Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
The LG PF85U is a brand new, highly anticipated, LED-based home entertainment projector from LG Electronics. It includes a huge variety of home video features that make it a viable TV replacement, including Smart TV capabilities, onboard sound, frame interpolation, both wired and wireless networking, and a built-in HD tuner. And since it is LED-based, it has instant startup and no lamp to replace.
The LF85U is due out in the United States later this month, with a preliminary price of $1299. This makes it only a little more expensive than other 1080p home video projectors and strongly price-competitive in its niche. If you're looking for a TV replacement that doesn't sacrifice the convenience of Smart TV and network connectivity, the LG PF85U is a great option.
Starting up the PF85U for the first time, the image springs to life like it's always been there, just waiting for you -- one of the perks of LED-based projectors is near-instant startup. The projector begins by displaying its source list and, when available, it shows you a thumbnail of whatever content is available for each source you have connected. So our test pattern generator menu screen was visible, as was the home screen of our Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player, right there on the projector's source selector screen.
The PF85U is smart, a word that takes on several meanings depending on context. It is smart in that it saves calibration information and user preferences for each input. It is smart in that it remembers which audio output option you have paired with each input, as well. And it is smart in that it contains LG's Smart TV technology, allowing you to watch Netflix, Amazon Instant, Vudu, and other streaming services directly from the projector. The PF85U can also play media stored on your home network using DLNA. And the projector has both wired and wireless networking built in, so you're ready to go straight out of the box.
The projector's image is high in contrast, richly saturated, and easy to watch. While brightness tops out around 700 lumens, the projector looks great on a 60" to 80" diagonal screen even with some ambient light present. If you can afford to pair the projector with an ambient light rejection screen such as the Screen Innovations Black Diamond II or Draper XS850E, all the better. But these contrast-boosting screens are optional and are mostly handy if you want to drive the image to larger sizes.
The PF85U makes use of a lot of bells and whistles to make the picture look more TV-like. Dynamic Contrast adjusts gamma on the fly in an attempt to provide a compelling, contrasty image without reducing deep shadow detail. Dynamic Color increases saturation when required while attempting to prevent that ugly over-driven, over-saturated effect that can come from saturation being set too high. These features can all be disabled for serious cinema use when the sun goes down, but they do have a positive effect on the image during the day.
The PF85U is best suited for table placement. The projector has no zoom, so the only way to adjust image size is physically moving the projector towards or away from the screen. A flat throw offset means that the bottom edge of the projected image is level with the center of the lens. A ceiling mount would also be possible, though you'd likely need an extension tube.
It can be difficult to obtain perfect focus -- the PF85U's focus ring has some resistance to it, and it is easy to accidentally bump the projector out of alignment when trying to focus it. Make sure to hold the projector in place with your other hand while you adjust focus -- but try not to place your hand over the touch-activated control panel on top of the projector while you do so.
Connectivity is where the PF85U really shines. Because the projector uses LG's Smart TV technology, you don't actually need to connect any sources to start using the projector -- just fire up the Netflix app and start watching. And if you have a media collection on any computers connected to your home WiFi, you can use DLNA to share these files with the PF85U without physically connecting the source to the projector. As for sound, the projector has stereo speakers at five watts each, but it also has both 1/8" and S/PDIF audio passthrough ports for connecting to external speaker systems.
LED light engine. Light Emitting Diodes have several advantages over traditional high-pressure lamps. They turn on instantly and come to full brightness immediately. They can be turned off and on again rapidly without causing degradation or reducing lifespan. They have longer life spans than traditional lamps; the PF85U is rated for 30,000 hours of use. They also use less energy and produce less heat than high-pressure lamps.
Connectivity. Even attempting to list all of the PF85U's connection options is exhausting. It has two HDMI ports, one of which is MHL enabled. It has two USB ports for flash media or other digital devices. It has both wired and wireless networking built-in (no dongle required), so you can hook the projector into your home network with ease. Once it's on the network, you can also have the projector stream media from any networked devices via DLNA. The projector has both 1/8" and S/PDIF ports for audio passthrough, which is useful when you're using the onboard apps or connecting to a remote server but still want to send audio to a heftier set of speakers than the PF85U's built-ins. And finally, the projector has a coaxial jack for connection to an antenna, allowing you to watch HD and SD broadcast television direct from your projector -- no external decoder box needed.
A quick word about Smart TV: the PF85U is a step or two beyond the onboard media players of yesteryear. Using real first-party apps, you can watch Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, and Youtube videos directly from the projector without an external source or media player. There are also non-video apps such as Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter, and Picasa. These apps turn the PF85U into a home media center rather than a simple display. The projector has built-in access to both a web browser and an App Store, so you can get more content quickly without leaving the device.
Stereo speakers. Onboard speakers are never going to be as good as a real sound system, but the PF85U's dual 5W stereo speakers are better than your average tinny built-in. The speakers are situated on the left and right sides of the projector, so the channels are separated enough to remain distinct. The volume slider goes from 0 to 100, and up to 75 there isn't much in the way of serious distortion.
Warranty. The PF85U includes a two-year warranty on parts and labor, while its closest competitors have only a single year of coverage.
Light output. Unlike lamp-based projectors, LED-based models come to their full brightness as soon as you press the power button. From that point, they then gradually lose light output for a short period before stabilizing. On the PF85U, the initial light output was 860 lumens in the projector's brightest mode, and output then fell for the next half hour until things stabilized.
