Posts Tagged ‘ML300’

Useful Gadgets: Optoma ML300 LED Projector

Back in June, during my annual Display Technology Trends on Super Tuesday at InfoComm in Las Vegas, I singled out two products that showed just how far technology has advanced in the past decade. The first was Nikon’s CoolPix 8200, a $250 point-and-shoot camera with 16 megapixels of resolution, 16x optical zoom, multi-zone focus, HDMI output, ISO speeds to 3200, and an amazingly compact form factor.

The other was Optoma’s ML300 LED projector, which I compared in performance to my late, lamented Sony VPH-D70 CRT projector. The latter – which was the centerpiece of my home theater until 2006 – could crank out about 170 – 200 lumens, had three 7” CRTs, weighed about 140 pounds, had a maximum resolution of 1280×720, and zero support for digital connections. (Oh, and it cost $12,000 new.)

Hard to believe this pipsqueak replaced a 140-pound CRT projector!

The ML300 was a perfect benchmark against the VPH-D70. It has a native resolution of 1280×800 pixels, using a single DLP imaging device. Like the Sony CRT projector, it is ‘lampless,’ relying on discrete red, green, and blue light-emitting diode chips to provide illumination.

But it weighs considerably less – 1.4 pounds, about the same as the Remote Commander keyboard remote that came with the VPH-D70. And it offers ‘instant on’ operation, with an estimated LED life of 20,000 hours to half-brightness. There’s no convergence required; no keystone correction (it’s automatic) to fool with, and the ML300 supports all the standard HD and SD video formats, plus a host of computer resolutions.

Significantly, it will set you back all of $499. I’m not sure I could have replaced the Remote Commander for that price!

Remember when cell phones were bigger than this?

 

With more projector manufacturers jumping on the ‘lamp free’ bandwagon at InfoComm, it’s a good time to take a closer look at one of these marvels. Right now, projectors are under assault by large, inexpensive LCD monitors and TVs, and one reason is the need to replace lamps – they’re not cheap, and stockpiled lamps can turn out to be defective months after their warranty runs out when you actually need them.

There are no such worries with LED (and laser) light engines. Yes, they eventually will croak – all electronics do. But the probability of them not lighting up after sitting idle for several months is very low. And, they’re more friendly to the environment (projector lamps contain salts of mercury, and that’s something we don’t need more of in our water and air!).

OUT OF THE BOX

Did I mention that the LM300 was tiny? You can hold it in the palm of your hand. (Actually, you can hold it for quite a while in the palm of your hand – it’s that light!) The housing measures all of 7.2” long by 4.4” deep and sits 1.8” tall. That would slip very nicely into my computer bag.

The lens is mounted off-center and is a varifocal type with a zoom ratio of 1.5:1. That means you need to place it about 15 feet away from a 10’ wide screen to fill the width. Projected images have a 100% plus offset, meaning they will sit above the top of the lens. The projector also has automatic digital keystone correction that you can override.

 

Here are the main inputs – VGA, HDMI, and composite video.

 

As far as connectivity goes, the ML300 comes with a 15-pin VGA input jack (just can’t kill off analog, can we?) that is compatible with resolutions from VGA to WXGA, a mini HDMI input for standard video resolutions to a maximum of 1920x1080p/60, and a micro USB connector for playing back JPEG images from a flash drive. There’s also a full-size USB port on the real panel.

You have to look real hard to find it, but yes, there is a composite video connection (can’t kill that off, either) through a micro 2.5mm breakout plug that also provides analog audio to RCA jacks. A mini (3.5mm) stereo audio jack is included to loop out audio from a PC or from the connected HDMI source.

One thing you will realize in short order is that normal VGA and HDMI cables will pull this projector all over the table. In fact, a VGA connection looks kind of ridiculous into the ML300 – the plug is enormous, compared to the I/O side panel. The Mini HDMI connection is more reasonable, but you may have some trouble finding this cable. (I bought a few through Amazon.com for the sum of $11.)

The supplied remote control is so small that you need to keep it in a secure place – it would be easy to lose. These remotes are commonly referred to as ‘credit card’ remotes, but in reality, they are about 2/3 the width.

 

And here’s what the rear panel looks like. The power switch is in the upper left corner.


REMOTE AND MENUS

Speaking of remotes…there aren’t a lot of buttons to play with on the ML300. Aside from the power button, you’ll find navigation buttons, direct links to the video, HDMI, and VGA inputs, a high-low power operation selector, a mute button, and a home button to take you to the top menu.

