Today’s smartphones let you enjoy video pretty much anywhere you might be. But the small screen sometimes means less enjoyment. With a pico projector like the ViewSonic M1+, a small device can give you a big picture and do it pretty much anywhere.
Like a Big Projector, Only Smaller
The M1+ is one of a class of display products called pico projectors. A pico projector throws a video image just like those used in home theaters or for business or educational presentations, but they are smaller and have less light output. Pico projectors are considered entertainment devices, although the M1+ can serve up business and educational presentations, as well. It just needs a much darker room than you would with a more powerful model. ViewSonic rates the M1+ at 300 lumens, while a more common standard-sized projector puts out anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 lumens. Lumens aren’t a linear measure of light output; they’re logarithmic. So, the 2,500 lumens of a home theater projector doesn’t make it merely ten times greater than the output of the 300 lumen M1+; it’s actually much brighter than that. This is why the M1+ needs a darker room for optimal performance. The M1+ uses a 10-watt LED array that’s rated for a 30,000-hour lifespan. With a three-year warranty, you can be assured lots of hours of media watching.
It’s a Stand; It’s a Handle—It’s Both
The M1+ has a rather clever design. There’s a rotating handle that—when folded up—covers the lens, protecting it from damage (but not from dust). When folded down, the handle serves as a base for the projector and turns it on. If you move the handle 180 degrees to the rear, you can point the projector toward the ceiling if you and/or the kids don’t mind lying on your backs while you watch a movie. Additionally, if you would rather use a tripod (which doesn’t come with the M1+), there’s a threaded hole that works for most photographic tripods.
When you move the handle/lens cover upward, it serves as a carry handle. This is the position necessary if you’re using the tripod. Moving the handle so that it covers the lens turns off the projector, but not immediately—the internal fan needs to cool the LED lamp first (which is barely audible, even during quiet times in the video). This instant-off feature also comes into play if there’s an object close to the lens. Rather than reflecting the intense light onto the projector, the lamp turns off. You can also hold down the left-most button on the rear of the projector to turn it off.
Finally, you can set the projector to shut off if it detects a face (or another object) close to the lens. You need to enable this setting—especially if you’re using the M1+ around kids—because 300 lumens are enough to possibly cause eye damage if someone stares directly into the light.
Unobtrusive Controls and Inputs
The projector’s few controls are located on the rear panel. They consist of Plus, Minus, and Back buttons to navigate the on-screen menus, and an On-Off button which doubles as an Enter button. The included remote has similar keys, but it includes controls to access the Settings menu and to adjust or mute the volume. You can also perform these operations on the projector, but it’s awkward to use the Power button, and the Left and Right buttons.
The rear of the projector also features the dual, three-watt Harman Kardon speakers, which are nice on a projector as compact as this one. There’s also a strip of five white LEDs that light up when the projector is on to indicate how much battery life remains.
On the left panel is a swing-down cover, which hides the inputs, power jack, and focus control. The M1+ is a short-throw projector, which means you don’t have to place it far from the screen to get a nice size image. ViewSonic states that you can get a 100-inch diagonal image with the projector placed eight feet from the screen. You’re likely to use it with a somewhat smaller screen and at a closer distance most of the time. Keep in mind that the further from the screen the projector is, not only will the image be larger, but the screen brightness will be dimmer.
The M1+ also has automatic keystoning. This prevents the top of the image from being wider than the bottom (or vice versa) if you’re projecting upward or downward from the level of the screen. In testing, this worked well, but it’s not going to stop the image from keystoning if the projector is at a dramatic angle to the screen or from the projection surface. There’s a Manual mode if Auto mode is not correcting the keystone to your satisfaction.
You can also use the M1+ as a high-quality Bluetooth speaker. The dual internal speakers put out three watts of sound power, which, at the highest volume level, easily fills a nice-size room. In this mode, the screen shuts off after a few seconds, and all you hear is the music from the internal speakers. Along with the other connectors under the left-hand drop-down door, there’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can watch a movie without having to worry about the volume.
Quick to Set Up, Easy to Use (Mostly)
The M1+ doesn’t come with a lot of accessories, but you get everything you need to set it up and use it. Unboxing the M1+, you’ll find the projector in a felt case, which protects the device during casual use, but is too soft to protect it from any severe impact. There are a laptop-style power supply and a USB-C-to-USB-C cable, so you can attach the projector to a USB-C device and view files or charge an external USB-C device. Before you can use the projector, ViewSonic instructs you to charge it for at least 4.5 hours. Then, you’re almost ready to go.
