Just like an iPhone crams a roomful of devices into a pocketable device, miniaturization of electronics has now made it possible to create a battery-powered, cube-shaped pico projector just 1.8 inches (4.5 cm) on a side. From an unexpected source -- South Korean mobile provider SK Telecom -- the device is being marketed as the Innoio Innocube (around US$299) and you should start seeing availability in US retail outlets and online stores in the next few months. For now, a trip to the Innoio website displays an Innocube that is not the one you see resting in my palm.
Even though I had been told that the Innocube was small, I wasn't prepared for taking it out of the box. It truly looks more like a tiny scale model of a Borg ship than a projector. One side of the cube is glass and encloses the projector lens, one side has a power button and MHL connector, and another contains a micro-USB port for charging and a focus wheel.
The Innocube certainly doesn't weigh much -- just 5.5 ounces (156 grams). The company literature says it's 129 grams, but I'm wondering if that is without the rubberized cover. It contains a battery that charges up in about three hours and that is designed to run the device for up to two hours. The device pumps out 35 ANSI lumens of brightness, which isn't all that bright compared to most full-sized projectors but quite common with pico projectors. Resolution is limited to 640 x 480 pixels, so don't expect 1080p HD from the Innocube.
Innoio has added a rubberized bumper and backing to the unit to protect it from bumps and falls, which is smart considering that the target audience for the device is ... kids. Yep, let the kids take the projector and an iPad into a darkened room, and they can begin showing movies or displaying artwork on any wall or ceiling. More about that market choice later...
What's driving the pico projector is a miniscule Texas Instruments DLP chip containing millions of micromirrors. TI and Innoio provided a few sample chips, and it's amazing what those diminutive circuits can produce.
Since I tested a pre-production unit from SK Telecom, there were a few oddities like labels that were stuck onto the unit instead of silkscreened directly onto the aluminum. Charging was fast, and when the Innocube was at full capacity a small charging LED that had been glowing red switched to green.
To use the Innocube with a recent MacBook Pro with an HDMI port is a piece of cake; you just plug it directly into the HDMI port with the included HDMI to MHL connector and the MacBook takes care of the rest. I found the image to be surprisingly clear and bright, even when aiming the projector at a wall across from my office that was further away than the recommended distance.
When running, the project puts out a little sound -- there's a hiss from a cooling fan that wouldn't be audible in most classrooms or offices, but was noticeable in my very quiet office. It's a totally acceptable noise level and nothing compared to what most projectors put out.
I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity and color accuracy of the Innocube; watching some YouTube videos and a presentation or two, there were some issues with the low resolution (most of my presentations are designed for HD), but everything worked just fine.
To use the Innocube with an iOS device, you're going to need to buy a separate Apple AV Adapter ($39 for 30-pin devices, $49 for Lightning devices), so be sure to factor that into your buying decision. Considering the birthplace of the device -- South Korea -- and the prevalence of MHL-equipped Samsung mobile devices there, it's not surprising that Innoio chose to leave the AV adapter up to the buyer. Surprisingly, I don't have an AV Adapter in my bag of tricks, so I chose to just use the MacBook Pro for my testing.
If you or your kids have a need for a tiny and impressively bright projector, the Innoio Innocube should definitely be on your list of projectors to check out. However, I think it's a bit misguided for Innoio to be targeting kids for a $300 projector (more if you add in the cost of an adapter for an iOS device).
For presentations on the road by the parents of those kids, however, this would be a great portable projector for use in small, dark conference rooms where it can truly shine.
Incredibly lightweight and small
Image quality and brightness was surprisingly good for a pico projector
Can be used with HDMI-equipped MacBook Pros right out of the box
Good battery life and fast charging time
Pricing is in line with that of other pico projectors
Requires a separate Apple AV Adapter for use with an iOS device
Quite expensive for the market Innoio is targeting -- kids
Many standard DLP projectors in the 3000 lumen range and better resolution are available at about the same price
Who is it for?
Anyone who needs a rugged and tiny projector who is willing to trade lower maximum resolution (640 x 480) and brightness (35 ANSI lumens) for an incredible amount of portability