Pico projectors have found their way into smartphones before now (e.g. the Samsung Galaxy Beam), but mostly as an gimmicky add on. And one that’s fizzled out, rather than becoming a standard issue feature — like, say, the LED flash on the back of your handset which doubles as a torch.
Expense and battery life have likely put paid to any mass mobile rollout of pico projectors so far. That and niche utility. Not everyone wants or needs a micro projector in their phone. But as more functions crowd onto the small screen, a tech that offers a way to feel less tethered to that screen when at home — and to widen its canvas on demand — might well have broader appeal.
The team behind this Kickstarter project, called Beam, certainly think so. And they’ve managed to pull in $400,000+ and counting — more than double their original target — from over 1,100 backers after just a few days on the crowdfunding trail. Their campaign still has almost a month to run. Stretch goals ahoy.
Their approach is to build an Android-powered pico-projector into a can that screws into an existing light socket. That means there’s a built in fix for the battery life issue, given it pulls power from the mains. Obviously it limits portability but portable pico projection always felt a bit like overkill given you need an uncluttered flat surface to project onto in any case. So focusing this tech on the home makes plenty of sense.
Their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connected pico-projector can be controlled by an Android or iOS app, or by a Bluetooth device (there’s also a manual switch on the light itself). The Beam also includes an LED light so it’s both projector and lightbulb (so won’t entirely hijack your light socket).
The projection resolution is a distinctly mid range (854 x 480 pixels, and 100 lumen on brightness). So backers should not be expecting to help fund development of a high end HD home theatre projection experience. Set your expectations accordingly.
Also on board: a couple of 2 Watt speakers, although users can also link up their own Bluetooth speakers. Internal storage is 8GB unless stretch goals push that up, and the on-board processor is a mid to low range 1.3GHz dual-core. The maximum projection size you could expect from Beam is listed as 120 inches/~3 meters.
The companion app the team are building will include some IF/THEN customizations so the user can configure their projector to display a certain type of content at a certain time of day, such as showing weather and news in the morning; or changing what’s shown depending on who’s arrived home (presumably using Bluetooth to identify different device users in its vicinity).
Using Android as its on-board OS means the Beam also provides access to Google’s Play Store — even if you have an iPhone as the controlling device. The team notes that content can be streamed to the projector from an iOS device via Airplay, or else via Miracast.
Given it’s running Android, the team also points out developers will be able to use existing IDE and tools to develop apps for the smart projector.
Price-wise, the pico-projector does not have a micro price-tag: it’s bumped up to $399 for Kickstarter backers at this point, so it’s not exactly an impulse purchase. Or something to stick in light sockets in every room. But is quite a bit cheaper than full-fat home cinema projectors.
The LA-based team behind Beam says it’s hoping to be able to ship the product to backers by October. But Kickstarter pledgers should always be prepared to be patient and/or disappointed before deciding to part with their cash. As with all crowdfunding projects, and often especially those involving hardware, caveat emptor applies — given backers are pledging cash for a product projection (appropriately enough in this case) not the real-deal finished product.