LG is on a roll this year with a wide lineup of LED based DLP projectors for the portable and home theater market. With the recent reviews of the PF1500 and the PH300 projectors, we now get to experience the PW800 projector. Rated to up to 800 lumens and a 100,000:1 contrast ratio, the 1280x800 native resolution projector delivers in some areas with top shelf quality in its class, while leaving a few options on the table. If portability and convenience are your projection goals and you have a budget which affords the $599 MSRP, then the PW800 may be what you need.
LED projectors power on and within seconds there is an image on screen. Press the power button on the LG PW800 remote, and there is the image. Out of the box, it was in need of some calibration, but some time spent with the Disney WOW! Blu-ray calibration disc and an image that starts off somewhat lacking suddenly finds itself with robust color and very good contrast. The lower lumen rating of the PW800 means that black levels lean towards being a bit darker than they would be on the brighter entry level models of projectors, but the overall contrast remains in line with the entry level DLP group, which is very good.
But, what is the right application for this projector? It doesn't boast high lumen output, it is 1280x800 instead of Full HD, and it isn't designed for boardroom, classroom, or home theater use. The model is considered a pocket projector which means it's small enough to fit inside a very large pocket and be taken with you. But, where are you going to take it? Well, everywhere. Initially the projector was fired up on the wall of a conference room which typically used a 3,000 lumen business class projector. While clearly not as bright, it took just a few moments and an acceptable 60-inch image showed up. This is no substitute for that bright conference room projector, but the picture was far easier to see and share in a room with half a dozen people instead of my 13-inch laptop monitor.
I then took the PW800 to the Infocomm show in Florida. The projector packed easily in my laptop bag. The small external power supply takes up a bit of room, and the 5.5 x 5.5 x 2 inch projector sized up more like a nice sandwich instead of a typical projector. Instead of playing movies on my laptop or from a phone, a movie was loaded onto a USB drive and played through the projector. In the hotel room, I set it on the bed and put the USB drive into the PW800 which promptly recognized the movie. The projector supports a long line of video formats which are detailed in the owner's manual, and the remote control had standard playback buttons for simple control of the movie. Shining on the off-white wall of the hotel room yielded an acceptable, but quiet playback of the movie. External speakers or headphones are a real must with this projector. Playback went smoothly, and the projector was certainly wishing for a far higher quality video than the one I had put on the USB drive.
To get the highest quality possible from the LG PW800, a new Silver Ticket 110" white screen was put together. The PW800 in a darkened basement put up a reasonable image on the screen, but it had somewhat dim whites, and didn't have the pop I was hoping for. At first it appears to be due to using such a large screen, but after running through the projector with the Disney 'WOW!' Blu-ray calibration disc, I found that increasing contrast and making adjustments to the image delivered whites that were accurate, and colors that appeared natural and true.
The next few days were spent viewing movies at 110" in the dark. What was most intriguing was that watching movies was just watching movies. There was no distraction with the PW800 from projection issues. Certainly it is not as sharp as the higher resolution models out there, but at a viewing distance of twice the screen width, pixel structure was lost, and the sharpness of a single chip DLP system helped to deliver the highest quality possible. There were no issues with false contouring or motion blur, and no problem with skin tones looking orange or oversaturated, or with an image that looked flat. Instead, it was just easy to sit back and enjoy the different content.
The screen size didn't allow for any additional light to be on in the room. For a bit of light to be on, the image size had to be brought down to 80" at the most. Yet, in the dark, taking the screen size all the way to 110" delivered a picture that was remarkable for such a compact projector.
The LG PW800 needs to be massaged a bit to deliver the best image possible. Out of the box, colors were off a bit, and contrast needed to be significantly adjusted to get the best results. It was certainly viewable right away, but it didn't look right until run through a basic calibration. Contrast was pushed to just under 100 percent, and brightness was turned up a bit. Sharpness was slightly raised, and colors were slightly turned down, while the tint was pushed a bit towards the green spectrum to deliver an image that appeared natural.
LG offers a full color management system if you want to get a professional calibration, but the basic calibration through a Blu-ray Disc is enough to deliver excellent results. Additional features include dynamic contrast, edge enhancement, and multiple gamma settings. Most of these settings were left to their default settings except dynamic contrast which was set to low. Higher settings with dynamic contrast appeared artificial.
The PW800 is an entry level model that lacks features more advanced models have. Most notably, it lacks any zoom at all, so image size is determined by where the projector is placed. For the 110" screen the lens was 11 feet, 9 inches from the screen. It has 0% offset, and if floor mounted it must be placed even with the bottom edge of the screen or else keystone correction must be used. If you want to shelf mount the projector at a height equal to the top of the screen you can do so by flipping it upside down. However, it can't be placed directly on a shelf as a joystick for control of the projector is located on the top of the unit, so you'd need to mock up a set of supports. Otherwise, it may be suspended from the ceiling, or under a shelf using a tripod type connection. A single hole standard tripod connection is provided which should be fine as this model only weighs in at 1.3 pounds.
3D is limited to computer based signals that output the proper format. It will not display full 3D from a Blu-ray player. The manual covers this in detail.
