Review: 3M MPro 120 pico-projector

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The pico-projector market is a new one, and the products are still evolving. It really wasn’t very long ago that this product’s predecessor, the MPro 110, hit the market. It got pretty lame reviews (before which I prematurely called it awesome), but that isn’t really indicative of the worth of this kind of device. A projector you can keep in your pocket? Genius. Now they just need to get it right. The MPro 120 takes some major steps towards doing that, but that still doesn’t quite elevate it from niche product to must-buy.

For those of you unfamiliar with the tech, what we’ve got here is a tiny little battery-powered DLP projector with a 12-lumen brightness — which, let’s be honest, isn’t very bright at all. But I don’t think anybody expected a pocket projector to be able to throw up a 50-inch screen on a day-lit wall. No, the application here is for when you can control your light: in a closed office, dark bar, or in your home at night.

I was very pleasantly surprised at the brightness, clarity, and size of the image it threw out once the lighting (or lack thereof) was correct. Here’s a long exposure so you can see the dimensions more clearly:

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The picture was remarkably clear, and at five feet the image was about 40 inches in 4:3. One fun thing I want to add is that this creates an entirely new kind of party: having beers with a couple friends and trying to play Street Fighter II Turbo while someone moves the projector around the room. Also, incidentally, Mortal Kombat II is blowing it. We did those fatalities exactly right and not one of them worked. Not the projector’s fault, but I needed to get that out.

The perceptive among you may notice that all three RCA cables are going into the projector — yes, this thing has stereo speakers. Not good ones, mind you, but good enough that you can hear dialogue and effects clearly and loudly, though bass is pretty much absent. They tended to clip a lot at max volume — imagine two of the speakers in your phone and how that would sound. Limited and tinny as they are, they’re a welcome addition (the MPro 110 had none).

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Battery life was surprisingly good. I’d give it about three hours at full brightness from full to fully empty; I beat StarFox and had a good hour and a half of Street Fighter II with my friends before it was down to low battery status, after which it probably had about 20 minutes left. More life can be gotten, of course, by changing the brightness or not blasting the sound.

3mpro  006Inputs are few but fairly universal: RCA and VGA. If you can’t find a combination of adapters to work something out, you disappoint me. Both pictures were perfectly sharp, and although the fidelity will obviously be lower if you play a 720p movie through a 640×480 projector, it didn’t cripple it or downsize it in any horrible way.

Controls are simple and clear: volume, brightness, power, and a focus dial. All work as expected.

3M thoughtfully includes a sturdy little flexi-tripod that was extremely handy in positioning the projector. It has a little flip-down foot at the front, but that only elevates it by half an inch, so the tripod stays on for the most part.

The Bottom Line

Having a projector with you sounds pretty cool, but the truth is it’s pretty rare that you actually need one on the run. Combine that with its poor performance in anything but the darkest of situations, and you have a pretty limited tool. That said, within its narrow set of parameters, this is a great little device. The downside is its cost: at $350, it’s a whole bill more than its closest competitor, the Optoma PK102, which has the benefit of 4GB of internal space — possibly a killer feature.

At the rate they’re improving these things, I can’t really recommend buying one unless it really fills a need you have. Maybe you give presentations on the go. Maybe you’re a guerrilla film-shower. But I have a feeling that in six months there’s going to be one of these that’s even better, and this one will be a hundred dollars cheaper. A great little device, but at the moment, a bit ahead of its time.

MPro120 at 3M