Petite and powerful: PicoPro projector puts a movie theater in your pocket

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PicoPro projector. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
PicoPro projector. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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Like most things that come in small sizes, pico projectors have always been a big disappointment.

Called “pico” because of their portability and battery power, the diminutive projectors in this class have typically been underpowered and underwhelming. Almost by definition, projectors need to be big and bright enough to throw a lot of light at the screen.

So it’s a big surprise that Celluon’s new featherweight pocket-size PicoPro is a heavyweight champ. I was prepared for it to suck — but was surprised and delighted when it turned my living room wall into a 150-inch cinema screen.


PicoPro projector sitting on an iPhone6 Plus. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
PicoPro projector sitting on an iPhone6 Plus. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Connected to my iPhone 6 Plus (it’s about the same size, though twice as thick), the laser-driven PicoPro is capable of throwing a big, bright, razor-sharp picture on the wall in full 720p HD glory.

It’s battery-powered and silent, dead-simple to use, and can be slipped into a jacket pocket. It’s a great little portable projector that goes way beyond my expectations.

Built by Celluon, a Korean company best known for laser keyboards (like this R2-D2 model), the PicoPro was announced at CES 2015 last month and is just starting to hit store shelves.

Like most pico projectors, it’s designed for on-the-road presentations rather than home entertainment. Here at the Cult of Mac offices, which are bright and sunny, the projector threw a perfectly clear and readable image up onto the bright white walls. We’d have little trouble giving Keynote or PowerPoint presentations in full daylight. Dimming the lights would obviously help, but in a lot of situations it wouldn’t be necessary.

At home, in the Kahney family’s darkened living room, it served as a great little home entertainment projector, throwing up a perfectly bright and watchable image that measured at least 100 inches.

PicoPro projector. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
PicoPro projector. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

The PicoPro’s secret is that it’s powered by three lasers — red, green and blue. Most other pico projectors are LED-based, and are noticeably dimmer, fuzzier and lower contrast. Celluon claims the PicoPro has an incredible 80,000-to-1 contrast ratio. Rival LED projectors are closer to 2,000 to 1.

The resolution is 1920 x 720p (16:9 aspect ratio) — yeah, we know this is weird. Celluon says images are upscaled. The company says projected images are watchable up to 250 inches, or five times the size of our living room flatscreen TV. Unfortunately, our house isn’t big enough to get an image that size. We’d have to back out onto the patio to get enough distance to project anything that big.

The PicoPro measures just 6 inches by 3 inches by 0.5 inches, and weighs just 6.7 ounces (189.9 grams). We got about three hours out of the battery; Celluon claims battery life is between 2.5-hours (Wi-Fi) and 3.5 hours (HDMI).

It comes with an HDMI-to-MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) cable. For use with an iOS device, this cable must be plugged into Apple’s Lightning Digital AV Adapter, which is sold separately for $44. (Celluon included one with our review unit.) For Android and Windows Phone users, the PicoPro offers a wireless connection via Miracast and DLNA, a pair of streaming technologies that mimic Apple’s AirPlay. Celluon also offers the PicoAir, a wireless-only model (Miracast/DLNA), which is available for $299.

The absence of AirPlay is a pity. The PicoPro would be kickass with Apple’s streaming technology. As it is, the daisy chain of cables going from Lightning to MHL is a bit kludgy, but perfectly workable. The PicoPro can be hooked up to almost any AV device: Macs, an Apple TV, game consoles and portable DVD players.

The PicoPro plays great with iOS devices, projecting video from a range of apps as well as video from iTunes and YouTube.

The video is detailed and sharp, with great contrast. It’s not as bright as the TV, but the blacks are very black.

It’s also super-easy to use. There are only five buttons: power, battery indictor, volume up and down, and input selection (wireless or HDMI). There’s no configuration and no lenses to fiddle with the focus. Just plug in the cable and it’s set to go. iOS devices detect the connection automatically.

It has a built-in speaker, which isn’t very loud. It’s fine in a pinch, but it’s better to use the projector’s headphone jack to attach bigger speakers or headphones. When watching movies, we strung a long headphone cable across the room and plugged it into the TV’s soundbar.

In the box, there’s a wall charger that can run the projector from the mains, a USB cable and a carrying bag.

On the downside, there are no controls for tweaking the color, contrast and other picture details. The speaker’s on the quiet side, and AirPlay support would be awesome.

But there’s a lot to like about the PicoPro, which costs $350 to $399 depending on options. That’s a fraction of the price of a jumbo TV — and the PicoPro is a lot more portable. I’m looking forward to taking it camping; it looks perfect for movies on the side of a tent or RV.