Here, you can select inputs, play video directly from a micro SD memory card, view JPEG photos, connect to an external laptop or PC for display through the USB connections, and select whether you want a wide or truncated color space. (LEDs can output tremendously saturated colors!)

The projector also has 2 GB of internal memory, on which you will find stored (ready for this?) the owner’s manual. Cool, eh? Between that memory and the USB and micro SD ports, you can load and immediately view JPEG and BMP files, plus Powerpoint, Word, Excel, and Acrobat documents. You can even connect via WiFi with an $30 accessory dongle to make a presentation.

You can also connect an iPhone, iPod, and iPad to the ML300 with an optional connectivity kit for really high-tech presentations. Again, you simply choose the appropriate input (WiFi or micro SD) and start presenting. I can’t imagine any input option that Optoma has forgotten.

I found the menu navigation a bit tricky. The remote has to be pointing at the right part of the projector, or it won’t respond. The projector’s top menu buttons are backlit, but don’t light up until you press one of them. And when you’ve made a selection, you have to confirm it with the ‘O’ button, or back out of a menu with the ‘X” button.

One continual problem I had was setting the truncated color gamut and having that setting stick. To do this, I had to hit the Home button (a little house) and go into the Display settings menu. It was easy enough to toggle to the smaller gamut, but the setting wouldn’t keep when I switched back to HDMI input.

I suspect that was because the extended display identification data (EDID) my computer was transmitting to the ML300 identified that it was operating in 32-bit more. That probably triggered the projector to use the extended gamut, which of course makes colors over-saturated when viewing video. But it is annoying that I couldn’t override the setting.

The only other image adjustment you can make is to gamma. By playing with this setting and the color gamut, you can achieve a more accurate representation of colors when playing back video. I should add that you can’t make any image adjustments when viewing an input.

PERFORMANCE

The ML300 is really a set it and forget it, ‘plug and play’ product that will generally give you great pictures. Just connect your source, turn it on, and present (or watch). But I thought it would be useful to measure some key parameters, such as gamma and color temperature.

But first, the brightness and contrast readings. I set the projector up in my theater and lit up a 92” Da-Lite Affinity screen, measuring 152 ANSI lumens in Film mode with the LEDs running at reduced power. That number jumped to 173 ANSI lumens in video mode and 198 ANSI lumens in Photo mode.

Cranking the LEDs to full power raised my brightness measurement to 232 ANSI lumens. That’s about 22% less than the Optoma specification. Contrast numbers were pretty good – not great – at 244:1 ANSI in low-brightness mode, with a peak reading of 342:1. 50/50 (white/black) contrast was logged at 313:1, and sequential black/white contrast measured 373:1.

Figure 1: Here’s the gamma curve for the HDMI input in film/video mode. It averages 2.13, which is a bit on the shallow side, and flattens out above 60 IRE.

 

Figure 2: The ML300’s color temperature is too high, but at least it’s consistent.

Figure 1 shows the standard gamma setting in film and video mode compared to PC mode. There’s not much of a difference, and the gamma is in the vicinity of 2.0 – 2.2 below 50 IRE. However, it becomes a straight line above 70 IRE and in PC mode, shows the slightest inclination to roll over and clip highlights.

Color temperature performance is a bit erratic, as seen in Figure 2.  You can’t set the color temperature manually, and it averages 7200 Kelvin to 7700 Kelvin in all input modes, depending on the gray level being shown. It would be nice if Optoma dialed the color temperature down about 100 degrees – it shouldn’t be hard to do with the LED light engine.

I will give this projector credit for being consistent. Figure 3 shows the RGB histogram film/video mode, and it is rock-steady. That means if Optoma could rebalance the color temperature to a more-palatable 6500K, it should stay right there from 0 to 100 IRE.

Figure 3: That’s a remarkably steady RGB histogram, even at low gray levels.

 

Now, about the wide color gamut: Figure 4 shows just how big it is, and that’s what LEDs deliver- saturated, intense colors that go far beyond the limited shades that can be shown in the BT.709 HDTV standard.

Some folks love these ‘deep’ colors. Well, they certainly do ‘pop’ off the screen, but flesh tones are exaggerated as a consequence and some colors are not accurate (greens in particular can shift in hue). While you can select the smaller gamut as seen in Figure 5, it seems to switch back to a wide gamut when you select your signal source, particularly if that source supports extended color bit depths. A manual override would be nice!

