Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.
- High brightness for ambient light viewing
- Mostly accurate out-of-box color for dark-room viewing
- Extensive picture adjustments for this product type
- Effective dynamic HDR10 tone-mapping
- Exceptionally short 0.19 throw ratio for close placement to screen
- No HLG HDR compatibility
- Challenging set-up common to UST projectors
Though its $5,999 price will be a deterrent for some, LG's laser-driven UST is a serious home theater projector that delivers surprisingly excellent performance, features, and build-quality for its product class.
If you believe, as I do, that the bigscreen magic of projectors should be spread as far as the eye can see, you probably know what a challenge it is to install one. Yes, it's one thing to plop down a little compact short-throw projector on a coffee table and toss a picture on the wall. But enjoying projection at the highest level takes sophisticated advance planning, and usually some arduous construction work to hang the projector and run cables in walls and ceilings for power, video signals, and control. Then, there's the screen, which must also be properly researched, constructed, and hung if you expect to enjoy the best images from your new projector. And, unless you're one of the lucky ones who gets to hide your projector behind the back wall of your dedicated theater room and poke the light-path through a porthole, there's a good chance you'll be living with a big white or black box hanging down in your living space...which doesn't often go over well with your resident interior designer. Bottom line: any one of these obstacles can be enough to deter even a serious geekazoid or movie fanatic from embracing front projection and doom them forever to a boring, 75-inch flat-panel.
An ultra-short throw projector solves these issues. With an unimposing, console-style chassis that sits atop a credenza just inches from the screen wall, USTs require no long cable runs to the source components, which are usually situated in the same cabinet upon which the projector rests. With the ability to project sharp images of up to perhaps 130-inches diagonal from so close a distance, they can deliver a cinematic experience without turning your room into a construction zone or leaving much imprint on your aesthetics. Some A/V furniture makers are even building UST cabinets now with recessed compartments that hide the projector completely, leaving nothing to look at but a giant image.
UST projectors are neither new, nor new to the home theater market. It's true that most USTs till now have been commercial products intended to blast graphics onto whiteboards in bright classrooms with little regard for movie/TV color accuracy or contrast. But Hisense proved some years ago with its Laser TV introduction overseas that there was consumer demand for UST in countries where living space is at a premium, and they've helped grease the skids for the nascent home UST market in the States. Sony also introduced UST projection as a luxury consumer product a few years back—in a $50,000, native 4K laser model that was eventually replaced by a version costing half as much. And some other brands have had modest success selling UST for home theater in recent years.
What is different this year, however, are the number of UST projectors being introduced by both major and secondary projector-makers that are specifically engineered to replace a family-room flat-panel, with more consideration given to color accuracy, contrast, on-board media streaming, and audio. The LG CineBeam HU85LA, reviewed here, is a DLP projector with 3840 x2160-pixel UHD resolution and a laser light engine. At $5,999 for the projector with no accompanying screen, it is among the more premium of the new offerings. Optoma's just announced laser-driven P1, by comparison, is agressively priced at $3,299, and ViewSonic's X1000-4K, an LED model, is expected to come in even lower upon its release later in the year. At this writing in early October, start-up VAVA is offering up its VA-LT002 model at $2,549. Epson's upcoming LS500 laser UST, which uses 1080p imaging chips combined with Epson's 4K-Pro UHD pixel-shifting to achieve a 4K-like image, costs $4,999 with a 100-inch ambient-light-rejecting UST screen, or $5,999 with a 120-inch screen. Earlier options include the Hisense Laser TV, which sells for $7,999 accompanied by a 100-inch ALR UST screen, and the aforementioned Sony VPL-VZ1000ES at $25,000—though I wouldn't be surprised to see Sony release a smaller and more competitively priced 4K UST at some point for its family of LCoS-based SXRD projectors.
To my mind, there are two use cases to address in evaluating these new UST projectors. It's obviously important to assess their properties in the ambient light conditions for which they are primarily pitched, ideally with an appropriate ambient-light rejecting screen. But a key underlying question is whether these new machines will be the first among a generation of higher-performing UST models that even a serious home theater enthusiast could live with and love for dark-room viewing. Just as we demanded in the mid-1990s that TV manufacturers provide color-accurate modes in their CRT-tube televisions (thank you, Joel Silver and the ISF), we need to insist now that UST projectors intended for home use provide images that, in a controlled-light environment, can be made to respect the vision of content creators. Keep in mind, too, that there is no standard that defines "ambient light projection"—everyone has different lighting conditions as well different color temperatures for the ambient light that will affect how an image is seen on the screen. There is, however, a single, established standard for ambient light under which we can fairly evaluate any projector's true performance: total darkness. With this in mind, I did a serious dark room-evaluation on the HU85LA and also looked at its picture quality and settings for ambient light.
