Ultra Short Throw is a sub-category of projectors that's seeing renewed interest thanks to dropping prices on laser light sources and the adoption of 4K and HDR compatibility. The CinemaX P1 ( $3799 on Amazon at the time this review published) is one of the brightest and best designed examples of the fresh crop of UST models to hit the market, and it comes from Optoma, a company known for its projectors.

Ultra short throw is an exciting category of projectors that's experienced a recent growth in interest thanks to new models that deliver a cinematic experience in places where you'd normally only consider a TV, such is in the living room. This is achieved with a bright picture, illuminated by a laser light source that lasts for tens of thousands of hours (i.e. for years), and a lens that allows you to place the projector right in front of the screen, for a TV-like experience.




Features and Specifications

Optoma specifies the CinemaX P1 for screen sizes between 85" and 120". At the smallest screen size the unit sits 5.7" from the wall/screen surface. At 120" screen size that distance becomes 14.5". Optoma advertises 3000-lumen ANSI lumen output, which is quite bright, but also desirable given the typical use of this projector includes overcoming some ambient light. Keep in mind that with a DLP projector, the relatively limited ANSI contrast means that a bright projector will have elevated black levels. But this in only relevant in a darkened home theater-style room environment. Once you introduce ambient light to the equation, brightness is the name of the game because room ambience and the screen itself are going to determine the black levels—not the projector.

This is a "smart" projector with apps, Wi-Fi connectivity etc. But, for this review, I only used the menu system for adjusting settings, not for streaming content. Instead, I relied on a variety of sources connected to a Denon AVR-X8500H receiver including a Chromecast Ultra, FireTV 4K, and a PlayStation 4 Pro. Technically, the CinemaX P1 can operate as a fully standalone device, streaming its own content and supplying its own sound—there's even a hookup for a subwoofer if you wanted to add one. There's no need to entertain a half measure like adding a Soundbar, it's got that level of audio fidelity covered. But IMO, it is best to use an AVR-based surround-sound system and discrete streaming plus physical media sources with this projector. Given the price points involved, as long as it's within budget, IMO it would be a shame not to match the big picture this projector produces with equally impressive sound.

This Optoma UST projector uses DLP technology, and like other similar devices, it relies of pixel-shift tech to deliver 4K UDH. Optoma calls it XPR Technology and it rapidly oscillates the DMD imaging chip to create a smooth, seamless picture on screen. Optoma notes that its 4X pixel-shift implementation allows for 8.3-million native addressable pixels on screen. The  result is more detail on screen than the native resolution (1920 x 1080) of the 0.47" DLP DMD chip, with no visible "screen door effect."

On the side of the unit you'll find an easily accessible USB port and HDMI port. On the rear you get another USB port for media, a service-only USB port, two more HDMI inputs (one with ARC), an RJ-45 port for Ethernet, a SPDIF input and an audio output. There's even a Kensington LockPort for securing the unit. You cannot ceiling-mount the CinemaX P1, but ceiling-mounted UST makes no sense anyhow, except for hyper-specialized situations.

HDR is basically standard for 4K at this point and this Optoma has no problems rendering it so it looks great given the peak brightness limitations of projection (versus TVs). You get four HDR modes to choose from: Normal, Bright, Detail and Film. Which one looks best will be an individual judgment call based on taste, content preference, screen and viewing environment.



