Back in 2018, China’s Puppy Robot launched the puppy cube interactive projector on Indiegogo, and we got to review a unit. The company’s next generation smart projector was showcased at CES 2020, and a higher spec version released toward the end of last year called the Hachi Infinite M1 Pro – which we’ve been trying out.
At a glance
- A UST projector that offers smartphone-like touch interaction
- The brightest Puppy so far
- On the pricey side
- Limited Google services support
The original puppy cube stood out from the rest of the ultra-short-throw DLP projector crowd by having an Android-based computer built in and by offering a way to interact with it like you would with a smartphone or tablet. Tracking cameras enabled an image thrown on a flat horizontal surface such as a desk or even the floor to serve as a touch interface. Clever stuff.
The latest iteration of Puppy Robot’s UST interactive projector is the Hachi Infinite M1 Pro, which can serve as something of a one-stop audiovisual hub for work, play and learning – it can host presentations for business meetings, enable video chats with family or colleagues (useful for those working from home), help kids to learn, offer big screen entertainment and more.
The unit’s optical engine can manage 720p resolution, which is usable but we’d hope for higher resolution at this price point, and outputs at up to 600 ANSI lumens – that’s 100 more than its standard Infinite M1 stablemate and twice that of the original puppy cube. This made using the M1 Pro on surfaces like grained wood a little easier, but a matte plain-colored surface proved best.
Swiping, tapping and typing on a table top (or a wall, if the unit is pushed up close) may sound a little odd, but thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets it didn’t seem too alien a concept, and the M1 Pro’s sensors were accurate and responsive enough to make touch control fluid and fairly natural. But you have to mindful of shadows, particularly during multitouch operation.
The given specs reveal a throw ratio of 0.39:1 and the image is 23 diagonal inches for touch interaction but can get up to 100 diagonal inches for viewing content on a wall (where touch is no longer possible). Puppy recommends maxing out wall viewing at 40 inches though. There’s automatic focus (with manual override if needed) and auto keystone correction too, both of which worked well.
As far as looks go, the new 138 x 80 x 215-mm (5.4 x 3.1 x 8.5-in), 1.3-kg (2.8-lb) unit has a similar boxy aesthetic to the puppy cube, but sports a rounded back and big power and volume buttons up top. Puppy has included an 8-MP camera module and bi-directional microphones to the top as well, which allow for video chats when the M1 Pro is laid flat on its back.
Inside, the M1 Pro has Qualcomm Snapdragon SDA 670 processing brains with a multi-core AI engine, supported by 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of onboard storage (the standard M1 model comes with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage). Bluetooth 5.0 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi are cooked in, and there’s support for Airplay, DNLA, Miracast and the company’s own Hachi Cast for streaming content and wirelessly mirroring smartphone displays.
A compartment to the rear side is home to a USB-C data port, an audio output and a HDMI 1.4 port – which automatically changes the display mode so that the thrown image is sourced from a cabled input device such as a laptop. And there’s another USB-C port down low for power or charging.
At maximum brightness and using the audio at full volume every now and then, we got about an hour and a half of mixed use before the 5,000-mAh battery got to 15 percent and a low power warning popped up.
The interactive projector runs Android 9.0 wearing a new infiniteOS skin, which offers a simple, easy to use interface. What you don’t get is access to the Google Store – Puppy says that it’s working to resolve this – though there is a proprietary application store called UptoDown installed. Apps out of the box include WPS Office, Facebook, Chrome browser, and Spotify, as well as a few games like Candy Crush Saga and King of Opera, and some board games like Tic Tac Toe. The M1 Pro also comes with GPS onboard for location-based apps and services.
The home screen can be tweaked but customization options are quite limited. The default icons can be replaced with favorites, for example, but there’s only enough room on the home screen for half a dozen or so in total. And the choice of available layouts and wallpapers is small too.
The built-in AI oversees computer vision, voice recognition with natural language processing, image recognition, gesture recognition and more. There’s an AI education package included that features interactive games employing object recognition, so young students can place blocks within the touch area during spelling games, for example. At the time of our review the Spelling module was the only one available, with the Math module marked as “comming soon” – whoops. An AI-assisted fitness application was also installed, and a cooking app called AI Kitchen is reportedly on the horizon.
The unit’s full-range 5-W speakers rocking 36-mm drivers filled our living room with surprisingly good sonics, though a 3.5-mm audio jack is there should you wish to output sounds via your own speakers.
While nowhere near the output capabilities of some other UST projectors on the market, the brighter image was very welcome on this latest model and made navigation in touch mode that much easier. Larger thrown images on the wall were watchable in daylight, but benefited from drawn blinds or low ambient lighting. Performance in the lower-light settings typically associated with projector use proved enjoyable, though we did often find ourselves wishing for higher resolution and better contrast.
Browsing the UptoDown app store presented quite a few familiar options for installation, though the lack of support for Google services did kick up a few anomalies. The YouTube app was shown as available for download, for example, but it wouldn’t run after installing.
Still, we managed to watch YouTube videos via the already installed Chrome browser, but only when the M1 Pro was placed flush against the wall (with a 23-diagonal-inch image size). Pulling the unit away from the wall resulted in a larger thrown image, but it blurred and touch interaction no longer worked.
There is a handy autofocus button on the included Bluetooth remote, but subsequently unpausing a YouTube video from within the Chrome browser proved impossible using the remote’s navigation buttons. Some kind of AirMouse functionality like with the Touchjet Pond‘s remote would have been a useful addition here.
The bottom line
An ultra-short-throw projector that can serve as an interactive touchscreen multimedia machine is pretty darn cool, and makes regular UST units look like old tech. Add in an integrated sound system and familiar smart device functionality and there is much to like.
In use, the M1 Pro handles some of its functionality well, and some not so well. The touch tracking is great, for example, so long as you keep shadow limitations in mind, but the unit needs to be shipped with a more capable remote to make up for the loss of touch interaction at bigger display sizes.
For most of the applications we used during our review, the 720p resolution proved adequate, but for the ticket price we would have liked to see at least Full HD or higher here, coupled with much improved contrast. Though the included app store offers quite a good selection, the lack of current compatibility with Google services needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
That said, the operating system did inform us that a firmware update was available during our review period, which indicates that the manufacturer is keeping on top of bugs and regularly adding features.
There’s a lot going on here, and clearly more on the way – which is perhaps reflected in the somewhat high asking price. And other than a few niggles, we’re pretty impressed by what the Hachi Infinite M1 Pro can do. It’s on sale now for US$1,199 (the standard M1 model comes in at $999).
Source: Puppy Robot
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