The HU85LA makes a nice impression out of the box with its 26.8-pound weight, solid construction, and 26.7-inch-wide girth. It's a sharply rectangular box with a white finish—a suspect decision for a projector that sits so close to the screen and could reflect light, but that was never an issue in use. On the front is an attractive woven gray-cloth grille that hides a pair of approximately 3-inch stereo speakers for audio. As a whole, the projector communicates a very Scandinavian, Ikea showroom-like feel.
On top of the HU85LA you find the recess from which the light emits and a manual thumbwheel to adjust focus, with a spring-loaded cover over the wheel that keeps it from being inadvertently jogged after setting. No autofocus or motorized controls are provided, nor is any zoom as it's expected with most USTs that you'll just place the projector at the appropriate distance to achieve the desired screen size. You won't need much: The 0.19 very ultra-short throw ratio for the lens is extremely aggressive among UST projectors, and was not arbitrarily selected. According to LG, the typical TV stand or credenza is about 16 inches deep, and any throw ratio larger than 2.0, as is found on some competitive products, could result in the requirement to place the projector on a deeper-than-usual piece of furniture or one that needs to be moved farther out from the screen wall. Consequently, much engineering effort was put into making the optics work correctly from shorter distance. The projector is rated to throw a 90-inch image from just 2.2 inches off the screen, or its maximum rated 120-inch image from 7.2 inches (as measured from the front of the projector body). With our review sample I achieved a 100-inch diagonal image when the projector was positioned about 4 inches back from the screen and with its top panel approximately 8 inches below the bottom of the image. Add about 6 inches for the full height of the projector and its adjustable feet, and you get 100 inches of picture while resting the projector from a platform approximately 14 inches below the bottom edge of the screen and 4 inches back from the screen surface. A 92- inch image was established at the same platform height 14-inches below the screen, with the front edge of the projector 2.5 inches back from the screen surface. You can visit the ProjectorCentral LG HU85LA projection calculator to see the required distance for different images sizes, though keep in mind that our throw calculation represents the distance from the lens to the screen, rather than the front of the projector as LG calculates for its specs. Subtract approximately 10-11 inches from our total to get the distance from the front of the projector to the screen.
Around back, the jack-pack includes a pair of HDMI 2.0b ports equipped with the appropriate HDCP 2.2 copyright management for UHD content. One of these is equipped with HDMI ARC, and can be used to pass lossless audio signals such as Dolby Atmos or DTS-HD to an A/V receiver or soundbar. Two USB ports accept media from flash drives. A micro USB-C is for hooking up a computer or compatible smartphone, and there's an antenna input for the built-in ATSC digital tuner—a nice plus for those thinking about cutting the cable cord. An RJ45 LAN port is provided as an alternate to the on-board WiFi and also provides network control. An optical digital audio out is also provided to feed a soundbar or other sound system.
Inside the cabinet, LG has opted for both good quality parts and some sophisticated electronics. It starts with the DLP imaging chip, which is the larger, 0.66-inch version of the Texas Instrument's 4K XPR devices. This chip only requires a two-phase pixel-shift to put all the pixels in a UHD video frame up on screen, versus the four-phase shift required by the more common 0.47-inch chip.
The laser light engine is rated to deliver 2,700 ANSI lumens, and is more advanced than seen on most projectors. LG confirmed that this is a true three-laser engine with a red laser for the red primary, a blue laser for the blue primary, and another blue laser exciting a static phosphor for the green primary. This avoids the need for a sequential color wheel that could cause rainbow artifacts, and I never detected any in my many hours of viewing. LG also offers extensive picture adjustment menus for several of the color modes, and an effective Dynamic HDR feature, about which I'll say more later.
Initial setup is notoriously difficult with UST projectors because of the extreme angle at which light hits the screen; getting things to line up can be challenging without some form of keystone control or more advanced geometric correction. That holds even truer here due to the shorter-than-normal throw ratio. There are adjustable feet under all four corners of the HU85LA to assist, but LG helpfully provides 12-point warping that precisely bends the edges of the image to fix any misalignment you can't massage out by moving the projector. It was very easy to use, and while I didn't use it on my review sample to avoid the usual artifacts associated with digital keystone correction, I was really only able to see any evidence of those artifacts with test patterns. Most users (and integrators) will welcome this option during installation, and unless you're a hardcore enthusiast, you need not lose sleep over it.
