Despite several recent introductions among 4K UST laser projectors, the VAVA VA-LT002, informally known as the VAVA 4K, remains the least expensive option in its product class. It carries a $2,799 list and street price, though VAVA has run holiday flash sales for as low as $1,960. From a price perspective, the step-up projectors from the VAVA are currently the $3,299 Optoma CinemaX P2 and Samsung's $3,499 LSP7T. The Hisense 100L5F carries a $3,999 list price with an included 100-inch UST ALR screen. (You can survey all the current 4K UST living room projectors in our Ultra Short Throw Buyer's Guide. )
Not surprisingly, we get frequent mail asking about the differences between the VAVA and the Optoma P2 and inquiring which is better. That question is different than whether the premium for the P2, $500 on a normal day without sales, is worth the money. I'll go ahead and spare some of you from reading a lengthy review by stating right up front that the Optoma is the better projector in nearly all respects, especially image quality. I also believe strongly that the combined differences between these projectors in picture, features, and ergonomics more than justify the extra cost for the P2. Whether it's worth it to you will depend on what you value.
My analysis here is based on my prior experience reviewing both projectors and fresh evaluations of each model with its current firmware as projected onto a 100-inch Elite Aeon CLR ambient-light-rejecting UST screen. As part of my testing, I did simultaneous, on-screen comparisons of the same SDR and HDR images for both projectors. The Aeon CLR, like most UST ALR screens, has a sawtooth optical construction that accepts light from directly below the screen and reflects it straight out to the viewer while rejecting overhead ambient light. It is a dark gray screen material with a 0.6 gain, so it sacrifices a considerable amount of peak brightness that is more than made up for by its exceptional deepening of black and improved contrast in both high-ambient-light and dark conditions.
You should also refer to our full reviews of the VAVA 4K and Optoma CinemaX P2, and to the comparison engine from our Find a Projector database that shows side-by-side specs for both projectors.
Key Specs and Features
Design. The VAVA 4K and Optoma CinemaX P2 both feature a modern console design. The VAVA has the slightly smaller width and overall footprint, and a more Scandinavian look with its rounded corners. The Optoma might be considered more high tech with its convex front grille. The VAVA is available in white or black, while the Optoma is strictly white. It's really just a matter of taste which projector's aesthetic you prefer.
Lens and Throw Distance. For a UST projector, the lens throw ratio determines the distance the projector must be placed from the screen for a given image size. A shorter throw ratio means the projector can sit closer, which is more desirable and limits how far you might need to pull your resting furniture off the wall. A trade-off is that a shorter throw ratio makes it harder to maintain perfect focus uniformity, especially out toward the top corners of the screen.
The VAVA's lens has a 0.23:1 throw ratio and throws a 100-inch diagonal 16:9 image with the audience-facing front grille of the projector about 22 inches from the screen. The Optoma's lens has a slightly longer 0.25:1 throw ratio and puts up a 100-inch image with the audience-facing grille about 25 inches from the screen. Both occupy a sweet spot in which a standard TV console should accommodate a 100-inch screen without needing to move the furniture noticeably out from the wall.
Both projectors feature motorized focus with granular mechanisms that allow the lens to be zero'd in fairly easily. Optoma touts their projector's precision optics, and it often delivered a subjectively sharper picture in my tests and had better focus uniformity across more of the image area than the VAVA. Note that the Optoma can also be focused while viewing live content, while the VAVA requires you to leave whatever content you're viewing to focus against a test pattern. This can be a hindrance for getting the projector focused on what you're watching. For my tests, I worked hard to insure the VAVA's lens was as perfectly optimized as possible for the center of the image and still came away feeling it had a subtly softer image on many, but not all, scenes.
Brightness and Max Image Size. The Optoma P2 has the higher brightness rating of 3,000 ANSI lumens while the VAVA is spec'd at 2,500 ANSI lumens, a noticeable 20% difference. Of course, image brightness is also dependent on the projector settings and especially the screen size; the larger the image, the less bright the image will appear.
Like several of the competing living room UST projectors on the market today, the Optoma is specified for a 16:9 image from about 80- to 120-inches diagonal (technically, it's 85- to 120 inches in the specs). The VAVA is unique in promoting images from 80- up to 150-inches diagonal. While that 150-inch image size may sound attractive to prospective buyers, keep in mind that the VAVA must project this large picture with one of the least-bright laser engines currently found in this product class, a limitation which could come into play when viewing in high ambient light. Also bear in mind that a specialty UST ALR screen is highly recommended for both of these projectors to enable use as a day-to-day television replacement, and except for some expensive custom options that would likely exceed the cost of the projector, these screens are currently available only at nominal 100- and 120-inch sizes. Finally, it's also worth noting that positioning the VAVA for a 150-inch image requires it be placed with its front-facing grille about 33 inches out into the room and at much lower height than a typical console to accommodate the image on most walls.
Both projectors use a single blue-laser light engine with a phosphor wheel and color wheel. The VAVA is rated for 25,000 hours of life while the Optoma, like most of the competition, is rated for 20,000 hours. VAVA's warranty on the projector is one year, Optoma's is two years.
