Projector Reviews

VAVA 4K UHD Laser TV Review- Special Projector Features

VAVA Laser TV Review – Special Features: Smart Projector/Android, 4K UHD, Harmon Kardon Audio System, and Bluetooth Audio

Smart Projector – with Android OS, and App

It’s barely the end of year one of 4K UHD projectors, so I try to provide a quick understanding of how the two different resolutions of 4K UHDThe VAVA is smart, it’s Android OS, naturally supports Google Assistant.  You can just pick up the remote, hold down the microphone button and command the VAVA.

Home page
Temporary setup with ALR screen (100") showing VAVA Homepage, with Apps, setup, Bluetooth, networking...

The Smarts of the VAVA are typical of today’s smart projectors, in part because only a couple of projector makers have been doing smart for more than a year or so. The glaring exception to that is LG who’s been offering some very smart projectors (mostly small ones) for years, but are just now starting to make higher-end/more serious projectors. Those LG projectors are as smart as their best TVs. LG certainly is known for some of the smartest, well thought out OLED TVs and LCD TVs.

With the VAVA you can change sources, power off, control the media player and more either with voice command, or the VAVA app, with more capabilities coming, I’m told. Please note there is no App for Apple products at this time. That won’t stop you from hooking up an iPhone or MacBook to project to the VAVA.  I’ve been using Apple TV, for more than a month, in fact, I’m projecting this page with the VAVA as I edit it.

Laser Light Engine

VAVA states that their laser light engine is rated 25,000 hours.  At 40 hours a week, that’s over 12 years.  Trust me, you’ll want something new and wildly more advanced 10 years from now, so I wouldn’t worry about the laser.  (Although the laser engine will lose brightness over time – it should be down 50% by 25,000 hours.)

This VAVA, I believe, uses a traditional laser light engine which it combines with a color wheel, with phosphors that create red and green.  There are other laser configurations being used out there.  Most Epsons, for example, use two blue lasers, (and phosphors, to create the other primaries..  The LG HU85LA, which is another UST Laser TV (a DLP like the VAVA), uses a 3 laser system, and no light wheel needed to create the phosphors.  The slightly more expensive Optoma P1 UST projector – which has been highly anticipated, is, I believe also a single laser projector.

eye protection from laser
The VAVA Laser TV has a sensor to protect your eyes from the laser should you enter the path of the laser light!

Consider the single laser to be the entry-level laser solution, it’s primary advantage to the 2 and three laser systems is lower price.  More advanced systems cost more, but offer performance improvements as well, to rationalize the extra $1000 – $3000+.

Lasers, whether 1, 2, or 3, offer really big advantages over lamp-based projectors, even beyond the obvious – having to spend typically a couple of hundred dollars for a new lamp, every couple/ years, vs. a decade… Also though, color shifts over the years, not months, and the lasers will dim (about 50%), oat ver 25,000 hours, not over 2500 to 5000 hours as with lamps.

Don’t worry about the 1,2, or 3 lasers, what counts is the finished product. A great single-engine laser could easily best a poorly designed dual laser… You get the idea.

4K UHD

Many of you already know what 4K UHD is, but let me lay it out again for those relatively new to 4K UHD projectors. 4K UHD is a standard for displaying 4K content. The way we talk about resolution these days, there are 5 types of “resolution” that can handle 4K, which is “4K capable.”

building 4K
Ghostbusters 2016 4K/HDR - sharp image good reds and yellows...

The VAVA Laser TV like the vast majority of 4K capable projectors isn’t native 4K – the highest resolution.  Native has the smallest pixels.  All else being equal, the smaller the pixels the more detail.  But native 4K still starts at $5,000 list.  There are now dozens of 4K capable projectors at or under that price, including:

  • Native: use chips or panels with 3840×2160 descreet pixels no pixel shifting 
  • Pixel shifting projectors using 2716×1528 pixels.  (the next highest res).  These use pixel shifting – firing each pixel twice, those pixels are 2x the size of native, but by overlapping them we can put in more detail that without that pixel shifting.  Example – LG HU85LA UST Laser TV
  • The VAVA is in this class:  Pixel shifting projectors using 1920×1080 pixels, but shifting 4 times, These pixels are 2x that of the pixel shifters above
  • Pixel shifters that are 1920×1080 but only pixel shift twice. Same sized pixels s the one immediately above, but by firing them only twice overlapping, in theory, a touch less detail.  (this is what you normally find with 3LCD and LCoS projectors
  • 1080p projectors without pixel shifting.  Some can now read 4K content and downscale to 1080p.  These projectors (few) offer the advantage of being a bit more future proof than 1080p projectors without any 4K cpaabilities (the vast majority of them), but won’t appear as sharp as the others.

