Epson MG-850HD iPad projector at IFA – first look review

Pocket-sized 3LCD projections from an iPad or iPhone
Photo of Epson MG-850HD iPad projector at IFA – first look
Euro 699

Epson’s MG-850HD iPad projector isn’t quite the ‘world’s first’ the company might have us believe – Viewsonic sold a similar product a few years ago – but this projector plus iPhone/iPad dock, spied close-up on the eve of Berlin’s IFA exhibition, is a tempting proposition for those looking for the convenience of a big display with their tablet.

Portable… but hefty
Eschewing the dull images of the truly tiny Pico projectors, the EURO 699 (inc. VAT) MG-850HD is as portable as a decent entertainment projector can be. It measures 340x291x115mm (wdh) – that’s pretty deep – though its 2.9kg bulk is fitted with a handy carry handle.

We inspected it in near-blackout conditions, though its quoted 2800 Lumens ought to be enough for using in daylight, too, especially since there’s an ambient light sensor to automatically tweak the brightness as appropriate. Contrast ratio is measured at 3,000:1.

Easy to use
The projector is primarily aimed at non-techie types, and it’s as close to an all-in-one as we’ve seen so far with a rear-mounted dock for an iDevice and built-in 10W stereo speakers.

As is normal on Epson projectors, the MG-850HD boasts manual horizontal and vertical lens sliders that get the image dead-on to a screen from almost anywhere in a room, though this particular model also includes automatic keystone correction; reposition the product and the image will realign within seconds. It also has a 1.2 manual zoom.

Simple setup is obviously what the MG-850HD is all about – though that isn’t just because there’s no need to hook-up external sources or AV equipment. Not having to place a projector directly in front of a screen is a massive advantage, though with audio to think about it’s not quite so simple.

In practice those 10W speakers are not a substitute for a separate audio system, though it’s less about weakness and more about direction; a movie soundtrack simply disperses, and where you sit in relation to the MG-850HD is all-important. Even dialogue-heavy TV shows seem a tad odd, especially if you sit to the side, or in front of, the MG-850HD; we’d advise using it on a coffee table – especially since the iPhone dock is on the rear of the product – to get the stereo effect.

The underwhelming audio when a movie is played from an iPhone isn’t an issue for music, though this is basic hifi. We noticed some distortion at the top end, though it’s on a par with a £99 iPhone speaker dock from the likes of Sony or Bose.

Theoretically able to power images as big as 300 inches across, the 720p resolution is low by projector standards, but higher than the 480p video that you’re likely to be playing from your iDevice.

In use there is a visible softness to video that almost goes without saying – and though it’s relatively smooth, we had hoped for some more advanced up scaling tech. That said, it’s always watchable, and photos are rendered well.

The way the MG-850HD works isn’t to display the desktop of an iPad or iPhone, but rather to extract digital media; it’s not possible to play with an app on an iPhone and see it as a projection, but any video stored within an app – such as YouTube, or even as an email attachment – can be viewed. Video can be streamed through an iDevice’s browser relatively simply, so iPlayer should work. Best of all, the very Apple TV-like user interface delves into an iDevice’s internal menus and largely replicates then, so the MG-850HD is incredibly easy to use.

Made for iDevices, but also armed with VGA and HDMI for all-round general use, the MG-850HD is all about convenience rather than quality – but it would be cruel to pick apart a 720p product that’s this easy to set-up and operate. Families and occasional gamers rejoice.

Check back soon for video of this and other products from the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin.

Company: Epson