Pico projectors haven't really taken off like some people thought they would, but Optoma has an interesting new take on the compact projector genre: it's called the Neo-i, and it combines an iPod/iPhone speaker dock with a "tabletop" projector.
Though the Neo-i isn't cheap at $449, its specs are better than your typical pico projector. The Neo-i is a 50 ANSI lumen DLP projector that offers WVGA (854x480 pixels) resolution in 16:9 format, with a "full-bodied" 16-watt stereo system (yes, it's built right into the dock). The Neo-i can also be run using an optional outboard battery pack, and its bulb is rated at 20,000 hours. (Yes, it has to be replaced at some point.)
In contrast to its much smaller PK301 pico projector, which we were told has the same light engine, Optoma is not classifying the Neo-i as a portable device. However, at 12.8 inches wide by 8.9 inches deep by 3.1 inches tall and weighing 2.5 pounds, the unit is small and light enough to be considered "transportable."
Take the Optoma Neo-i out of the box and the first thing you'll notice is that it doesn't exactly sport a luxurious design. The look and feel are on the basic end of the spectrum, and when you turn it on, the menu system is pretty blah as well. We'd be a little more forgiving if this were a $300 product but at $450, we were hoping for a tad more.
The Neo-i's key feature is that integrated dock, which accommodates both iPods and iPhones. You have three options for accessing and controlling your media selections: from your iPod/iPhone screen or scroll wheel, the included IR remote, or the backlit control panel on the Neo-i itself.
The credit-card-size remote is small and it's hard to distinguish between the same-size circular buttons, especially in a dimly lit environment. We also didn't find the IR all that strong and often had to press buttons multiple times to get to the desired spot in the menu system.
In terms of connectivity, the projector has HDMI (1.3) and VGA ports that allow you to connect laptops, Blu-ray players, and other digital media boxes such as Apple TV or the Roku Player. (An optional accessory kit will be available for connecting the iPad.) An included breakout cable also lets you use standard composite AV (yellow, red, white) video sources as well.
As for the picture and sound quality, we tested the Neo-i with a Blu-ray movie (we connected a Blu-ray player via HDMI) and a few digital movies we had stored on an iPhone. For the record, these movies were official digital copies that came with Blu-ray versions of "Bolt," "Horton Hears a Who," and "Bedtime Stories." Their file sizes were around 1.4GB.
We would've tested more video apps on the iPhone, but we discovered that most don't seem to support video output. (We assume this is a limitation that Apple, or the individual app developers, impose on the content--it's not a fault of the Neo-i.) But the outcome is that--at least at the current time--you can't watch videos from the iOS Netflix app.
The marketing material for the projector says you can project an image up to 120 inches, but we generally stayed in the 42- to 50-inch range and kept the room dark (when using a projector, turning the lights off makes a huge difference in picture quality).
All in all, the picture was satisfactory for casual viewing and significantly better and brighter than what you get from many smaller pico projectors, which simply don't offer the same brightness capabilities. However, because the resolution isn't all that high, the picture was definitely soft compared with what you'd get from even an entry-level 720p LCD TV. (The problem with a projector--especially non-HD ones--is that the larger the image you project, the softer the image gets).