Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
The LG Minibeam PH550 Projector is best understood as a portable big-screen TV. It just happens to use a 720p projector instead of a screen for its display. The TV part comes from the built-in TV tuner and the coax connector for an antenna or cable. The portability comes from the compact size, light weight, and rechargeable battery. As with most TV's today, assorted ports and wireless options let you connect other sources--including PCs, tablets, and phones--so you can use it as a standard projector as well.
Roughly the size of a thick paperback and weighing only 1.5 pounds, the PH550 pairs a 720p (1280x720) DLP chip with an LED light source meant to last the life of the projector. LG rates the brightness at 550 lumens. However, it adds an asterisk next to the rating which we'll discuss below.
As a practical matter, I found it easily bright enough for a 55" 16:9 image in a family room at night with the lights on. That's pretty impressive for a portable TV, especially one that's widely available for a little less than $550.
Compared with 1080p TVs and projectors, the PH550's resolution limits the detail it can show. Compared with other 720p projectors in its brightness and weight class, however, the PH550 offers far better image quality than most.
Color Preset Modes. The five color preset modes--Standard, Vivid, Cinema, Sport, and Game--are all customizable. Each automatically adds (User) to its name if you make any changes and removes the addition if you reset it to its default. There are also two user modes, called Expert 1 and Expert 2 to avoid confusion with the predefined modes with user customizations added.
Using default settings, some colors are a touch too vibrant, giving them a nearly DayGlo effect. With video and other photo-realistic images, this extra vibrancy shows primarily with memory colors--like green grass or blue sky--in brightly lit scenes, and is most obvious in Standard and Vivid modes. It's far more subtle in Cinema mode, which offers the best color quality and a fairly close match overall to the calibrated projector we use for comparison. Unless you have a particularly critical eye, however, the color is within an acceptable range even in Standard and Vivid modes. Some people will even prefer it to more realistic color.
With an HDMI connection, color balance is excellent in most modes, with suitably neutral grays at all levels from white to black. However, Sports and Vivid modes both show a slight tint with some midtones. With a VGA connection, the color balance is excellent in all modes.
Rainbow artifacts are not an issue. The only time I saw them with data images was with one that's designed to bring them out, and even then, only when I shifted my gaze back and forth quickly. With video, I saw only a few in the entire time I spent with the projector. It's unlikely that anyone would see them often enough to find them bothersome.
Data Presentations. Although the PH550 isn't designed for data presentations, it can easily handle them. The touch-too-vibrant colors are even less of a problem for business graphics than they are for video, and the projector holds detail well.
One minor issue if you connect to a PC by HDMI is that you'll have to turn off overscanning, which is not available with a VGA connection but is on by default with HDMI. Overscanning makes the image a touch bigger, scaling it to a slightly larger size by adding a few pixels. This can be a problem for data images. It makes text harder to read, for example, and adds scaling artifacts to areas with closely spaced lines or dots.
Turning the feature off is easy but the setting is more than a little obscure. You have to change the Aspect Ratio option from 16:9--which is the obvious choice if you're using 1280x720 resolution and the right choice with VGA input--to Just Scan.
With overscanning off, white text on black in our tests was crisp and readable at sizes as small as 6 points, black text on white was highly readable even at 4.5 points, and there were no scaling artifacts in fills that tend to show them.
Video. With video, overscanning ensures that the image fills as much of the screen as possible, but it also contributes to a soft-focus effect. You'll want to try both settings to see which one you like better. Beyond that, the PH550 handles video nicely. In addition to its near-excellent to excellent color quality, it did a good job of avoiding posterization and held shadow detail well, even in the most demanding text clips. When I connected the projector to a FiOS box I saw only a few rainbow artifacts over several hours of watching TV.
Contrast ratio is notably low, with black showing as a glowing gray. This is particularly obvious in theater-dark lighting, where the glow shows in the black background behind scrolling credits or with the black bars in a picture-box format. With the lights on, however, a deep black would get washed out anyway. The somewhat-too-vibrant color also helps compensate for the low contrast ratio by giving the colors a little extra pop.
3D video delivers essentially the same quality as 2D for those aspects of quality that both share. The projector also does well on quality issues specific to 3D, with no crosstalk in my tests and only moderate levels of 3D-related motion artifacts in scenes that tend to cause the problem. There's only one 3D color preset
TV Tuner. The PH550's built-in tuner is what makes it a TV. Use the coax input to connect to an antenna or cable TV, run auto-search to find available stations, and you can then watch TV, using the remote to change channels.
Easy Wireless Connections. LG's Screen Share supports both Miracast and WiDi for easy wireless connection to phones, tablets, and PCs that offer either option.
Rechargeable Battery. The built-in rechargeable battery not only makes the PH550 fully portable, it helps make it a particularly good companion to a cell phone or tablet. LG says a full charge can last from a little less than an hour with the brightest mode to 2.5 hours with the Maximum energy savings mode. Recharging a fully discharged battery takes 3 hours.
Small and Lightweight. The PH550 measures 1.7" by 6.9" by 4.3" (HWD), and weighs only 1.5 pounds including the battery according to my postage scale. (LG's official claim is 1.4 pounds.)
Both Bluetooth and a Wired Audio Output. LG says it expects most people to use external speakers with the PH550, either plugging into the audio output, or, more likely, taking advantage of the Bluetooth support.