Our test sample of the PF85U tops out at 706 stable lumens after the initial warm-up period. This is using Vivid mode with Energy Saving set to Minimum and Peak mode engaged. But even in this mode, the PF85U produces a picture that's perfectly watchable in a home entertainment setting. It can appear a touch exaggerated, though. We found Vivid mode useful for live broadcast TV and any situation that demands maximum light output. Vivid mode has a color temperature of roughly 8000K.
Peak mode causes the projector to get much louder, so some folks will want to disable it. Doing so cuts light output in Vivid mode to 501 lumens, a 29% reduction in brightness.
After Vivid mode comes Standard, at 485 lumens. Standard mode is less exaggerated than Vivid mode, making it ideal for more "serious" television. It retains Vivid's blue tint and roughly 8000K color temperature.
Cinema mode at 346 lumens gives the image a warmer cast (color temperature measures about 6200K) and boosts the projector's contrast and shadow detail performance. However, since Cinema mode is relatively low in light output, it is best reserved for situations where ambient light is strictly controlled.
Game mode, at 426 lumens, is most similar to Standard mode in terms of appearance. But it also reduces the projector's input lag by over half, so it is the go-to mode for gamers who need quicker response times.
Any of the PF85U's modes can be reduced in brightness by using the projector's Energy Save control. The control is normally set to Minimum, but it can be increased to Medium to cut output by 15% or Maximum to reduce it by 35%.
Contrast. The PF85U's contrast performance is highly competitive in its product class. Black level is deep, but if you want to use the projector in ambient light, you can switch the Black Level control from Low to High to keep deep shadow detail from getting lost. Shadow detail, by the way, is excellent, and the default 2.2 gamma setting is sufficient to stave off crushed shadows.
The projector also has a Dynamic Contrast control that adjusts gamma on the fly to maximize each scene's appearance. It works very well, though the higher settings can make the image look more cartoonish and over-contrasty. Leaving Dynamic Contrast on "Low" was a good compromise.
Color. Each of the PF85U's image modes give the projected image a distinct flavor, but none of them have color that is outright terrible. Vivid mode can make the picture seem artificial or cartoonish, but those enhancements are useful when ambient light is bright enough to wash out the projector's more natural-looking modes. Standard, Cinema, and Game mode are all less over-the-top, and though each one has its own color cast, none of the PF85U's modes appear unbalanced or biased in the way that some projectors' Dynamic modes do.
Some of the PF85U's image modes -- namely Cinema and the two Expert modes -- give you control over white balance and color management. The CMS was easy to use, but the projector's white balance controls (each on a scale from -50 to +50) are too fine-grained and don't feel like they go far enough. However, on a living room projector built for ambient light, this is less of a concern.
Input lag. The PF85U measured 166 milliseconds of input lag in Vivid, Standard, and Cinema modes, regardless of any other settings used. This is equivalent to almost ten frames of a 60 frame per second signal. In Game mode, however, lag drops to 66 ms, or four frames.
Light output. At only 706 lumens of real light output, it can be difficult to fit the PF85U into a big, bright living room space. Your options are to limit screen size, use a higher-gain or ambient light rejecting screen, or reduce ambient light in your viewing space. With moderate ambient light and no other means of mitigation, we would not push the PF85U above a 60" to 70" diagonal image.
No zoom. The PF85G doesn't have a zoom lens, so the only way to control image size is to change the throw distance. This makes ceiling mounts tricky, but it can also be a pain if you're trying to place the projector on a table that isn't in the right spot and can't be moved.
Input lag. With 66 ms of input lag even in Game mode, the PF85U isn't ideal for gamers who need fast response times. And 166ms of lag over HDMI is large enough that you might need an external audio delay device to match things up again. However, we did not notice as much lag when using the projector's internal sources, such as the included Netflix app. But since these sources are internal, there's no way to measure their input lag.
Color controls. In the PF85U's Cinema and Expert modes, the projector has both white balance controls and a full color management system. White balance can be adjusted in one of two ways: you can use either the standard RGB Gain/Bias (labeled High/Low), or you can switch to a full 20-point independent grayscale adjustment system, giving you the ability to adjust the entire grayscale at 5% intervals. This would be wonderful, except the projector's grayscale controls don't seem to do much.
Here's an example: Cinema mode defaults to the Warm color temperature preset, with a color temperature of about 6200K and slightly too much green. But even after adjusting red and green to their minimum settings and pushing blue to the maximum, final grayscale was still only 6300K. And before someone says "just use another color temperature preset," we tried. They were all either too green (Natural) or far too blue (Medium and Cool). However, super-accurate color isn't as much of a concern on this projector as it would be on a home theater machine, and the default settings are watchable.
The LG PF85U is a unique home entertainment projector that combines the features of a Smart TV with the longevity of an LED light engine. It has connectivity to spare, making it far more than a monitor; it is more akin to a mobile media center, able to link to other devices with ease. And while it does not have the high brightness of most other home video projectors, it is still viable as a television replacement if you are careful with installation and adjust your environment accordingly.
The PF85U has its flaws, most noticeably a lack of light output that limits its use on large screens -- especially when ambient light is present. The absence of a zoom lens can make placement tricky, as well. But if you work within the projector's limitations, what you end up with is a compelling image from a highly capable projector that's well tailored to its intended application.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our LG PF85U projector page.