LG CineBeam HU85LA 4K UST Laser Projector Review

What does the future of projection look like? The LG CineBeam HU85LA Ultra Short Throw 4K Laser Smart Projector ($5999.99) offers an answer to that question today. It’s a projector that fits right into your living room, sitting mere inches away from the screen. It’s a projector that gives you a picture up to 120 in size, turns on and off right away and maintains its brightness even with years of daily use.

While this LG is not the first UST 4K projector marketed to consumers, its price point and premium performance will make it appealing for sports, gaming and movie enthusiasts seeking a big-screen experience at home. Anyone interested in a very large screen that has appealing qualities of both a flat panel TV and a home theater projection-based system, needs to see what LG’s HU85LA offers.

This is the lens of the HU85LA

Before getting into my experience with the HU85LA, if you’re looking for a deep-dive review of this model I can point you to Rob Sabin’s article at projectorcentral.com, where he spends some time putting this model in context of the current consumer market for UST projectors, a nascent and burgeoning category that has the potential to disrupt the market for TVs above 85 in size. It’s a range where prices go through the roof and sometimes (think urban condos) even the logistics of fitting the TV through doorways becomes an issue.


Features

DLP projection offers smooth motion rendering and a sharp, consistent, color accurate image. However home DLP projection has traditionally suffered from “rainbow” artifacts associated with the use of a color wheel to create the RGB primaries. However LG makes the color wheel obsolete with its 3-laser design, it features one red and two blue lasers with one of the blue lasers exciting a phosphor to create pure green light. Since the light source already comprises the three primary colors, there’s no need for the color wheel.

LG uses a .66″ DLP chip in the HU85LA. It relies on pixel-shift technology to achieve full 4K resolution on screen. Test patterns show the HU85LA manages to display 4K resolution, but it’s not quite as “crisp” as a 4K TV of the same size. However—and this is the crucial point—native 4K projectors are often limited by the quality of their lens. The lens LG created for this projector is surprisingly sharp from edge-to-edge, despite the CineBeam UST’s short throw ratio of 0.19:1. I’ve seen native 4K projectors that don’t look as sharp as this LG.

This is a Smart projector with built-in apps running on LG’s Smart TV ThinQ AI platform with Google Assistant, so you don’t need a separate source to watch shows and movies, as long as you have Wi-Fi and internet, you are good to go. Add an antenna and you can even use the built-in TV tuner! The projector features dual HDMI inputs. two USB inputs and has optical audio out for connecting to an audio system. Built-in speakers allow it to serve as a self-contained entertainment center.


LG’s Magic Remote Control makes it easy to navigate the HU85LA projector’s smart OS


Setup

The setup of a UST projector is a meticulous process for screen positioning and placement. There’s precious little room for error since the HU85LA lacks any lens shift or zoom, so once you’ve determined where you will place the unit, you need to hang the screen in exactly the right spot. Fortunately, there is very little geometric distortion and you can use a screen with a very narrow bezel—I projected onto a 90″ Screen Innovations ZeroEdge Pro outfitted with a UST screen material where the bezel measure a mere 0.5″. And if you need to tweak the geometry for any reason, LG provides a warp function that helps you get everything straight (albeit at the “cost” of having to reinterpolate those pixels). 

One thing I noticed about UST projectors in general is the extreme projection angle will exaggerate even the slightest imperfection in the screen surface. Therefore, no matter the screen you choose for this projector, you’ll want to ensure it is perfectly flat.

The projector itself sits anywhere from 2.2 (for a 90” picture) up to 7.2” (for a 120” picture) from the screen. The unit itself is only 13.7” deep so it easily sits on a standard-depth TV stand or credenza.

Once positioned, the projected image is impressive. I used a PC to send a native 2160 x 3840 30p signal (with 4:4:4 chroma) to the LG and set the desktop magnification to 100%. The tiny text may not be the sharpest I have ever seen, however It’s perfectly legible—and that includes the far corners of the screen. If you sent 2160/60p to the projector, you lose the 4:4:4 chroma but mostly the image looks the same and you get the faster refresh rate for gaming and smooth scrolling, etc.

I changing the desktop magnification on the PC to the (much more eye pleasing) 200%; the result was crisp, easy-to-read text. Whether at 100% or 200% magnification, text sharpness is just about identical to my native 4K long-throw projector. Long story short… the LG HU85LA’s overall resolution—factoring in the lens and the imager—is up to par for a 4K device in its price range and you can even use it with a PC at 4K resolution.

There are picture mode presets to cover a variety of applications. Cinema and Expert (Dark Room) are good choices for home theater. Game Mode noticeably reduces latency while the mode called HDR Effect is bright, with tons of pop, yet reasonably color accurate. There are several additional options like Sports and Expert (Bright Room) to try, depending on the room lighting and content.

I recommend a basic 2-point calibration at the minimum for this projector. The reason is that it does not ship with its own screen and whatever screen you use it with will probably affect the color. More in-depth calibrations will yield even greater accuracy. However, the fast, easy & DIY friendly 2-point process gets you to “good enough” with ease on this projector.


Test Patterns, Movies, TV and Games

Calibration and measurements only tell part of the story for any display. The other half is how it all comes together on screen. A great display is one that does not call attention to itself. Instead, it keeps you focused on the content. That means avoiding distracting artifacts like banding and noise while maximizing the fidelity of what’s on screen. Fortunately the CineBeam HU85LA has LG’s excellent (and adjustable) image processing—including excellent upscaling—built in.

This LG produces a pristine picture. Subjectively (as in “to my eyes”) as long as the room is not lit by mid-day sun, the image put out by the HU85LA looks more natural than a TV. Sharp, rich color, great motion and no halos or clouding or image retention or banding to ruin the experience.

