Optoma ML550 £450
5th Dec 2013 | 14:43
The brightest, nicest and best connected palm projector yet
Pico projectors are something of a gamble. Small and easy to carry they might be, but what they give in terms of portability these pocket-sized projectors often take in brightness and resolution. After all, where's the benefit of a small projector if the presentation it produces makes you look unprepared - and ill-informed?
Optoma gets around all of these problems with the ML550, which is the most versatile of all pocket projectors, but the much-needed extra brightness it offers comes with a high price tag of about £470 that, ultimately, could cost it.
We want it all - a small size and a small price - but in reality the shrinking of tech normally carries a premium. And so it is with Otoma's ML550, whose mere 380g weight and 39x105x106mm dimensions put it ahead of a D-SLR camera in terms of portability.
However, it's not its size, but its brightness that makes the ML550 the leader of the pack; its 550 ANSI Lumens, delivered by an LED lamp rated at 20,000 hours, is about five times brighter than most of its competitor products.
Its pixel resolution of 1,280 x 800 is handy, too, though the 4:3 shape is more suited to older laptops. Not that this is at all an old-fashioned product; 3D readiness makes sure of that (even if extra, separate 3D specs need to be bought), though, arguably, of more importance is its built-in 1.5GB flash drive that can host - and play, thanks to its built-in architecture - all kinds of presentation-centric files and formats.
Look around the back and the sheer versatility of the ML550 quickly sinks in.
As well as a single HDMI input (that can take a feed from a Blu-ray player or games console as well as from a smartphone or tablet, thanks to its MHL-ready status), the ML550 has a USB 2.0 slot for thumbdrives, a universal I/O slot (as well as a cable that supplies either audio or a feed from a laptop), and a microSD card slot.
Unlike some mini projectors that take their power exclusively from the laptop they're linked to - such as the Philips PicoPix PPX2055 - the ML550 uses a rather large array of cables and separate power pack; but that's the flip-side of its otherwise more versatile design.
Setting-up the ML550 is a cinch, with an adjustable drop-down foot on the projector's undercarriage allowing easy aim, with the zoom lens - despite it being digital - proving just savvy enough to create a pristine, straight image.
Whatever flash-based source we supplied the ML550 with, it lapped-up everything we threw at it, including all Microsoft Office formats, JPEG photos, and video files a-plenty (everything from AVI and MKV to WMV, MP4, H.264 and MOV).
Some files take longer to load than others, but the media player software supplied on the ML550 makes navigation of files and folders quick, easy and simple. There really is no need for a laptop.
The best thing about the ML550 is its brightness, which means that a total blackout isn't necessary. The detail on show on our 90-inch test screen was reasonably impressive, and though it's at a 60-inch-or-so size that the ML550 performs at its peak - from about two metres - even at the larger size we enjoyed its bright, smooth images.
In Photo, PC and Bright mode the text on an Excel spreadsheet appeared contrast-y and precise, while the graphics on a PowerPoint slide impressed with its colour saturation.
In most cases it's the PC mode that should do the job, though the slightly dimmer 'Cinema' preset is handy for watching movies, despite being rather basic.
Easy to set up and with plentiful connectivity on its rear, the ML550 isn't likely to let you down. Able to project a crisp, bright image in almost any ambient light conditions, it's equally at home with PDFs and Powerpoint presentations as with photos and video files.
Sadly, the ML550 - as it comes - has no Wi-Fi. A separate, add-on Wi-Fi dongle is available, which allows the ML550 to wirelessly project from smartphones and tablets installed with the impressive EZ-View app (iOS and Android) that's also used by other projector brands such as BenQ and ViewSonic.
It's a shame this doesn't come as a default since we can imagine that most prospective buyers of the ML550 would expect some kind of wireless tablet integration, though we suppose this projector is already priced quite highly.
Brighter than its competitors at this size and enormously well connected, Optoma has come up with something quite special for those after something to power portable presentations.
Easy to stow and a cinch to set up and operate, we're nevertheless wary that the ML550 comes with no tablet/smartphone features as standard.
An optional Wi-Fi dongle is needed for that - at extra expense - which does seem rather archaic in our post-dongle days, but an ML550 with a dongle added adds up to the most versatile and capable ultra-mobile projector around. Expensive, but worth it.