash light.
The box it arrives in is the product box; nothing is wasted by fitting boxes within boxes. Unbranded, no fancy packaging – this is it. That’s $20 worth of packaging materials and design – you’re not wasting money on for a start. It’s a heavy package: 6.5 kilograms total, though only 4.5 kilograms of that is the projector.
Inside, it’s packed full of cables and adapters. Here’s what we got:
- 1 meter VGA cable
- 1.8 meter HDMI cable
- Composite cable
- Remote control
- Wireless mouse
- Microfiber cloth
- Spare fuses and screws
- Two pairs of red/blue 3D glasses
- Mini-CD with manual and software
- 1.5GHz ARM Cortex Dual-core A9
- Android 4.2.2 pre-installed
- 1 gigabyte of RAM
- 802.11b/g wireless
- 1280×800 pixel resolution
- 8 gigabytes of internal flash storage/li>
- 50,000 hour LED life
The projector itself was well-packaged in the usual expanded plastic foam. The only form of branding on the otherwise shiny black plastic device is the letters HD on the top; it hardly seems worth the printing effort. There seems to be a space for a logo or badge to be glued on the front, but none is supplied with our model.
Around the back, there’s no shortage of sockets and ports, with all the standard component, S-VIDEO, VGA, as well as dual HDMI inputs and even an analog TV aerial socket. I don’t have an aerial on the house to test this, but I wouldn’t expect it to work with modern digital services anyway.
There are two USB ports and an SD card slot too: remember, this has Android built-in so you should be able to play media directly on it without the need for yet another little box.
There’s a 2W built-in speaker – and while it’s nothing worthy of high praise, it’s not particularly bad either, certainly better than some cheap laptops. Component audio ports are provided for audio output directly from the projector.
Picture Quality and Brightness
This is really what this review is all about: can you get a decent size and quality of picture, at a reasonable brightness? I’m not expecting to be able to use it in the daytime, but I don’t expect to need blackout curtains either. I’m also expecting a little pixellation from a 720p device given I’ll be aiming to project on a fairly large wall, but not so much pixellation that it really detracts from the experience. Big screen fun, basically – not cinema buff quality.
The diagonal projected image size it achieves is about 195cm (76 inches) at 250cm (8.2 foot) distance from the wall. Extrapolating that to a throw to screen-size ratio gives about 0.8, so you should be able to calculate how large your image will be. It certainly isn’t an ultra-short throw like the Optoma gaming projector we reviewed: that thing could project onto an entire living room wall while sitting right in front of it on a coffee table. This device will do best in a large room, mounted on the ceiling or a shelving at the back. At smaller sizes, I couldn’t quite get the focus perfect though: when the middle area of the screen was in focus, the edges seemed to blur slightly. At larger sizes, this wasn’t an issue.
(Note: the ripples seen in this test shot are my fault for projecting onto a shower curtain, the actual projection is fine, so do watch the video for subsequent test output onto a plain white wall.)
The total light output is claimed at 3800 lumens. This is actually on the upper end of projector brightnesses, and would give you a decent screen up to about 150 inches even with a little ambient light – impressive, considering the LED technology rather traditional halogen bulb. The quoted LED life is 50,000 hours – though clearly this would be hard for us to test fully. It’s non-replaceable, but before you get your knickers in a twist, a quick calculation shows that at 3 hours per day, every day, it should last about 45 years. The fans will break well before then, and you’ll probably need to upgrade to a holographic 3D projector by that time anyway.
Focus adjustment is done by laboriously turning the lens, while a flimsy slider round the back adjusts the screen tilt – this is the only part of the build quality that felt a little sketchy to me.
The introduction paragraph was a fair way back there, so you’re forgiven for forgetting the fact that this projector comes with Android built-in. Not only are you getting a half-decent budget projector, but a built-in Android TV stick too. You can use your USB peripherals, play media from an SD card or USB storage device, stream using Netflix or run whatever apps you like: it’s Android. And you know what? It’s actually not half bad. It’s running stock 4.2.2 and is surprisingly responsive. Compared to the Android karaoke player that I reviewed last month, this thing flies along beautifully.
Antutu reports similarly, placing the identified “MBX dongle board” with a performance score of 9417, roughly in line with a Samsung Galaxy S2. In real terms, it just feels responsive: XBMC was able to smoothly stream from services, and YouTube handled HD videos just fine.
The supplied wireless mouse helped too – rather than rely on a hybrid remote control that does neither job well enough, the mouse just lets you get on and use the system. You could easily plug in a keyboard as well given there are two USB ports – but for entering passwords, usernames, or searching YouTube, the mouse and on-screen keyboard certainly didn’t feel like a chore.
I’ll be honest, I’m really pleasantly surprised. Not only is it a budget-priced projector with very competitive brightness, but it has a genuinely responsive Android system built-in, providing media playback without the need of yet another device. You will need a good distance to project from for the best results, but come on – it’s only $400!
If you’ve been looking for a big screen experience but been put off by the cost of entry, look no further. Value for money and added features make this a steal!