By the Numbers (official mfg. specs)
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 native, supports 4:3 and letterbox
  • Brightness: 3000 ANSI lumens
  • Color Wheel: RGBYRGBY 8 segment
  • Inputs: 1x HDMI 2.0 (HDCP 2.2), 1x HDMI 2.0 (HDCP 2.2, HDMI-ARC), 1x HDMI 2.0 (HDCP 2.2, side), 1x USB 2.0 (4K media player)
  • Outputs: USB 2.0 power (side), USB, optical S/PDIF out, audio out
  • Equipped with RJ45 Ethernet jack
  • Image Size: 85” – 120”
  • Light Source Life: Up to 30,000/20,000 hours (Eco/Normal)
  • Native Resolution: 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) @ 60Hz with XPR technology
  • 3D Compatibility: All HDMI 1.4a mandatory 3D formats. Upconverts frame rate from 60Hz to 120Hz or 24Hz to 144Hz (i.e. 60 or 72 frames per eye)
  • Dimensions: 22.1” x 5.1” x 15”
  • Weight: 24.25 lbs
  • Warranty: 2 Year parts and labor limited warranty on the projector, 5-year or 12,000 hour light source warranty (whichever comes first)
  • $3799 on Amazon at the time this review was published
Setup

Setting up this (or any) UST projector is tricky when a fixed/framed screen is involved. It is critical that the installer follow the precise instructions to place both the projector and the screen relative to each other. This projector comes with a template that you can use to help with the task. There is no mechanical lens shift and to the extent that there is a zoom function, it’s really about how far you place the projector from the wall and then focusing the lens. The main point is it's not the same sort of installation as a TV or a regular projector, UST is its own thing and I've gotten used to it, but for a first-timer the requirements could present a learning curve when working with a dedicated screen.

If you are willing to use an app and some image warping to make installation easier, Optoma's SmartFit app automates the process of getting a "perfect" fit for your screen. The catch is it depends on image processing and warping to get the picture to fit, image quality purists will want to align the image to the screen manually, but for anyone else, this projector does have a tool to make it easier.

One notable thing about this projector is it sits a little further out than the VAVA or the LG, owing to a slightly longer throw ratio. Remember, you have to add the depth of the projector itself (16") to the distance from the projector's rear panel to the screen (between 5.7" and 10.1") to get the total depth. If you go for a 120" screen, the projector's front (facing the viewer) will be 26" from the screen surface or wall. With a permanent installation, these physical considerations need to be accounted for, but in most cases it's just a matter of measuring accurately and maybe moving a credenza a few inches out from the wall.

The CinemaX P1 sitting on a credenza below my screen
I projected on screen material that's touted as UST compatible, Seymour Screen Excellence Ambient Visionaire, but it is not UST optimized, per se. The screen is  110" (diagonal) 16:9. Basically, the screen I used absorbs more light that would be considered ideal, but not as much as a typical ALR screen. It also enhances contrast and rejects other ambient light, so the image looks good. I get good contrast with ambient light in the room, but the Optoma would be perceptually brighter (and consequently more contrasty) if I had a dedicated UST screen for it. When projecting on a white wall at night, the brightness of this projector is enough to create a genuinely TV-like picture, even at a 120" screen size.

I connected the projector to my Denon AVR-X8500 AVR and associated sources using HDMI. No issues there. Getting a "proper" fit on the screen is a matter of careful placement. However Optoma also provides an easy way to get that last bit of adjustment "perfect" by using an app. You use a phone to take a picture of the screen and the projector automatically warps the picture for a perfect fit.

Ultimately, because the CinemaX P1 has a UST lens with low geometric distortion to begin with, I found that with careful adjustment I could get the image to fit my screen without warping, which is the best approach if you want the highest image quality as it reduces image processing requirements and related lag plus potential softening and artifacts.




Performance

Going by specification, this is a rather bright consumer UST projector. Measuring a UST’s light output can be tricky, and the projection surface makes a huge difference in terms of how much light reaches the viewer with this style of projector because of the extreme angles involved. But no matter what's specified, if you use calibrated settings it's surely going to be lower than what's advertised, and that's with just about any projector. With a UST, since the application is typically a living room setup, the key to these devices is having enough light output to overcome a room's ambient light. Of courser you can help things along by using shades or blinds.

