Philips PicoPix Max: can it replace my TV?

I can’t remember exactly when I saw the ad appear on Youtube. It must have been somewhere mid-September 2019. It was an ad for a new type of projector, made by Philips. Tiny, thus portable. Internet connected, so streaming from the machine itself. Great amount of light for projection. It looked exactly like the type of projector I’d been looking for: one to replace the TV screen in my home.

For a long time I want to get rid of the TV screen in my home. It takes up a lot of space even though it’s mostly off. As a household we’ve been watching TV less and less. Daughter watches Netflix movies mostly. As the TV stems from the ‘dumb’ period, we watched Netflix through the little box that comes with our TV subscription with XS4All. But more recently, we got rid of the old TV and replaced it with my old iMac. A 27″ screen, slightly bigger than the Loewe screen it replaced (we never participated in the race for bigger screen sizes). Having the iMac is already a big improvement, but since it’s ten years old, it might not last long to serve as a TV screen.

The real benefit in using the iMac, is that we don’t have to use the TV subscription box any longer. We mainly watch Netflix and NPO (Dutch public broadcasting company). NPO offers subscription for €2,95 per month. That is significantly less that the tens of euros we pay for the little black box to watch TV on a regular screen. But still, the iMac has a prominent position in our living room and is not an immersive experience to watch movies. So when I saw that advertisement on Youtube last September, I did something I never do. I clicked on the ad. The website I was sent to convinced me that the PicoPix Max could indeed be the machine I’d been looking. So after a week long reflection period, the Man and I decided to take the plunge and ordered two: one for ourselves and one for the Man’s company.

And then we had to wait. The PicoPix Max is a new machine and wasn’t readily available on the market. We pre-ordered IndieGoGo style. A bit of a gamble, but Philips is a big brand with lots of solid infrastructure in place to handle big orders. Philips originally wanted to get everything shipped before the end of the year, just before holiday season started, but there were so many orders that they couldn’t serve everyone before Christmas. Then they focused on deliveries for Chinese New Year, so Europeans had to wait a little longer. Then covid-19 spread across China, factories were closed and shipping got delayed. Finally, in May the Man received a message the two machines were being shipped. On June 7th, nine months after ordering, one PicoPix got delivered and the other one got lost by DHL. As the PicoPix was delivered in a box that clearly marked its content, I suspect an employee figured it suited his/hers living room as well.

Anyway, finally I was able to put the PicoPix Max to the test. Can this projector replace my TV screen (or in this case my old iMac)? The short answer: yes, but not for watching movies bought from Apple.

These are my experiences this far using the PicoPix.

The machine itself

  • The machine is ridiculously small. It is indeed very portable. I mean, it fits in my handbag.
  • It has it’s own battery, so you can use it without the use of a power chord. The battery says to work for four and a half hours when fully charged, but in real life it’s closer to three hours. That is more than enough for me to watch TV during the evening.
  • The machine is charged through a USB-C cable. The cable that comes with the machine is short. The few times I needed to attach the power chord, I also needed an extension chord to plug it in.
  • The first few minutes after switching it on the projector makes a lot of noise. After that it diminishes to a very low fan noise. However, if you attach the power chord, the noise remains on a high level. A noise level I find intolerable unless you’re watching a movie with a lot of music and other sounds.
  • A small tripod came with the PicoPix, and I use it to elevate the projector a little bit for the biggest screen size I can get without having to move the paintings on the wall.
  • The PicoPix can detect its own position and adjust the angle for projecting a proper rectangle automatically. You don’t have to readjust the angle yourself (with books, like I’ve done in the past with other projectors).
  • There is a remote control for the device. I mainly use it to force refocusing to get a sharp image on the wall. There is no such button on the machine itself, other than using the menu structure. The angle to communicate between the remote and the PicoPix is very limited, so I really have to point the remote the right way for it to be able to transmit signals.
  • You use the touch pad on top of the projector to navigate. To be honest, it’s not optimal. It often doesn’t respond well to my touch.

