Similar in many ways to the Aaxa P2 Jr.$189.99 at Amazon, the Aaxa LED Pico projector offers even better shirt-pocket size portability. Rated at 25 lumens, it isn’t as bright as the P2 Jr., but it’s also less expensive, and it delivers a higher resolution, at 960 by 540 or exactly one-quarter the pixels of 1080 HD. Most important, like the P2 Jr., it enhances its portability by including a mini-HDMI port. That makes it a potentially good choice for projecting images from a smartphone or tablet that supports MHL.
At 0.7 by 2.4 by 4.3 inches (HWD), the LED Pico is about the same size as the AAxa P2 Jr., and a touch lighter at 5 ounces. Unlike the Aaxa P2 Jr., however, it doesn’t need the power block that effectively adds to the P2 Jr.’s size and weight. You only need to carry a short USB charging cable, which you can plug into any USB port or USB charger. And it can be the same cable and charger you’re already using for your phone.
Probably the best way to fully appreciate the LED Pico’s level of portability is to realize that it’s a touch lighter than the Samsung Galaxy S III that I regularly carry in my shirt pocket. It’s also noticeably shorter in two out of three dimensions, and a little more than twice as thick. If I were carrying both, I’d want to enlist a second pocket, but I could fit both in the same pocket if I had to: It’s that small.
Basics and Setup
Unlike most pico projectors, the LED Pico is built around an LCoS, rather than DLP, chip. Beyond that, it shares the typical design of using an LED light source that’s meant to last the life of the projector, with a 15,000-hour rating in this case. The 960-by-540 resolution is unusual for any projector today, but at one quarter of 1,920-by-1,080—or one half in each direction—it lets you show 1080 HD video or 1,920-by-1,080 computer output with minimal scaling artifacts.
Setup is standard for a pico projector, including the initial step of connecting the charging cable to the projector and a USB port or charger to let the battery charge. According to Aaxa, a fully charged battery is good for 80 minutes. Very much on the plus side, it actually lasted longer than that in my tests.
In addition to the mini-HDMI port, the LED Pico offers a microSD card slot and a USB A port, enhancing its portability even further by letting it read files directly from memory cards and USB memory keys. The only other port is an AV connector that accepts a supplied cable with female RCA phono jacks on the other end for composite video and stereo audio. What’s missing from this list is any way to connect to a computer that lacks an HDMI port.
To use the projector, you plug in the appropriate cable, USB key, or memory card, press the power button, point the projector at whatever you’re using for a screen, and focus. As is standard for pico projectors, there’s no zoom, so the only way to adjust the image size is to move the projector. One noteworthy touch is that the focus thumbwheel is easier to control than with many projectors, making it much easier to find just the right setting for good focus.
Brightness and Image Quality
Aaxa rates the LED Pico at 25 lumens, which is significantly lower than most recent small projectors, including the P2 Jr., at 55 lumens; the 3M Mobile Projector MP300$229.22 at Amazon, at 60 lumens; and Aaxa P3, at 50 lumens. Because perception of brightness is logarithmic, however, half the lumens doesn’t mean half the perceived brightness.
That said, in my tests the image seemed dimmer than it should be at any given image size based on its rating. Measuring it showed why, with the measurement coming out to only 10 lumens. That’s a disappointingly low number, but it’s still bright enough to be useful
Based on recommendations by The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), 10 lumens is bright enough for long sessions in theater dark lighting for a 12 to 16 inch diagonal image at the LED Pico’s 16:9 aspect ratio. In moderate ambient light, the appropriate size drops to about 9 inches. Both of these are consistent with my testing. Keep in mind, however, that these image size recommendations are for long sessions. You can easily use much larger sizes for short sessions without tiring your eyes.
As with its brightness, the image quality for the LED Pico is good enough to be useful, but not particularly impressive. On our standard suite of DisplayMate tests, it delivered acceptable, but not great, color quality and good color balance.
Video quality is probably best described as being good enough to watch, without actually qualifying as good. Flesh tones in several test clips had a greenish tint, particularly in shadowed areas, and I saw lots of posterization (colors changing suddenly where they should change gradually). However the projector did a good job maintaining shadow detail (detail based on shading in dark areas), and I saw very few rainbow artifacts (flashes of red, green, and blue). Even if you see these artifacts easily, you’re not likely to see them often enough with the LED Pico to find them annoying.
One shortcoming this model shares with the P2 Jr. is exceedingly low-volume audio, even for its 1-watt speaker. If you need sound, you’ll want to plug a headset or external sound system into the projector’s audio output. Depending on the source, you may also have problems getting the audio to work. When I connected the projector to a Blu-ray player, the auto setup feature insisted that the projector didn’t support audio.
Even with the audio issues, the LED Pico qualifies as a capable projector for its size and price. Its strongest point is its portability, with its small size, its ability to read files from microSD cards and USB keys, and its ability to connect to smartphones or tablets with MHL support. That adds up to letting you project images without having to carry much with you besides the projector. As long as you don’t need a brighter image and aren’t too much of a perfectionist about image quality, the LED Pico can be a good choice, particularly as a companion to a smartphone or tablet.