I’ve heard it said that the only technology you can trust is your own. I don’t remember where I heard or read it, but I believe it is some kind of road warrior credo. I certainly came to be a believer in it during a recent intense road warrior stint. I say recent but it seems like ancient history – 2019/20. Back when face-to-face meetings were a thing. Do you remember that? Didn’t think so…
Anyway, way back then (and even earlier for that matter) I was on the road a ton. Pitches, presentations, sales meetings, client meetings, you name it – all happening in conference and meeting rooms out and about all over the Asia Pacific region. It was fun and challenging. Although sometimes challenging in a less than fulfilling way. I’d say eight, maybe nine, times out of ten the first 15 or so minutes of any meeting or presentation were consumed by a struggle with technology. You name it and the technology Gods had a way to trip things up. Especially where LCD projectors are concerned.
Of course, things usually worked out ok and all those slides with so many hours of preparation behind them shone brilliantly up on the screen. At the time I couldn’t help but wonder how much momentum was stolen by the customary projector or tech snafu. We’ve all read about the theory of first impressions and that the first 20 minutes are the most critical in any pitch or meeting. If you’re spending the first 20 minutes of most meetings in a dongle nightmare, are you compromising your prospects of success? I don’t know of any science or study that casts any light on the issue; but I am a firm believer that two major ingredients to success are not leaving things to chance and projecting a polished, professional image.
Besides that, on a far more serious note, I was forever stuck in hotel rooms without access to important stuff like Netflix and YouTube on a big screen. The vast majority of hotel wifi networks are dead against giving you the ability to access content streaming services. Despite attempting any number of hacks and workarounds, I rarely succeeded.
All this led me on a quest to see if there was a piece of tech that could fill the gap. I was familiar with small form factor or mobile DLP projectors. In my view, they were generally expensive and compromised in one way or another. I wanted something that was “smart” in that it did not need to be tethered to another device; had decent battery life, brightness and contrast ratio; was Full HD (ie. 1920 x 1080; and, critically, I wanted USB-C for charging. USB-C has become very much a show stopper requirement for me. It means that I only need to carry one charger or battery bank to cater to all my devices. In my world that’s a huge advantage.
With those requirements in mind, a contender quickly rose to the top of the pack – the Philips PicoPix Max. There are actually very few options once USB-C becomes a requirement. There’s also a bunch of very average spec projectors that simply aren’t worth the trouble. No point showing up to a meeting with a mobile projector that can only throw a dim, low contrast image. The PicoPix Max however was claiming some hero level specs like 850 lumens of brightness, Full HD, Android OS, touchpad and (thank you Philips!) USB-C. The only problem I could see and it was a big one as it turned out, was that the PicoPix Max was at the time only a project on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. Normally I shy away from subscribing to products offered only through crowdsourcing campaigns. I’ve read too many tales of woe and interminable delay on forums… But what to do in this instance? The only projector that ticked all of my boxes was the PicoPix Max and I didn’t see any chance of another contender emerging on the tech horizon.
I had not participated in an Indiegogo or any other crowdsourcing campaign for that matter. I figured if nothing else it would give me a chance to experience and gauge the process. After having done so my fervent advice to you is: DON’T. I signed up for the PicoPix Max campaign in about September 2019. At that point the expected release date was November 2019. Two months did not seem like too long of a wait, even to an impatient bastard like me. November 2019 came. And went. I did not receive my PicoPix Max. I did receive weekly emails detailing the reasons for the production delay. I continued to receive my update emails as the months sailed by. Of course, we all know what happened in early 2020, so I can’t lay all the blame for the delay at Philips’ feet. I eventually received the PicoPix Max in late 2020. The irony being that by then I had almost no need for a mobile projector at all.
Like all of us, I am hoping that will change very soon. So with that in mind, I have spent the last couple of months using and testing the PicoPix Max. And I have to say that I like it! There are a couple of niggles – shortcomings mostly to do with how the software has been implemented.
The unit itself is premium. Build quality is first-rate. I like that it ships with a heavy duty and cushioned carry bag. The bag has an internal separation so all of you kindred OCD scratch freaks can rest easy. The projector can be carried safely apart from the power brick etc. Speaking of scratch freaks, the outer shell of the projector, although a very fetching gunmetal finish is an absolute fingerprint magnet. The sooner tech manufacturers dispense with the urge to coat everything in piano gloss finish the better. Size-wise the PicoPix Max comes in at a very bag friendly 13.3cm x 13.3cm x 3cm (5 1/4″ x 5 1/4” x 1 3/4“) and the projector weighs just under 1kg (2lbs). If you’re wondering whether it’s really portable or portable enough, worry not. Although weighty for its size, it’s certainly easy and unobtrusive enough to carry in a backpack or briefcase.
