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TechnologyTell Review: Celluon PicoPro laser projector

Sections: Projectors, Reviews, Video

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Ahhh, projectors. The ones we have now are so much better than those of yesteryear. They’re more portable, more affordable, and more powerful. What’s not to like? Most all of us have experienced mobile music via connected smartphones, streaming services, and Bluetooth wireless headphones. But how about mobile movies? I’m so seriously, you guys. You gotta get one of these.

Design & Connectivity

The Celluon PicoPro projector is as portable as carrying an additional smartphone in some defender-series protective case, which is pretty easy. The half-inch thick flat form with rounded corners gives it that simple, sleek appearance becoming of classy devices. In a move that’s likely more fashion than function, Celluon added extra curves and juxtaposed flat and glossy black. The PicoPro projector deceives by looking like two parts connected as one.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector box

Accessories in the box (not finalized by Celluon yet)

When it comes to easy and hassle-free use, the Celluon PicoPro definitely does it right. It’s straight plug-and-play with no onboard controls aside from power (press-hold), volume, and input (also press-hold to switch). All you do is turn the projector on, decide to use it wirelessly or via the included HDMI cable, and that’s it.

Wireless operation uses up battery power faster, but having to connect one less cable is awesome. If you are running Android 4.0 or later, screen mirroring is baked right in. On my Galaxy Note 4, it’s one of my quick setting buttons at the top of my notification panel. Tap it, connect to the Celluon PicoPro projector, and that’s it. Instant mirroring from a mobile smartphone or tablet.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector top

About the size of a large smartphone

The PicoPro does everything else all on its own with fixed brightness, contrast, color, saturation, and so forth. Not everyone is going to like the lack of settings or customizable presets. I’ve used projectors both ways, and sometimes you just want something to work right away without any additional fussing.

And that’s where the Celluon PicoPro projector shines. Especially if you hate to manually focus lenses. However, manual placement will be key since there is no means to adjust the tilt if you’re not aiming at the surface perfectly perpendicular.

With exception of the cleverly-hidden volume buttons, all the ports and other buttons are clearly labeled and identifiable on the rear of the projector. Inputs are just the MHI/HDMI for source and Micro USB for power. Those who have a speaker better than the built-in one can connect it with a 3.5mm audio cable (totally recommended).

But if you have to use the onboard speaker, it’s not as loud (and of worse quality) as most average smartphone speakers. Sure, it’s usable in close quarters where exterior noise isn’t an issue, but pack some earbuds anyway.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector ports

Ports and buttons in the rear

Close inspection of the dotted pattern on the Celluon PicoPro’s surface shows soft-glowing LEDs in green, patterned out as standard volume controls. They’re touch-sensitive and sometimes accompanied by a brief flash. Press-hold doesn’t work for adjustment, so just keep tapping. You’ll see a volume bar, with levels from 0 to 10, flash across the bottom of the screen.

Blue LEDs for battery life indication lie right next to the green ones for volume. It’s a standard set of four, with each blue dot representing a 25 percent threshold of battery life left. The projector battery is full once all four remain lit. A visual is tossed in the top-right corner, if the projector happens to be up and running. So far the gauge is reasonably accurate, but keeping track of how long the PicoPro has been running provides better estimates for remaining time.

But if you’re a mobile gadget user, you’re likely packing an external battery pack or two. All of a sudden, power isn’t an issue anymore. The PicoPro projector charges up via Micro USB at 5V/2A, which means it can continue running until that external battery runs out. This can be very convenient when outlets aren’t always in easy reach.

Performance

Unlike other, larger projectors that provide some level of adjustment, the Celluon PicoPro has nada. There’s no mount, no feet, no controls, nothing whatsoever to help position and angle images how you want. All you’re left with is personal ingenuity and creativity. So if you’re planning to use the PicoPro for work-related presentations, you’d be smart to come prepared.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector colors

Excellent colors? Check. Not bad on the brightness, too.

Personally, I find tripods to be the best accessory to accompany projectors. Height and tilt adjustment are built right in. I’m assuming that the unit I’ve received to review is a final, pre-production one. There are no threads to attach to tripods, yet the box indicates a mini tripod comes with the projector ( (it’s been verified that mass-production units of the PicoPro will indeed have a threaded hole and included tripod). Luckily, I always have useful gear on-hand.

This Universal Tablet Tripod Stand by Case Star holds the PicoPro in place without blocking the lens or ports. It’s usable with standard tripods as well as the small mobile ones. Check out the photo. I’ve had this gadget for a couple of years now, and I’m amazed at how useful it’s been in a variety of different situations, tripod-mounted or not.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector screen

Still looks good when made bigger, even with indirect afternoon light

You could also use the Joby GripTight XL Smartphone mount, which, arguably, is a bit more limited. It won’t work with small mobile tripods, since the whole thing will tip. And while it can work with regular tripods, you’re going to have to find a flat, L-shaped audio plug to squeeze in. That is, unless, you want to block the projection and/or use the PicoPro’s onboard speaker (neither are recommended).

I’m telling you, using a tripod beats out stacking boxes or books any day. Plus, you’ll keep the PicoPro cooler than setting it down on a flat surface. This projector has no feet, and it gets noticeably warm to the touch after 10 minutes of running. So far, the heat doesn’t appear to affect performance, even after hours of constant streaming.