The HU85LA also offers some nice ergonomic features. The projector boasts a recent version of LG's graphic user interface found on their TVs (webOS 4.5), which has always been one of my favorites. It puts easily-navigated scrollable tiles across the bottom of the screen to select inputs, call up your streaming apps, or access an off-air channel guide or the integrated Web browser. LG includes its Bluetooth-enabled Magic Remote, which requires navigating on-screen menus with by selecting them with a floating cursor and the remote's clickwheel and directional keypad. I'm less a fan of that, especially when it comes time to calibrate the display, but the execution here is pretty good. The backlight turns on automatically when you lift the remote, and important buttons to get to the home screen, settings, or the input selector are well delineated and nicely spread out. Direct access buttons to Netflix and Amazon Prime are provided, and LG points out that the HU85LA is Netflix-certified, which insures that its integrated app will play at full HD and UHD resolution, something that may not be true of the streaming platforms on competitive products (though that's easily solved with an outboard media player). Holding down the microphone key and speaking into the top of the remote lets you issue voice commands to control the projector via what LG calls its AI ThinQ technology. You can say things like "volume up," "Netflix," or "HDMI 1," or ask Google Assistant to give you the weather or to "find James Bond movies." That last command resulted in the tiles at the bottom of my screen populating with every 007 title and allowed me to directly navigate to any of these within my available streaming apps. This kind of highly-polished user experience is an advantage that only a leading TV manufacturer like LG can bring to the projection world.
On the other hand, the built-in audio was very disappointing for such an expensive projector. In fairness, LG doesn't promote the HU85LA as having an integrated soundbar or suggest its speakers can universally eliminate the need for outboard audio. But the small, 5-watt x 2 stereo speakers neither provided much bass depth—not even enough to add appropriate fullness to male vocals—nor the volume or dynamic power for much more than a newscast or ballgame. I tested it from only about 10 feet away with TV and Blu-ray movies, and ran the volume control just short of maximum the entire time. An audio menu offers different sound profiles and an equalizer, which helped a bit in making dialogue more legible, but you should plan on an ancillary audio system to do justice to the image quality. Fortunately, the optical audio connector and HDMI ARC connections make it easy to hook one up. Or, you can utlize the built-in Bluetooth audio transmitter—another nice feature— for a pair of wireless headphones.
Color Modes. The HU85LA is compatible with HDR10 content and will offer a different set of specially- tuned picture presets when it recognizes an HDR10 signal. Unfortunately, HLG is not currently supported. That's not an issue right now, but could be in the future when UHD broadcasts and some streaming services start using that format more steadily. Nor does the HU85LA support 3D playback, which may disappoint some existing projection fans but probably won't be missed by most of LG's target audience.
For traditional standard dynamic range (SDR) high definition content, there are eight color mode options including Vivid, Standard, Cinema, Sports, Game, Expert (Bright Room), Expert (Dark Room), and HDR Effect, the latter to create an impression of HDR with SDR content. The default Standard mode provides plenty of punch for bright room viewing but wasn't even close to accurate out of the box, nor were any others beyond the Cinema and two Expert modes. The Expert modes, in particular, start out less bright, but offer the most extensive set of picture tuning controls I've yet seen in any UST projector; indeed, in almost any projector at all. Multiple color temperature and gamma selections are provided, as is a full multi-point grayscale adjustment with either 2-point, 11-point, or 22-point fine tuning across the brightness range. There's also a Color Management System (CMS) to adjust the RGBCMY color points. Experienced TV reviewers or owners of late-generation LG sets will recognize these controls from their inclusion in LG's top-tier flat-panels.
For 1080p/SDR content, I went with the Expert (Dark Room) mode which looked mostly good out of the box but clearly pushed flesh tones too rosy, even with its default Medium color temperature that made whites a bit cool (blue). In the absence of a full calibration, I found that moving the color temp control to its Cool position (which made whites even bluer) and reducing the overall Color control to about 42 from its default setting of 50 helped tame the red push and made for a very impressive picture for dark-room viewing on my 92-inch diagonal, 1.3 gain, white screen. Eventually I started from scratch and used the 2-point and multipoint white balance controls, and the CMS, to fine tune the grayscale and color points. This completely took care of the red push, neutralized the whites to an appropriate D65 match, and really pushed the image quality into another league. Measured peak white on the screen from the calibrated image was a very puchy 27 foot-Lamberts on screen.