Projection Format. The VAVA offers both front and rear projection tabletop mounting, as well as front and rear projection from an inverted ceiling mount. The Optoma is strictly a table-mount solution with options for front or rear projection. Note that using any UST projector for rear projection eliminates the option of using an ambient-light-rejecting UST screen to boost contrast performance, although rear-projection installations do inherently preserve brightness for ambient-light viewing. Rear projection also excludes use of any onboard sound system, since the integrated soundbar will be facing into the rear projection chamber instead of at the audience.
Frame Interpolation. The Optoma has a PureMotion frame interpolation motion compensation feature with three active settings that I found mildly effective in my tests for reducing motion judder. The VAVA has no FI feature.
Egonomics & Menu Options. Both projectors come with sparse, compact Bluetooth remotes that share a surprisingly similar button layout (suggesting that the projectors likely come from the same OEM factory or use components sourced from the same place despite being different otherwise). The VAVA's high-impact plastic remote is a little larger and sat more comfortably in my hand, and although it lacks the backlit buttons found on the Optoma's wand, it was easily navigated in the dark once learned. It takes a pair of AAA batteries.
The Optoma's black, brushed-metal remote is rechargeable via a USB port on the bottom you can plug into any USB charger or the powered USB port on the projector. Although the Optoma's remote offers more immediate access to several key functions—including a button for direct access to the powered focus—its one big missing is a Mute button for the on-board speaker system. Muting the system requires first calling up the quick-access menu with a single button press, where Mute is usually the default first option.
Our original review of the VAVA 4K identified a number of potentially impactful quirks and omissions in the user interface that I had hoped would be fixed by now with firmware updates. Unfortunately, they have not. You can refer to our review for more details, but the issues that remain include:
- Two confusing, redundant menus for picture adjustments, neither of which tracks the other, and both of which block the image you're attempting to adjust when they're accessed. This means that the slide-out Image Parameters menu—the only one that allows you to stay on the image while making adjustments—must still be exited fully to gauge the effect of even the most basic changes.
The Optoma P2 similarly provides a main menu and a slide-out "quick menu" to allow rapid access to some image and other adjustments, both of which properly track changes in the other where applicable. When specific image controls, such as Brightness or HDR Picture Mode, are selected from its menus, the projector provides a narrow ticker display at the bottom of the image to keep it out of the way while you make subjective adjustments on screen. This is the way most projectors and televisions work.
- A still critical failing of the VAVA is that it offers only one customizable image preset that retains changes you make to the basic controls such as Brightness, Contrast, color saturation and tint (called Saturation and Tone here). Settings memories that store your changes are critical on these UST projectors to tailor dedicated picture modes for bright room and dark room viewing, which can't be fully optimized in a single setting. In the VAVA's case, they're also required because none of the out-of-box picture modes on the VAVA deliver what I would deem acceptable image quality without adjustments. Consequently, you can tune only one picture mode for either bright or dark room viewing, but not both. Similarly, the VAVA has no dedicated settings memory for HDR, which is also commonly found on other HDR-compatible displays.
In contrast, the Optoma P2 functions just like most projectors and televisions by retaining changes to the settings in any of its individual picture modes. So you can select and adjust one mode for dark-room, one mode for bright-room viewing, and also store a dedicated setting for the projector's HDR mode that becomes active when it recognizes HDR content, and another for 3D. The P2 further provides a full slate of color and grayscale image adjustments that are largely missing from the VAVA. In fairness, these controls are mostly useful to calibrators with color-measuring instruments, but in the case of the VAVA, they are required to correct obvious inaccuracies in the VAVA's out-of-box image.
Along these same lines, the VAVA has no HDR Brightness or gamma adjustment to account for differences in the brightness of different HDR titles. This is pretty much a requirement for optimizing HDR viewing short of having a dynamic HDR tone-mapping scheme as found in some higher-end projectors today. The Optoma, in comparison, has a four-position HDR Picture Mode control that provides enough range to fully optimize the image for all but the very brightest, outlier HDR titles.
- The VAVA has two brightness settings for its light engine. Switching from its Standard to its Bright mode produces a measured 18% boost in brightness. However, Bright mode cannot be set as a default; if you select it, the projector will automatically switch back to Standard brightness again when it is next powered up, requiring you to revisit the menu and set it to Bright each time.
By comparison, the Optoma P2 has a variable power control that can be used to reduce brightness from 100% to 50% in 5% increments, and also has two Dynamic Black contrast settings that change the power dynamically to account for dark scenes. While these Dynamic Black settings are effective for lowering black level on dark content, I found they impart some unexpected and obvious color tinting to the image, so I rarely used them. Any changes made to the laser power settings in any picture mode are retained in memory.
Audio System. Both projectors come with an integrated stereo soundbar that can be considered excellent by projector or even television standards and which most users will find more than adequate for their needs short of desiring a full surround-sound system. The VAVA 's sound system was engineered by audio company Harman Kardon, while the P2's was developed by Optoma's sister audio company NuForce. This is one area where the VAVA gets the clear nod for better out-of-box performance. Its 60-watt system (30 watts per channel) plays noticeably louder than the P2's 40 watt-system (20 watts per channel), delivers a touch more detail, and also has more balanced sound with a fuller bottom end that makes the Optoma seem lean by comparison.
