LG HU85LA 4K UST Laser Projector Review
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.
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.
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
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.
|Review Contents:||Introduction, Features||Performance, Conclusion||Measurements, Connections|
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