For most intents and purposes, this is a ‘shut all the blinds and kill the lights’ kind of projector. Don’t expect to see much from the PicoPro outside unless you’re shrouded by the cloak of night. So long as there isn’t any direct light to interfere with the projector indoors, it’s bright enough to deliver a viewable image up to over 50 inches. Just remember that the larger the projection, the darker you’ll want the environment to be. Otherwise you’ll have to suffer that semi-washed-out look.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector tripod

PicoPro with Case Star tablet tripod stand (left) and Joby GripTight XL (right)

But even when you have light interfering with the Celluon PicoPro, you can see how accurate and bold the colors are. The contrast ratio does a great job at maintaining definition. The output light is bright white (like daylight-white), lightly tinged by the color of the projection surface.

I’ve watched movies on walls painted “flat white”, “eggshell”, and “light sand”, and have been pleased. Otherwise, the results improve as all the lights go down. I’ve compared side-by-side with my Galaxy Note 4 smartphone, Lenovo S8-50 tablet, and a Samsung laptop. My observation is that of a near-perfect match with each respective device.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector samurai champloo

Showing a 46-inch projection on a white wall, with a single LED lamp 12 feet behind at 100% (left), 50% (middle), and off (right)

The level of brightness is quite impressive considering the size. The projection lighting is powered by a laser with “infinite focus”, hence the lack of manual focusing. So far, this is the real deal. Images stay in focus no matter where it’s set, as long as the angle isn’t too skewed off center. But this is also edge-to-edge focus (and brightness), which is hard to expect from many projectors out there. Even with a 40-inch projection from a laptop, the Celluon PicoPro delivers uniform and readable text no matter the location on the screen.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector fifth element

Showing a 46-inch projection on a white wall, with a single LED lamp 12 feet behind at 100% (left), 50% (middle), and off (right)

Whether connected wirelessly or with the HDMI cable, the video playback is smooth without any flickering. Even at larger screen projection sizes, edges don’t suffer that kind of graininess that can happen with some LED-based projectors. The listed 1920×720 (a little strange, but whatever) resolution of the PicoPro appears to be on-point. But my favorite feature of all is the silent operation. There’s no electric whine of fans, common with projectors most of us have ever experienced. It’s totally quiet, that you could watch a movie in a library (use headphones) without bothering a single person with noise.

In terms of battery life, ~2.4 hours wireless and ~3.3 hours HDMI have been consistent numbers for me. Give or take a few minutes. You’ll know the projector is down to its last 20-30 minutes of battery life when the low-battery indicator starts flashing in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Every six seconds, which can be a bit annoying, until the PicoPro completely runs out or gets plugged into some power.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector versus AAXA P450

PicoPro (right) juxtaposed with a 450-lumen projector (left), just for the sake of comparison. The two are in completely different weight classes.

The throw ratio is supposed to be 1:1, meaning every inch from the projection surface increases the screen diagonal size by an inch. In terms of actual output, the Celluon PicoPro comes close to, but is not exactly 1:1.

While watching some Samurai Champloo and The Fifth Element, I had the projector 56 inches away from the wall, and it created only a 46-inch viewing area. Still, it was pretty good. Check the photos and you can see how a floor-standing torch lamp equipped with a single soft white (2700K) TCP LED light, placed 12 feet (3.6 meters) directly behind the projector, affects the projected video.

You can see that while the PicoPro creates watchable video with a light source on, the experience is far more enjoyable the darker the environment.

In terms of wireless connectivity, my Galaxy Note 4 has had zero problems whatsoever. I hit the ‘screen mirroring’ button, wait a few seconds, and I’m in business. However, my Lenovo S8-50 tablet doesn’t fare so well. Half the time I’m required to reboot both devices so they see and link with each other (haven’t figured out what’s going on behind the scenes, yet).

Verdict

I have to say that the Celluon PicoPro projector has greatly surpassed all of my expectations. I went in thinking that it would be a cool little portable projector to tag along with my gear. You know, for fun. I wasn’t anticipating a powerhouse coming from the size of a smartphone (roughly). It’s bright, it’s sharp, it’s silent, and you can enjoy a full movie (and then some) before having to recharge.

Celluon PicoPro laser projector thickness

The PicoPro is as pocketable as two bucks worth of quarters is thick

Personally, I think the zero-config, plug-and-play aspect is great. But not everyone will agree. You can’t adjust colors, tilt, have customized presets, or anything else like that. Want your video image with right-angle edges? You’re going to have to manually set it up proper.

When it comes to perceived output, the PicoPro will appear to be brighter than LED projectors of comparably-rated lumens. Although the PicoPro’s average brightness is rated at 32, it looks closer to double, especially in a dark room with no interfering light sources. That’s the power of lasers and a high contrast ratio.

But unlike most micro projectors, the Celluon PicoPro adds minimal mass and volume to your carry. No power brick or lengthy cables are required. Whether for business presentations while on the go, or for mobile movie gratification with a set of headphones, this projector pulls out of pockets for instant video. There’s much to be impressed with the PicoPro’s pint-sized performance.

Check back at Celluon’s website for more information regarding pricing and release of the PicoPro projector, which was just announced at CES 2015. It should be available fairly soon. But if you can’t wait that long, the wireless-only Celluon PicoAir is available right now!

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