Having multiple color presets available for HDR is unusual, as most projectors provide just one or perhaps two HDR color modes, then supplement them with some sort of variable HDR brightness/gamma control. The HDR color mode options in the HU85LA include Vivid, Standard (again, the default setting), Game, Cinema and Cinema Home. The latter two default to the Medium color temperature and generally provided the most accurate color out of the box, but only HDR Cinema offered the extended color adjustments found with the SDR Expert modes. As with the SDR Expert modes, the out-of-box skintones were too rosy and could wipe out fine differences in faces, but making similar adjustments—moving the color temp to Cool and scaling back on the color saturation control—again produced a more liveable picture. A full HDR dark-room calibration, using the Warm color temp as the starting point, made things much better and again led to a quite-impressive image. I'll say more below about the HU85LA's Dynamic Tone Mapping feature, which had a lot to do with that. Final calibrated peak white hit 40.4 ft-L, or 137.1 nits.
For bright-room, ambient light viewing of SDR content, viewers are unfortunately choiced with getting maximum light output from one of the less desirable color modes, or a bit less (but still robust) light output from one of the more accurate color modes. I measured a maximum brightness of approximately 60 to 63 ft-L off my screen center (with a 92-inch, 1.3 gain, matte white material) in the brightest modes with the projector in its Minimum Energy Saver power setting (the brightest option), or about 45 ft-L with the more color-accurate modes. The latter is easily in flat-panel territory for mild ambient-light viewing, so for SDR on a 100-inch screen it's probably worth starting with the Expert (Bright Room) preset and tuning that to see if it works for your environment. The other color modes for SDR looked garish and lacked the extensive adjustments to make them just right, but of those remaining, the default Standard mode was the best and could be made watchable—at least in my studio—after tapping the basic controls (Contrast, Brightness, Color, Gamma, Color Temp) to optimize it. Of course, keep in mind that properly tuning an image for ambient light takes into account both the amount of light in the environment and that light's own color temperature. So there's no guarantee you can get things looking right without having extended color adjustments.
For HDR, the Cinema mode used for dark-room viewing put out a max brightness of about 52 ft-L on my screen and provided all the fine-tune adjustments a calibrator would need. But if you still want more light, the Cinema Home mode wasn't bad out of the box and actually gives you the projector's full lumen output. You give up the grayscale and CMS adjustments with this setting, but you have options for color temperature (though even the warmest setting is still cool by industry standards), gamma, and a Preferred Color menu that provides some subtle adjustments for Skin Color, Grass Color, and Sky Color. All of these can be used to help tune the image by eye with content you know well.
SDR/1080p Viewing. Deepwater Horizon, the Mark Wahlberg docu-drama about the now infamous ill-fated oil-rig in the Gulf of Mexico, starts out full of bright, punchy outdoor images with recognizable colors and well-delineated faces. Eventually, all hell breaks loose and everyone gets drenched in oily-rain. But before that, the movie (as viewed on 1080p Blu-ray) really showed off what the tuned-up HU85LA could do. In on early scene at the oil refinery where Wahlberg and his fellow crewmates are boarding a helicopter for their voyage to the floating rig, a close up of a worker fueling the chopper showed good neutrality in the white body of the airship, and a perfectly natural look to the shiny stainless steel band that joined the rubber filling hose to the nozzle. The worker's orange vest and neon-green rubber gloves also rang true, with neither appearing overtly cartoony or artificially punched up. In the aerial shots that followed, the green grassy areas of the refinery and the giant white tanks also looked just right, as did the surrounding green and brown marshland. A bit later, while the crew is in flight and chatting from their seats, it was now easy to see differences in their faces after the calibration—from the olive skin of Latino actor Gina Rodriguez, to Wahlberg's more ruddy tone, to the orangy tan sported by their crew manager played by Kurt Russell.
I was also able to pick up fine details in their skin textures and facial hair on this scene, which spoke to both the excellent quality of the projector's 1080p-to-UHD scaling and the HU85LA's optics. In the absence of using the warping correction and having not-quite dead-on image geometry for my temporary installation, I did have a bit of trouble getting pefect focus sometimes in the far upper corners of the screen when the rest of the image was crisp. But that was never an issue with letterboxed movies like this, where the LG showed a suprisingly sharp image that, from close up, was clearly superior in direct A/B comparisons of UHD content to the 1080p pixel-shifted image from my JVC DLA-X790 reference projector. It couldn't match the organic sharpness of the JVC DLA-NX7 I also had on hand, a native 4K projector that has a far superior lens. But I admit being surprised at seeng a UST projector deliver an image of this crispness and apparent detail.