That said, neither of these systems can really deliver the dynamic bass of an action-flick soundtrack, and it turns out the Optoma alone allows the connection of a separate powered subwoofer from its analog audio output whose volume tracks along with the front speakers. With a sub added, the Optoma's audio system is vastly improved, and becomes the more complete and noticeably more dynamic system.
Both projectors have Bluetooth audio on board, so you can stream music from a smartphone app to the speaker system. However, only the VAVA can also function as a Bluetooth transmitter to allow you to connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones for late-night viewing.
Smart Technology. Both the VAVA and Optoma have smart TV platforms that rely on apps from the Android-based Aptoide streaming store. As we've reported in reviews of several projectors that share this platform, not every Aptoide app seems to work with every projector, and apps for the major subscription services you likely care most about—Netflix and Amazon Prime—provide poor performance with less than full 4K resolution if they work at all. With either projector, you'll want to add an inexpensive Roku, Amazon Firestick, AppleTV, or Nvidia streaming dongle or box.
Both projectors offer screen mirroring from mobile devices, and onboard memory for storing some of your own photos or videos in the projector for playback. But the Optoma offers some additional smart features the VAVA doesn't have, including a modest mix of voice commands via Alexa or Google Assistant, and compatibility with IFTTT home automation routines. There's also a fancy digital-art screen saver on the Optoma, and a SmartFit app that's in addition to its manual geometric correction and lets you use your smartphone camera to automatically snap the image it into place during setup. The VAVA has only its manual correction circuitry. Either way, we always recommend you position the image using only physical movement of the projector and avoid using keystone or other geometric correction if at all possible to retain the best image quality.
Fan Noise. Both projectors are cleverly designed with multiple small fans to pull air through, resulting in relatively low noise. I found both to be exceptionally quiet, and neither's fan noise will likely be audible over a soundtrack or disturbing to viewers unless you require the High Altitude mode for the Optoma. There is no dedicated High Altitude mode in the VAVA, but it automatically increases fan speed (and noise) as needed based on its thermal sensors.
Input Lag. Neither of these USTs should be mistaken for a gaming projector. The VAVA's measured input lag in our tests was 98.1 ms for 1080p/60 signals, and 100.8 ms for 2160p/60 signals. That lag between controller action and on-screen response is likely to be noticed even in casual gaming. The Optoma features a Gaming Mode that can be switched on in the menu and lowers its normally high input lag to a measured 66.5 ms for 1080p/60 and 69.2 ms for 2160p/60. Activating this mode deactivates the projector's geometric correction circuitry. That lag time is fast enough for casual single-player gaming, though competitive multiplayer gaming is best served by a projector that can hit 16.8 ms or lower as found in the fastest gaming projectors.
Rainbows. I'm not particularly sensitive to rainbows, but with both projectors I saw very few, even with black and white content that tends to make them more visible, and often only caught these in the light coming off the lens and not on the screen image. Both projectors do rely on a color wheel, however, so our usual caveat applies: If you're sensitive to rainbows or not sure if you are, buy from a retailer who will accept your return or work with you.
SDR Viewing. Expert review publications and websites like ProjectorCentral base our judgements for home theater image quality on a display's ability to deliver an accurate, out-of-box picture as defined by widely accepted movie and TV production standards. This isn't just tech snobbery—these standards insure that, short of any intended diversion by the content creator, a white dress shirt will look white, and that the color and presentation of common everyday sights like foliage, a red stop sign, a "yellow" taxi or school bus, and especially skin tones, ring true.
It is in this area of out-of-box image accuracy that the Optoma P2 and VAVA 4K diverge most dramatically. The Optoma delivers a near-perfect out-of-box picture suitable for dark-room viewing with its Reference color mode and a highly watchable image for bright-room ambient light viewing with its Cinema mode (following some minor subjective adjustments). The VAVA 4K delivers a subjectively and measurably inaccurate image out of the box in every one of its picture modes, and requires an instrument-aided professional calibration to bring its image to something close to right. At that point, it produces a fairly good picture in most respects, but even then, the projector's lack of key color adjustments and settings memories prevent it from being fully corrected and make it impossible for the user to consistently enjoy an ideal image in different light conditions or with different types of content.
To be fair, the VAVA is fundamentally a solidly built and well-functioning projector whose laser engine and three segment color wheel achieve an impressive range of colors. Its specs claim it reaches 85% of the NTSC color gamut, which is a wider gamut than the Rec.709 color space used for HDTV but smaller than the DCI-P3 gamut that currently defines the limits for most 4K programming. Using Calman Ultimate calibration software from Portrait Displays, a Murideo Six-G signal generator, and an X-Rite i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer, I measured the VAVA's color volume at 133% Rec.709, 90% DCI-P3, and 61% Rec.2020. That exceeds the Optoma P2's measurements of 116% Rec.709, 79% DCI-P3, and 53% Rec.2020 (a difference that's partly explained by the P2's higher brightness rating and the difficulty of extending color range as lumens increase).