Figure 4: Got color? You betcha!

 

Figure 5: The ML300’s truncated color gamut is quite a bit closer to the BT.709 HDTV standard. Good luck selecting it, though.

PERFORMANCE

For Viewing PC content, the ML300 more than carries its weight. You’ll get the best image quality if you drive it at its native 1280×800 resolution, which just happens to be the native/preferred timing stored in the projector’s EDID. It’s also quite happy with 1280×720 in RGB mode. Otherwise, the remaining PC formats it supports are all 4:3.

The projector takes a few seconds to recognize, poll, and lock up to an HDMI signal. That’s because it’s reading EDID first and then looking for copy protection keys if your source is a Blu-ray player, DVD player, or set-top box. If you have a computer with a Blu-ray drive (like my Toshiba Satellite), it will look for keys there, too. In fact, the projector takes longer to establish an HDMI connection than it does to power up. Weird…

Video quality isn’t up to that of a home theater projector, but what can you expect for $500? A handful of projector manufacturers are dabbling in LED light engines and the ones I’ve seen that are accurate in terms of gamut, color temperature, and gamma are many times more expensive than the ML300.

Still, the video quality you get is serviceable, especially if you are playing back progressive-scan material. And let’s face it; you’re not likely to use this projector in a home theater, particularly since you can’t really calibrate it.

CONCLUSION

In terms of ease of use and connectivity options, the ML300 rocks the house. I can’t see any faster way to get a presentation up and running, and the doggone thing is so lightweight that you can place it just about anywhere. (Watch you don’t trip on the power block cable, though!) And with a maximum power draw of 90 watts in high output mode, it doesn’t get all that hot. (Nor does it get all that noisy at 36 dB!)

I’d like to see Optoma re-work the menu to speed up navigation and allow changes to gamma and color gamut without exiting the input menu. As far as the accessory cables go, come on guys – I found a ten-foot Mini HDMI cable on Amazon for about $11.  Be a pal and throw one in the box, will ya?

 

Optoma ML300 LED portable projector

SRP: $499

 

Available from:

Optoma USA

3178 Laurelview Ct.
Fremont, CA 94538
Tel: (510) 897-8600
Fax: (510) 897-8601

www.optomausa.com

Useful Gadgets: Optoma ML300 LED Projector – Pete Putman

Optoma’s ML300 is but one of many LED-powered projectors that have come to market in the past few years. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to this category, because I think that any projectors rated at 100 lumens or lower will be killed off by the increasing use of tablets for small group presentations.

 

Projectors in the 100 – 500 lumens category are perhaps a bit more secure, provided they are compact enough and idiot-proof. This category, which Pacific Media Associates has labeled ‘new era’ projectors, is distinguished by small, lightweight form factors and solid-state (LED) light engines.

The ML300 is a 'looker' for certain.

 

Optoma’s ML300 falls right into the middle of that group. The factory brightness rating is 300 lumens in ‘bright’ mode, and the projector barely tips the scales at 1.4 pounds.

 

Think about that for a moment: back in 1994, Hitachi introduced a 500-lumen LCD projector that weighed 30 pounds, or twenty times as much as the ML300. My old 160-pound Sony CRT projector, also vintage mid-1990s and which used 7” tubes, could barely hit 200 lumens when calibrated.

 

Along comes this little bugger, which has about the same resolution (1280×800 pixels native on a single DLP chip), doesn’t require any convergence, and supports both analog and digital input signals. Given how closely I follow the world of display technology, not much really impresses me these days – but the ML300 does. (Along with my Nikon CoolPix 8200 16MP camera, but that’s another story!)

Small enough for you?

 

OUT OF THE BOX

 

There isn’t much to the ML300. It has a fixed-focal length lens (1.5:1 projection ratio), which (coincidentally) was the projection ratio of my old Sony projector. That means you can light up an 80”’ diagonal screen with a projection throw of 101 inches, or about eight and a half feet. A small elevating leg is all you’ll have to tilt the projector, which has a positive image offset and auto keystone correction.

 

In addition to being lightweight, the projector is also quite small, measuring 7.2” wide by 4.4” deep and 18” tall. The light engine is a 3-LED design that presents red, green, and blue sequentially to the WXGA imaging chip. It uses a bit of power – 90 watts peak, when the LEDs are run at full brightness – but those same LEDs should be good for 20,000 hours of operation before half-brightness.

