Projector Reviews

LG HU80KA 4K Home Theater Projector Review – Summary

LG HU80KA 4K Home Theater Projector Review – Summary: Summary, Picture Quality, The Competition, The Bottom Line, Pros, Cons

Summary

The LG HU80KA will work out as a great first (or maybe even 2nd) home entertainment/home theater projector, for a whole lot of people.  On the other hand, many of those who are serious enthusiasts, demanding the best overall picture for the money, will probably be looking at some alternatives (more in the competition section below).  Considering everything though, the LG is one impressive projector, as long as your expectations are in line with its strengths.

While I found picture quality to be a bit of a mixed bag, the HU80KA definitely has lots of things really going for it. I forgave my concerns about less perfect color and less than great black levels enough to still award the HU80KA our Hot Product Award.  I even created a new Best In Class award for Innovation.  The HU80KA received that award in our recent Best Home Theater Projectors of 2018,

The HU80KA is as smart as LG’s smart TVs, which is to say very smart.  It makes almost all of the competition come across (when talking “Smart TV type” smarts), as dumb as a rock.  Oh, sure, Optoma has a projector that you can power on and off with Alexa, and Google Assistant (so far), but that’s nothing compared to the HU80KA’s smarts.

The images in the photo player above are a mix of  types and resolutions. The first four are HDTV – 1080i. Then two 1080p movie shots from Blu-ray disc, then four 4K images (Blu-ray UHD disc.)

Those smarts start with a nice collection of apps pre-installed, including Netflix, YouTube, Accuweather, and Hulu.  You can, of course add more.  The projector supports HDMI link so that the remote can control other devices, and vice versa.  This projector even has an input for an antenna to watch broadcast TV.  That’s something LG has on a lot of their small projectors, but its rare, overall, on projectors.  Many of this projector’s smarts aren’t big obvious things, but for a few weeks, I kept being surprised as I discovered more and more capabilities.

And let’s also not forget that the HU80KA is a laser projector – the least expensive 4K UHD one to ship so far, with a list price under $3K!

Picture Quality

I’ve got a 1080p movie running as I’m writing this summary. A while ago, it was college football.  Overall I’m pretty pleased with the color handling on the 1080p movies.  Skin tones are very good, in our calibrated Expert (Dark Room) mode.  They aren’t quite so good in the “brightest” mode we selected, with the goal of getting plenty of brightness with as good color as possible, without sacrificing lots of brightness.  In that case, we ended up with around 1100 lumens – not bad for everything, except HDR, where one can almost always appreciate a lot more lumens.

When you need the absolute most brightness, it’s not about choosing a default preset mode, rather, it’s all about changing the Color Temp of one of those modes, to “Natural”, which just about doubles the brightness of any mode, but at the expense of good color.  At best, “natural” mode is very thin on reds, and serves up a very goldish caste to most things.  It’s not a particularly pretty gold, more gold/brown. Disappointing.   It can be used for things like sports when there’s too much ambient light. In such cases, less than great color, but with more brightness and pop, is usually superior to not having enough brightness do avoid being washed out.  You don’t really want to watch anything with great visuals, with Natural selected. No wonder LG doesn’t use Natural as the default Color Temp for any of the Nine preset modes!

The LG HU80KA does clip near whites (turns them into white, losing detail) and also near blacks – so there’s minor loss of dark shadow detail as well.   Clipping the whites seems pretty common on today’s 4K UHD DLP projectors, but it is hardly obvious.

It’s the black level performance that make one wonder why they would set up a dedicated theater for this projector – one that’s really dark, with lots of dark surfaces.  I ask that, because the projector delivers black levels not significantly better than most $600 – $1000 non-4K capable projectors.  It’s when one has a almost fully darkened rooms where the difference in black level performance will have a dramatic impact when viewing very dark scenes.  In such an environment, the HU80KA comes up short.

On the other hand, its much more at home in a family room that has some respectable lighting control, say including dark shades on windows (but not full black out shades).

HU80KA_4K_journey_to_space_saturn_closeup

I’ve been discussing the black level performance, much as I have for just about all (not quite) of the other 4K UHD DLPs, and most lower cost 3LCD projectors we’ve reviewed, by calling them mostly home entertainment projectors, rather than home theater.

Still, even in a living room, with off-white walls, at night, with the lights turned off, you will still see a significant difference between the HU80KA and similar projectors against a competitor with great blacks such as any JVC, or the Epson 6040UB/5040UB models.  Make sense to you?

The Competition

Serious Home Theater

If you are looking for higher picture quality performance – especially great black levels, one pari of options you’ll be looking at are Epson’s 5040UB and 6040UB (or their expected replacements in a few months), for less money, but lamp based.  The LG will seem a touch sharper at best, and super smart, but black levels, and more accurate color, plus lots of placement flexibility, and support for wide screens (lens memory) are in Epson’s favor.  The Epson’s will even be brighter.  At the same list price as the LG, is another lamp based projector – JVC’s RS540 (and X790 version), are now $4000 ($1000 more than the LG), and like the Epsons is a 1920x1080x2 pixel shifter, not as inherently sharp, but even better at black levels, and similar in other ways to the Epson.

Of course the LG blows these others away with its smarts, which I think all projectors should have.  And it can do cool things like project onto a ceiling. And, being more home entertainment, it has an especially respectable built in sound system.  Still, that’s no substitute for a really good external system, but hey, better than other projectors offering even less sound quality – about everyone with a speaker.  The mentioned Epsons and JVCs being more home theater, don’t offer speakers. They assume a good sound system.

