Optoma's PK301 Pico Projector currently holds the title of the brightest pico projector on the market today. Although it may be a bit heavier and fatter than its competition, its 50-lumen brightness rating quite literally eclipses lesser, 10- to 15-lumen projectors. In addition, its native widescreen (854×480) resolution lets you watch your movies without letterboxing. However, high price, low battery life, and stuttering on large files hold it back slightly—read on for our final opinion.
Design and Build
From pictures, it's hard to accurately determine the size of this projector—it really does just look like one of Optoma's home theater projectors got hit with a shrink ray. Measuring 4.7×2.7×1.2 inches and weighing in at barely half a pound, the matte black PK301 is small enough to stuff into a jacket pocket. The build quality is excellent. Seams are uniform and tight, textures are even throughout, and the controls feel solid and responsive. The chrome focusing ring is especially praiseworthy: it's exceptionally smooth, allowing you to adjust the focus without disturbing the image.
Despite its small size, Optoma has managed to fit a full complement of ports onto its backside: a 24-pin Universal I/O connector, mini-HDMI, A/V in, audio out, microUSB, and power. The PK301 also has a microSD card slot on the side, so you can play videos without an external source. All in all, Optoma hasn't skimped on the connectors, making sure you can hook the PK301 up to whatever media source you choose. For the Apple-loyal, Optoma also sells an iPod connector kit, which plugs into the A/V in port.
The projector's 50-lumen rating is perfectly adequate for virtually all circumstances. In a relatively bright, sun-lit room, it delivered decent contrast and saturation, beginning to appear washed-out only under extremely bright circumstances. However, on battery, the maximum brightness is reduced to 20 lumens, still brighter than most other projectors in its class but a bit less impressive. Generally, the power-saving lower brightness setting will suffice. Although its native resolution is 854×480, it will play video up to 1080i, and it will project a 1280×800 picture when connected through VGA to a computer.
The PK301 has a fixed throw ratio of 1.8:1, which means the only way to adjust the size of the picture is by moving the projector away from the screen. A 3-foot distance, for example, yields a 23” image. This isn't too big of a deal—much more annoying is the lack of an anti-keystoning feature. Without it, the projector has to be aimed exactly perpendicular to the surface to avoid unsightly image stretching.
Playback when connected to a laptop was excellent: a 720p clip of Gran Torino looked vivid and buttery smooth. Rainbow effects—the bane of any single-chip DLP projector, when a quickly-moving image is split up into separate red, blue and green “shadows”–are minimal to nonexistent.
One major gripe I have with the PK301 comes out when trying to play that same 720p clip from a microSD card. As the PK301 is billed as an easily-portable, on-the-go solution, I expected it to play the video at a decent pace. Unfortunately, HD video—of any of the supported formats—brings out sever stuttering to the point of being unwatchable. Standard-def (up to 480p) video plays fine, but you won't be using the PK301 to set up a portable HD theater.
Optoma appears to have rated the PK301's battery life very accurately at one hour. In the 20-lumen setting, playing a standard-definition clip of Gordon Ramsay's F Word, the battery lasted 61 minutes. However, when displaying a PowerPoint presentation (which must be converted using ArcSoft's Media Converter 3 before they can be viewed natively), the battery lasted almost 90 minutes.
The projector's integrated 0.5W speaker is really only to be used when absolutely necessary. As you'd expect from such a driver, audio is extremely tinny and weak. Thankfully, the 3.5mm audio jack solves this problem by letting you plug in external speakers or headphones.
The PK301 works best when it's not by itself. When plugged into a laptop, video is about as smooth and stutter-free as it gets, and its party piece—the 50-lumen brightness—is available only when plugged into power. All the same, though, it will deliver a decent picture and smooth playback by itself. It's very suitable for those who want to watch movies on the road. It's incredibly easy to set up and operate, controls are intuitive, and adjustment is easy. The PK301 is aimed at a bit of a niche audience—for many people, a tablet or laptop will suffice for quickly showing friends video, and stationary fixtures will probably be better served with a full-size projector—but for those who find portability and ease of use to be deciding factors, the PK301 is worth a look.