Another pleasant surprise was the HU85LA's contrast and shadow detail, which on all but the darkest content was excellent for both SDR and HDR. For example, in the aforementioned scene in which the flight worker was filling the chopper's fuel tank, the ripples in the black fabric of her shirt sleeve at the point where it met the shirt's body were easily delineated, despite that part of the image being cast in shadow. Contrast with movies full of mixed images sharing light and dark elements, such as La La Land, looked great. Of course, the low blacks never got close to reaching the depths plumbed by the JVCs, and the HU85LA exhibited a pretty obvious gray haze and obscured a lot of detail on the demanding ultra-dark torture scenes I often use to assess black level. But on most scenes of mixed-brightness, the projector produced a decent black and solid contrast for serious dark-room viewing.
HDR Viewing. Two of the available controls for viewing HDR on the HU85LA include Dynamic Contrast and Dynamic Tone Mapping. The Dynamic Contrast control has three settings besides Off (Low, Medium, High) and behaved similar to what I've seen on TVs and other projectors, pumping up the highlights but doing nothing to actually deepen the blacks. I left it off most of the time, but occasionally used the Low or Medium setting to add a bit of extra punch without any obvious detriment to black level. The effect was especially obvious on things like credit and title screens that placed bright objects or type against a black background.
Dynamic Tone Mapping, on the other hand, was universally effective and left on at all times. By way of background, none of today's consumer displays— but especially no projectors—have the light output to show the full intensity of the brightest highlights mastered into HDR content. So the display's gamma settings must be adjusted to tame the highlights to something within the projector's capabilities while retaining as much intensity and detail as possible. At the same time, the darker parts of the image need to be handled in a manner that best retains blacks and shadows.
Given the wide variance in how HDR movies are mastered, the majority of HDR10-compliant projectors provide an HDR brightness control that can be manually adjusted for the best image with any given content. This usually results in having to play a bit of a movie before adjusting the HDR brightness for each title. LG's Dynamic Tone Mapping feature, on the other hand, analyzes the content on a frame-by-frame basis to provide the best HDR possible on any given scene. That's a big plus, but only if it works well. And in my subjective evaluations it worked very well for the vast majority of my HDR viewing.
Aquaman is a visually arresting movie that's vibrantly colorful, even in the mock underwater scenes, and the UHD Blu-ray transfer is notable for its overall brightness and effective use of HDR. The HU85LA made it look fabulous. In the opening sequence in which the queen of Atlantis, played by Nicole Kidman, washes up on the Maine shoreline in a storm and is taken in by a lighthouse keeper, the HU85LA beautifully rendered all the colors and fine details: the scaly texture of her gray and white suit; her magnificent blonde hair; and her gorgeously smooth and fair skin showed with accentuating highlights that make her look appropriately other-worldly but still somehow natural. Familiar colors, like the worn texture of a brown leather couch in the lightkeeper's quarters, came across well, as did the rocky coastline and the lighthouse itself in an outdoor scene showing the happy new couple. A blanket he wraps around her as they face the ocean winds caught my attention with its wooly texture, its open weave, and the punchy colors of the wavy stripes on it.
I experimented with Dynamic Tone Mapping (DTM) on a a bunch of different scenes. For example, on a close-up of Kidman, turning off DTM resulted in the brightest highlights on her cheek and under her eye looking blown out and pasty, and the shoulder of her scaly wetsuit was completely washed out and lacked color saturation and detail. With DTM turned back on, all the color and detail returned, and the scene took on better overall contrast without any dramatic sacrifice in overall brightness. Later in a challenging scene shot on a bright beach in which the young Aquaman is training with his mentor to become a warrior, the DTM did an excellent job managing the broad range of light—finding a good compromise between the sun-drenched characters dueling at the edge of the water and the backlit cliffs behind them. Even his mentor's black, scaly wet suit came through with detectable texture and detail. Turning off the DTM caused the entire scene to wash out, but this was also what I got with the same scene on my day-to-day JVC DLA-X790 projector. I could have used the JVC's extensive HDR gamma adjustments to bring this tough scene in line, but the general, fixed tone-map I'd previously calibrated for this projector just wasn't right for this title or this scene without my having to massage the controls.
That's the key point. Although I occasionally ran into scenes with bright highlights in which the LG's Dynamic Tone Mapping took things a touch darker than I'd have liked, it generally made great choices that preserved the punch while retaining good, dimensional contrast. This what HDR should be like: set it-and-forget-it. Similarly, JVC offers auto tone-mapping on its native 4K projectors, and recently updated their firmware to go from a fixed HDR tone-map based on a title's embedded metadata to actually reading the content frame-by-frame and adjusting on the fly. Other manufacturers should take note and step up their game in this key area.
