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Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector review: Tiny pico projector plays big

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Tiny, pocket-size projectors -- often referred to as picos -- have had a bumpy start on the market, but they've started to hit their stride, as evidenced by Brookstone's $300 HDMI Pocket Projector. Although it has some drawbacks, they're fewer and less severe than those of previous models I've reviewed, which makes this one of the better pico options -- for the moment anyway.

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7.2

Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector

The Good

The <b>Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector</b> is very compact, produces a decent picture, and is simple to set up and use. Its built-in rechargeable battery delivers 2 hours of projection time and can also charge portable devices via the integrated USB port. The product also ships with two HDMI adapters (for smartphones and tablets) and a short HDMI cable.

The Bad

It's somewhat pricey at $300; it doesn't work out of the box with Apple iOS devices, meaning an adapter is required; it doesn't have a memory card or USB slot for playing digital files without an external device; and the built-in speakers sound tinny.

The Bottom Line

While it has a few small shortcomings and is somewhat pricey at $300, the sleekly designed Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector is one of the better 2012 pico projectors.

Design
One of this projector's big strengths is its design. Measuring 0.89 inch by 3.9 inches by 3.8 inches (HWD), it weighs around half a pound and is truly pocket-friendly so long as you aren't wearing tight pants. It's about the same size as an Apple TV streaming-media box.

The compact projector weighs half a pound. Sarah Tew/CNET

Sitting there alone, the projector looks quite sleek with its glossy, slate-colored finish (yes, you'll have to wipe the fingerprints off after handling it if you want to keep it looking shiny).

It's a shame it has to be cluttered up with cables and power adapters, but it does have a built-in rechargeable battery that delivers about 2 hours of battery life. A USB port on the back can be used to charge a smartphone, and there's also an auxiliary input for adding an optional speaker to augment the sound.

The projector does have two built-in 1-watt speakers that produce enough sound to make your videos watchable, but even a tiny wired or wireless speaker will deliver significantly more sound. I combined the JBL Micro Wireless Bluetooth speaker with the unit and it really improved the movie-watching experience.

You get a few accessories, including a Micro- and Mini-HDMI adapter. Sarah Tew/CNET

Around back you'll also find an HDMI port, which is not surprising considering this is called the HDMI Pocket Projector. Obviously, you can connect the projector to any video source that has an HDMI-out option; Blu-ray players, as well as many smartphones, tablets, and laptops, would fit the bill.

To help pair your device with the projector, Brookstone includes a couple of adapters for smartphones and tablets along with a short HDMI cable. I got it working with a Kindle Fire HD, a Blu-ray player, and an Android phone. But if you own an Apple device, you'll need an Apple Digital AV Adapter -- that's $40 for the 30-pin version or $50 for the Lightning version. Alternately, you could hook an Apple TV box to the Brookstone, and wirelessly send video from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch via AirPlay mirroring.

The back of the unit.

A couple of other small things worth mentioning: There's a threaded hole on the bottom of the projector, so you can mount it or attach it to a tripod. Also, you focus the picture using a small ring on the left side of the device. It isn't terribly precise -- and it takes some fiddling around to get the correct focus -- but it works.

Brookstone includes a cheap nylon sack to store the projector in. It will prevent the device from getting scratched up, but otherwise it provides minimal protection.

Features
The projector has a pretty basic feature set and keeps things very simple, which some people will like and some won't. The only two physical buttons on the device are the power on/off switch and the focus ring. In terms of picture tweaks, you can only switch from "presentation" to "standard" mode. Touch-sensitive buttons on top of the unit allow you to adjust volume levels -- I kept it at 100 percent.

As previously mentioned, you can use the projector as a battery charger for your smartphone or tablet via the USB port. It makes more sense to use this feature while you have the projector plugged in with the included AC adapter, but I could see some someone pulling the projector out of the bag to juice up a smartphone in a pinch.

Some pico projectors like the AAXA P4X allow you to play videos and photo files from flash media, no external device required. Unfortunately, the Brookstone doesn't offer that option; there's no built-in memory or memory card slot. So you're stuck with using an external video source.

This model also can't match up to the $300 3M Streaming Projector, which comes with a removable Roku Streaming Stick that features built-in Wi-Fi and access to hundreds of Roku "channels" like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Amazon Instant, and HBO Go. That 3M isn't as small as this Brookstone -- it can't fit in a pocket -- but it's arguably a better all-in-one entertainment choice. (You can also use external HDMI video sources with the 3M model.)

Performance
Let's start with the resolution. While Brookstone says this projector accepts a 1080p signal, that 1080p signal gets downcoverted to the projector's native resolution of 858x480 pixels. In other words, the wording on the box is misleading ("Projects up to 1080p HD images up to 60 inches diagonal"). So it takes a Blu-ray picture and downconverts it to slightly better than DVD quality (480p is 720x480). While that's not bad, it's not HD, so the picture will seem a little soft if you're used to watching HD.

But resolution aside, I thought the image was pretty decent. Colors were well-saturated and looked fairly accurate, with pretty natural skin tone colors. I wasn't blown away, but for a tiny little projector it delivers a very acceptable image.

As with all projectors it really helps to have a darkened room, especially when projecting images larger than 40 inches (I went up to about 50 inches). But the projector is bright enough (85 lumens) that you can get a passable image in a more marginally dimmed room -- particularly if you don't go too big, and if you project on a clean white wall or screen.

As for battery life, this Brookstone is rated at 2 hours, which is what I hit in my tests. That's better than the AAXA P4X (75 minutes) and the 3M Streaming Projector (around 100 minutes), but it would obviously be better if battery life approached 2.5 or even 3 hours, so you could get a longer movie in. Of course, if you're mainly using the projector for presentations (it's certainly capable of displaying a PowerPoint with reasonable sharpness), that 2 hours should be plenty. And you can always plug it in if you have a wall outlet nearby.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that the projector runs fairly quietly and doesn't get too warm.

Close-up of the lens. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
I've had some serious reservations about most of the pico projectors I've reviewed in the past. The Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector still comes with a few caveats given its the price, but as these tiny projectors go, it's one of the better ones.

Yeah, it would be nice if the resolution were higher, battery life were better, and the price were closer to $200. But it's a very compact product that produces a decent picture and is relatively easy to set up and use. That makes it something I can recommend.

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7.2

Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 7