May 01, 2012 —
A decade ago, many photographers desired to own a digital projector. At the time, though, they were so expensive—costing upwards of $3,000—that many people, including myself, had to dismiss the idea. Projectors also tended to be finicky to set up, the bulbs were expensive to replace and worse yet, it seemed they had an awfully limited time before they’d burn out.
About five years ago, prices began to come down and I ended up with a Toshiba TDP-T40 DLP projector that my family loved using to watch movies. There was nothing better than being able to view a DVD movie on a 7-foot-wide screen that would drop down from the ceiling after I jerry-rigged a mount on the ceiling.
Guess what? That projector rarely gets used now due to the 55-inch LCD TV we have mounted on the wall, which is hooked up to a Playstation so games can be played, movies watched and TV seen in glorious full HD splendor. The projector seems like an antique by comparison.
However, there is still a place for its use when you need to display content and don’t have the use of a large monitor. Anyone who attended WPPI knows that presenters at seminars are still relying on powerful projectors. And yes—those large projectors capable of projecting vibrant images in a big venue still cost many thousands of dollars.
What have really improved are the low-end versions. When I attended CES earlier this year, a new small projector from Optoma (www.optomausa.com) caught my eye. It was being used to display high-quality images on a canvas screen. What’s more, it was small, portable and had a retail sticker of less than $500.
Recently I had the opportunity to try one out. The Optoma ML300 comes in a handy case with a selection of cables and an external power supply brick, which, sadly, is not that much smaller or lighter than the 1.5-pound projector that measures just 1.8 x 7.2 x 4.4 inches. The big difference from projectors of the past is that the Optoma relies on an LED light source to display the image. This makes it much more compact and efficient. True, it does not give out as much light—the ML300 LED output is 300 lumens, whereas the bigger ML500 puts out 500 lumens and my old Toshiba is rated at 1800 lumens.
What did surprise me was how hot the unit got during operation. It has a fan, which isn’t too loud, but the bottom of the unit is uncomfortable to the touch. There are numerous ways to interface with the ML300 using standard interfaces, including traditional VGA socket, RCA plugs, USB, HDMI and even wireless with an adaptor. In theory, you can display images directly from a USB thumb drive, yet when I tried it I could only get them to display from one camera and I was never able to display any stored on a thumb drive I had copied from my computer.
If you have a PC, you can hook up though the USB port, but that does not work with a Mac. However, the HDMI port worked just fine with my MacBook Air once I got the required Display Port to HDMI adaptor and the correct cable with a Mini HDMI plug on one end. Optoma includes several common cables with the projector that probably everybody has lying around. It’s sad they did not include the newer, much less common HDMI cable.
The projector works just like any external monitor on a Mac. It shows up in the Display panel and its resolution can be changed or left on the default WXGA (1,280 x 800 pixel) resolution. It can then be used to mirror the Mac screen or used as a secondary screen. Incidentally, the Toshiba only supports a 1024 x 768 XGA display.
All in all, if you have a need to project images for an audience and need a portable unit, I recommend checking out the Optoma ML300 or its big brother, which costs about $100 more. Of course, unless there’s a plain white wall where you’re going to show off your work, you’ll still need a screen, and they are still not compact enough to fit in a camera bag alongside the projector.