So, the bones of the projector are good, and it could conceivably be a very high performing product at a very low price with the right factory tuning. Unfortunately, in every one of its color modes, the VAVA is tuned by its engineers not for accuracy, but to optimize brightness and color saturation, and particularly, to accentuate red. Most TVs and projectors do have some picture modes that push brightness and color to accommodate specific content types like video games or sports, or to attract the eye of uninitiated retail shoppers among a wall full of competing flatpanels. However, these are usually accompanied by one or two essentially accurate modes. Those aren't found here.
As I alluded, the biggest problem with the VAVA's image is that it overaccentuates red in every one of its color modes. Even in its best-looking out-of-box preset (the Movie mode), caucasian flesh tones glow unnaturally and lean too far toward orange or pink or something in between. These effects are apparent even on images of brown-skinned African Americans and make it difficult to delineate the subtle differences among caucasian skin tones, much less the clear differences between caucasians and persons of Asian or other lighter-skin ethnic descents. For some reason, I noticed the red push was much more pronounced with video content, such as in the faces of newscasters on my cable box, than it was in 24 fps movies on Blu-ray—though it was still easily visible. Given our acute familiarity with skin tones in real life, faces that glow with permanent sunburn or otherwise exhibit excessively red, pink, or orange tinting that we don't usually see in nature are particularly bothersome once noticed. The red push on the VAVA also makes some deep red objects, like a stop sign or a crimson red ball cap, lean a bit orange compared to a projector that produces more accurate color, even as it causes them to pop more off the screen.
There is another unconventional choice in the factory tuning of the VAVA's image that puts it at odds with the industry production and display standards, and that is that it unnaturally boosts brightness across much of the grayscale. I'm sure that sounds like mumbo jumbo to many, but it's something that's clearly visible on screen. Without getting too deep in tech weeds, suffice to say that faces, in particular, end up looking subtly brighter than they should be in relation to the rest of the image (irrespective of any red push). Consequently, they pop a bit more off the screen but suffer from a subtle loss of contrast and look more pasty and washed out than they do on a projector that is properly tuned.
To better illustrate the differences in image quality, it's worth comparing the Calman pre-calibration, out-of-box snapshots for the Optoma CinemaX P2 Reference mode with its default Standard Color Temp setting, and the VAVA's out-of-box Movie mode with the Warm Color Temp setting, which was the combination that yielded the best subjective image quality and the best measurements on that projector. The readings below are all based on the targets for the HDTV standard for SDR content, including a neutral gray D65 white point, the 2.2 gamma curve used in the production of most legacy content, and the Rec. 709 color gamut.
As reported in our original review, my instrument calibration using the VAVA's color Saturation adjustment and its RGB Gain controls—the only advanced controls available—went a good way toward making it watchable, though not quite the on-screen equal here of the Optoma's out-of-box or calibrated Reference mode. (You'll find my final calibrated settings for both projectors at the end of the review.) Side-by-side comparison did show the projectors to be largely identical in most respects. There were minor differences in the blues, where shots of a daytime sky, for example, were a touch more saturated (though not necessarily more accurate) on the VAVA. There were also slight differences in the whites, which were well within acceptable range on both projectors but ran a touch warmer (more red) on the VAVA against the Optoma's more neutral, slightly cooler tuning. But faces on the VAVA were still noticeably brighter and slightly pink-orange. This was visible at all times but particularly evident in La La Land in the very fair skin of lead actress Emma Stone. Ditto for the various skin tones in the excellent Blu-ray transfer of Apollo 13, and in one particular shot from Lucy that shows a row of multi-ethnic conference attendees all looking simultaneously at the camera. Comparatively, the Optoma's adherence to accurate color and the right gamma curve made facial highlights less blown out, more detailed and richer, and the shadows slightly darker—all of which made faces more natural and three-dimensional on most scenes.
Black levels on most mixed brightness scenes, such as a shot in Apollo 13 that shows the moon in the distance against a dark starfield sprinkled with pinpoints of light, were fairly evenly matched on the two projectors, even with the Optoma's Dynamic Black setting turned off. With mostly dark content, such as found in Blade Runner 2049, both projectors did a commendable job given their high brightness, though the Optoma required use of its Dynamic Black feature (with its aforementioned tinting) to look its best.
As mentioned above, I often found that the Optoma delivered a sharper image overall, though it wasn't apparent on every scene and may have been related both to the characteristics of the optics as well as the difference in mid-tone contrast, which can effect the perception of detail. After experimentation with each projector's sharpness control, I found this could not be accounted for by any differences in those settings (which I actually turned down on the Optoma to eliminate any hint of edge enhancement artifacts). I also noted when viewing full screen images that the Optoma maintained better (though still not perfect) focus out to the top-right corners of the image, where most USTs show some loss of sharpness.
HDR Viewing. The VAVA 4K is compatible with HDR10 high dynamic range content, while the Optoma accepts both HDR10 and the still uncommon HLG format (I did not test the latter). Both projectors recognize an HDR flag in the video signal and automatically react. The Optoma switches into a dedicated HDR picture mode, with its own memorized settings, while the VAVA remains in the last selected picture mode and overlays its HDR tone-mapped gamma (EOTF) curve on the picture.
