Dangbei Atom, the tiny smart projector with a BIG laser heart

Review
Dangbei Atom laser projector website review 10

This is a review written by Terry Ellis February 2024.

For my video review please see my YouTube channel link here

Amazing technology development 

This review is about my experiences with the Dangbei Atom that was pitched to me as being one of the worlds smallest, thinnest but still brightest for the form factor laser projectors and that peaked my interest because I was curious to see what that would look like, excuse the pun.  I was also curious what technology like that might cost because my recent experience of modern projectors has shown me they are getting smaller and more convenient and and more affordable but laser light engines are still the pinnacle technology that I would expect to pay more for, and generally good small technology can be extra expensive.

Small is the operative word, I was not prepared for the Atom to be only 1.87 inches thick or thin is a better word and the overall form factor being about the same size as a Mac mini is far from the norm or projectors of yesteryear.  The aluminium alloy construction means it weighs nearly nothing, less than 3lbs and yet its sold in the hands and feels very made, not plastic and it’s a laser projector that Dangbei claim can produce an image up to 180 inches in size which is 4.5 metres, that’s a huge screen.

What does that mean for you

At this point I bet you are thinking the same as me, there is no way this tiny projector can produce a 4.5 metre image with any level of brightness or quality to do modern content justice, well a big part of my testing was on a 4 metre screen and I was stunned that it genuinely can and it can do it with a pretty excellent picture quality and good brightness which is incredible for this tiny form factor, genuinely amazing. The price is currently £799 with the £100 off voucher on Amazon, I think there is a slightly better deal for you guys in the US too

So the Atom is not cheap but its not expensive either really given what it can do but how does it stack up to other projector options on the market. I have a selection of three here, the Formovie XMING Page One $399 that I reviewed recently and the XGIMI Horizon Ultra £1649 that I reviewed last year.  When you look at the specification differences the Horizon Ultra is a 4K projector the other two are 1080p and its clear as you go up in price the projectors get brighter.  Brightness is important for better picture quality in terms of impact and how the image pops off the screen, its especially important for larger screen sizes or for watching with more ambient light in the room, such as during the day. The Horizon Ultra has a few more bells and whistles for its overall specification such as Dolby Vision support and more connections but its much bigger compared to the Atom, although its still small by traditional projector standards from the likes of Sony and JVC. The bigger surprise is how much smaller the Atom is compared to the XMING Page One and yet its many times brighter on paper, offers nearly all the same features but can produce a much bigger image and, it’s a laser projector which is I think better than LED for picture quality, especially colours and I think it’s a nicer form factor too being aluminium and not plastic. So I think the price differences here can be justified before you even turn any of them on.

All three projectors have similar what I call convenience technologies built in such as auto focus, auto picture alignment and keystone correction, you dont’ lose any convenience with the Atom for having the very small form factor. If your new to these technologies there is a great animation on the Dangbei website showing what they all do. These features mean you can have the projector set up in many different positions in the room and you still get a correct image to watch, whereas traditionally projectors required a perfect angle and line of site to the screen area which often meant hanging them from the ceiling to avoid the viewers heads. You don’t need to do that here but you still can if you choose to, there is a screw type of mount on the underside which means you can mount the Atom in lots of different ways to suit you.

Being able to have the Atom placed pretty much anywhere and still get a watchable image is great of course but do bear in the mind the distance from the screen or the wall you want to shine the image on still dictates the maximum image size you can have. From there the Atom can be zoom the image to be smaller and move it around in the frame, it can fix angle distortions and more to give you a correct image so that is pretty cool for its flexibility but it means you might see the picture in a grey border frame (the maximum image size) but that is how all DLP based projectors work anyway and there is nothing that can be done about, but it possible to disguise it with some clever darkening material if the user really wanted to.

Casual use

The reality here between the three projectors for image quality, brightness and colour etc is the Atom gets much closer to the Horizon Ultra, surprisingly close in some regards but because its such a small form factor that means its more flexible for being portable or for being placed in different rooms and situations and that is the whole intention here. I think Dangbei assume owners will use the Atom in bedrooms maybe, kids room, games room, family rooms, maybe taking it outdoors in the summer for the big sports event, movie night, big screen gaming or with you on your travels whatever suits you.  They told me flexibility is their goal and is the reason for the Atom being so small.

