The first time we saw a pico projector some of us thought: "Err... What's the point?" Slide show presentations from your phone? Doubt it -- not powerful enough for practical use. Cinematic experience in the toilet? Maybe, but you'd want a built-in projector on your PMP instead of a separate brick. Funky dance? Only in Japan. Finally, WowWee took a break from robotics to give us the answer with its foldable Cinemin Swivel pico projector: for watching videos on the ceiling while lying in bed, obviously. Still, we have our doubts about image quality, portability and practicality -- especially for $299. Read on to find out if this little guy is worth it.
Great picture quality
Plug and play with iPhone devices
Swivel mechanism for vertical projection
Can get very warm due to lack of fan
Resolution not high enough for presentation
Like many pico projectors the Cinemin Swivel is a battery-powered DLP device, beaming out 8 ANSI lumens of 480x320 at a 1000:1 contrast ratio. We actually found this to be adequate for personal use and had satisfying results with our iPhone 3GS: in a lit room we got a viewable image up to around 13 inches diagonally at a two-foot projection range, and in pitch black it was good for up to about 30 inches diagonally at five feet. On paper WowWee claims the Cinemin Swivel can push it up to 60 inches, but you'd have to be extra steady with anything beyond 30 inches for a good focus, while at the same time pixelation and brightness became problematic. Nevertheless, the colors were surprisingly vibrant given the right lighting condition.
In battery mode we managed to squeeze out about 90 minutes' worth of juice, much less than the claimed 135 minutes on a 1700mAh cell -- but most users would use an external power source for prolonged use anyway. Other features on this six-ounce device include a handy rear-projection switch, a focus dial and a built-in sucky mono speaker (with volume buttons) compensated by a headphone jack. There's of course the 90-degree hinge for steady vertical projection -- much easier than using a mini tripod as required by other pico projectors -- and we found it to be a godsend for lazy nights on our bed. The only problem was we had to make do with a slight picture offset as the projector wasn't right in front of us, nor could we tilt it and then adjust the keystone. We wouldn't suggest placing the projector on your chest either, as the lens section can get quite warm -- a trade-off for not having a noisy fan.
Thankfully, the Cinemin Swivel isn't limited to just iPod and iPhone devices as it is bundled with a standard 3.5mm AV cable and a composite video cable. We haven't had the chance to try the projector with other video sources, but it should be as straight-forward as using it with our iPhone -- literally plug and play. We can see people using this pico projector with cameras and camcorders, but then again we are in the HD era, so this low-resolution device is only good for quick playbacks instead of grand presentations. Anyway, feel free to watch our unboxing and hands-on video before wrapping up:
We're rather surprised by the Cinemin Swivel -- good picture quality, vibrant colors, quick warm-up and easy operation. There's no doubt this makes a great toy for personal leisure use, but with it's current technical limitations its not good for more than a little fun. Ideally, we'd like VGA resolution and greater brightness for presentation purposes, and it'd be nice if WowWee included the $40 Cinemin Swap VGA-to-AV converter as part of the $299 tag, but those are just minor complaints -- and iPod and iPhone owners can always keep an eye out for discounts. Or just buy a monitor.