Even prior to any calibration, the VAVA's HDR image displayed impressive contrast with good rendering of highlights and, as you'd hope with HDR, the image looked noticeably more dimensional and engaging than it did with the same movies in SDR. As with SDR playback, the Movie mode with the Warm or sometimes the cooler Standard Color Temp setting provided the best image out of the box.
But the VAVA's out-of-box image, and even the picture from my calibrated Customize mode with Customize Color Temp, still left Emma Stone's face in La La Land looking some degree of pink-orange that was clearly unnatural and obvious when viewed against the Optoma's out-of-box uncalibrated HDR mode (following some attenuation of its Color control). Here again, outside of skin tones, most images looked otherwise identical or close in terms of colors on both projectors, though differences in each projector's HDR tone-mapping accounted for some differences in contrast depending on the scene. Where other differences in colors did occur, they were subtle and wouldn't be bothersome in the absence of direct comparison. For example, in one close-up shot of Emma's character Mia and her romantic interest Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) as they tour a movie studio backlot, Mia's white shirt exhibits a warmer/pinker tone next to the slightly cool, more neutral white displayed by the Optoma, and Seb's pale yellow shirt has a touch of orange that the Optoma and other calibrated displays I've seen don't exhibit. A shot of a 70's-era Plymouth Fury New York City patrol car on the same movie lot displayed a more accurate tone of bright blue on the VAVA, without the slight touch of green added by the Optoma.
Scanning through the HDR version of Aquaman demonstrated similar differences. Whites continued to lean a little warm on the VAVA and skin tones red/orange against the more neutral whites and usually more natural faces on the Optoma, though there were moments where the VAVA's treatment gave the scene the better looking image. There was a stunning shot of Queen Atlanna (played by Nicole Kidman) near the start of the film where the combination of the VAVA's boosted midtones and HDR tone-map worked together to create just the right lighting that left her pearly skin more detailed and natural, while the Optoma showed a wider dynamic range that deepened the shadows more but ultimately looked a little less appealing and real, even after trying to optimize it with a different HDR Picture Mode setting.
As I found with SDR, HDR black levels were satisfyingly dark on both projectors. The opening scene in Aquaman, which depicts a raging nighttime thunderstorm with crashing waves against a rocky beach, delivered a suitably dark sky and delivered the chain lightning bolts and wild flashes of light with a visceral pop on both.
3D Viewing. Both projectors will play 1080p Full 3D from a Blu-ray player with off-the-shelf DLP-Link glasses. Only the Optoma will automatically detect it and switch to its 3D mode. On the VAVA you need to navigate to the 3D menu option and make an appropriate selection based on the type of 3D used on the disc, then switch the 3D menu back to Off to restore 2D playback.
The 3D playback on the VAVA appears to be improved somewhat from the company's first attempt I reported on in my original review. It seemed a bit brighter than I remember and I was able with adjustments to generate a more engaging image for dark room viewing than I did on my first go around, but the image still carries the obvious red tint that I reported on in my review and could not eliminate with any available picture adjustments. It was particularly noticeable on the black-and-white memory sequence at the beginning of The Walk. The Optoma's out-of-box 3D mode, on the other hand, was a little brighter out of the gate and cast a slight green tint that was easily mitigated by backing down the Green Gain control in the Color Settings menu. This resulted in a relatively punchy 3D picture with acceptably accurate color and skin tones in both Pixels (which features a combination of live action and animation) and The Walk. It also served up the black-and-white sequence from The Walk with decent neutrality.
The $500 difference between the VAVA 4K and the Optoma CinemaxP2 laser projectors may look big, but there's a vast difference in the design and out-of-box performance in the products. To VAVA's credit, the company's history of firmware updates suggest they're earnest about listening to their user community and both improving the projector's image quality and fixing ergonomic quirks as they go along. The most recent update last summer addressed issues like getting the HDMI-CEC function to work correctly, optimizing the HDMI ARC connection, and adjusting the fan control to further lower noise in some scenarios. Prior updates directly addressed SDR and HDR image quality.
My assessment when I reviewed this projector in April was that the VAVA 4K was a first-time projector from a new brand that has good bones but enough rookie misses and quirks to make it feel like an unfinished product from an inexperienced manufacturer. That opinion still holds true eight months later after a fresh look, though given its low entry price for this category, it does have its place in the world. With some work and expertise applied to its settings, it can deliver what should be an acceptable image for many viewers. And I gather there are legions of first-time projector buyers out there who would be happy, if not impressed, with its over-reaching out-of-box picture, and won't be at all bothered by its lack of adjustability and ergonomic quirks. As a projection evangelist, I'd still rather see someone buy the VAVA, warts and all, and enjoy the benefits of its huge image vs. purchasing a 75-inch flatpanel.
But to repeat my earlier findings, the VAVA 4K is not presently an enthusiast's or videophile's projector, even in the context of a day-to-day TV replacement. It neither delivers an accurate image out of the box—particularly in the critical rendering of faces—nor provides the controls and settings memories commonly found on nearly every other projector that would allow someone to achieve that. I still have hope that could change with future updates.