Set up and connectivity are both easy and excellent. On startup the PicoPix Max will adjust focus and keystone. The autofocus works really well. I have, however, found that the keystone can struggle with steep-ish angles. There is a manual keystone adjustment, just in case… Once up and running the user is presented with a home screen not unlike that found on a tablet or smartphone. The reason for that is that Philips in an effort to make the PicoPix Max truly stand-alone has implemented a version of Android akin to that used on Smart TVs. I can see why they chose to go this way – it offers an out of the box OS for the PicoPic Max that goes most of the way. Here is where we run into the niggles I mentioned earlier. The Android implementation feels very “square peg in a round hole”. For the most part, it works fine – but certain things are clunky – like adjustment of brightness, contrast etc, which can’t be adjusted while in an app or watching a video. In order to make those adjustments, you have to back out to the settings menu and adjust from there. Minor, I know, but it’s still annoying!
For added convenience, the PicoPix Max has a threaded tripod mount on its underside. The unit I received came with a small table-top tripod which is almost essential if you need to mount the projector at an upward or downward angle to the viewing surface.
Inputs are managed by either remote control or a touchpad on the top of the projector case. Both are not great. I found the touch pad all but unusable. Again, I see why they did it. But I’m of the if you’re going to do it, do it properly school. The touchpad is very frustrating to use and I pretty much didn’t. The remote control is better. But unless you are directly 180 degrees behind and in close proximity to the projector, forget it. Again, it’s not a slick implementation. Infrared remote technology is hardly cutting edge, so the failure to implement it in a decent fashion these days is all but unforgivable. Particularly given the premium asking price of the PicoPix Max.
All things considered, these are minor complaints. The overall user experience is actually quite good. The PicoPix Max offers HDMI, USB-C, Micro SD, USB-A, Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity. I found hooking up to the wifi and the Bluetooth smooth and fast. The Bluetooth connection is quite handy as the internal speaker is, well, the less said about it the better. It will do in a pinch but I highly recommend connection to an external speaker. (The PicoPix Max also offers 3.5mm output for cable connection to speakers or headphones.)
Thankfully, the PicoPix Max produces a much, much better image quality. I have really enjoyed the video quality produced by the projector. High def videos are clear, bright with excellent colour and contrast. At least for a little portable projector. This is certainly an area where expectations have to be kept in context. The PicoPix Max is not going to compete with full size projectors on brightness and image quality. Nor should it be expected. But, for its size, it produces an excellent image. Room darkness and proximity to the screen (or wall) have, as you’d expect, have a significant effect on the image. In a totally dark room, the image is great at up to about 1.5 metres image size. Even a dimly lit room, unfortunately, will start to have quite an impact on the image – with the loss in contrast and definition becoming quite obvious. It’s still perfectly fine for viewing and for presentations; but to get the optimum image, a dark room is the way to go.
Although the shoehorning of Android OS is a bit janky, it does have the benefit of allowing the PicoPix Max to run a host of apps natively. Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime are all pre-loaded and ready to go. There are also some media management apps and an app store variant called Aptoide which allows you to easily sideload Android apps for use on the PicoPix Max. I’ve found that you have to be careful with Aptoide – it is really meant for mobile devices – so often times the app it installs is not optimised or even fit for use on a projector. Just a word of caution. But I have found popular apps and streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube run flawlessly.
The PicoPix Max claims to be capable of Apple AirPlay and Google Cast streaming. This is accomplished by a third party application. The claim is a bit overcooked. In the real world, I found AirPlay-ing from an Apple device to work fine. But no matter what I tried I could not seem to cast from an Android device. Of course, it could just have been me…
Philips claims a battery run time of 3 hours. I suspect this was achieved on a low brightness setting with Bluetooth and wireless off. On a decent (approx 50%) brightness setting for a room at medium ambient lighting levels with Bluetooth and wireless on, I can get close to 2 hours. Ish… Thankfully Philips made the very welcome decision to include USB-C charging. So not only am I not reliant on carrying the power brick, I can also run and or charge the PicoPix Max from my 20,000mAh power bank equipped with USB-C Power Delivery. For me, as I try to consolidate all my tech into the USB-C envelope, this is really a huge tick in the PicoPix Max’s favour.
So, should you get one? Despite the minor flaws and rough edges in its OS and user experience, I’d still say yes. It’s not a resounding yes for those reasons and one other. Price. I scored the PicoPix Max at a significant discount as a supporter of the Indiegogo campaign, but I see that the street price now is right around USD850. So much functionality and image quality in such a small package clearly attract quite a premium. Premium being the operative word. If that’s what you’re looking for – a very portable projector that offers great HD level image quality and functionality – the PicoPix Max should be at the top of your list.
Oh, one last thing – If you’d like to read up further on the PicoPix Max, particularly if you’re interested to know more detail on specifications and measurements, this review by projectorreviews.com is excellent.