I fed the LG test clips from the Spears & Munsil UHD Benchmark test disc, including clips that test motion (for example, horizontal pans). Guess what… the HU85LA trounces the flat panel TVs when it comes to playing these clips, which look tack-sharp and scroll with perfect smoothness. This translates to tons of visible detail in fast-moving imagery such as action scenes or sports or games and I can’t stress enough what a huge benefit this. Why? Becasue unless you spend your time watching static 4K images in slide shows, you will be watching content that moves so motion resolution matters a lot and this projector handles it very well (including applying motion interpolation when/where it’s needed with the TrueMotion function).

Another thing I really like about this LG is that if you are familiar with the controls on LG’s current-model TVs, you’ll be right at home adjusting the many picture quality related settings offered on this projector.

Thanks to its wide color gamut capabilities, this projector is able to reproduce deep, rich reds, greens and blues. Reds in particular are vibrant and saturated so even the Netflix logo makes you say “wow” when you see it.

Proof is in the pudding. This projector comes closer to “doing it all” than any display I’ve used before it. I can watch a football game in the afternoon, use it to show album art from streaming music during dinner, and then catch a home theater-quality presentation of a UHD movie that looks about as good on screen as anything I’ve seen from a 4K laser projector at this price point (UST or not). Based on how movies like Zombieland 2 Double Tap and Joker looked on this projector (with lights dimmed) I can confidently say I’d gladly choose it over a TV.


Calibration notes

When using the 90 ZeroEdge Short Throw screen from Screen Innovations, I measured around 70 nits on screen in Expert Dark Room, Expert Bright Room and Cinema modes, about 100 nits in Vivid, HDR Effect and Sports modes, and a slightly lower 95 nits in Game mode and Standard mode.

On a plain white surface brightness increased by just over 50% in all modes, which is a function of screen gain. And frankly, if you do not need ambient light rejection (I.e. you  plan to only use this projector in a darkened room) then you don’t necessarily need a special screen. Indeed, when projecting on plain white in a dark room, this projector is fully “home theater quality” so don’t just peg it as a living room solution, this is a projector for movie buffs as well. I got about 100 nits peak luminance post calibration out of the Expert (Dark Room) mode, while projecting a 110 image on a white screen. Furthermore, post-calibration color was extremely accurate.

Interestingly (and likely the result of the three laser system) this projector did not experience much (if any) loss in light output as a result of calibration. This is distinctly different behavior versus bulb-based systems.

The HU85LA’s performance with a plain white screen was a huge surprise to me, but make no mistake, if you want the “look” of a huge TV in your room… with the white walls and lots of ambient light that are typical, you will want to pair it with a UST-specific screen.

Nevertheless, don’t rule this projector out for home theater duty because it’s a UST design… it’s shockingly good in that application. One warning: If you are thinking of pairing it with a “regular” ALR (ambient light rejecting) screen, forget about it… those screens treat this projector’s output as ambient light that needs to be absorbed/rejected—not reflected—resulting in a dim picture. You MUST use a UST-specific ALR material if you want it to work.

Long story short, to get the most out of this projector you will need a dedicated ALR UST screen. But if you use it in a darkened room, then you can opt for a white (or gray) screen. Just remember, you cannot use this projector with a long-throw compatible ALR material.

For contrast, this projector’s performance impresses, even when used in my white-walled living room. As long as I turned off the lights, post calibration I saw a native ANSI contrast in the 800:1 range despite the lack of light control. This translated to a bright, punchy picture that’s superior to what I’m used to seeing from DLP projectors. You can turn on Dynamic Contrast and the projector will modulate the light output based on the scene, resulting in even greater apparent contrast—LG claims 2 million to 1 dynamic contrast. On screen it all comes together nicely; the picture produced by the LG CineBeam HG85LA is punchy, sharp, and colorful.

One of the great things about DLP technology is how well it handles motion. Test patterns from blur busters.com confirm that this projector handles motion better than today’s TVs, it’s practically plasma-like in terms of motion clarity. Another great quality of DLP is the uniformity, you won’t find a TV able to render full screen gray patterns this smooth and clean. A 5% gray window looks “perfect” with no signs of banding or blotchiness—it’s a world apart from what you see with TVs. All-in-all, the HU85LA’s screen uniformity is outstanding for a UST projector and blows away TVs. Dirty screen effect? Fuhgeddaboutit.

Unfortunately, this excellent projector does not support 3D, a shame since DLP projection works great with active 3D and the HU85LA has the brightness needed.

With the HG85LA, a plethora of the issues that lead to distraction with flat panel TVs simply do not exist. There are no room reflections coming off the screen, nor any sign of “dirty screen effect.” There’s less visible judder than with TVs, leading to a more natural look when watching movies. Even with the UST screen, off-axis viewing maintains its quality better than many TVs and with a white screen the off-axis performance is unbeatable.

Lag measured from the lens (with a Leo Bodnar lag meter) is around 140 milliseconds in the various video modes and about 55 milliseconds in game mode.


Conclusion

This is an unexpectedly amazing projector from LG. It resolves the biggest issue with DLP projection by eliminating rainbow artifacts, and since it does this with lasers, it turns on and off right away, has minimal fan noise, and calibrates extremely precisely.

While hardly cheap, this LG’s design features and performance make a compelling argument for choosing it over an 85 or larger TV. Regardless of whether you install it in a living room, AV room, basement or even a bedroom, as long as you calibrate it, provide an appropriate screen and are mindful of the lighting, the HU85LA will absolutely impress you with the picture it puts up on screen.

The LG CineBeam HU85LA is a Top Choice selection for 2020.


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