But for now, there's no question that the Optoma CinemaX P2 provides the better value. Within this particular pairing of projectors, the extra $500 you'd spend stepping up to the Optoma amounts to 2.5 cents per hour over the 20,000-hour life of the projector. Enumerating the differences, that investment buys you two well-tuned out-of-box image modes for dark-room theater and bright-room day-to-day viewing; the ability to customize any picture mode to your liking and have the projector retain your changes; a color management system (CMS) and full slate of RGB Gain and Bias controls, and a Gamma control, for professional calibration should you want it; an HDR Picture Mode control to easily accommodate differences in HDR content and viewing tastes; compatibility with HLG HDR content should you need it; a usable (and separately adjustable) 3D mode; a Gaming Mode with input lag suitable for casual gaming; a Frame Interpolation feature; and a subtly sharper image on many scenes. You'll give up a modest degree of out-of-box audio quality you'd get with the VAVA, but gain the ability to connect a subwoofer to the Optoma's sound system to bring it up to something that surpasses that.
In short, what you are paying for is Optoma's long experience building polished products that provide the good picture quality, ease of use, features, and customization that enthusiasts have long come to expect from most of the established projector brands. Those things are dressed here in a turn-key entertainment center that well serves its dual purpose of providing both a day-to-day TV replacement and a respectable dark-room home theater projector for movie lovers. It is this combination of well-executed design and commendably good out-of-box performance—in a projector whose pricing still sits near the bottom of its product class—that helped the CinemaX P2 earn our rare Editor's Choice designation. If your budget permits, it is the better of the two choices here, and we continue to recommend it highly.
Brightness-Optoma CinemaX P2. Due to the extreme angle of light coming off the lens, measuring ANSI lumens for a UST projector with a handheld luminance meter facing into the lens yields the potential for errors caused by small misalignments of the meter. The results in our ANSI lumens chart, which shows the Optoma CinemaX P2's maximum brightness in the Bright mode at 2,864 lumens (well within the 10% ANSI tolerance), should therefore be taken with some grains of salt.
Accompanying it below are direct measurements taken off my 100-inch, 0.6 gain Elite Aeon CLR UST ALR screen in a dark room showing the brightness in foot-Lamberts and the color temperature of white for each color mode in its default color temperature setting. With this more reliable technique, I determined that the Optoma's 50% Brightness laser setting reduced the brightness in any mode by 50.1%, and the 75% Brightness setting reduced brightness in any mode by 76.6%.
Optoma CinemaX P2 ANSI Lumens
|Picture Mode||100% Brightness|
Optoma CinemaX P1 Brightness (Ft-L)*
|Mode/Color Temp||Brightness Ft-L (0.6 gain)||Brightness Ft-L (1.0 gain)||Color Temp (K)|
* Ft-L and Color Temp measurements as taken off a 100-inch diagonal, 16:9, 0.6 gain screen with default projector settings. 1.0 gain brightness figures are calculated estimates. All modes default to 100% Brightness Mode for laser power.
** With Film HDR Brightness mode default.
Brigbtness-VAVA 4K. In the VAVA 4K's brightest setting—the default Standard color preset with the default Standard Color Temperature setting, and with the laser power Brightness control set to High—the projector measured 2,708 ANSI lumens. Given the above advisory, that reading should be viewed with a grain of salt. But suffice to say the VA-LT002 was very bright and left little doubt about reaching its 2,500 ANSI lumen specification. This was further verified by luminance measurements (in foot-Lamberts) taken off the center of my 1.3 gain matte white screen from a 10 foot viewing distance with a Klein K10 colorimeter pointed at the screen. The brightness reflected to the viewer for each color mode is shown below along with the color temperature of white in each of the color temperature default settings. Note that the measurements were the same for nearly every mode, with other settings beyond Contrast, Brightness, and color temp accounting for visual differences.
Note that the off-screen measurements below from our original review were taken off a 92-inch, 1.3 gain matte white screen vs. the larger 100-inch, 0.6 gain ALR screen used for our comparison test and for our original review measurements for the Optoma P2 as shown above. The smaller image and higher gain account for the considerably higher numbers despite the VAVA's 20% lower brightness specification.
VAVA 4K Brightness (Ft-L)***
|Mode / Color Temp||Brightness (ft-L)||Color Temp (K)|
|Standard / Standard||54.8||9,290|
|Standard / Cool||41.3||9,680|
|Standard / Warm||44.1||6,460|
|Movie / Standard||50.9||9,320|
|Movie / Cool||38.1||9,680|
|Movie / Warm||41.4||6,120|
|Colorful / Standard||54.8||9,310|
|Colorful / Cool||41.4||9,690|
|Colorful / Warm||44.1||6,460|
|Sport / Standard||54.9||9,320|
|Sport / Cool||41.4||9,700|
|Sport / Warm||44.1||6,460|
|PC / Standard||54.8||9,880|
|PC / Cool||41.4||9,700|
* Ft-L and Color Temp measurements as taken off a 92-inch diagonal, 16:9, 1.3 gain white screen with default projector settings.
