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Toshiba FF1 preview

The Toshiba FF1 is one of a new breed of projectors that produces its image using LEDs (light-emitting diodes) instead of a conventional lamp, meaning it can run off a rechargeable battery and it doesn't produce much heat. But one of the coolest things about it is that it can display JPEG images directly from a USB memory stick

The Toshiba FF1 is one of a new breed of projectors that produces its image using LEDs (light-emitting diodes) instead of a conventional lamp. LEDs use much less power than a lamp, giving these projectors two advantages. First, they can be run off a rechargeable battery, rather than the mains. Second, they don't produce much heat, so they don't need a large fan and lots of cooling vents, which means they can be much smaller than a lamp-powered projector.

Upside
Measuring 136 by 55 by 98mm and weighing 514g, the FF1 is a neat white-and-silver box with no awkward protrusions. The controls and ports are slightly recessed and a rubber lens cap protects the lens. The rechargeable battery clips on to the back, extending the depth by about 25mm and the weight by 230g. The latching mechanism is slightly awkward, requiring you to slide the locking mechanism with one hand while manoeuvring the battery down and out with the other. It does, however, feel secure.

The FF1 can be connected to a laptop via the VGA port, to a video source via a standard RCA Video In port, or to a USB memory stick via the USB port. Audio is catered for by a stereo mini-jack Audio In, a built-in 0.5W mono speaker and a stereo mini-jack headphone socket. The FF1 is controlled using four buttons on the top that let you overlay menus on the projected image and navigate through them. There's also a credit-card-sized remote control.

The coolest thing about the FF1 is its ability to display JPEG images directly from a USB memory stick. If you can forgo the flashy animations of a PowerPoint presentation and convert all your slides to JPEGs, all you need to take to a meeting is the projector and the USB stick -- no laptop, no cables, no power adaptor, nada. You can power the projector off the battery for up to two hours and run the presentation manually or set it to advance and loop automatically.

Downside
The FF1 doesn't put out as much light as its lamp-driven brethren, so you have to restrict yourself to a small image or hunt for a really dark room. If you have good light-proofing, you can project a 1.7m (68-inch) image onto a screen or a white wall and still get good colour and contrast. For day-to-day use, when the best you can manage is to close the blinds, plan on a smaller image. If you just need a big monitor for several people to huddle around, you can use the 22.5-inch collapsible screen that comes with the projector. It isn't elegant, but it does enable you to set up your show in a restaurant or hotel room.

If you're thinking about sneaking the projector home at the weekend to watch movies, there are a couple of other drawbacks to consider. The image ratio is 4:3, like a monitor, rather than 16:9, like a widescreen television. If you want to run the sound through the projector, you'll need to invest in an cable that can connect the twin RCA audio outputs on your DVD player to the single mini-jack input on the projector -- and why would you bother, with just a 0.5W mono speaker on the projector? Expecting this ultra-portable projector to double up as a home-cinema device is asking too much.

Overall
If portability is your prime concern, the FF1 is a neat and practical device that can greatly reduce the amount you need to carry. The ability to run presentations from a USB stick is particularly appealing, if you can live with the smaller and less bright images that are the downside of using LEDs instead of a lamp.

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