Hands-on gadget review: Prima Projector
Image credit: Prima
A compact projector that punches above its weight lets you host your own outdoor movie screenings.
‘Pico’ mini portable projectors evolved for business use, so road warriors could give presentations without lugging a big, mains-powered projector to plug into their laptop. But these mini marvels are coming into their own for home entertainment, especially now that it’s safer to invite friends over to watch a movie or match in the garden than the house. This one is tiny and lets you enjoy a big picture anywhere... so long as it’s dark.
There are lots of portable projectors on the market and many features to consider. First up, the Prima is great on size: it’s roughly the size of a smartphone at 146x78x18mm and 188g. It comes with a carry bag, remote control, USB power cable and a small tripod. You can fit everything in the carry bag.
The tripod is handy because it lets you tilt the projector up at an angle towards your screen. It’s stable but small, designed to sit on a desktop. I was delighted though to find that the thread on the underside of the projector is a standard one that works with any tripod. That makes it easy to find a compact tripod that will stand on the floor but work with the Prima.
I mentioned its USB power cable... the Prima has a built-in rechargeable battery and battery life is another factor to consider when buying a portable projector. Its 5,200mAh battery is quoted as being good for three hours of video playback but our tests suggested less. We only got around two hours from each full charge (1 hour 40 minutes and 2 hours 5 minutes to be precise, both times watching an HDMI source). The bad news is that this means it might not last for a whole movie but the good news is that its power supply uses USB, so you can use a USB powerbank to keep it running much longer. So it’s still viable to use the Prima to play video at the back of the garden or even on a campsite.
The next consideration is brightness and the Prima fares OK for such a small DLP projector. Brightness is measured in lumens and the brighter (i.e. more lumens) the better. Home cinema projectors deliver thousands of lumens, portables deliver hundreds. The Prima’s 200 lumens is good for such a small machine but you can buy portable projectors that give a brighter picture (see below). What the 200 lumens figure means practically is that the picture is only bright enough when it’s dark. This isn’t a projector you can watch in the afternoon. If you’re indoors and not in direct sunlight you can get away with using it in the daytime but fairly close up, for a small picture, to make the most of its brightness.
But come dusk, it comes into its own outdoors. We used it to create a Covid-safe garden cinema with a basic 16:9 projector screen that cost just £45 online. It measures 100in diagonally and pulls down manually. You can mount it anywhere with just two screws.
The makers claim that you can enjoy a screen size of up to 200in and, although you’d lose brightness, that’s doubtless possible in the dark. But that’s a really large screen – more than 4m wide – and the projector has a long throw distance, so it would need to be about 6m away from the screen. Such large screens are harder to come by too. So 100in is more realistic. You don’t need a screen at all, a plain white wall will do, but a screen is designed to optimise brightness.
The resolution is 1080p Full-HD, which is better than many portables and frankly all you’d expect from most home cinema projectors. While 4K Ultra-HD is commonplace in TVs now, 4K projectors are still pricey.
We found the picture on the 100in screen to be plenty sharp enough. Focus is manual, a simple dial. There’s also a manual power switch on the side and a lens cover that slides across. All the other controls are touch-sensitive icons on the top. These light up slightly but are very hard to make out in the dark and not brilliantly responsive. The same controls are replicated on the remote and that’s more responsive as long as you point it at the back of the projector. Sadly, if the projector is positioned a long way from the screen (for a large image) and you’re beside or in front of it then the remote control just won’t work as the only infra-red receiver is on the back.
There are built-in speakers but the sound is weedy. It’s loud enough for a work presentation but not for a home cinema. So you must either pair wirelessly with Bluetooth or use a headphone-style 3.5mm socket to plug in an external powered speaker. This neatly gives you a bigger, beefier cinema sound. We found the wired connection to be more reliable.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are both built in, so you can pair the Prima with your devices but also directly connect it to home or mobile broadband. This is where the Prima’s cinema-friendly features come into their own. It has Android 7.1 built in, so the home screen features apps like YouTube. You can also download other popular video apps. For example, if you have a Netflix account you could use it directly on the projector, like a Smart TV.
You can also plug in other video sources via HDMI – we used a PlayStation 4 to play films on Blu-ray and the results were spectacular for such a tiny projector. There’s a MicroSD card slot for playing video directly and you can also cast video direct from a phone using Miracast. The latter worked but didn’t instil confidence. The recommended app was unpolished and required universal screen-sharing permissions that felt like all my phone use could be spied on... I uninstalled it soon after.
The only other teething trouble was keystone correction: that’s where you adjust the position of the four corners of the projected image so it’s a rectangle, not a trapezium. It’s useful if your screen is a bit higher than the projector. I found that the keystone correction on the projector’s user-friendly home screen worked fine but then the settings weren’t applied to HDMI sources. The only solution was to set up the projector and screen physically at the perfect heights to work together.
In all, the Prima Projector punches above its (light) weight and has Android built in for convenient streaming. You can use it indoors or out but it’s only bright enough for night time movie screenings. If you want matinee performances then look for more lumens.
$399, ships worldwide primaprojector.com
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