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LG HU85LA 4K UST Laser Projector Review

Review Contents
Editor's Choice
Performance
4.5
Features
Ease of Use
Value
Intended Use:
DIY Home Theater
LG HU85LA Projector LG HU85LA
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2700 Lumens
$5,997 Street Price
$5,999 MSRP

LG HU85LA PROs

  • 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

LG HU85LA Cons

  • No Full 3D compatibility
  • No HLG HDR compatibility
  • Challenging set-up common to UST projectors

Our Take On The LG HU85LA

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.



LG HU85LA Slider Main

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 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.

LG HU85LA FrontTop

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.

LG HU85LA Features

LG HU85LA Lifestyle1

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 LG HU85LA Side400most 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.

LG HU85LA Rear

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.

Next Page
Performance, Conclusion
Review Contents: Introduction, Features Performance, Conclusion Measurements, Connections

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Comments (16) Post a Comment
David Rivera Posted Oct 4, 2019 7:46 PM PST
Pretty much as I expected. Very good dark room picture quality, expensive, but a bar set for the competition to come close to matching at lower price point. Rob, as always delivered a very well written review with all the bullet points covered and fantastic observations for us, the consumer, to consider. I am so eager for your review of the OptomaX P1. With 3D and a far more realistic price of $3,300, it may be the Goldilocks of the new 4k laser UST bunch.

Thanks Rob
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 4, 2019 8:00 PM PST
Thanks, David. We're awaiting our review sample of the P1 but unfortunately Optoma is not expecting to get us one until mid-November at this point. I did have the chance to do some casual A/B comparisons of a late engineering sample of the P1 against the LG and found it a credible competitor, though it too would have required some work to bring it into calibration. It remains to be seen what the final production sample looks like. I can say without hesitation, however, that the Optoma offered a much more robust and overall better-sounding built in speaker system than the LG -- something that Optoma has been promoting for this product from the beginning.
Mike Posted Oct 5, 2019 3:18 AM PST
Great review, Rob! Hoping to be able to find a dealer to se it in person soon.

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.

Thanks much!
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 5, 2019 4:00 AM PST
Mike, there's no need for a installer for this product beyond the recommendation of a professional calibration to bring it to its best. The issues that I encountered with this and other other UST projectors I've tried in my space is that the height relationship between the projector and screen is very critical for getting a perfectly rectangular image. Assuming you stick to an image size within the product's specs, the installation is simplified by placing the projector first on its furniture, leveling it using the adjustable feet, and then experimenting with its left/right skew to get the right geometry. Then you can hang the screen at the height it needs to be. In my studio, I have a prehung screen whose bottom edge is relatively close to the ground and installation of a UST requires experimentation with various platforms and spacers of different heights to make it work just right. If I was setting the projector up permanently I'd make the effort to get this perfected.

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.
Victor Posted Oct 5, 2019 10:35 PM PST
Why is the Picture quality a 4 and half stars
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 6, 2019 10:57 AM PST
Victor, although I would put this LG at the pinnacle of what's possible today in a UST home theater projector (pending our looks at some of the other new competitors), it has two primary image-quality caveats that I mentioned in the review that caused me to stop short of issuing a full 5 stars for Performance, which I equate with image quality.

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.
GIL ARROYO Posted Oct 6, 2019 2:21 PM PST
LG makes a HU87 front projector. Is this projector use the same DLP wiggler and the same laser light source? Is the performance comparable?
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 6, 2019 2:25 PM PST
Gil, I can't find any information online or in our database for an HU87 model.
Spike Posted Oct 6, 2019 2:49 PM PST
UST projectors are very attractive for many installations. I recently moved to a condo and had to give up my dedicated home theater. A few months ago, I bought a chinese version 4k UST and paired it with a 90" ALR screen from Elite. I couldn't be happier. The LG sounds great, but the price is still more than double.
Victor Posted Oct 7, 2019 10:13 PM PST
Thanks for this information LG UST projector Rob. Is it really worth $6000?
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 8, 2019 8:08 AM PST
Victor, this is a great question and perhaps one I should have addressed more directly in the review. There is no question that you can achieve a higher level of performance at lower or similar price in a traditional long-throw home theater projector intended for dark room viewing. If you were planning to spend $6,000 on a non-UST 4K-resolution projector, JVC's DLA-NX5 ($5,999) or Sony's VPL-VW295ES ($4,999) -- both native 4K models using LCoS imaging chips-would likely net you much better blacks and contrast for a dark theater and overall sharper optics. If you're planning a combination of mostly dark-room theater viewing with some ambient light viewing, and don't mind the idea of pixel-shifted 1080p imagers vs native 4K, the Epson 5050UB ($2,999) will produce a bright enough image in moderate ambient light as well as providing modes suitable for much better blacks than the LG for dark-room viewing. There are also high-value, long-throw DLP models from Optoma and BenQ below that $3,000 price point that can deliver images at least the equal of this LG, and all are capable of throwing a larger image than 120 inches.

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.
Douglas Call Posted Oct 8, 2019 9:33 AM PST
Can't wait for you guys to review the Epson LS500 Laser UST projector.
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 8, 2019 9:59 AM PST
It'll be a while, Douglas. Epson officially debuted it at CEDIA in early September but their officially announced ship date is first quarter 2020. We might see it a bit earlier if we're lucky.

Tom Posted Oct 8, 2019 10:22 AM PST
Is it capable of rear projection?
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Oct 8, 2019 10:25 AM PST
Yes, Tom. You can set it for front projection from a platform surface or inverted ceiling mount, or the same for rear projection.
Cameron Boyle Posted Oct 9, 2019 8:03 PM PST
Great review Rob! I've ben checking the site frequently looking for this review. I have some questions on the audio front. You mentioned that the HDMI 2.0b ARC in the LG can deliver lossless audio like Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD. I was under the impression only the newer HDMI eARC 2.1 ports and updated HDMI 2.1 eARC equipped soundbars and A/V receivers could transmit and receive the object based audio from Dolby and DTS. Is that not true? Also you mentioned support of DTS-HD but not DTS-X, which is the DTS equivalent of Atmos. Does the LG support Atmos but not support DTS-X?

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.

Thanks!

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