Bright Room Viewing. I got the opportunity during my evaluation to experiment with the HU85LA casually for a few hours with an 80-inch diagonal, Screen Innovations ST (short throw) screen in a room with very bright, overhead fluorescent lighting. (Many thanks to Brian Gluck of ProjectorScreen.com for hosting me in the new demo room at his headquarters in New Jersey.) I can attest to how bright and punchy the image looked, and how effective the screen was in retaining contrast in a particularly demanding environment. In those conditions and with that type of lighting, I gravitated toward the Standard color mode; its out-of-box color inaccuracies as noted above were still visible but much less obvious in that kind of light. The Expert modes for SDR, and the Cinema modes for HDR, were far preferable but fared better when we cut the overhead lights and provided somewhat less intense ambient lighting from the sides with a pair of floor lamps.
In my home studio, with my 92-inch, non-ALR screen, I actually found that the image still held up very well in my calibrated dark-room modes with moderate ambient light coming at it from the side, or from behind the seating area (that is, with a spotlight reflecting light onto the ceiling but that light not directly washing onto the screen). You can obviously see some weakening of black level in these conditions that a UST ALR screen would help prevent, but color saturation and contrast remained quite good overall.
Turning on the recessed high-hat that sits in the ceiling three feet forward of my screen took a more serious toll on the blacks and made the image looked more washed out generally. But with SDR, switching over to the default Expert Bright mode helped. However, that's another example of an extreme environment, and I don't recommend anyone install one of these expecting to pour a ton of light on the screen, even a UST ALR screen like the SI or the recently reviewed Elite Aeon CLR that is designed to massively reject overhead light. With the more modest lighting from the side or reflecting off the ceiling, the Expert Bright Room mode in its mostly default settings actually worked quite well and was eminently watchable even with movies; more so with bright sports and news fare.
I came into this review with low-expectations and not much experience with UST projectors. I came out of it mightily impressed with what's possible in this product class as represented by the LG CineBeam HU85LA. Ultimately, I did have to cut the HU85LA some slack for being arduous to set up, its warping function notwithstanding. Although LG makes no claims for the quality of the audio, a more powerful speaker system would have been nice. And I would have liked to have had the color on the SDR Expert modes and HDR Cinema and Cinema Home modes be just a little less red out of the box and more easily tuned in without a professional calibration—though it's not unreasonable for a consumer to spend a few hundred bucks to calibrate a projector of this price. Which reminds me: if you hadn't noticed, $5,999 makes this a pretty expensive proposition. Toss in the cost of a specialty UST ALR screen and you're probably looking at an additional $1,500 to perhaps $6,000 depending on screen size, style, and brand. That's a range of $7,500 to $12,000 for the system—right up there with what a premium, native 4K long throw projector and dark-room screen might cost.
People may argue about the value quotient here, but to put it in perspective, the HU85LA currently represents the new cutting edge in a laser-driven, 4K, ultra-short throw projector. It proves the case that with proper components and engineering, an easy-to-install UST can be made to perform reasonably well in a bright room for day-to-day viewing, and transform itself when called upon into a truly excellent, dark-room home theater projector. It remains to be seen how well the emerging competition will come up to that bar, and I think it quite possible that, with the push to promote these machines as the replacement for a bigscreen TV, manufacturers may have vastly underestimated the need and desire for a good dark-room experience. Like a Trojan horse, I expect that many of the UST projectors that make their way into consumer homes in the guise of an oversized flat-panel will convert their owners very quickly into dark-room home theater enthusiasts. Simply put, it is only when the lights go down on a giant screen that the real cinematic magic of projection comes to bear. No one should come into a purchase of this or any other projector thinking it's going to be a state-of-the-art projection experience with ultra-dark blacks and contrast when viewed in ambient light. The very nature of ambient light projection, even with an ALR screen, is that you trade off some aspects of image quality in return for a much larger picture. But it's nice to know is that, at least with LG's CineBeam HU85LA, you can indeed have it both ways.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our LG HU85LA projector page.
To buy this projector, use Where to Buy online, or get a price quote by email direct from Projector Central authorized dealers using our E-Z Quote tool.
A recessed area on the left side of the rear panel includes all the connections for inputs/outputs and power, as well as a Kensington lock slot.