In the Standard color mode with the Standard color temperature setting, changing the laser power Brightness control from High to the default Standard power mode reduced the reflected light output on the screen from 55.6 ftL to 45.7 ftL, about an 18% decrease. However, the color temperature also shifted from 9,340K to 6,280K, and in any event the perceived difference on the screen was minimal at best with live content.
Optoma CinemaX P2
- HDMI 2.0b (x3) with HDCP 2.2, one with ARC
- S/PDIF optical digital audio out (Toslink)
- Analog stereo audio out (3.5 mm)
- Bluetooth wireless in
- USB Type A 2.0 (4K media player)
- USB Type A 2.0 (media player, power)
- USB Type A (firmware and service)
- Ethernet (RJ-45)
- HDMI 2.0b (x3) with HDCP 2.2, one with ARC
- Composite video in (3.5 mm)
- S/PDIF optical digital audio out (Toslink)
- Analog stereo audio out (3.5 mm)
- Bluetooth wireless (BT4.2 dual mode for audio in/out)
- USB Type A (for media, firmware updates)
- Ethernet (RJ-45)
- WiFi (802.11ac, 2.4Ghz/5Ghz)
Calibrated image settings from any third-party do not account for the significant potential for sample-to-sample variation, nor the different screen sizes and materials, lighting, lamp usage, or other environmental factors that can affect image quality. Projectors should always be calibrated in the user's own space and tuned for the expected viewing conditions. However, the settings provided here may be a helpful starting point for some. Always record your current settings before making adjustments so you can return to them as desired. Refer to the Performance section of the review for some context for each calibration. As reported, subjective tweaks following calibration sometimes resulted in adjustments to Brightness (black level), Contrast (peak white), and Color saturation to yield the most pleasing results and effect the most natural fleshtones on different content.
The settings below for both projectors were arrived at on a 100-inch diagonal, 16:9, 0.6 gain UST ALR screen with a dark, contrast-enhancing surface.
VAVA 4K (SDR and HDR)
IMAGE PARAMETER MENU:
Color Mode: Customize
Color Temp: Customize
Red Gain: 1012
Green Gain: 852
Blue Gain: 746
Trapezoid Correction: none
Screen Ratio: 16:9
Optoma CinemaX P2
Display Mode: Reference
Color Temp: Standard
H-5, S1, G-3
H-16, S3, G-7
H-15, S2, G-5
H-11, S-5, G-3
H-12, S-5, G-4
H-29, S-7, G7
Red Gain-6, Green Gain -6, Blue Gain -6
Red Gain: 0
Green Gain: 0
Blue Gain: -1
Red Bias: 0
Green Bias: 0
Blue Bias: 1
Brightness Mode: Power 100%
Display Mode: Cinema
Color Temp: Standard
H-6, S1, G3
H17, S0, G-4
H-17, S2, G0
H-9, S-4, G3
H-20, S-4, G2
H-31, S-9, G8
Red Gain 0, Green Gain -5, Blue Gain -8
Red Gain: 0
Green Gain: -1
Blue Gain: -4
Red Bias: -2
Green Bias: -1
Blue Bias: -1
Brightness Mode: Power 100%
Display mode: HDR
Color Temp: Standard
H0, S5, G20
H0, S5, G20
H-10, S0, G15
H22, S-4, G25
H-31, S-5, G15
H10, S-5, G20
Red Gain 0, Green Gain -4, Blue Gain -8
Red Gain: 0
Green Gain: 0
Blue Gain: 0
Red Bias: 0
Green Bias: 0
Blue Bias: 0
Brightness Mode: Power 100%
To me, given what these may be used for I'd like to see more emphasis on "daylight" viewing and/or viewing in an environment that many large screen televisions are used in. Sports for example, if we ever get back to in person gatherings watching a football game or even a baseball game (which occur when the brightness is high into the evening).
Still in all, an interesting and timely test, thanks
- We reviewed the VAVA pretty favorably in a standalone review in April in which I delineated all of the projector's many faults, including inaccuracies in its image quality that can't be completely massaged away with the existing controls, and which require professional calibration instruments to best minimize. What I said then in my conclusion is that, once it's calibrated, it provides "very good image quality." The color issues I discussed in our original review and in this review are the same, and I wasn't trying to "bash" the projector here or suggest here that a calibrated VAVA is unwatchable. What I did say is that the projectors ended up looking largely the same except for differences in the naturalness of the skin tones and reds, which remained visible in a side-by-side comparison even after calibration, and some differences I spotted in HDR tone-mapping.
But what this side-by-side comparison with the Optoma revealed is that even at its best, with an instrument calibration, the VAVA continues to show remnants of its poor factory tuning, at least by the professional standards that most serious home theater projectors are judged by. While I appreciate the value it represents in this product category, I still think that given the not insignificant $2,800 price, it really ought to provide at least one close-to-accurate picture mode out of the box for those of us who know what that looks like. Just one--that's all I ask. Every projector has inaccurate modes in it that some people like and some consider throwaways, but most have at least one you can tune to look like an industry-standard Rec.709 HDTV image. You may say that your VAVA sample has none of the color issues I see in my sample, but I doubt we'd find them any different. It may be that you are among the many out there who would find those calibrated skin tones in the realm of realistic, particularly in the absence of a side-by-side with a more accurate image. I agree they're not terribly far off. But as you suggest, they're not perfect, and it's unfortunate that the VAVA gives you no controls or recourse to make them better.
