Back in the day projectors were called magic lanterns. Impossibly, they could make images appear out of nothingness. The 3M Streaming Projector Powered By Roku is a magic lantern for our times.
3M's marvel, weighing in at about a pound, is a a self contained wonder that will leave you amazed. It is hard not to sound like a pitchman when running down its specifications: It is a DLP projector that can work with your cable box, computer, or any other HDMI source. But, that is just the beginning. It runs cool enough to hold in your hand and it isn't much bigger than your palm. But, wait, there's more. It runs for hours on its internal, rechargeable lithium-ion battery (though it can run off of an outlet if you need more time). Even now, I'm only getting started. Did I mention it can listen on the built in speaker or plug it into a stereo system with a 3.5mm headphone jack? Did I mention it is going to cost $299, exclusively on Amazon? Did I mention I'm not done!
Here is the kicker, the thing that makes this the ultimate portable TV this year: It comes with a Roku stick that connects it to WiFi for access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, and hundreds of other free and premium channels. It is a smart, portable, watch anywhere Internet TV that also works with your cable box.
Think of it. You can take this little wonder any watch Internet video wherever you've got WiFi on a wall or screen from a foot big to up to 10 feet wide.
I got extended hands-on with the unit provided by 3M over the weekend and I am very, very impressed. No, the image is not as bright or as detailed as you might find on a unit costing ten times more (though it is certainly more portable). But, it is more than good enough for watching a movie in the backyard, a game while you're working in the garage, or even for a slumber party movie night. This isn't (as some have been over the past few years) a toy. The image is quite good.
You can sign up for additional channels directly from the projector. In fact, after the initial setup you don't need to have a computer at all, just access to the Internet. You can password protect the process for adding channels to the projector; a way of child-proofing the device from inquisitive children.
What doesn't it have that I could wish for in the next version? In my test the fully charged projector was able to project a streaming movie from Netflix for 1 hour and 35 minutes before it shut down. This might not be long enough for a a movie if you're relying only on battery power, something to consider if you're planning on using the projector in the wild. (It is also far less than 3M's claim of battery life "up to two hour and 45 minute battery life." Also, a second HDMI port would be nice. That way you could leave the Roku stick in place and plus in a cable input (or DVD player) without worry. Bluetooth would be nice for wireless speaker connection. Most of all I'd like to see all functionality on the unit accessible by on-projector buttons. The remote supplied with the projector is pitifully small and easy to lose. Worse, the buttons are not easy to make out in a dark room.
Of course, 3M is going to have an optional remote that is more ergonomic and also has movement control similar to a wii for on-screen gaming, but I didn't get to test that out.
Nevertheless, this is an engineering marvel at a very competitive price that brings extraordinary functionality that you probably never had before. It is on my holiday short list! It is available through the holidays on Amazon which is offering a $20 Amazon Instant Credit for pre-orders through October 22, 2012