Want a big screen TV, but don’t have the room or the budget for one? Viewsonic’s M1 Mini is a tiny pico projector that literally fits in your pocket and can project a large image in a dark room. It lacks some of the features of its big brother—the M1+—but at $150, it’s also less than half the price.
Wait! Is That a Projector in Your Pocket?
Pico projectors—small portable video projectors—were popular about a decade ago. Then they kind of disappeared for a while, and are now experiencing a renaissance. The Viewsonic M1 Mini, the little brother of the M1+ we reviewed a short while ago, is the newest addition to Viewsonic’s video projector family.
In some ways, the M1 Mini is similar to the larger and brighter M1+, but it’s not just a shrunken version of the more expensive pico projector. For less money, you get fewer features and less flexibility. But for many, that won’t be a deal-breaker.
When Viewsonic named the projector, it hit the nail on the head. The M1 Mini really is a very compact unit, measuring just four inches square and an inch high. The top of the projector has a pop-off color panel that lets you swap out the teal panel that the projector has out-of-box with a gray or yellow one included in the box. I don’t really know why they did this, it kind of seems like putting lipstick on a pig (with apologies to Miss Piggy). Other thank looking pretty, they seem kind of pointless, as they don’t do anything more than change the color of the top of the projector.
Inside the case is a 50-lumen LED light source, a battery good for a maximum of 2.5 hours of play time, and a really nice-sounding 2 watt JBL speaker. You’re not going to blast the neighbors if you are holding an outdoor movie night, but in an inside room, it sounds great.
A fold-down lens cover also serves double-duty as a stand for the projector, and as with its big brother, can be raised upward to provide a handy carrying handle. Unfortunately, the bottom of the projector lacks the tripod mount that the M1+ offers, a feature that’s sorely missed. Using a tripod allows you to easily position the projector at a 90-degree angle to the projection surface. With the M1 Mini you have to figure out a way to elevate the projector so that the image doesn’t appear at floor level or is unreasonably distorted. The vertical keystone capability is nice, but it still won’t make up for an image that’s way too distorted because of the angle between the projector and image surface.
Here a Port, There a Port
With the M1 Mini so compact, there’s not a lot of room for jacks or operating controls. The front of the projector contains just the lens—the manual focus wheel is accessible from the right side of the projector (looking from the front). You’ll have to focus the image depending on how far the M1 Mini is from the surface you’re projecting on. The projector does have automatic vertical keystone correction, which is nice as there will be times when you won’t be able to position the projector exactly perpendicular to the surface.
The rear panel contains a small slide switch to turn the projector on and off. Unlike the M1+, moving the stand up or down doesn’t control the power, so you need to be careful to remember to power down the projector when you’re finished viewing, otherwise the stand may block the unit’s cooling vent.
The ports are divided between the left and right side panels. Looking from the front, the right side panel contains two ports. Both are USB ports, with one being a micro USB and the other a Type A USB. You can input video from either, or from the HDMI port located on the left-side panel. The micro USB port also serves as the power-in port, and Viewsonic provides a USB-to-micro cable. It doesn’t, however, provide a wall wart power supply. You’ll have to provide this on your own. You can input video from the Type A USB port while you’re charging the projector using the micro USB port, but using the micro USB port for video means you better have a charged battery because it can’t be used for both charging and video input simultaneously.
For my testing, I used video from a number of sources including a flash drive, an Amazon Fire TV Stick, a USB DVD player, and a laptop, with no problem playing videos from any of these sources. Another test involved me connecting the M1 Mini to a laptop HDMI video-out and projecting the laptop’s screen. Again, no problem other than the image brightness.
As with other pico projectors I’ve tested, I projected the image from about eight feet away from a large piece of white foamboard, and also tested projecting against a wall painted light blue. The difference in image brightness was immediately noticeable, with the image projected on the wall noticeably dimmer but still acceptable in a completely dark room. At the eight-foot distance, the image was about the same size that you would get on a 32-inch TV.
Not Too Bright
The M1 Mini can actually project an image as large as 100 inches. Keep in mind though, that the larger image you project, the less bright the image will appear. You can blame the physics Inverse Square Law for that. Also contributing to the lack of brightness is the light output. Viewsonic rates this at 120 lumens, but in ANSI measurements, the output is a scant 50 lumens. That’s just not very bright, and if you are projecting against a dark surface, the image is almost unrecognizable.
That brings up two other points to consider. The first is mentioned above—even a moderate amount of light in the room will completely wash out the image. The other concern is the surface you’re projecting onto. While white, such as a white wall or sheet, is preferable for the best image, I got an acceptable image projecting on a light blue wall without a noticeable distortion of the colors in the projected material. The limited optical resolution of only 854×480 also reduces image sharpness and clarity on higher resolution source material.
Not Quite Perfect
I like the M1 Mini, but there are a number of places where it falls short of the M1+. The most noticeable of these are the brightness of the picture and the resolution.
I’m also not very happy with the short 2.5-hour battery life, especially with many movies now approaching or exceeding that length. If you are thinking of projecting Avengers: Endgame, you better have a battery pack or an AC outlet handy, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of having a projector with so much portability. Even with a nearby AC outlet, you’ll need a wall wart as Viewsonic does not include a power supply with the projector.
The source of your video material is also a concern, especially if you’re watching outside. Unless you want to run an AC extension cord for a laptop or Fire TV Stick/Roku, you’ll probably be limited to video on a flash drive or a battery-driven device, such as a phone or tablet using an adapter, between the device and the projector.
Finally, I really miss the tripod mounting that the larger and more powerful M1+ has. The M1 Mini’s flip-down lens cover/stand doesn’t give you nearly the flexibility of being able to mount the M1Mini at a height 90 degrees to the surface you’re projecting the image on. This is offset somewhat by the projector’s automatic vertical keystone correction, but there is just so much the correction can do to correct a large horizontal-angle variance between the projector and viewing surface.
All of this doesn’t mean that the M1 Mini isn’t worth considering. But think hard about what, where, and how it would be used. It’s a cute and not too expensive projector, but for many it will make more sense to spend more money and get more flexibility and usability.
Here’s What We Like
- Tiny--fits in your pocket
- Comes with three different color tops
- Good sound
And What We Don't
- Resolution is only 854 x 480
- Need to use in a dark room
- No wall charger/power supply included
- No tripod mount
- Battery is good for 2.5 hours max