Connecting it to other devices

  • PicoPix comes with Bluetooth, so I was able to connect it wirelessly with my stereo amplifier (that I had to buy over a year ago to replace my twentyfive year old Denon amplifier that stopped working). I didn’t care too much for Bluetooth in my amplifier when I bought it, as I would connect it with my Sonos system with a cable, but in combination with the PicoPix it’s a real bonus. Necessary even, because it means we can watch TV while streaming the audio through my well sounding speakers. All without wires attached to the PicoPix.
  • Even though I want to end my TV subscription, I did try to attach the TV box from XS4ALL through HDMI. That works for the image, but for getting the sound to play I had to plug in an optical cable between the TV box and the amplifier. The result: audio and image were out of sync. Not usable.
  • The PicoPix has a USB port, a USB-C port and a Micro-SD slot for connecting with storage devices. So if you have a hard disk full of movies you can attach it to the PicoPix and navigate to the files using the file manager app.

Watching Dutch TV

The PicoPix runs on the regular Android version. Not the TV version. Therefore you need apps, just as you would on your phone, tablet or laptop.

As I said earlier, I mainly use the TV for Netflix and NPO. The Netflix app comes pre-installed and works just fine, but I understood it only works with an old version of the app. Therefore it is advised not to upgrade the app. The only hassle is to put in your username and password using the touch screen. Especially if you use long and strong random passwords like I do.

Now for watching Dutch TV. Here’s where it got complicated to find the right set-up. At first I figured the easiest way to watch NPO is via Airplay (for Apple devices) or Chromecast (for Android devices). I tried connecting the NPO app on my iPhone to the PicoPix, but this failed. It would connect, but not show the program. At first I blamed my devices for this failure, but I came to the conclusion that this is due to restrictions put in by NPO. Apparently they block their programs from being streamed to a projector.

Therefore I searched for an option to play NPO natively. I tried to use the website through Firefox, but image quality was really low. Then I searched for an option to install the NPO app, but it’s not available through Aptoide TV. That’s that then. No Dutch TV on the PicoPix for me. But that felt very unsatisfactory. So I started roaming the forum for PicoPix users. As this machine is still in full development, especially on the software front, early users are actively invited to participate in giving feedback. There I found other Dutch users who report that indeed NPO doesn’t work, but NLZiet does. This latter app is a combination of the NPO and the commercial channels. A subscription for NLZiet costs €7,95 per month. That is €5 more than NPO, but still significantly less than our current TV subscription. Therefore I figured it would be worth a try to install NLZiet on the PicoPix. And that’s where it got really complicated.

The PicoPix comes with Aptoide TV preinstalled. This is an app to install apps. I could find NLZiet, showed as works on this device and tapped the install button. Nothing happened. Apparently this doesn’t work. Back to the forum. Other people report the same issue. It’s an Aptoide TV issue. In order to install apps on the PicoPix you should use a different android app store front. Or so I read. I was advised to download APK files for APKPure and Set Orientation. As I’m not an Android user myself I got a bit confused about the concept of a different app store for apps, but I managed to download two files on a USB stick, put the USB stick in the PicoPix, find the files through the File Manager and click them. The files indeed installed themselves. The Set Orientation app is needed to make sure you can see APKpure in landscape mode instead of portrait mode. Navigation in portrait mode is impossible indeed, or so I discovered when Set Orientation wasn’t loading correctly at first. So I now had a new app store installed and I searched for NLZiet, found the app, clicked install…and it did! So with the app installed I signed up for an account. The first month is uncharged anyway, so a safe way to see if it works on the PicoPix. I signed up on my laptop and then entered my account details. ‘Failed to connect’. Humph. I then see a device code on the start screen of NLZiet. That might be the better way to connect. Entered the code on my account. Still connection failure on the PicoPix. Bigger humph. As it was late in the evening I turned the PicoPix off and went to bed. The next day I tried again. If other users report using the NLZiet app without issues, than why can’t I? I erased the device connection from my NLZiet account, reentered the code visible on the NlZiet app on the PicoPix and lo and behold, it finally got connected!