- HDMI 2.0b with HDCP 2.2, one with ARC (x2)
- USB 2.0, Type A (for media or smartphone) (x2)
- USB Type C (for display, data, power)
- ATSC Digital TV Tuner
- S/PDIF optical audio output
- RJ45 Ethernet (for network and IP control)
Brightness. Due to the extreme angle of light coming off the HU85LA's 0.19 throw ratio lens, traditional ANSI lumen measurements could not be taken reliably into the lens at the screen surface with an ambient light meter. As an alternative, I measured lux directly off the center of my 1.3 gain screen using a Klein K-10a colorimeter at a distance of 2 meters, from which I calcuated lumens based on the 92-inch screen size. The measurements as shown, therefore, reflect an elevated bump from the screen gain and are not averaged against measurements taken from eight other data points on the screen, as is normally reflected in an industry-standard ANSI lumen measurement. They are offered here primarily for comparison among the projector's different color modes and power settings and should not be regarded as verification of the projector's claimed 2,700 ANSI rating.
Switching from the Minimum Energy Saver power mode (the brightest) to the Medium setting resulted in an approximately 30% drop in light output in all color modes. Switching from Minimum to Maximum Energy Saver resulted in an approximately 53%-55% drop in light output. However, changes to the Energy Saver mode also resulted in shifts in color temperature, as shown in the table below.
LG CineBeam HU85LA Brightness (Lumens)
|Minimum Energy Saver||Medium Energy Saver||Maximum Energy Saver|
|SDR MODES||Lumens||Color Temp (K)||Lumens||Color Temp (K)||Lumens||Color Temp (K)
Input Lag. Unfortunately, due to the extreme angle of light coming off the projector's optics, I was unable to obtain input lag readings with either the 4K or 1080p Bodnar lag meters I had on hand.
Frame Interpolation. The HU85LA's TruMotion frame interpolation feature is available for both 1080p and UHD content with up to 60 Hz frame rate. Three settings (besides off) include Smooth, Clear, and User, with the latter offering up a 10-position De-Judder slider. The Smooth setting did an excellent job of eliminating judder and blur on moving objects and camera pans but imparted noticeable video effect to 24-frame native content, even when it was played at 60 Hz from a UHD disc player. The Clear setting provided a much better compromise, definitely smoothing the motion but imparting only modest soap opera effect. The User setting was also effective and was best used in it lower settings; at 5 and above the video effect became too distracting on film-based content.
Fan Noise. The HU85LA is extremely quiet. LG rates the fan noise at 26 dB(A) at the lowest Energy Saving setting (Maximum) and at 30 dB(A) at its loudest. The fan is barely audible when the projector comes on in a quiet room and has a fairly low pitch that makes it difficult to detect from any reasonable seating distance. High Altitude mode is recommended above 1,200 meters (3,937 feet). Activating it with even the Minimum Energy Saving setting adds a barely perceptible increase in noise and should not present any issues in most environments.
I have 2 questions that I hope you might be able to help with.
1) Would you recommend having the projector professionally installed due to the difficulty of getting the focus and alignment correct? I am a little concerned as to your comment about the focus in the corners.
2) Did you try and push the image size to be greater than the 120” maximum? I have heard some reviews say that they took it up to 130” and got a sharp image.
I should point out another modest issue with mating this projector to a screen. The extreme angle of projection on USTs, and this one in particular because of the super-short throw ratio, means that there's potential for the screen frame to create a shadow at the lower edge of the image. I have a traditional black felt frame on my screen that resulted in a tiny strip of black at the bottom of the screen surface where the projected light could not reach the screen. This would obviously be eliminated with a zero-edge screen style or when projecting the image on a wall (which I never recommend).
As for the max image size, I was unable to test this at greater than 100 inch diagonal in my studio, though I'll see what I can do about moving the projector to another location to try it out at 130-inches and report back.
First and perhaps most critically is that although the HU85LA's contrast was mostly excellent with most mixed-brightness images, in dark-room viewing its ultimate black level and and dark-scene contrast was well below what we get with some of the better and in some cases much less expensive long-throw projectors, such as the two JVCs mentioned and the Epson HC5050UB that we recently tested. (The latter costs half as much, but does not bring the ease of installation associated with a UST design.) In LG's defense, this projector was designed primarily for bright-room viewing and has a very bright 2,700 lumen output from a laser engine to achieve that, which automatically makes it more difficult to achieve those deep blacks in a dark room.
The second issue was the lack of more accurate color tuning or the ability to achieve that with any of the projector's brightest modes for purpose of bright room viewing. Unless I'm missing some subtle technical point here that would prevent this, it appears LG made a small error by not providing its full set of color adjustments for grayscale and color points for any of the full-output color modes, such as the Cinema Home HDR mode cited in the review and at least one of the SDR modes, such as the Standard setting. As noted in the review, I found the out-of-box tuning for all of the projector's brightest viewing modes garish in the dark and in most modest ambient light. It was a frustration that there were insufficient tools to really get things looking the way I wanted in any various ambient light conditions in which I tested the projector.
