ViewSonic M2 review: Battery-powered projector streams big – CNET

The ViewSonic M2 is tiny for a projector — about the size and shape of a small cake. Copper-colored flan, maybe. Aside from the tote-friendly size, a couple of unique features set it apart from the pack. Built-in streaming lets it project your favorite Netflix and Amazon Prime shows just about anywhere. And it can run off an optional battery, providing a big picture on the go.

How it stacks up

Like

  • Compact, stylish design
  • Built-in streaming
  • Can run off a USB-C battery pack

Don’t Like

  • Worse picture than others at this price
  • Streaming options aren’t great
  • Battery not included

Unfortunately the M2’s picture quality comes up short for the price. The color is inaccurate, you can’t disable the Soap Opera Effect and it’s much dimmer than the Epson EF-100 ($800 at Amazon), another compact projector I reviewed recently. Its contrast ratio and overall picture quality are significantly worse than the BenQ HT2050A, my favorite home theater PJ under $1,000. Neither of those projectors can run off a battery, however, and both are much larger.

Since the M2 is a bit different, its mediocre performance has to be weighed against its convenience and versatility. This little unit can easily fit in a backpack and, tethered to a phone for Wi-Fi, can give you Netflix-on-a-tent under the stars. That’s pretty cool.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Basic specs

  • Native resolution: 1,920×1,080
  • HDR-compatible: No
  • 4K-compatible: No
  • 3D-compatible: Yes
  • Lumens spec: 1,200
  • Zoom: No
  • Lens shift: No
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): 30,000 hours

The M2, like most sub-$1,000 projectors, is neither 4K nor HDR-compatible. Surprisingly, it does work with 3D sources however. The $34 PGD-350 glasses are out of stock on ViewSonic’s website, but there are options on Amazon that should work.

Unlike most home projectors, the M2 doesn’t use a UHP (ultra high pressure) lamp. Instead it uses LEDs. There are pros and cons to LED-based projectors. On one hand, the M2 is rated to last up to 30,000 hours, or about 20 years if you watch it four hours every day. That’s significantly longer than even the longest-lived UHP lamps. 

The tradeoff, however, is brightness. While many projectors at this price are rated to 3,000 or more lumens, the M2 is rated to 1,200 — and I measured what calculates out to 349 (it’s normal for a projector to measure less than what it claims). Since the M2 wasn’t intended to fill a home theater-sized screen, this isn’t an immediate dealbreaker but it certainly has an effect on image quality. 

There’s no zoom at all on the M2. Instead ViewSonic intends for you to move the projector farther from the screen if you want a larger image and vice versa. In what is a first for any projector I’ve reviewed, there isn’t even a focus control. Instead, it has autofocus like a camera. That’s a great idea and in practice works reasonably well, if a little slowly. You can adjust it “manually,” but that option is still motorized and requires you to use the remote. 

I didn’t feel like I was able to get it as sharply focused as I could have with physical, manual control. The edges of the individual DLP mirrors weren’t as sharp as they can be with other DLP projectors, but the blurring was slight and not enough to affect the image from a normal viewing distance.

In one more nod toward the M2’s portability, there’s an “Adjuster Foot” that levers up the front of the projector to allow closer-than-normal positioning to a wall or screen. You can also use it like a handle to carry the projector. The downside to this type of angled placement is that it requires electronic keystone adjustment to make a rectangular (instead of trapezoidal) image. All keystone adjustments reduce image quality, but in a portable projector, sometimes placement options are limited. The range of the Adjustor Foot is far greater than similar options on other projectors, letting you get the projector aimed upward at 45-degrees from a tabletop, if you need to.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Connectivity and convenience

  • HDMI inputs: 1 (HDMI 2.0)
  • PC input: No
  • USB port: 1 USB-A (2A power), 1 USB-C (power and video)
  • Audio input and output: 3.5mm audio output
  • Digital audio output: No
  • LAN port: No (Wi-Fi via included dongle)
  • 12v trigger: No
  • RS-232 remote port: No
  • MHL: No
  • Remote: Not backlit

If you want to use the M2 without plugging it into a power outlet you’ll need a USB-C battery pack (ViewSonic doesn’t include one). In this mode the brightness in Full mode will be 50% dimmer, and 30% dimmer in Eco mode. ViewSonic claims that you’ll get about 2 hours of movie time if you use a 10,000 mAh pack like the Mophie powerstation PD XL

Read more: Best portable chargers and power banks in 2020

The M2 has a single HDMI input, which is HDMI 2.0, though the projector can only accept 1080p and not 4K. Having only one HDMI input isn’t really a limitation with any projector, especially not one like this with multiple other ways to receive content. 

The USB-A connector has enough power to easily run a streaming stick, like Roku or Amazon Fire TV, if you don’t want to use the internal apps. If you have a device that’s capable of sending video over USB-C, the M2 can accept that and display it. Double check that your phone can before you consider this as an option. 

As evidenced by a logo on the side, the audio on the M2 was co-developed by Harman Kardon. Two speakers only have three watts each for power, which isn’t much, but they can fill a small room and actually sound pretty good for small speakers. Alternately you connect a Bluetooth speaker to the M2.

There’s even Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility. Though saying  “Hey Google, talk to ViewSonic to Mute” seems cumbersome enough I’d just use the remote, to be honest.

The remote itself isn’t backlit and overall is rather simple. There’s also the vRemote mobile app, however, it requires registration to use which seems like a rather nonsense requirement to connect to a product you’ve already purchased.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The M2 has built-in access to the Aptoide app store, a sort of variant on the Google App Store. I was able to find and download Netflix and Amazon Prime, but could not find Vudu, HBO Max or Hulu. I’m always wary of third party app stores, even those based on Android, since by their nature they have more limited options. If you want to go down the rabbit hole, there are extensive instructions in the owner’s manual how to install third party Android apps.