So yes, I am now able to watch Dutch TV on the PicoPix. It does require an account with NLZiet though, which comes with a lot of commercial TV channels I don’t (want to) watch, but at least it includes NPO shows and its on demand features.

User experience

So what’s it like to use the PicoPix Max as a TV screen? Well, it’s good enough during Dutch endless Summer evenings, probably will be spectacular in dark winter season.

First of all, having a big white wall is almost a prerequisite for using a projector as a TV screen. It gives you the flexibility to project both small and big. During daylight the projection is visible, but obviously significantly less than in a darker room. Despite the long light evenings we have in NL, I still was able to watch series without issue. After 9PM, the picture became much clearer. As I watch TV less during Summer anyway, I can’t be bothered too much with the less bright image. And if I really want to watch something, I can pull the curtains.

I use a small cardboard stool to put the PicoPix on, screwed on its tripod. At a distance of about 165 cm to the wall, the screen size diagonally becomes about 150 cm, or 59 inch. As you can see in the picture below, the image is still visible on a bright sunny day with the curtains and the sunshades closed.

If I position the PicoPix at about 360 cm from the wall, the screen width becomes 300 cm, but as you can see image brightness under the same conditions as the first picture is way less.

PicoPix positioned on the yellow chair to create a wall wide image.

So cinema experience at home using the PicoPix Max is only available in low light conditions, but if you use it as a big TV screen it works without an issue even in brighter conditions. As you can see my living room is equipped with thin curtains. If you have light blocking curtains in your home, you can have your home cinema even at the brightest of days.

Once I connected the amplifier to the PicoPix it automatically reconnects when I turn the projector on. Only when I connect it to a different device I have to reconnect. You have to use external audio for a pleasant experience. Either through external speakers or through a headset. There is a headphone mini-jack plug at the back of the PicoPix, but only Bluetooth devices give you the flexibility this machine was designed for.

Setting the projector up for watching TV is a bit more work than pushing a button on a remote, but that is exactly what I’m looking for. I want to put up a threshold for watching TV, so I (and hopefully Daughter too in the future) make a conscience decision to watch TV, instead of just turning the screen on and see if anything exciting comes along (most of the time not). This set-up is that threshold without becoming too much of a nuisance.

The only real downside of the device is its navigation. The touch pad on top of the device is not always as responsive. Especially scrolling is an issue. Talking about scrolling, when you go to the Netflix app, you have to scroll left to right as well. That doesn’t work. Therefore if you want to watch a particular show you have to search for it if it’s not visible on the home screen. Talking about searching in any app, the touch screen is an awful interface for typing in anything. I’m currently looking for a tiny Bluetooth keyboard to complement the projector. That also comes in handy when I need to reenter complicated passwords after updates. Then there are some weird issues I have when going into the settings menu and going back to the home screen. The settings menu keeps being collapsed, thus keeping me from accessing apps all together. I hope this will get fixed in future firmware updates

And then for the biggest flaw Philips cannot help.

So watching TV works, but how about movies? I bought two licenses for Disney’s Frozen movies and there is no way you can, legally, watch these on the PicoPix. Just like NPO prevents Airplay streaming to this projector, Apple prevents movies to be streamed too. Of course there is no Apple app available for Android, so watching your Apple movies is not allowed on any other than an Apple screen. If I’d known that, I would not have given Apple my money. As it’s only two movies I could ‘buy’ them from Amazon as Amazon’s app is available for the device, but I dislike the whole idea of buying digital licenses instead of buying a copy of the film. If you have any suggestions that don’t involve illegal practices, please inform me.

Can I get rid of the TV screen in my living room?

The PicoPix Max is a nifty little device and after a solving a few issues it works perfectly as a TV replacement. So I will end my regular TV subscription, but the iMac can’t leave the room until I found a work-around for watching movies. Nevertheless, I feel the moment of having a no-TV-screen-living room is very near.