You Can Take It With You. Portability is what this model is all about. Whether it is to a friend's home for a quick video from a USB drive, or to a business presentation, this projector is designed for travel. It has a small footprint and the external power supply is about the same that a small laptop would use.
All the Standard Connections. Connectivity includes a standard HDMI and VGA connection, along with a breakout for composite video. Component HD video, while going out of fashion, can still be connected using a VGA to component breakout cable, and native USB connectivity is right on the projector. For audio, a standard 1/8" stereo headphone jack allows the projector to be run to a set of headphones, a pair of computer speakers, or even back to a quality A/V receiver in a nice theater.
Rainbow Free. You should have no problems with streaks of colored light, called the rainbow effect (RBE) . As a person who is RBE sensitive, I found no issues other than an occasional flash of colors. It made me feel like I was looking at a 6x color wheel projector, and I would expect all except the extremely sensitive to have any RBE issues whatsoever with the PW800.
Long life. The 30,000 hour lamp rating means that if the projector were used 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would last for over 8 years. This projector will most likely be upgraded long before the light source expires.
Brightness. The maximum light output of the LG PW800 was only measured to be about 400 lumens. Colors were significantly off at the 400 lumen output, and after calibration the light measurement came in at only 255 lumens. The image was viewable and of acceptable brightness, but visibly dim. Image brightness was ideal in a dark space when image size was reduced to 80". Dropping the projector to medium brightness lowered light output by 10% from maximum. Dropping from full power to lowest power dropped light output by 32% to under 200 lumens of light output. The lowest light output reduces fan noise significantly, and may be ideal for a 60" screen with the projector near to the viewer's head.
Brightness uniformity. Uniformity exceeds 90%, with a falloff of 10% maximum towards any of the corners, with most areas staying within 5% of maximum.
Sharpness. The PW800 uses a Pico class DLP chip that features a diamond shaped pixel pattern, which means that when hooked to a computer the signal can't be displayed one-to-one the way it would be on a square pixel computer monitor or projector. This has a softening effect on the image, but only slightly so. Text documents when viewed from about 1.5 times the screen width were legible, and while not razor sharp, were only slightly softened. For presentations using PowerPoint, which typically employs graphics and larger text, the slight softening of the fine edges of graphics is not a problem.
Contrast. Contrast is typical of what most other DLP projectors under $1,000 deliver. Solid black levels, and good detail in the dark areas. No visible black crushing or blooming from the white areas appeared at all after calibration.
Input lag. Testing of the LG PW800's input lag produced an interesting result in that readings would fluctuate between 33ms and 50ms, then switch back to 33ms. According to the manufacturer of the test meter, it should be expected that the projector is running at the lowest lag time shown, which was 33ms. As it stands though, either 33ms or 50ms amounts to 2-3 frames of delay, which may not be fast enough for pros, but will provide fine results for most casual gamers.
Show Me the Lumens. Pocket projectors in general seem to deliver half of their claimed lumens and the PW800 is not an exception. At some point LED projectors will start delivering much closer to the specifications. A true 800 lumens would be enough to fill a 120" projection screen with ease, but the PW800 can't do that. It does 80" with ease, in a dark room. But, measuring in at about one-third the claimed lumens after calibration is a long way off.
That's a Bit Noisy. The PW800 is not a quiet projector. It has three power settings, all of which require cooling from a fan that sounds like it came from a noisy laptop. In the dimmest setting the unit is audible from over twenty feet. Kicking the projector up in brightness to more usable levels raises fan noise significantly. Even listening with noise isolating headphones wasn't enough to get rid of the noise completely.
Very Limited Setup and Control. While not unusual for this type of projector, the lack of a zoom lens makes it difficult to properly place the projector. Only a single front foot on the projector is adjustable, so if the projector is tilted slightly to one side or the other a piece of cardboard is needed to level it out. Once leveled, the PW800's remote control features a lot of very small buttons, with even smaller writing on them, and no backlight to help you see what they are. Considering the onboard playback of USB sources, this became difficult when the play, pause, fast forward, and rewind buttons were indistinguishable from each other in the dark. Finding navigation arrows was nearly impossible with lights out and I was constantly holding the remote in front of the projector to see what the buttons were. The remote also didn't like to work if it was pointed at the screen; it needed to be pointed directly at the projector to work properly.
Terrible Onboard Audio. Just plan on headphones or computer speakers if the intent is to use audio from the LG PW800. This is one of the rare times that leaving audio off may have been a better choice than to use the internal audio. In both the home theater test with a bit of ambient white noise from air conditioning, and the hotel viewing from the USB drive, the audio levels were so low that lines of dialog were sometimes missed. The solution was a cheap set of headphones, which the projector could utilize with no problem at all for personal viewing, and hooking up a set of inexpensive computer speakers did a great job when a few more listeners were in the room. There are many good audio options that are better than the onboard audio on this unit.
The LG PW800 isn't going to change the course of the pocket projector. It has a lot of competition from other models which perform similarly, are similarly priced, and are of similar size. But, it is an ultra-mobile projector that can be used in a variety of places where you want to set up instantly and put a movie or data presentation on a wall. It may be ideal if you have a variety of applications and need portability on a tight budget.