 

Input connections are limited, but should encompass what you’ll need. On the side panel, you’ll find a full-size VGA connector (really an anachronism in 2012), a mini HDMI jack, an AV connector for composite video and stereo audio input (yes, there is a built-in 2 watt speaker), and a micro USB port for DisplayLink operation (display over USB).

 

On the rear panel, next to the power on/off button, Optoma has provided a microSD card slot for direct playback of files from memory cards, an analog audio output connector that has a headphone icon next to it, and a full-sized USB connector for flash cards. Use this port to view JPEGs or play back a Powerpoint show file. Not the usual connector complement you are used to, but hey – it’s 2012! (Get with the program!)

Here are the side input connectors.

And here's what the back side looks like.

 

MENUS AND OPERATION

 

A projector this small can’t have room for a power supply, so you’ll need to hook up the laptop-style external ‘brick’ supply. Push that rear-panel power button to get things started, and look for the credit card-sized remote control to change inputs and cycle through menu settings.

 

The HOME menu brings up five choices – Video, Audio, Photo, Input, Office Viewer, and Settings. In Video mode, you’ll see a list of any available video clips from memory cards. (Did I mention that the projector has 1.4 GB of internal storage available?)  The projector will cycle through an external USB flash drive, external microSD card, and then internal memory to search for and play back files.

 

Video files will be listed with a small thumbnail, while audio files are identified by filename only. JPEG photos show up with thumbnails for easier selection. You can also sequence your photos automatically in a slide show.

 

The INPUT menu lets you directly access any of the connections and slots. A small picture of each appears to ensure you don’t get mixed up. Wanna go wireless? Optoma offers a WiFi dongle for the ML300 as an accessory and you can access it too from the INPUT menu. As far as playback formats, the ML300 natively supports Powerpoint, Word, Excel, Acrobat (PDF) and bitmap (.BMP) in addition to JPEG.

 

The SETTING menu breaks down into Video Setting, Audio Setting, Display Setting, Slideshow, and System sub menus. In Display Setting mode, you can adjust LED brightness four ways (Bright, Cinema, Photo, and PC), select between Extended (full) color gamut and Standard (close to NTSC/BT.709), cycle between four different aspect ratios (4:3, 16:9, 16:10, Auto), choose one of four gamma presets (Presentation, Movie, Bright, and Standard), and select the projected image orientation (normal/inverted/ceiling/table).

 

I should add that in my tests, I could not get my color gamut choices to stick once they were selected. And you won’t find any ‘save’ button or prompt after you make your image adjustments. Every time I selected Standard color gamut (and you’ll see why momentarily) and cycled back to the HDMI input, the projector defaulted to Extended color mode. I could only force the Standard mode by using the analog VGA input.

 

In fact, the entire menu is a bit slow to use and the IR remote isn’t very responsive. You’ll have better results using the manual buttons to make your selections, but you may get confused (as I did) entering and backing out of sub-menus. I’d like to see Optoma put some more thought into making the menu more logical to navigate, along with improving the response of the IR remote.

 

Believe it or now, the ML300 also supports 3D playback using DLP Link, but the input signal must be in the 1024×768 (XGA) format @ 120 Hz refresh rate only – no 720p 0r 1080p 3D formats will be recognized.

 

ON THE TEST BENCH

 

Right now, you’re probably thinking, “How good can the image quality possibly be from that little pipsqueak?”  The answer: Better than you and I could have imagined. In fact, the ML300 produces images that are every bit as good as my old tuned-up Sony CRT, and I got these images with about 1/100th of the effort.

 

Is the color perfect? No, but it’s very close. How about gamma? Impressive for a projector in this price and size class. Black levels? Eh, they could be lower. Contrast? Not bad; could be a little higher.

Here's the gamma curve for the HDMI input in Movie mode - about 2.2.

 

Let’s start with brightness. After what limited calibration I could do (almost none), I measured brightness at 152 ANSI lumens in Movie mode. That number increased to 173 ANSI lumens in Photo mode, then jumped again to 198 ANSI lumens in PC mode. Flat-out brightness was measured at 232 ANSI lumens in Bright mode, a number my 7” CRT would be hard-pressed to equal.

 

Brightness uniformity was excellent at 85% to the average corner and 70% to the worst corner. I’ve tested conventional DLP projectors that can’t match those numbers, nor can they match the maximum color temperature shift across the ML300’s full white screen (314K).