One odd issue is that the internal app for Netflix only streams in standard definition, resulting in a noticeably soft picture. 

The M2 also has the ability to mirror iOS and Android screens, though this isn’t quite the workaround for missing apps as you might hope. The screen is mirrored right up until the moment you press play on a video — in Vudu or Netflix for example — and then the projector’s screen blanks out.

In the end connecting a streaming stick to the M2’s HDMI and USB power ports is a better way to get access to all your streaming options. 

Picture quality comparisons

Compared to the ViewSonic M2, the BenQ is a very typical projector. It’s my favorite for image quality at this price, designed for a home theater environment and massively sized next to the other two. The Epson EF-100 is more of a direct competitor to the M2, with built-in streaming and a small, portable design. All are in a similar price range, however, so they’re fair game for an image quality shootout. I connected all three to a Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier and viewed them on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen. 

First impressions likely go as you’d expect given the numbers mentioned above. The Epson with its laser light engine and BenQ with its UHP lamp are noticeably brighter than the LED-powered M2. Given that it’s much smaller and can run off a battery in a pinch, this isn’t a huge knock. But if you’re not planning on moving the projector very often, there are other options that will work better in a home. While a 100-inch image is possible, the M2 looks far better on a smaller screen to take best advantage of what light it can produce.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The second most noticeable thing, at least between the Epson and the M2, is how much smaller the pixels are on the latter. The EF-100’s resolution is only 1,280×800, compared to the 1,920×1,080 (1080p) of the M2 and HT2050A. On its own, and also considering the portable nature of the EF-100, that’s not a huge deal. Side-by-side-by-side with 1080p projectors, it’s far more noticeable and a point in the M2’s favor. That is, as long as the image is large enough, or you’re sitting close enough.

The contrast ratio between the EF-100 and M2 is basically the same and both looked fairly flat, with bright black levels compared to the HT2050A. On the Epson those levels appear far higher, of course, because that projector has nearly 5x the light output of the M2.

These aspects on their own, while very important, don’t impact the viewing experience as much as you might expect. I would assume most people buying the M2 aren’t prioritizing image quality for the money. Instead they’re looking for something that can fit in a backpack for a movie night outside somewhere, or while they’re relaxing in their backyard on a warm summer night.

That said, there are two particularly noticeable aspects to the performance that kept bugging me. The first is the color. Most projectors in this price range have fairly inaccurate colors, especially green, but the M2 is different. Differently inaccurate anyway. Green is actually quite accurate, as are yellow and teal. Red and blue, however, really stand out. Both look oversaturated and artificial, almost cartoony. 

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Take Steve Carell’s uniform in the Netflix show Space Force. It’s bluer than any fabric I’ve ever seen. Even the Netflix logo, not something you usually think about, is an almost electric crimson. The service ribbons on the uniforms are another example, where yellows and greens seem normal but then a segment of red or blue vividly stands out. 

Some of this is adjustable in the user menu, but as you’ll see in the measurement notes below, I was unable even with specialized equipment, to dial them back to reality. 

The second is that there is a Soap Opera Effect smoothness to motion with the M2. There is no option for it in the menu, nor any mention of it in the owner’s manual. It’s mild, but if you’re like me and really dislike the effect, it’s quite noticeable.

Conclusion: Pancake on the go

Despite its picture quality issues I actually like the M2 a lot. It’s tiny, can run off a battery and has decent sounding internal speakers. It even comes with a small carrying case, letting you throw it into a bag to take to a friend’s house or on a hike for a movie night out in the wild. For that, it works great, especially if you connect your own media streamer. But for something with a more permanent place in your home, there are better options for the same money.

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 38.7 Poor
Peak white luminance (100%) 0.1 Poor
Derived lumens 349 Poor
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 7,291 Poor
Dark gray error (20%) 6,847 Poor
Bright gray error (70%) 7450 Poor
Avg. color error 6.258 Average
Red error 3.512 Average
Green error 6.965 Average
Blue error 11.211 Poor
Cyan error 5.318 Average
Magenta error 7.256 Poor
Yellow error 3.284 Average
Avg. saturations error 5.69 Poor
Avg. color checker error 3.9 Average
Input lag (Game mode) N/A (See Text) Average

Measurement Notes

For a portable projector, there’s a lot more adjustability in the user menu than I expected. In the Movie picture mode and the 6500K color temperature mode, the color temperature was quite cool. Colors ranged from accurate (green, yellow and teal) to oversaturated (red and blue). Magenta was both oversaturated and fairly blue. Some adjustment of these were possible within the user menu, but it was still off enough that some colors didn’t look quite natural. Color temperature was far more receptive to adjustment and was able to fall right in line across the grayscale range.

The Brightness picture mode wasn’t any brighter and the colors were, shall we say, differently wrong. 

Light output and contrast ratio are far more “portable” than “home theater” projector. With the Light Source Level set to Full, the M2 was capable of approximately 350 lumens. The Epson EF-100, for comparison, could put out nearly 1,500. Eco mode dropped this by about 25%. Contrast ratio was equally unimpressive, at around 376:1. This was slightly, though not visibly, greater than that of the Epson. 

One positive effect of the lower light output was that even on its brightest mode, the M2 is very quiet.

The M2 had an impossibly low input lag. Low enough that I suspect some sort of error, but was unable to find a work around. 

Picture Mode: Movie (or Brightest)

Expert settings:

  • Lamp: Full
  • Brightness: 50
  • Contrast: 0
  • Sharpness: 15
  • Color Temp: 6500K
  • Gamma: 2.2

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