The thing is – image processing plays a big role.  If you have ever cranked up sharpness on a display, things get more contrasty, but you also lose detail.  You may perceive it as sharper, not being aware you are losing some detail, which is, perhaps what counts most. For that reason as I’ve said in many reviews, you can take, for example, the 1920x1080x2 pixel shifters, or those with 4X and make them seem sharper than a good native 4K projector.  But there are always trade-offs. A lot of such processing for perceived sharpness typically adds a touch of hardness to the picture.  (Consider that hardness as a form of noise, but people think it’s sharper)

sharpness image
Credits from Ghostbusters 2016. 4K HDR. This is full frame. We use close-up below to assess sharpness.

So, with this VAVA Laser TV, you inherently have a very sharp looking projector. Also worth remembering is that UST type projectors have rather unique optics, and aren’t yet as refined, perhaps as typical projector (or camera) lenses. If anything, I noted that with the projector set upright, I used the motorized focus feature to get the best focus I could. I did, however, notice that with the focus patterns the upper left wasn’t as sharp as the rest. On those text patterns easily visible. In reality – during normal watching, most folks may never notice this. That is to say, the amount of defocusing just isn’t going to be obvious on content like movies or HDTV, although I do notice it when I hooked up my laptop to the VAVA, to do some work.

Bottom line – The VAVA is in the middle in terms of “resolution” of 4K capable projectors. It likely isn’t as sharp as most, because, UST designs I still don’t think can match the lens optics that got on competing, traditional projectors. Still, we’re talking subtle differences, say compared to watching 1080p resolution content. Works for me.

close-up for sharpness

Audio: Harmon Kardon Speakers, Bluetooth In/Out

Laser TVs typically have some decent speakers built-in. Consider:  None of these 4K UHT projectors are going to compete in sound quality, bass, etc., with a good $500 stereo surround sound system nevermind serious home theater. . The better Laser TVs, like the VAVA, are easily capable of room-filling sound, even if lacking serious low bass and the special qualities of a better system.

HK – Harmon Kardon, is a great “cut-above” brand, I’ve owned some of their audio gear going back to the ‘70s. Now their speaker systems are found in projectors, luxury car audio systems, etc. This configuration sounds pretty darn good, compared to say, most TV’s soundbars.  VAVA says the HK’s are 30 watts a channel, which suprised me because most of what’s in Laser TVs is 10 watts per channel.

With that said, I spent the first week with the VAVA in one location (summer rental), where I had the audio hooked up to a good AV receiver and some moderately expensive speakers and a subwoofer.  No, when I switched back to the VAVA’s internal audio, it was no match, of course.

But it did fill a pretty large room with well balanced sound (no tinniness…).  It’s got more than enough muscle for your favorite action flicks, even if it won’t shake the foundations of your house.

When we set up my new “testing room/theater” in our new location, though, I spent two-plus weeks with the VAVA Laser TV, only using its own HK system (30 watts per speaker). Not bad. I’m an audiophile (since the 70s) so I am aware, that the difference is huge, but the VAVA still does the job nicely, both on Marvel movies, other action/sci-fi, and drama. The only time I truly felt limited was watching music festivals and concerts. There I couldn’t help from immediately wishing I had my full audio instead.

projecting in the living room
Monday Night Football in my Living Room projecting (temporarily) onto a wall.

As a family entertainment system, the VAVA Laser TV’s audio should be just fine for all but us serious enthusiasts, who demand fuller range and more tonal accuracy, that one expects in an audio system that costs almost as much as this projector.

Bluetooth Audio – In and Out. That means you can send the VAVA music, etc. from your phones, laptops and other Bluetooth sources.

testing room/theater
Daytime lighting (shades slightly open) in new Testing/Theater with dark walls, etc.. Screen is 120" diagonal 1.1 gain

And you can output from this Laser TV to Bluetooth speakers. That’s an important feature, as far as I’m concerned. Although I wasn’t yet set up to check it, I believe you can run the internal HK sound system, and the Bluetooth simultaneously. This creates the possibility of using the HK speakers, and an external subwoofer. I do have a concern though. I have encountered a slight delay in the audio. The VAVA doesn’t have the ability to correct for lag (almost any AV receiver will have a control for that), and in theory, much of what’s in an AV receiver is incorporated into this projector.

I’m traveling as I’m finishing my review. Normally I prefer to be writing in the same room as the projector, in case I think of things I want to check. When I get back I’ll test the Bluetooth to see if it lags the internal speakers, and add to this review.