I don’t really have that situation at home but I did fire up the Atom in a bedroom shinning onto a white wall, the distance from the wall was approx 2 metres and that created an image only large TV sized really, about 65″ but the difference  is there is no black thing hanging on the wall when I am not using it and no cables to worry about, which is again I think the whole point of a product like this.

For image quality just shinning on a white wall I was amazed by the clarity and the brightness and the colour quality and just how good everything looked without me needing to change the settings, with everything on standard straight out of the box it looked pretty good.  I see things about an image an a casual user would not and I dont like an over sharpened image, especially if there are any edge artifacts. I did notice some, so I used the custom picture mode to reduce the sharpening from 10 to 5 and while I was there it made sense to tinker with with the contrast colour and brightness to make the image even better.  I was also impressed to see a brightness control that was not a typical brightness that effects the black level but an overall projector luminance control that was set to 8 but going up to maximum at 10 showed me a little of what was possible, with 9 I think being the optimum.

Then I began streaming content from the ATOM itself using the Google TV platform, which is easy to setup although quite long winded. Google TV means native support for all the apps I would want to use Netflix, Disney, Amazon Prime, Youtube ,Paramount + AppleTV+ any many more. One thing I did find is the responsiveness of the projector menu system does reduce when your streaming content, like the projector is working hard to produce the high quality image already and any extra requires extra of it. That is a negative for the usability but it’s been the same with all of the projectors I have reviewed on the last year. I think Dangbei assumes owners will likely just do a basic setup of the Atom and then use the benefit of Google cast to select what they want to watch on their phones or tablets so the owner is never really accessing the menu of the projector, instead the phone is doing all the heavy lifting for all the content navigation and selection and Google casting worked exactly as you would expect it to.

At this point of the review I would confidently say I think for the casual user of the ATOM, looking for maximum flexibility, looking to fire it onto a wall or maybe the ceiling or using it portable; there is a huge amount to be happy about with the picture quality and built in HDR streaming and what is on offer here overall from the form factor.  Maximum convenience with literally nothing to grumble about, its really very good.

Maximum Testing

I wanted to test the Atom to the absolute maximum to see how good it really is, that meant visiting Reference Audio the HiFi and AV dealership in Witham Essex. They kindly let me use their home cinema demo room which is fully light controlled with a four metre acoustically transparent 16:9 screen and if your not familiar with how big a 4 metre screen is, it’s a huge screen.  A screen that would normally require a large and very expensive projector because it needs a lot of light for the image to look good, especially being acoustically transparent as that means it has holes in the screen material where some light is lost.

Also with a bigger the screen the more obvious any picture flaws or negatives become because you can see them so easily, that goes for the content quality too and it’s a real challenge for any domestic projector to be bright enough but still have good black levels and contrast because those two things are counterintuitive, so with a four metre screen there is nowhere to hide, it’s a real torture test.

I watched a variety of content mostly using an Apple TV 4K box so I could test the HDMI input and there are a few things here to note. On the website it says that the HDMI input does not support HDR, HDR is supported from the built in GoogleTV so streaming Netflix you get the notification HDR pop up in the top left corner. However I discovered if you go into the menu for input one (HDMI Inout) and select EDID to version 2.0 or 2.1 the Atom seems to play HDR content from the HMI source, as the same HDR notifications pop up but different streaming services needed one or the other option selected to work. Selecting EDID to auto did not do the job sadly.  I didn’t notice a huge difference in the image with HDR on or off so its up to you if you think changing this is worth the effort, however again streaming content from the built in Google TV you can very clearly see the image change.  One thing I realised after was maybe I wasn’t seeing much change because the projector was already at its “maximum” on the four metre screen and the uplift in brightness I noticed with HDR from GoogleTV shinning on my wall at home was with with a much smaller image size with the projector much closer to it so naturally there is a lot more brightness potential there.

But here is the reality again
The day before I visited Reference Audio I went to my local VUE cinema to see Migration which is an animated movie for my sons 8th birthday. Being animated I expected it to be a bright colourful and vibrant affair but it wasn’t really, image wise I was quite disappointed.  I could see the image was managed well to not clip or blow out too many highlights which is a good thing, but the meant the average brightness level was lowered, the colours were more muted than you would expect to see and the contrast was meh.  That was probably a 6-8 metre screen so a much bigger screen but it’s a commercial cinema it should be the pinnacle of projected picture quality in my opinion, setting the standard for all of us at home to aspire to.