My hands-on review is limited in scope, but the projectorcentral review of the CinemaX P1 by Rob Sabin is deep and technical and includes measurements with an explanation of how they are derived; I suggest giving it a read. The “long story short” here is Optoma’s 3000 ANSI lumen spec appears to be accurate, with the usual caveats that if you use proper calibrated settings the light output will be less than the number on the box—no shocker there. A projector accurately spec'd at 3000 ANSI lumens typically has enough light output to create a brilliant picture on screens within the spec'd size range of the CinemaX P1. As long as you use a compatible screen and avoid flooding the room with daylight, the result can resemble a giant TV (especially with the lights out).

A key consideration with a UST projector is that it will work fine (albeit not optimally) with a blank wall, or a white “Lambertian diffusion” matte screen, if it's in a totally darkened room. Crucially, you cannot use a "normal" ALR (ambient light rejecting) screen with a UST projector, that's going to give the worst result. The reason is simple, a normal ALR screen will "reject" the light from a UST, treating it like ambient light that's coming from the sides. For the best experience, you need a screen specially made for UST projectors. A UST ALR screen explicitly reflects the light from this style of projector toward the viewer. So, if you plan to use a UST projector in a living room setting (or simply want to get the most out of it) you'll want to budget for a suitable UST-compatible screen.

Thanks to plentiful user settings, you can tune this projector for multiple usage scenarios. For gaming, you can go bright and reduce input lag is much as possible. With daytime TV, you can stay bright but aim for a warmer color temperature than with gaming. And you can configure this projector for nighttime, lights out home theater duty while enjoying surprisingly good contrast and overall picture quality. It's not a 4K JVC or Sony, but it's a good projector that offers a cinematic presentation without the limitations of long-throw and regular short-throw front projection (where do you put it, and will anyone be walking through the light path?).

Pixel-shift tech is a necessary compromise for a projector such as this to even exist at this price point. Pixel-shift technology is a proven solution for showing 4K content and taking advantage of 4K's higher bitrates and 10-bit wide gamut color. The main catch is the larger pixels from the 1920x1080 0.47" DMD cannot all fit on the screen at once when "shifted" up to 4K, at least not without overlapping.What's import for the viewer is this projector can ingest native 4K material and use it to put an impressively detailed picture up on the screen.




Hands-On

This is the fourth 4K laser UST projector I have used in my home. The first was the Sony VPL-VZ1000ES, a native 4K unit that cost a lot more and came with a lower (2500 lumen) light output spec. That was followed by LG's HU85LA (2700 ANSI lumens) and the VAVA 4K UST (2500 ANSI lumens), both are DLP pixel-shifting laser models like this Optoma. As compared to the VAVA, the Optoma has more, and more sophisticated picture quality menu options. This directly translates to you being able to get a more accurate, yet brighter picture out of the Optoma vs. the VAVA, which can help justify the higher price—the CinemaX P1 sells for $1000 more than the VAVA.

The UST lens of the Optoma CinemaX P1 laser DLP 4K projector
The Optoma and LG are about tied when it comes to picture modes and menus, and are close in terms of brightness and overall capability (although the LG is arguably a more sophisticated design with its 3-laser light engine). But keep in mind you can purchase the CinemaX P1 for substantially less than the HU85LA.

Initial impressions of the Optoma were positive, although at this point what it offers is not a huge surprise, given the similarities with the other DLP USTs. DLP projector tech can be a polarizing topic, but we can give credit where it's due: There are no alignment issues with 1-chip DLP models, color in calibrated/movie modes is accurate out of the box and stays accurate, you can get a bright projector at a good price, and fast/complex motion looks good.

I had this projector for about a month, offering plenty of time to watch movies and play video games. So here's the first thing I'll speak to: If you generally watch TV with the lights on, or during the daytime in a room with windows that's bright, then get a TV. UST projection may be a viable solution for ambient light settings, but in the end TVs look a lot better when things are fairly bright.