 

Contrast measurements were decent, clocking in at 244:1 ANSI in Movie mode with peak intra-scene contrast at 342:1. A 50/50 contrast window yielded a 313:1 reading, while sequential (full black to full white) contrast was logged in the books at 373:1. Again, all numbers that my old CRT projector would be hard-pressed to match.

 

As far as gamma performance goes, the ML300 comes out of black a little too steeply in each preset image mode and starts to flatline between 60 – 70 IRE. But it doesn’t go into an S-curve response, nor does it clip at the high end. In Movie mode, I measured a 2.24 gamma, while the HDMI input showing video came in at 2.13.

Here's the color temperature track with a 720p HD signal. A little off at the beginning, but very consistent above 30 IRE.

And this RGB histogram shows why the color temperature track is so consistent.

 

Now for those color gamut plots: You’ll notice right away that the Extended color gamut is ENORMOUS, and big enough to take in all of the digital cinema P3 gamut, sRGB, the original NTSC, and even some laser-powered projector color spaces. Only the green coordinate is out of whack, although the projector’s response is similar to the CIE 1931 observer diagram. For P3, less cyan and more yellow is required.

 

The Standard gamut is a lot more subdued, and comes very close to the reference BT.709 HDTV color space. There’s just a little too much red and a little too much green, otherwise the colors would be right on the money. But again, it was impossible for me to force the projector into this truncated gamut when watching a Blu-ray movie through the mini HDMI connection – it kept defaulting back to the Extended setting, which made for some very interesting and over-saturated colors.

 

IMAGE QUALITY

Here's the flat-out, full-bore Extended color gamut of the ML300, compared to the BT.709 HDTV color space (white outline).

And here is the Standard gamut, again compared to the BT.709 color space. This is looking a lot more reasonable!

 

LED color appears differently to the eye than dichroic color derived by refracting white light. My test instruments say the two modes are the same, but they still look different to my eyes, just as LCD and DLP color appear differently from CRT color.

 

Even so, if you can tame the Extended gamut, watching a Blu-ray disc in Standard mode is just as impressive as a standard widescreen business/classroom projector and not all that far behind some of the low-priced home theater projector models with full calibration features. I picked How To Train Your Dragon in 2D as a test disc, along with Planet Earth on Blu-ray for my test videos.

 

Both had excellent sharpness and detail. They could have been brighter, but I was filling a 92-inch diagonal Da-Lite Affinity screen, which doesn’t exactly make for the brightest images. LEDs cycle as fast as you could want, so there were no motion blur or color wheel artifacts to distract me, even when viewing part of an NCAA basketball tournament game and a prime-time sitcom from NBC.

 

The ML300 does a passable job of processing 1080i sources to 1080p. It’s much happier with 1080p or 720p content, though. The frequency response is good all the way to 37.5 MHz with 720p multiburst test patterns, and there is some filling with 1080i and 1080p bursts. For computer presentations, try and match the native resolution for optimum sharpness and detail.

 

Granted, all of these tests are pushing this projector far beyond what it was intended to do, which is to sit on a conference room table and show Powerpoints. But Optoma clearly put some time and effort into the image quality, and you could be quite happy with the ML300 for those “let’s hang a sheet on the wall!” movie nights. God knows it’s easy enough to set up and knock down!

 

THE WRAP-UP

 

Optoma’s ML300 mobile LED projector is not a toy, nor is it just a garden-variety business projector. There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye, and you can actually use it for viewing movies as easily as holding court in a small-group presentation.

 

The IR remote needs to be more responsive and the menu navigation is slow and sometimes confusing. A zoom lens would be nice, but you’ll get used to the 1.5:1 ratio quickly enough. The projector is pretty quiet (36 dB fan noise) and needs a low to mid-range gain screen, say 1.3 to 1.5.

 

But the ML300’s image quality will surprise you, especially if you remember how crazy the earliest LED projectors looked like a few years ago.

 

One note: The mini HDMI input connector is a bit unusual and you may not be able to find it easily at your local Radio Shack. I suggest looking on Amazon.com, where I found a pair of ten-foot regular HDMI to mini HDMI cables and two standard/mini HDMI adapters, all for $11.50 and free shipping. Your new point-and-shoot camera probably has mini HDMI connections, too, so these cables are very handy to have.

 

Optoma ML300 Mobile LED Projector

MSRP: $499.99

 

Available from:

 

Optoma

3178 Laurelview Court

Fremont, CA 94538

888-289-6786

www.optomausa.com