Usable Audio. The two 1-watt stereo speakers are meant as a fallback if you don't have external speakers handy. They offer surprisingly high quality audio at a volume suitable for a small room.
Supports Full HD 3D Input. The PH550's 3D support accepts full HD 3D input from video devices, and it automatically switches to and from 3D mode as needed. The 3D works with DLP-Link glasses only.
Good Lag time. The lag time is lower than most projectors deliver, at 34.2 ms in all modes.
Security. There's a Kensington lock slot on the back.
Warranty. The price includes a one-year warranty for parts and labor, including the LED light source, which is better than many projectors offer
Brightness. LG rates the PH550 at 550 lumens, but with the hedge that the claim is based on "the perceived brightness equivalent to the brightness of a lamp projector." In other words, it doesn't measure 550 lumens on a light meter. Instead, the rating is based on the proposition that the human visual system perceives the LED light source as being brighter than a standard lamp with the same measured brightness.
Not having a 550-lumen projector handy for comparison, I can't confirm the claim. However, I can confirm that I was comfortable watching a substantially larger image for extended viewing than you would expect from the measured brightness. Using AC power, I measured the ANSI Lumens for the three brightness settings at:
The key result here is that for each power level, the brightness is nearly the same for all color modes.
Brightness with battery Power. There's no zoom, so there's no zoom-lens effect. However, the brightness is lower when running with battery power. Using batteries, I measured the ANSI Lumens for the three brightness settings at:
Brightness uniformity. The PH550 offers far better than typical brightness uniformity for this class of projector, at a measured 80%. With a solid white image, a wide swath along the vertical midline of the screen was visibly just a touch brighter than either side with the test unit, but not by enough to show with anything but an edge-to-edge solid-white or solid-color image.
Color brightness. The measured color brightness is close enough to the white brightness with every color mode to make little to no difference. All but Vivid mode are at 90% or better of white brightness, even Vivid is at 87%, and both Cinema and Game modes are at 95% of the white brightness or higher.
Rainbow artifacts show rarely enough that it's hard to imagine anyone would find them bothersome.
Fan noise is so low that even in the brightest (Minimum energy-saving) mode--rated at 30 dB--it's hard to hear from more than two or three feet away. With both the Medium mode (24 dB) and Maximum (23 dB), and sitting two feet from the projector, it was easier to hear water running in a cat water fountain 30-feet away. If you're close enough to hear the PH550, it has the gentle whooshing quality of a white noise machine. With high-altitude mode, which LG recommends for 1200-meter (3937-foot) altitudes and above, the volume rises enough so you can hear it from five or six feet in the brightest mode, but still with a pleasant whooshing sound. It's hard to imagine anyone considering the sound annoying. If it bothers you, however, switching to the Medium or Maximum energy saving settings drops the volume to a nearly inaudible level.
Input lag, measured by the Bodnar meter, is 34.2 ms in all modes.
Lamp life. The LED light source, rated at 30,000 hours, is meant to last the life of the projector.
The PH550 throws a 55" image from roughly 5.5 feet. You can determine the throw distance for the screen size you want with the Projection Calculator.
With the projector sitting on a table, the vertical offset causes the centerline of the lens to intersect the bottom edge of the image. I measured it as being a little higher, by a few percent of the image height, but well within the typical expected variation for individual units. This will work well in most rooms with the projector sitting on a table.
If you need to tilt the PH550 to match the screen height, you can correct the vertical keystone distortion by up to plus or minus 40 degrees using either automatic or manual controls. There is no horizontal keystone correction.
720p Resolution. Although 720p resolution is typical for LED-based projectors in this size, weight, and brightness class, it's low by today's standards, especially for a TV.
Overly Vibrant Color. For anyone who has a trained eye and also demands realistic color, the somewhat-too-vibrant color even with Cinema mode in some scenes may be a problem. However, most people aren't likely to be bothered by this, and some may even prefer the extra punch.
Need External Speaker for Most Rooms. Despite the surprisingly high sound quality for the internal 1-watt speakers and sufficient volume for a small room, if you want to take full advantage of the PH550 as a big screen TV in most rooms you'll need external speakers.
The LG PH550 can serve as a home entertainment projector for gaming, watching movies, or connecting to a cable box, and it can do a good job as a data projector, even with its native 16:9 aspect ratio. Its Miracast and WiDi support, as well as it's built-in battery, also make it a good choice as a portable projector you can easily connect to with a phone, tablet, or laptop that supports either standard.
If you can get past the idea that an HDTV has to have a built-in, bulky screen, the PH550 is also an excellent choice as standalone, 720P TV, with its own tuner, a coax connector, and a display that just happens to be a projector. Of course, 720p is a step down from 1080p, but at the smaller screen sizes you're likely to be using, this is of little consequence. And at this writing there are no 1080p projectors in this size, weight, and price class anyway. The PH550 is small and light enough to carry with you to watch TV anywhere, and the built-in battery means you don't even need a power outlet. Just add a portable screen and antenna.
The image quality is even good enough, and the brightness high enough, for the LG PH550 to serve as a 55-inch HDTV with the typical ambient light in a family room at night. Paired with an external speaker--preferably with Bluetooth for a wireless connection--it's an attractive choice for a permanent, family-room installation.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our LG PH550 projector page.