When you turn on the projector, a splash screen of the ViewSonic logo appears, and then an on-screen menu. The menu offers a wide array of input sources, including HDMI, a USB-C port, and a USB Reader, which can be a Flash drive, USB hard disk, MicroSD card, or the projector’s internal 16GB storage, which you can move files into if you want to untether the projector completely. Not having to bother with files from another device is useful if you intend to use the M1+ outdoors or on a camping trip.
Adding Apps Is Not Easy
The projector’s operating system is Android-based, and there’s a menu link to the Aptoide store if you want to load up on applications. Aptoide is an independent Android application store with most of the popular apps, including streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and others. However, navigating through the choices is difficult, even with the remote. I was able to install Spotify, but couldn’t find Netflix or most of the others that were viewable and searchable when I signed in to Aptoide on my PC.
The Search option didn’t discover them on the M1+ when I used the remote, but it did on my PC. While attempting to install other apps, I inadvertently uninstalled Aptoide. The only way to get it back seemed to be reinstalling the firmware—not an easy process. Spotify installed easily, and ran and sounded great on the M1+, so it is possible to install and run apps directly on the projector—it’s just easier for some than others.
I had better luck using an Amazon Fire TV Stick. I plugged it into the HDMI input on the M1+ and was instantly able to sign in on all of the above streaming services, as well as others supported by the Fire TV Stick. For the $40 or so that a Fire TV Stick costs, it’s worth it to turn the projector into a Smart Projector and gain Alexa voice control over the major projector functions.
A Great Image
Most of the testing was conducted with the projector three feet from the screen, which gave the equivalent diagonal image of a 36-inch TV set. Image quality was impressive, considering the room was only modestly darkened. Moving the projector around, I tested projecting on a piece of white foam board, a light blue wall, an off-white ceiling, and finally, on a 108-inch projection screen. The image on the projection screen was the best but required the projector be about eight feet from the screen to fill it. And the image, although the setting on the M1+ was its brightest, was noticeably lighter and less intense than when the projector was closer to the screen.
Interestingly, the most watchable image was on the piece of foam board I purchased at a dollar store, which bodes well for using the M1+ in an outdoor or informal setting.
Before you purchase the M1+ (or any projector), you do need to consider the surface onto which you’re going to project the video. Most selling spiels and many reviews assume you’re going to use a light-colored wall that’s big enough for the image. This may or may not be the case. A projection screen is the optimal solution, but not always practical or affordable. Another option—especially if you have a light-colored ceiling—is to aim the projector upward and put the video on the ceiling. You can watch it from the couch or floor.
Fortunately, the M1+ provides a very watchable image on a variety of projection surfaces. One thing to be aware of, however, is that the M1+ (and pico projectors, in general) do not come close to the light output and screen brightness of a typical home theater projector.
Using the M1+
The M1+ has an internal, Lithium-Ion battery. When fully charged, it gives you up to six hours of projection time. The light output has four brightness settings, so, at full brightness, expect significantly less untethered time. You’ll use the brightness control on its highest setting if the room or area where you’re projecting is only moderately dark. In my testing, I got a bit over two hours on the bright setting, with the remaining battery at around 2/5 (according to the LED battery indicator). On the lowest-usage, Eco setting, the M1+ yielded close to the claimed six-hour run-time, but the image was considerably dimmer and required almost total darkness.
The movies I tested featured a lot of movement, and one had many dark, underwater scenes. This provided the opportunity to judge the amount of detail in shadowed areas. Both movies were easily watchable, but some of the darker scenes did lack a bit of detail in the darkest areas. Given the amount of action and on-screen movement, there was almost no noticeable rainbowing, which can sometimes happen with projectors that use DLP technology (like the M1+).
Most surprising was that both movies were watchable in a moderately dark room. The picture was slightly washed-out, but still viewable. In a completely darkened room, the M1+’s picture was bright and almost as good as my flat-screen TV, although the projector’s maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 (the minimum is 640 x 480) leaves a lot to be desired for anyone looking for 4K quality.
Fun, But Not Much Else
You have to use the M1+ in a moderately dark room or outside at night, away from strong light sources. The 300 lumens provide a nice image, but only under the right circumstances. Is M1+ worth the $339 asking price? Ultimately, the ViewSonic M1+ is a good value. It can be used as both an entertainment device or a portable presentation device. Weighing a scant, 1-1/2 lbs., the M1+ is light and small enough to pack for your business trips and calls, just in case you need to make a last-minute presentation.
When it’s not being used for business, use the M1+ at home (or wherever it’s dark enough) to project an image from any of its many input sources.
Here’s What We Like
- Great sound from the Harman Kardon speakers
- Short throw lens lets you put projector closer to screen
- Variety of connectivity options
- Excellent image
And What We Don't
- A bit pricey for occasional use
- Installing apps isn't easy
- Pokey navigation, even with remote