When it comes to mobile projectors, there aren’t many good options to choose from. Many projectors tend to be from little-known companies that rely on limited feature sets and VGA resolutions and the compromises generally made to make these projectors portable and affordable (for a projector) make them hard to recommend.
Not many known manufacturers have had a go at this market. And the options are even more limited when it comes to Qatar. Enter the Sony MP-CL1A, the follow-up to the last year’s well-reviewed MP-CL1.
The MP-CL1A looks virtually indistinguishable from the outgoing model. Beneath the familiar exterior, is a familiar interior – this generation of the Sony pico projector has been all about refinements. And these refinements make the projector that much better.
The MP-CL1A comes in a simple box with the picture of the projector on it and an overview of its functions and features. Inside is another black box that opens up like a book – kind of like what Sony does with its high-end earbuds. Opening this box will reveal the first change that Sony has made over the outgoing model – the device sits inside a nice looking leatherette carrying pouch. The previous version did not come with a carrying pouch out of the box and it is nice to see Sony include one. The projector is, after all, designed to be portable.
The remaining two items in the box (in addition to the obligatory manual) are a USB charging cable and a plastic stand that you can slide onto the projector. The stand is the second design improvement that Sony has made to the projector from last year – it has been tweaked so that it can now double as the lens cover in its default installation position. There are two ways you can attach the stand to the projector, with one position allowing you to the project the image onto a wall and the second position allowing you to project onto the roof. The list of accessories may sound spartan, but this is truly all that you need to get started.
The last major addition to the MP-CL1A, which is arguably the biggest functional improvement over the outgoing model, is Bluetooth audio out. Combine the Sony MP-CL1A with a modern smartphone and a Bluetooth headset and you have a truly wireless solution. I believe this would be the preferred way for most people to use this device, especially on the go. The cable-free nature of the pico projector makes it very versatile and you can adapt it to your surroundings, placing it in the best place possible without having to worry about getting the audio or HDMI cables to the projector.
The rest of the specifications are virtually identical as the outgoing model, which is to say that the projector performs admirably for a pico projector and improves on its competitors in some key ways. The first is the higher native resolution that the MP-CL1A output. It is not quite Full HD, but at 1920x720 it is miles better than the competition. The resolution may sound odd to some, but in reality it works just fine, displaying images in 16:9 ratio.
The MP-CL1A differs from its competition in another key way – it uses a laser projection system instead of DLP. The biggest advantage a laser system has over DLP is that it does not need to be manually focused. The projected image always remains in focus, no matter the distance of the device from the projected surface. This obviously cuts out the setup time, something that people on the go would appreciate.
The laser system has also allowed Sony to make the projector svelte. It is slightly bigger and thicker than a standard 5.5 inch smartphone and can easily pass off as a slightly overgrown phone (think of some of the phones with much bigger screens and the dimensions of the MP-CL1A are right in the ballpark). The weight of 210 grams puts it right there with a modern phone. The build is all metal, which gives it reassuringly sturdy feel in the hand.
All the controls and input and output jacks are on the right side. You get one HDMI port that supports MHL, audio out, a USB out (which can be used to charge your phone – the project does come with a built-in 3400mAH battery), a micro USB charging port (it can be charged via your phone’s charger or laptop), a power on and off button and a clickable toggle switch that is used to control all its functions.
Setting up the device is rather easy. Booting up the device presents you with a blue screen that has a bunch of tabs on the left size. Miracast is selected by default as the input source, but you can switch to HDMI if you prefer. Other options let you adjust the vertical and horizontal keystone settings, pair with and connect to a Bluetooth device, and choose from a few preset picture qualities.
Sony says that the projector is capable of displaying a screen size of up to 120 inches at a distance of 3.45 metres, and a 40 inch screen size from 1.15 metres. The brightness is rated at 32 lumen, which may sound rather low even for a mobile projector. But laser works differently, and the MP-CL1A is sufficiently capable of competing with other mobile projectors. This does, however, mean that the projector isn’t really intended to be used in brightly lit rooms. Sony recommends a screen size of no greater than 25 inches in well-lit environments.
But where’s the fun in watching a movie on a 25 inch screen? So I decided to go completely dark for my tests. I went with pushing the projector to its limits, as big as it would go. In a dark environment, the MP-CL1A does work admirably well. The picture size got sufficiently large, filling up most of the usable space on the wall. The picture quality is pretty good and sufficiently bright in a dark environment. Sony advertises a battery life of about two hours and the device lasted about this long in my tests. Even though I would like to see Sony to eke out more battery life in future iterations, two hours is sufficient to watch most movies.
To understand if the projector is for you, you need to be sure of your needs. To me, the Sony MP-CL1A targets a very specific kind of user – people who would like the ability to watch movies on the big screen on the go without having to lug around bulky projectors and huge speakers (or televisions for that matter). Also, given the transitionary nature of most people’s stay in Qatar, it may be wise to invest in a tiny phone-sized projector over a TV that will be a pain to transport when it is time to move away.
The Sony MP-CL1A retails for QR1,499 in Qatar, which is about the price of a sub-50 inch TV. Though the MP-CL1A may not be as versatile as a television, the promise of being able to watch movies on a much bigger screen on your next vacation makes it a very enticing prospect.
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