This is a fascinating hybrid of a product: a portable projector with built-in, Roku-powered, media streaming.
There are web streamers, and there are projectors, but this is the first time I’ve seen them combined into one, easy-to-use product.
Fascinating is one thing. Worthwhile? That's a different question. . .
The Streaming projector is built around — and indeed made possible by — the Roku Streaming Stick: a chubby dongle thingie that looks like a big USB thumb drive. Instead of USB, though, it’s HDMI. Specifically, MHL, or Mobile High-Definition Link. This supplies the Stick power to run, while the Stick supplies video to the projector. You can buy the Stick separately from Roku for $99, if you have an MHL-equipped TV. It outputs up to 1080p video, though keep in mind most streaming video services are 720p.
The Stick is removable, so if you get an MHL-equipped TV down the road, you can use it with both that and this projector. Conversely, MHL is basically HDMI+power, so you can plug any HDMI source into the projector.
The Streaming Projector itself tiny: a little bit bigger than the palm of my hand. The specs. . . well, keep in mind this is a pico projector. Resolution from the single DLP chip is 800x480. Lumens are a claimed 60 (more on this later) from what I presume is an LED light source (they don’t specify). There’s a tiny speaker on the side (and a headphone output) and a battery with a claimed 2.5 hour charge in Eco mode (1.5 in Standard mode). How many more parentheticals can I cram into this paragraph? (one)
Setup is incredibly simple. You plug in the Stick, and turn on the projector. The menu has contrast and brightness adjustments, plus Eco/Regular settings for the light output.
Now, I’d never expect a pico projector to fill a real home theater-sized screen, but 3M is claiming the Streaming Projector can fill a “120-inch screen.” Yeah, right. But they opened this door, so I’m walking through it.
On my 102-inch 1.0-gain 16x9 Stewart StudioTek 100, I measured a maximum light output of 1.945 footLamberts. So 3M’s claim of a 120-inch screen is optimistic, to say the least. Possible, but not very watchable. The contrast ratio isn’t bad: about 870:1. Not great, certainly, but only a little worse than some LCD TVs I’ve reviewed lately.
The Eco mode drops the light output by about 40%, to 1.151 ftL. If you’re going for maximum screen size, clearly this isn’t an option. But if long battery life is, and you don’t mind making the screen a little smaller, Eco is your pick.
Accurate color temperature was clearly not a design goal. In the Regular mode, the Streaming Projector is extremely cool, with an average color temp of 14,381 kelvin. Interestingly, switching to the Eco mode radically changes the color temp, though arguably not for the better (or worse). Instead of too much blue in the image (but roughly correct red and green), Eco mode has roughly correct red and blue, but too little green, dropping it below the blackbody curve. Pick your poison, I guess.
Color, however, was surprisingly accurate. Not “accurate” mind you, but closer than I expected. Red, green, and blue are all pretty close to correct, yellow a little less so, but cyan and magenta are way off.
If you’ll allow me to editorialize for a moment, since light output for a device like this is always going to be a challenge, going with such an accurate green is perplexing. A less accurate green could have boosted light output slightly without changing anything else. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always argue for more accurate color than less, but in this case, I’d have expected/accepted some color inaccuracies as a tradeoff.
But let’s look at this thing more in the context of how it should be used. Shrinking the screen to the 60-inch diagonal range creates a bright-enough image (around 5.6 ftL). $300 for a 60-inch TV is still quite impressive.
The Roku stick works just like one of their standalone boxes. You’ve got Netflix, Amazon, and more. The tiny, flat remote isn’t the easiest to use (more controls on the projector would be nice). The miniscule focus wheel is difficult to adjust finely.
Watching Sherlock over Netflix, an HD program, was definitely soft. It was also noticeably cool, indicative of the extremely high color temperature. The speaker isn’t terribly loud (as you’d probably expect) but works well enough.
OK, that’s it. That’s the end of the nitpicking. This is a fantastically cool product. Many people watch TV on their tablets. Think of this as one step bigger: a hand-held TV watching device. I found myself watching TV on my screen, picking up the projector — while it was still playing mind you — walking to my bedroom, watching it on the floor as I walked, then finishing the show on the ceiling while in bed.
I review a lot of projectors, and rarely am I as amused or excited by them as I am by the 3M Streaming Projector. It’s so. . . neat. It can’t replace a “real” projector, of course, but for something portable, it’s awesome. Tether it wirelessly with your phone (presuming your phone can act as a wireless hub), and you could have big-screen streaming video just about anywhere. How cool is that?
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.