Projector Reviews

Best in Class – $2500-$5000 Most Innovative: Smart Projector: LG HU80KA

LG HU80K

Every so often, I do have to cook up a special award for my reports, one that is defined by a particular product. This year, meet our first Most Innovative Award, and the projector that wins it – LG’s HU80KA. The projector was first shown at CES back in January. From the outset, it was very different from pretty much everything else but some other LG projectors and a number of low-cost pocket projectors.

Editor’s note: Every report, there are usually one or two projectors we’ve worked with, prior to publishing a report, but don’t get a chance to finish and publish until after the report goes live. In the case of the 2018 Best Home Theater Projectors report, this HU80KA is the one projector whose review will publish in the week or so following this report. -art

This is, most likely the first relatively expensive smart projector. And it’s long overdue.

LG HU80KA Overview

Before I get into that, this $2,999 laser projector is more than smart. It’s pretty strange (compared to other projectors) as well. That starts with the design, a roughly 6×6” wide, and tall box that can operate standing up, or lying down. It has a movable mirror for positioning the image (not my favorite solution, I tend to worry I’m going to force it and break it – but I haven’t yet – it doesn’t seem fragile. Stand it up with the mirror pointing the image to a screen on a wall, or move the mirror aside and project onto a ceiling. Or just lay it down flat on a table and point to a screen or wall.

The laser light engine provides for long life and lower long-term cost of ownership, consistent colors and brightness – all advantages over lamp based projectors. And a laser engine offers the chance at superior color, especially with 4K content. The projector claims 2,500 lumens.

$2500-$5000 Best-in-Class-Most-Innovative-Smart-Projector LG HU80KA
We created a unique Best In Class award for this unique LG HU80KA projector!

Let’s talk brightness. Eric took this projector to calibrate it. He discovered that the most any modes achieved was about 1,000 lumens (1,013 lumens calibrated!) but Eric missed the Natural color mode, which roughly doubled the brightness, getting the projector very close to 2,000 lumens (I broke out my own meter for a quick measurement).

Unfortunately, Natural color is anything but and is inferior to the Normal color, which is the default setting for most of the 9 preset modes. Sadly, Eric never tried Natural, because none of the existing pre-set modes use it. Why? Because Normal does much better color. Still, the Natural color temp is there for you if you need maximum lumens and can handle lower quality color accuracy.

The LG has a modest amount of zoom lens, and a focus dial, both on the side only inches back from the font. There’s no traditional lens shift, although the mirror assembly can behave like a lens shift control. Then there’s also that nice carry handle, and the hinged mirror. The mirror, by the way, will eat up some lumens, but that should only be about 4%, I’m told.

The LG HU80KA is a versatile projector with great placement flexibility!
The LG HU80KA is a versatile projector with great placement flexibility!

Is the LG HU80KA the smartest projector yet? Smart like an LG. That’s right, it’s got all the same bells and whistles as the smarter LG TVs, which is to say, it’s loaded with smarts. Those of you with LG LCD or OLED TVs will immediately recognize the interface. If you have smart Samsungs, Sonys, etc., it will seem similar. LG is about as advanced, though, as TVs get, best I can tell. You’ll see all the same menu items, even if a couple are grayed out, because they are not needed, or perhaps not relevant to projectors.

The LG supports Apps. I’ve run my Netflix account on it, instead of using my Sony 4K UHD player for Netflix. I’ve watched The Blacklist on it, streaming in 4K. Sharp, dynamic, but color is a little off, even post-calibration.

I haven’t bothered to also set up my other apps like Amazon Prime. No worries. I’m familiar enough with smart TVs – my wife’s “media room” has a pretty smart Sony TV, only two years old. But this is the first really smart projector to enter our theater.

I’ve heard projector manufacturers argue that there’s no need to put apps and smarts into projectors, because there are always other devices, such as Blu-ray players, computers, and game consoles, that can do the job. Still, the one thing in common in everyone’s home entertainment system, is a display. We don’t all have game consoles, or Blu-ray UHD player, or even AV receivers. And if we have an AV receiver, if it’s not pretty recent, it, too, probably is pretty stupid. Why bring projectors down to that level?

Let’s not confuse the smarts of this HU80KA projector with those of the Optoma HD51A, which won an award in its class for also being smart. So far, the Optoma’s smarts are limited to a few commands via Alexa or Google Assistant. It will be up to Optoma to build that out, to support more apps, etc. For the moment, while turning the projector off or on by voice, changing sources or advancing slides in a photo slide show, are the Optoma’s limits. No match for this LG.

OK, it’s the smartest game in town capable of 100” images and larger! How good is it otherwise? Well, for openers, it’s strictly Home Entertainment. It can’t compete with most other $2,500 – $5,000 home projectors for color accuracy due to some limits in the controls (see the review and Eric’s comments on the calibration pages).

And, unfortunately, its black level performance is strictly entry level. I do believe most of the other 4K UHD projectors, including some lamp based ones around $1,300 – $1,500, do at least as dark blacks as this LG.

The Bottom Line on the LG HU80KA

Count it a very fun, very friendly, if physically unusual projector. I wish it had more lumens coming out of its laser engine, and with better color, but it has some other pluses – in that the laser engine will seem a bit brighter than the lumen counts suggest, and it will hold its less-than-perfect-color (but still very reasonable for a home entertainment projector), for many times longer than lamp based projectors, which shed lumens and color accuracy over hundreds, not thousands, of hours.

Fun projector – even the remote is more fun. It uses that old gyro technology I used to praise as a presenter (GyroMouse for those of you with long memories). This allows some very fast and precise mousing, once you have the hang of it. Also, the remote, is overall pretty nice, just you’ll need to figure out the projector controls from the Smart controls – much as with any TV. Sound from the speaker system is better than most home entertainment projectors – a real plus.

I know the term is old, but funky comes to mind. I can see this as a popular projector for millennials like my daughter and her friends.  Set it up quickly. Shine on a screen, a wall, a ceiling, a garage door. Need extra sound? The LG has Bluetooth audio so you can drive any Bluetooth boom boxes or AV systems. Nice.

If you are serious about a great, accurate picture, the LG isn’t your thing, but if you are looking for a cool home appliance that projects a great, large, very sharp image, check this projector out. I must say, although I’ve got better color on other projectors here, I found watching a lot of preseason NFL games most enjoyable on the LG.

And, let’s not forget, at this point, it is the lowest cost laser based 4K UHD projector around. Want laser, but better color and much better blacks? Look to the Acer VL7860 that also won an award in this Class. This one’s for fun, that one’s more “serious.”

LG HU80KA Review

LG HU80K

Full Review Coming Soon