We covered the bēm wireless Kickstarter project for the Kickstand Projector a couple days ago, and the folks at bēm were kind enough to get us a preproduction unit to try out. The good news is that it lives up to the promise of a portable projector that isn’t puny, but the Kickstarter project needs some help to reach its goal. The Kickstand is currently just north of 10% of its funding goal on Kickstarter, so if you’re in the market for a portable projector that’s genuinely usable, show the project a little love over on their Kickstarter page.
No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t come up with anything more succinct to describe the Kickstand than this; it’s like the Fisher Price projector for grown-ups (and that’s not a bad thing at all). Fisher-Price makes products that are easy to use and incredibly durable, with thoughtful built-in handles and a focus on tough designs that can stand up to a little abuse. The Kickstand is basically a projector mounted inside a combined handle, carrying case, and A-frame that makes it easy to carry, store, and set anywhere you need it. The remote even snaps into place magnetically over the lens to both protect the lens and prevent the remote from getting lost.
The projector itself is coated in a matte, rubberized black plastic, as is the majority of the frame. The outer band on the frame is a brushed aluminum, but the inside of the carry handle is rubberized (for hand-held grippiness), as is the bottom edge of the frame itself (for table grippiness when the projector’s in use). Sizewise, it’s about as wide as an iPad but an inch shorter, and it’s approximately 1.25 inches thick. It weighs in at only a couple pounds, so if you’re a road warrior running presentations from an iPad or MacBook Air, the Kickstand is unlikely to add much of a burden to your existing setup.
Small projectors (commonly called pico projectors) generally offer so-so image quality with very good portability. Projecting high-contrast, high resolution light requires a certain combination of power/optics that simply can’t be miniaturized well, so smaller projectors tend to trade off image quality for portability. The Kickstand gets around this by taking a larger-than average pico projector, and building a more convenient carrying case around it. The unique A-frame and floating design let you adjust the Kickstand to virtually any position (you can even project on the ceiling) just by pivoting the projector inside its frame.
To test the Kickstand, I took down all the pictures from a wall in my living room, which is a neutral sandy beige. The Kickstand can project an image onto a surface as close as one foot or as far away as ten feet, which gives you an image anywhere from 9″ to 90″ diagonally. I had about 60″ of wall space, and hooked up my AppleTV to the Kickstand’s included HDMI. Movies looked great even with the lights on, though they were better with dimmer lighting. I also used AirPlay mirroring with my MacBook Pro; presentations, web pages, and even this article all looked great up on the wall over my couch.
High quality projectors tend to be hot items, and cooling fan noise can be a big deal. In a highly unscientific test using a sound level meter app, I found my living room had an ambient noise level between 40-50 db, which went up to 55-65 db with the Kickstand running. That’s definitely quiet enough to be used in a conference room for presentations or for the occasional movie. Speaking of sound, there is a built-in mono speaker that puts out surprisingly decent sound. If you’re watching a movie you’ll probably want to use your laptop’s speakers (at least you’ll get stereo), but the built-in is sufficient for the occasional movie clip in a presentation.
Technophiles will want to know if the Kickstand can handle HD, and the answer is yes: the 720p variety. The Kickstand has a resolution of 1,280 x 800, so it’s probably not the best for use with a Blu Ray player, but Vimeo HD videos and presentations looked gorgeous. Many pico projectors barely break a resolution of 800 x 600, but bēm used DLP technology, which offers better resolution and a brighter output (the Kickstand pumps out about 400 lumens, compared with many pico projectors’ sub 100 lumen output). I found sharpness to be something of a mixed bag. Movies looked great, but when editing I found small text could only be truly sharp either at the center or at the edges. Large text in a presentation was always readable, and the texture on my wall likely didn’t help matters.
For a portable projector, bēm’s Kickstand is an impressive performer in a small package. It offers a bright image with simple adjustment options, including focus, keystone, multiple source inputs (USB or HDMI), and AUX out sound. Whether you’re doing presentations on the road or want to kick back with a movie, the Kickstand gives you a projector in an easy-to-carry package that’s also highly functional.
For full details on the design process, be sure to check out the Kickstand’s Kickstarter page. The project still has six days left to reach its goal, so you have time to pledge if you’re interested.