- Color differences aside, the other thing this side-by-side face-off does is spotlight in very clear terms the issues with the VAVA's haphazard execution compared with a polished product like the Optoma, or frankly, most other budget projectors costing half or less its price. Call me crazy, but I also believe it would be nice at that $2,800 price to have some of the standard ergonomic features that projector enthusiasts expect to see, such as the ability to adjust the image without having the menu graphics darkening or fully blocking half to two-thirds of the image, and at least a couple of picture modes whose settings behave independently and are retained after you make changes. The review conclusion delineates a laundry list of differences between the projectors and why I think it's worth paying the $500 premium for the Optoma. Those things speak for themselves. I think it's a LOT of stuff, some of it very important. But I never said in my standalone review of the VAVA or in this review that you shouldn't buy the VAVA. Only that the Optoma is the superior projector and offers the better value despite its higher cost because of everything you get in comparison.
- Last point, just because it always concerns me when people drop comments even in a joking way that we're in any manufacturer's pocket. First, we don't take money for reviews. We do take money for advertising from manufacturers who advertise with us, and navitaging those fiduciary relationships while reviewing an advertisers' products goes with the territory for us and most other review websites. I have had many years of overseeing reviews at a number of audio/video enthusiast publications, so this is not unfamiliar territory for me. It's probably worth a blog at some point to discuss how we keep the sales and editorial functions separate, but suffice to say that as the independent editor at ProjectorCentral I don't personally gain anything from issuing a positive or negative review, and I'm not pressured in any way say nice things or avoid saying not nice things about an advertiser's product. Our outside reviewers are protected in the same way. The reality is that we always call it like we see it while trying to be accurate and fair to the manufacturer while also upholding our responsibility to readers who are going to plunk their own hard cash on a product. In this case, I think it's worth noting again that both of these projectors were reviewed separately and favorably by us before, although the VAVA received a more balanced review because of the flaws we found, and the Optoma was issued our rare Editor's Choice designation on the strength of its performance and features. Aside from commenting here on side-by-side viewing comparisons and delineating previously identified features and execution between the two projectors in one review, there's nothing new here. The last line of the review says of the P2, "If your budget permits, it is the better of the two choices here...". If VAVA provided a better out-of-box image and fixed one or two other key issues we've pointed out, it would be a much more considered decision and a less definitive review outcome. As I said in my original VAVA review and in this shoot-out, I still have hope that the company will someday address these concerns in future firmware or a future product.
The only unused room in our recently-purchase home is the dedicated theater room. The home is about 12 years old now, with hardware and connections for a standard ceiling-mounted projector and connections for an amplifier, RJ-45, etc., but I have been convinced a UST with a Google Chromecast is the better and more technologically up-to-date choice for us -- particularly a UST with acceptable onboard sound and an external sub-woofer.
This purchase is not insignificant and I plan to keep whatever we buy for several years (even if we decide to move to another home in a few years). I'm trying to achieve the best fit between quality, features, price, needs, and preferences. Any additional insights you would care to supply to help me in my decision are most appreciated (including your thoughts on choosing between standard and UST projectors).
I will continue my research a bit longer to look for any other candidates (and decide if I should broaden my search beyond USTs), but I have bookmarked your VAVA/OPTIMA reviews and comparison in my browser. Thanks again for your hard work and expertise.
I'm a little confused about your lean toward a UST in this instance. Your prewiring precludes any concerns you might have regarding installation of an overhead projector, so short of serious aesthetic concerns, or a strong desire to do a lot of viewing in bright ambient light (which also requires a UST ALR screen with a UST projector), I'm not sure what your'e expecing to gain. It is true that the USTs are laser driven and require no lamp replacements, so I can understand the desire for that feature. However, you'll get better contrast and black level from the right dark-room theater projector, wider color gamut and probably better HDR rendering for 4K HDR movies, probably a sharper image edge to edge with no mild bending distortion at the top left/right extremes of the image as happens with most of these USTs at the 100- and 120-inch sizes. So it's really a question of intended use and aesthetic considerations before you can decide if the superior image of a dark room long throw projector is worth sacrificing for the benefits of a UST.
Of these two, only the VAVA processes DTS on board, but I'm unclear what it will pass through. Note that I reported in my earlier review of the VAVA that I had a bit of trouble with lip sync on DTS soundtracks.
Many thanks for your review. However, I am lost now. Does the Optoma P2 provide the possibility for a ceiling mount?
Reading your review, it cannot. Reading the manual, it seems to be included. Can you clarify ?
We are getting ready to purchase an UST projector for our newly built dedicated HT (26’L x 16’6”W x 8’H). I have a 7.2.4 speaker setup (wired for future 9.2.4). Front LCR, side and rear surrounds, 4 overhead atmos and 2 15” subs. I have a Marantz SR8015 AVR. I plan on using a high end DVD player for streaming apps. My question is this. If I buy the Optoma, will I be able to use my speakers as intended? Or will I not be able to play movies as 7.2.4?