Also add to this group, the Acer laser, which is, like the LG, another 4K UHD DLP projector (using the better DLP chip though).  It’s $1000 more (like the JVC) but offers far better black levels than the HU80KA.  That’s the way I would go, if I wanted the sharpness and a laser, and could afford the extra money.  (The Acer’s a bit brighter too). But, the Acer’s like all the others, smarts wise, not to bright, no apps, etc.

I’ll through in one more into this group, sort of.  Epson just launched their new HC4010 and PC4050.  Those are similar to the other Epsons, but lack the excellent black levels, but are at $1999 and $2399 respectively.  I always favor spending the extra few hundred, though, for those UBs, if you are serious.

Home Entertainment competition.

There sure are plenty, starting with some laser 4K UHD projectors – There’s the Dell, which is the most money, and really not geared for home anyway. I don’t really see that as serious competition, but the Optoma UHZ65 is. The Optoma is also more expensive, but a bit brighter.  It even offers better black levels, but not drastically better, definitely closer to the LG, than say, the Epsons.

The Optoma laser projector for the extra money, of course isn’t very smart.

That leaves lamp based 4K UHD lamp based projectors from just over $1000 to $2500.  (There are far more expensive ones from “premium brands” but their not in the same value proposition range – most over $10K).

Of those you can have some basic smarts: Alexa, Google Home, etc. (but no Apps yet, as of this time – but I expect they will have some), with Optoma UHD51A, at $1699.  So, more than $1000 less, slightly better color, slightly better blacks.  BenQ’s HT2550 and TK800, Optoma’s UHD50 Viewsonic’s PX727-4K and PX747-4K are all 4K UHDs that sell between $1000 and $1500, and are typically dumb, but other than the laser, are comparable in picture performance.  Some do an even better job on wide color spaces, despite being lamp based.  Know that if you are willing to give up on all the cool LG aspects, you can go lamp, and save a good $1000.

Then, of course there are 1080p projectors that can’t handle 4K at all.  Some of those offer comparable or even better color and black level performance, but, folks, 4K is here to stay.  With 4K projectors starting well below $1500, if budget allows get something that will handle 4K (with HDR, preferably).

That’s pretty much it.  For more detail on how the HU80KA compares, there’s other commentary in our recently published 2018 Best Home Theater Projectors report , and look for a post CEDIA update, factoring in new projector announcements.

The Bottom Line

I think the HU80KA is most interesting.  It’s great for moving from room to room, or just setting it up when you want to use it.  All those smarts let it operate like other TVs in your house, rather than like a typical home theater projector, and that’s a plus.

I like that it has great sound (relatively), for a projector, for those moving from room to room, or having that outdoor movie or Monday Night Football party.

After much experimenting, the calibrated best mode, produced some very good but not highly accurate color, does color well enough to please most folks just not those of us, really into best performance.  Brightest modes we’re either not all that much brighter than our selected “best” modes (around 1100 lumens), or one has to switch color temp to its Natural mode, which almost doubles brightness, but color quality is no where near as good – skin tones are more gold, almost no red content – that is, use for sports when there’s too much ambient light, but otherwise stick to the Warm mode, that all the modes default to.

BTW using the mirror – which most folks will, eats up about 7-8% of brightness.

Sharpness – no problem, great on 1080p content, and very sharp on 4K. Watch how you adjust that, and keep it clean.  Evenness of illumination – a lot of DLPs have problems with significant changes in brightness at different parts of the screen.  The HU80KA is also brighter on one side than the other, although barely noticeable, so not a real issue.  Just know some others are better still.

If you have the bucks, want a projector with today’s expected TV smarts, a very good home entertainment projector with lots of capabilities (picture sound and ergonomically), but aren’t demanding the deep black levels expected in serious home theater projectors, then the HU80KA is a good choice, definitely worthy of consideration. Yes you can get similar picture quality in some lamp based HE projectors for about half the price, but that laser engine will save you a replacement bulb or two over many years.

It is my hope that perhaps next year, LG will build on what they have here, and also offer us a very smart more serious home theater projector with much better blacks.  That could compete against the previously mentioned Acer, Epson’s $7000 laser projector, and the better lamp based projectors I’ve mentioned.

This one’s more for my daughter – perhaps that next one will be for me.

Pros

  • Laser engine 20,000
    • Maintains color, brightness far longer than lamps
  • 4K UHD – supports HDR and BT.2020/P3
  • Very smart – apps, etc.
    • Video Player
    • Music Player
    • Photo Player
    • Web Browser
    • File Viewer
    • TV Scheduler
    • Notifications and more
  • Excellent sound system for a projector
    • Pretty good with action movies!
    • Bluetooth and Digital Audio output – excellent!
  • Both wired, and wireless networking
    • Should be easy for end user firmware updates
  • MiraCast (screen share)
  • Has CFI for smooth motion
  • Supports broadcast (live)TV with antenna input
  • Quieter than most home entertainment projectors
  • Very good color (though not highly accurate)
  • Cool placement flexibility – using the mirror – or not
    • Projects onto ceilings or floors
  • Many preset modes
    • Vivid and Sports modes designed for ambient light
    • The three Expert modes do have a CMS
  • Excellent remote control – despite not back light
    • Navigate quickly with the “gyro” type design
  • Carry handle
  • Cable cover

Cons

  • Could definitely be brighter (with good color)
  • Black level performance
  • Not a good gaming projector: 71ms is considered too slow for fast games
  • Wobbly fan motor noise (not very loud)
  • Slight unevenness of illumination
  • No backlight on the remote control
  • No lens shift
  • Using the mirror costs some lumens (estimated at 7%)
  • Any level of CFI is too much for movies
  • Warranty is 1 year parts/labor: Shorter than most projectors near this price
    • No rapid replacement program either

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