Nearly a year after Texas Instruments announced production of a DLP Pico chipset with an imaging chip and a processor to make a new class of handheld and mobile projectors, we have one delivered on our shores in the form of Dell's M109S On-The-Go Projector, which utilizes a single DLP chip with a LED light source rated at a healthy 50 lumens.
If you are unaware of what a DLP projector is, simply put, it is one where the light source is bounced off a DLP (Digital Light Processing) chip, which has thousands of impossibly small mirrors, each of which represents one or more pixels on the projected image. What makes a small DLP Pico projector so interesting is that historically, DLP projectors have had stronger black levels and contrast, making for a picture with more 'pop'.
Now, in terms of size, the M109S is no match for the much smaller 3M MPro110, which we reviewed last year. If you want to draw comparisons, then the 3M MPro110 is the size of a mobile phone, whereas the M109S is about the size of your average dictionary. Though it's much larger than 3M's offering, the M109S from Dell is still much smaller than your conventional portable projectors and is a technological marvel in its own right.
The M109S doesn't have a built-in battery, so it requires an external power source. However, it does away with a traditional power plug and instead uses a unique 30-pin port that includes a cable that plugs into a port with three extensions; one to connect to the AC adapter for power, one for composite video and another for VGA.
One of the reasons the M109S looks so sleek is because it eschews buttons for touch-sensitive controls. While they might look good, using them can be frustrating as it's not very precise and lacks tactility.
Having tested the 3M MPro110, we were eager to see how a DLP Pico projector would perform. Although the M109S wouldn't hold up in a brightly lit room, once you turn the lights down however, you'll find that it makes a nice, big and bright screen. The sheer size of the screen is amazing, at 3.5m away, the M109S threw a picture 1.87m wide by 1.3m tall!
The Dell's native resolution is a little odd at 858 x 600, but that did little to affect picture quality. Text display is clear, and using Arial as our test font, we were able to go down to font size 6.8 before it become unclear. The M109S also has an Auto Keystone feature, so no matter how you tilt it, up or down, it manages to keep a straight screen most of the time. A real surprise was how well it handled video; nice black levels, noise-free playback and hardly any rainbow effects.
The M109S isn't perfect though, we found that the brightness isn't uniform throughout the entire image, although you'll hardly notice it unless you were looking for it. And since there's no tripod mount or adjustable stand, you have to find something to prop it on. Still, for sheer mobility and performance, you'll be hard pressed to find something better than this.