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Projectors have certainly come a long way from being the massive, noisy, poor-performing beasts that were exiled to conference rooms. Today projectors can be found everywhere from airports to classrooms to the living room, and manufacturers are really pushing the boundaries when it comes to the technology that’s inside these devices. Optoma is one such company who’ve been consistently trying to improve upon their projectors year on year, in order to provide the best projection quality for a range of uses. Today I picked up the Optoma ML550 projector for review, one of Optoma’s newer models, to see just what the company had been cooking up.

Build Quality & Design

I have to admit that I was a bit baffled when I was unboxing the ML550. My review unit came in a pretty standard-sized cardboard box, but inside there was a stack of packing foam that was protecting a small black case, probably no bigger than a traveler’s toiletries bag.  Unzipping this case I came across the ML550 – an absolute midget of a projector. The ML550 is no bigger than say four or five audio CD cases sandwiched together, and is just as light. Along with the projector I found the power adaptor, remote control, and an I/O cable for connectivity.

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Despite its small size the ML550 feels quite solidly built, finished off in a smooth dark black body. The device features a manual focus ring at the top, as well as a full set of buttons to navigate the projector’s menus and settings. Around the back you have a healthy number of connectivity options, including USB, microSD, HDMI, and VGA (through the I/O cable). The HDMI port is also MHL compatible, so you can connect a smartphone or tablet directly to the projector. Lastly there’s an adjustable screw at the bottom which lets you tilt the projector slightly for a better projected image.

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Performance / Display (projection quality)

I certainly didn’t expect the ML550 to perform as well as it did during testing. A sample 720p video streamed via HDMI looked flawless on the projected image, and even in a moderately bright room the image wasn’t too washed out at all. The ML550 boasts a 10,000:1 contrast ratio, and even though it tops out at 500 lumens, the image quality on the ML550 is really quite good.

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The other great thing about the ML550 is that it’s perfect for the road warriors. It’s compact enough to slide into a notebook bag, and can be setup within minutes, or even mounted on a tripod. The ML550 can natively read MS Office files off an attached USB stick, as well as pdf and a select number of video formats, effectively ruling out the need to connect your laptop to make a presentation. The only slight downside is that navigating certain documents or spreadsheets using the ML550 may be a bit time consuming, so for more elaborate uses you may need to enlist the aid of a laptop. And while the ML550 does have a speaker built in, it’s not very loud – certainly not loud enough to watch movies. Although the ML550 lacks an optical zoom, a digital zoom is available in the settings if you look hard enough.

Conclusion

The ML550 is an extremely portable and very efficient projector. It’s light and compact, making it great for anyone who needs to do presentations on the go. Despite it’s small size, the ML550 delivers some great picture quality without compromise, and though it may be priced a bit higher than other projectors in its range, it’s certainly a worthwhile investment.

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