But... if you have shades, or are installing in a media room, or watch big screen content at night, then I'm obligated to tell you that TV's look tiny and toy-like compared to this projector operating in a favorable environment. Now, that's not to say that the TV won't have a punchier picture, it will. But there's a reason people are willing to spend a lot more money on TVs that are just 10 inches larger in diagonal measurement (55" vs 65" vs 75" vs. 85") and that is because size has a huge impact on the viewing experience. If you want to enjoy movies as the director envisioned, you need a cinematic screen. And for gamers, the reward of using a projector is immersion in game worlds at realistic scale. Long story short, things look life-size on a 100"+ screen and that really adds to the sense of immersion.

If you are curious what I watched on the Optoma, it's my usual fare including a dozen-plus hours of GTA Online, a couple episodes of South Park, and a bunch of recent movies including Midway, Hobbs & Shaw, Jojo Rabbit and Angel has Fallen. No complaints, you can get the CinemaX P1 to look good for each scenario. The way I feel about it is this: It's good DLP, which for me has always translated into a good overall viewing experience.  With no rainbow artifacts to distract, it's surprising how sharp everything looks. Arguably, because of panel alignment issues and losses caused by the lens, there are some native 4K projectors that are no sharper looking than this UST unit.

Realistically speaking, the CinemaX P1 is not a "HDR monster" but compared to today's TVs, no projector is. What it does do is cover the SDR rec.709 color gamut completely and accurately, but it only gets you part way to DCI/P3 color that you find in 4K UHD HDR releases. That means Blu-rays look as rich and saturated as the possibly can look (color-wise), but you leave some color and contrast on the table with Ultra HD Blu-ray and 4K streaming. But beyond the criticism is the acknowledgement that 4K HDR streaming looks "Blu-ray-like" on this projector. Content from Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Vudu, Youtube, FandangoNow and other 4K services gets an overall quality boost (more detail during busy action, no banding, sometimes richer colors) versus 1080p SDR, when viewed on this projector.

If you are having a hard time deciding between a UST projector and an 85" TV, I recommend reading a couple more reviews of this intriguing and ultimately highly competent projector. And while you're at it, take a look at the prices of 98" TVs for a vertiginous perspective on what it can cost to have a 100+-plus screen in your living room, if you don't go with projection.

I appreciate the inclusion of sensors that disable the light source if something gets in the way. This is great if you have children, or in my case a cat who is prone to staring at bright lights. Another small thing that I appreciated is the remote: It's small, metal, backlit, uncluttered and charges through USB.

The Optoma CinemaX P1 ships with a very nice remote





Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Huge picture
  • Bright
  • Accurate color
  • Refined design
  • Can act as a standalone device (source, display, sound)
  • Deep menu with many system options
  • Multiple HDR picture modes
  • High quality remote
  • Built-in sound, supports subwoofer
  • Smooth yet detailed image
  • Silent operation
  • Long life light source
  • Fast on/off
  • Works with bright and dark rooms
  • Accepts 4K UHD HDR signal
  • 3D compatible
  • Easy setup with app-based automatic image warping to fit the screen
  • Long lasting light source
Cons
  • Needs specialized screen for best performance
  • High input lag, not great for gaming
  • Image quality decreases in ambient light
  • Can't compete with TVs for HDR or in a bright environment
  • Not true 4K
  • Protrudes up to 26" from wall or front of screen
  • Somewhat tricky installation
Conclusion

Interestingly, the current crop of UST 4K laser DLPs is populated by projectors that are appropriately capable for their price points. The CinemaX P1 is likely worth the extra money over a VAVA, if you need what that buys you: 500 more ANSI lumens, deeper calibration and optimization and configuration controls, a black chassis and a nicer remote. But when compared to the pricier LG, as long as you can live with the fact Optoma uses an 8-segment color wheel instead of a 3-laser light source, you get a remarkably similar user experience while saving enough money to afford a premium UST-compatible projection screen.

As the "Goldilocks" choice among current UST projectors, with the VAVA representing entry level and LG being the deluxe, not to mention the highest ANSI lumen spec of the bunch, a competitive price, broad 3D support, and plenty of setup/configuration options to help you get the most out of it, the Optoma CinemaX P1 gets a "Top Choice" nod for 2020.





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