But none of these projectors have a long-life laser engine, and all are classic long-throw projectors that entail the complex installation and potentially undesirable aesthetic issues mentioned at the top of my review. What wow'd me about the HU85LA is that it achieves a surprisingly high level of performance in the UST form factor that, for many viewers, will represent the only viable path to the bigscreen projection experience. It remains to be seen how well the lower-cost, competitive UST models emerging now will compare, but there's no question that this LG has set a high bar. Its ranking is largely representative of its image quality achievement within this UST product class, rather than all projection as a whole. But, if the only way you can get a 120-inch image in your home is with a UST projector...then, yes, it's worth it.
Also on the audio topic. Where do you put a soundbar or center channel speaker with a UST projector? I like the Salamander cabinet designs that hide the projector but it doesn't seem like there is room below the screen for a center channel or soundbar without getting in the way of the projected image. The only other place is below the projector but that rules out the integrated cabinet like a Salamander design and also puts the center speaker?soundbar lower than ideal for dialogue. I see why the Optoma has chosen to go with a more robust integrated soundbar but that still doesn't satisfy someone like me who wants a true Atmos setup. I'd love any ideas.
Any ideas how the viewing would change using a lenticular ALR screen designed for the UST projection angle?
Knowing the vertical throw distance from the top surface of the LG to the screen edge is critical to determining if this setup can work. I also don't how much vertical play there is with the adjustable feet on the projector in combination with the 12 point keystone adjustments. Appreciate the help.
I'm also looking at the current Hisense 120L10E as a shortlisted candidate (Salamander also makes a custom cabinet for this model).
Are you planning to review the Hisense 120L10E and any thoughts on overall performance between the LG and Hisense?
A lot of sources are calming different numbers it would be nice to get some accurate native contrast for the HU85LA.
Some say the VAVA has a sharper imager with a native contrast of 2500 but it is using the TI 0.47 chips while the LG is using the 0.66 Chip and the same source claims the LG native contrast is 2100 with a less sharper image.
I already own the HU85LA but considering how much cheaper the vava is i'd really like some input.
Thank you and great review!
Note: The reason for my upgrade is due to the fact that the LS100 is not capable of receiving 4K input so Apps like Netflix which are heavily compressed 1080P does not look great on the large screen.
I would not recommend using a wall--even one painted with "Reflective Screen Paint" as a projection surface. Unless you are wanting to go bottom-tier cheap, it's not worth it. Multiple reasons. Walls are not perfectly flat. Even the most perfectly finished wall will contain "Waves" or "ripples" between sheets of drywall that are nearly invisible, but become pronounced when used as a backdrop for a projected image.
Second, a painted surface (or worse, a bare one) is even more abhorrent as a screen when it comes to UST projectors. I briefly used my P1 without a screen, and I can personally attest that the light-wash coming off it towards the ceiling....is QUITE pronounced. UST's NEED a UST-specific ALR screen. It is a night and day difference.
Maybe in a perfectly black room with a long throw projector you can get an acceptable amount of performance from a painted wall--but you'd STILL undoubtedly discover that a quality screen makes a world of difference. A good screen will both reject ambient light (and therefore resist projected light bouncing off the screen at non-viewing angles)--and be tensioned, thereby assuring a "ripple-free" surface for the image.
In a nutshell, as of this post, if you are planning on spending significantly less than $4,000 on any UST, laser, 4k setup...you are probably not going to get ideal performance. My own setup is a P1 ($3300) with a 110", XY, UST ALR screen). A Vava with an 80" UST ALR screen might get you to just below 4 grand, but not much.
Don't cheap out on a screen.
I'm not sure if you can find a short throw projector that'll do your full 100-inch image from 10 feet away, but maybe. I'd suggest using our Find a Projector search engine and screening for UHD resolution projectors that meet your throw/image size criteria. The engine allows that if you click on the By Throw Distance or Screen Size tab below the header.
Do a review on their products. Compare with those mentioned above, even the big names. VAVA is a toddler in the game but it's hyped above JMGo products.
I'm just calling your attention and other projector bloggers who deliberately decided to sideline JMGo projectors.
I'm an IT/projector enthusiast from Nigeria and has no reward or hold brief for jmgo but just trying to balance the narrative and throw some criticism at your review.
You did well anyways.
Anyway, I was wondering, unlike other reviews, you did not include your list of calibrations? I was especially curious about your calibrations on the cinema mode for HDR dark room viewing. And correct me if I am wrong, this project does a great job of retaining HDR settings when playing games? Thanks again.