Review: Mini projector from BenQ brightens your presentations

The small Joybee GP1 digital projector is highly portable and offers high-quality images

Digital projectors are getting smaller practically by the day; however, most "pocket projectors" don't have either the power or feature sets that would make them suitable for business use. The BenQ Joybee GP1 Mini Projector ($US499) tries to combine the best of both worlds. This 5.3 x 2.2 x 4.7-inch, 1.4-pound machine is Lilliputian compared to most business projectors and will not give you the image quality of larger, more expensive gadgets -- but it is very portable and offers bright, sharp projections and a lot of professional features.

What does it do? This DLP-based LED digital projector can work with files in a variety of formats, including JPEG, GIF, BMP, and TIFF images; MPEG-1 and MJPEG video; and MPEG-1 layer 2 and PCM audio. It projects images from your computer (via a multi-use cable that sports a VGA connection for your computer and three RCA jacks for composite video and audio), and also offers a USB port for flash drives.

The GP1 offers SVGA resolution at 858 x 600 pixels, and will handle up to 720p and 1080i content (so it is HD capable).

The controls for the GP1 are located on the top of the device in a circular ring of buttons (which glows bright blue); there is a separate focus control. The projector comes with a remote control that offers the same controls (except for the focus).

The back of the unit contains the USB port, the port for the multi-use cable, and an audio-out port. There's also a tripod socket on the bottom, and a round "foot" that screws out so that you can raise the front of the unit.

What's cool about it? Despite a menu system that has a bit of a learning curve, this is a great projector, especially for folks who need to take their show on the road. It offers a very bright, clear image, no matter what surface you project on (like a wall), and I had no trouble viewing a video in a room lit by indirect daylight. BenQ rates the projector's brightness at 100 lumens, which isn't a lot compared to more professional projectors (which rate their lumens in the thousands), but it is certainly sufficient for a reasonably sized room.

The fact that you can project from your computer or simply attach a USB drive directly to the unit is a big plus. Want to keep your kids distracted and there's no TV around? Power up the Joybee GP1, bring Hulu up on your netbook, and you're good. Need to do a quick face-to-face with a client's staff? Throw the data on a USB key, drop the projector and key into your backpack, and you've got yourself a quick presentation.

I was also impressed by the sound quality and volume of the projector's audio, although for any kind of real quality and volume, you'll want to attach separate speakers.

What needs to be fixed? The GP1 gives you a lot of ways you can refine and improve your image: You can specify the color of the surface you're projecting onto; change the aspect ratio; specify the projector position (it will adjust the picture depending on whether the unit is located in front of or behind the surface it's projecting on, and whether it's projecting straight ahead or at a ceiling). You can tweak the keystoning . You can go with auto adjustments for color, or directly tweak features such as brightness, contrast, and tint.

But all this means you have to learn the menu system first, and that can take a bit of time -- the menu structure is complex. For example, there are actually different "simple" and "complete" menus; if you haven't read the full manual (which is only available in digital form), you may not know you can go from one to the other. And the navigation between categories and features isn't always easy to figure out on the fly. A colleague who tried the GP1 in a classroom situation said it performed very well, but that it would be wise to spend an hour or two learning all the various features ahead of time.

The touch controls on top of the unit are very sensitive; I inadvertently turned the machine off several times because I accidentally touched the power button twice. I finally left those controls alone and stuck with the remote, which I found much more comfortable to work with.

The power brick and cable are fairly hefty (and there's no battery power available). On my postal scale, the brick/cable combination weighed in at 1.3 pounds, nearly as much as the projector's weight of 1.4 pounds. So while a combined weight of 2.7 pounds is still fairly light, it's a bit more than advertised.

Final verdict: The BenQ Joybee GP1 is a portable, very useful digital projector that can be a great tool for mobile professionals. The brightness of its images and the range of its features are far greater than the smaller "pocket" projectors that are out there, while the fact that it can pick up images off a USB drive can be very handy.

At $US499, this isn't an inexpensive device, but if you need a solid mobile projector, it's definitely something to put on your short list.

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