The following day the image I was seeing from the tiny Atom firing onto a four metre screen, which I think is easily the equivalent of a commercial projector shinning on its larger screen, the Atom while not perfect was producing a picture that seemed brighter, more colourful with better contrast and black levels and I enjoyed watching it much more so to me that is a massive win for the little Dangbei projector with a big laser heart.

That is what has impressed me here so much, this technology was not available only 5-6 years ago, let alone in a package this tiny at this price.  The last time I bought a projector was probably 5 years ago also, it was the Benq W5700 that used a bulb light engine, with around the same brightness, cost nearly £3000 didn’t have any streaming or convenience technology, was in a chassis 100x the size produced more heat and noise for a picture quality that although 4K I don’t think was any better. It might have even been worse so that is how far we have come in that short period of time and that is awesome for the consumer.

Not all good here

But not everything is perfect here, at this huge screen size I did notice some lack of focus uniformity, the middle of the image was sharper than the very top and bottom.  This you don’t really notice with content on a screen this, especially movies that letterbox the image, you notice it when notifications pop up or your trying to read things in that area of the screen. The Atom is only 1080p and we are very much in a 4k world but how much difference you would see in the real world depends on many factors but it wont be as much as you might think as the Atom seems to have a good lens and the brightness to give the image pop and clarity, especially on a more realistic screen size so it wont look “mushy” as some projectors can do. Similar to most DLP projectors I could tell when doing my camera work there is a colour wheel being used here as it can cause some horizontal rolling of the image due to the camera refresh speed being at a different speed to the projectors engine. I didn’t see any negative effects of  a colour wheel but I am not sensitive to it, but some might do its impossible for me to say but I think its unlikely given my testing,

Then the picture and menu settings are all very basic, there is no way to set different custom picture settings for HDR (more contrast) and SDR (less contrast) content, its just one set of picture settings for each input. Some will like the simplicity of that, some might want more calibration controls or customisation. I was able to find a happy medium for all content so I could set and forget, but I would have preferred some more control here My other gripe with the menu system is how many button presses it would take to get into the picture settings, its not quick so when your trying to optimise and fine tune the image its much harder work than it needs to be and that gets frustrating and could definitely be improved.

I also think in terms of a wide colour gamut there is not the same colour volume I have seen on more expensive projectors but those are much more expensive and much larger of course so there is some trade off here but not really but compare to other projectors in the same price and size category.

The audio quality was pretty good here as well, sitting with the Atom right behind my head playing in a big room it sounded easily loud and clear enough from the two built in five watt speakers system. But it was possible for the sound of my own deep voice in my YouTube videos to bloom a bit but given the tiny form factor the sound was extra impressive the more I think about it.

There is a mode where you can use the Atom as a Bluetooth speaker which could be cool for someone but its not something I tested and the fan noise was barely audible even at the maximum projector brightness, but come down in the brightness setting 9 or below and you will barely hear the fan which is also fantastic given the brightness and the fact it’s a laser light engine so with the benefits of a 30,000 hour life and instant on and off.

Dangbei Atom laser projector website review 5

Final Thoughts

Summing things up, I think the long and short of things here is I don’t know how and where you might see value in having a projector like this in your life. One that infinitely flexible really, that  could give you a very big picture where you don’t want a big TV there all the time. One thats portable so you could get it out just for movie night or the big game, take it away with you on your travels and also use it in places where you wouldn’t normally be able to.  Maybe you would even want to use it for a dedicated big screen home cinema , there is a lot of possibilities here that would be up to you.

All I can tell you is it will cost you more than the extremely affordable but still good XMING Page One, but it will give you a picture performance that’s closer to the very impressive but more expensive XGIMI Horizon Ultra for half the money in a tenth the size package and I have to give an applause to Dangbei because I don’t know how any of this is even possible but its been proved to me that it is.  Its amazing to me to see laser projector technology become this mainstream as to my eyes laser projectors get the closest to a TV in terms of the quality of image and if you care about picture quality and like this form factor well then the Atom will be worth the premium to you.

Serious Bang for Buck Award Website png

An Essential Audition Award is granted in recognition of a products high performance but with a certain uniqueness that makes auditioning even more essential.

For the full specification of the Dangbei Atom smart laser projector please see their website linked here