LG HU810PW projector review: Powerful color and 4K resolution from 2 lasers

The LG HU810PW has lasers. Two of them! Lasers are awesome and I won’t hear anyone say otherwise. In this case the two lasers, aided by a green phosphor, let the 810P create some remarkably lifelike colors and a brilliantly sharp image thanks to its 4K DLP chip. Unfortunately, that DLP chip also creates a mediocre contrast ratio that lets down the 810P compared to the best home theater projectors I’ve reviewed.

Like

  • Lasers create superb color
  • Exceedingly bright
  • Super-sharp 4K detail

Don’t Like

  • Expensive
  • Contrast ratio is terrible
  • Confusing settings
  • Lip-sync issues

What the 810P does right, it really does right. UltraHD 4K resolution is always welcome in a projector, letting every bit of detail in the video impress the eyes. This projector is also very bright, producing roughly 1,500 lumens. It’s the colors that steal the show, however, with deep vibrant reds, blues, greens and more, all at impressively high levels of brightness.

The downside is that with dark scenes the 810P looks pretty mediocre, saddled by grayish black levels and lack of overall punch. At $3,000 it’s also much more expensive than 4K projectors with better contrast, like the Optoma UHD30. Given the flawed contrast I can’t recommend the LG HU810PW to everyone in this price range, but if you crave brightness, color and detail, it’s tough to beat.

4K, 2 lasers, no lamp 

  • Native resolution: 3,840×2,160 pixels
  • HDR-compatible: Yes
  • 4K-compatible: Yes
  • 3D-compatible: No
  • Lumens spec: 2,700
  • Zoom: Manual (1.6x)
  • Lens shift: Manual (horizontal and vertical)
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): <20,000 hours

The HU810P is both 4K and HDR, and does a better job with HDR than most “HDR” projectors I’ve reviewed recently. That said, it’s important to keep in mind no projector can really do HDR

As befitting a higher-end projector, the 810P has both horizontal and vertical lens shift. The zoom is decent as well, at 1.6x. The case is about twice the size of lower-end projectors, and significantly heavier. I was shocked something that’s mostly empty space for bouncing light around weighs over 24 pounds. 

Lasers! Instead of a UHP lamp, like most projectors, the 810P has two lasers, one blue and one red. The blue laser, in addition to creating all the blue light, gets split and sends some of its light to a green phosphor. So not only are the lasers creating all the light you’re seeing, but they’re also creating the color. Traditionally, DLP-based projectors separate these two things, with the lamp creating white light, and then color filters allowing some of that light to pass through to the screen, when needed. Color wheels are inherently inefficient, which is one of the reasons why lasers are great in projectors.

Another benefit is that lasers last a lot longer than UHP lamps. The light source in the 810P is rated for up to 20,000 hours, or about 14 years if you run it 4 hours a night. It also turns on and off far faster than most UHP-based projectors, which is a nice bonus.

If you were thinking lasers needed less cooling, and therefore fewer fans, you’d be mistaken. Generally the 810P is quieter than the small, low-priced DLP projectors. It also has a more ignorable lower pitch to its fan noise. It is not, however, silent. Overall I minded the noise less than on any other home theater projector I’ve reviewed in the last year, but it’s also louder than I expected for $3,000.


Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Connections for days

  • HDMI inputs: 3 (2x 2.1, 1x 2.0)
  • PC input: No
  • USB port: 2 (0.5A power)
  • Digital audio output: 1 (Optical)
  • Internet/LAN: Wi-FI and LAN
  • 12v trigger: No
  • RS-232 remote port: No
  • MHL: No 
  • Remote: Backlit

I’m generally of the opinion that most projectors only need one HDMI input, since it’s far easier to run one long HDMI cable and switch the sources somewhere else. The three HDMI and two USB inputs on the LG certainly don’t hurt, however, and two of them are HDMI 2.1 with ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) and eARC.

The USB inputs are only rated for 0.5 amp, which might cause problems with some streaming sticks. Yes, the 810P has some built-in streaming apps itself, but for some reason lacks Netflix and HBO. In any case I expect people spending $3,000 on a projector will most likely connect an external streaming device this projector, likely via a soundbar or AV receiver, which eliminates these issues. 

The 810P has one of the strangest remotes I’ve used with a projector. It’s similar to LG’s TVs in that a motion-sensitive cursor appears on screen at the slightest of touches. It ends up being faster to use the traditional joypad and clicking through the menus. 

And you’re going to be clicking through a lot of menus. The 810P has what could conservatively called a metric butt-ton of settings. Submenus upon submenus, endless settings to adjust every aspect of performance, many of them confusing. For example, Adaptive Contrast and Dynamic Contrast are in two different submenus, separate from the regular contrast setting. Feel free to join me down the rabbit hole in the Measurement Notes section at the end of the review. 

One very strange problem you can’t fix with any settings is the most egregious lip-sync delay I’ve seen on a display in a very long time. You can adjust the audio timing in the menu, but this only addresses the projector’s own internal speakers. If you’re using an external speaker system like a soundbar or receiver (and let me be clear you should with any projector) it absolutely must have lip sync adjustment. Otherwise anything you watch will appear cheaply dubbed, with the voices not matching the lips on screen at all. 

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Picture quality comparisons

Since the LG is higher in price than most of the projectors I’ve recently reviewed, finding direct comparisons proved difficult. I settled on two projectors that I think can be used as a framing device for the overall story of the 810P while primarily focusing on how the LG looks. The Optoma is roughly a third of the LG’s price, but is one of the better 4K projectors in that range. The Sony is an older, more expensive model, but one that I’m quite familiar with. Its strengths and weaknesses provided a great counterpoint to the LG. I connected all three via a Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier, and viewed them on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen.

Let me get this out of the way first: The LG’s contrast ratio is bad. Like, really bad. Side by side, the UHD30 at $2,000 less has more depth and looks less washed out, and that projector’s contrast ratio could generously be called “OK.” The first few days I had with the 810P I was constantly reaching for the remote, thinking I’d set the brightness control too high. You just can’t get decent black levels out of it without dropping the entire light output of the projector, which doesn’t actually help the contrast ratio, just makes dimmer. 

This comparison test was the first time in a while I’d watched the Sony, which uses three liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS, or SXRD in Sony parlance) chips, a technology known for its excellent contrast. Here it wasn’t even a competition. The Sony was on another planet compared to the LG. It was like a 100-meter dash against Usain Bolt except he had a head start and was racing me. 

I’m the first one to tell you that contrast ratio is the most important factor of overall picture quality. So you’d think the review would end here. But the LG does just about everything else so well that it can (almost) overcome this serious deficit. 

lg-810p-1-of-6

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Let’s talk about light output. We’re not at the point that projectors are “bright enough” for most homes. None can truly compete with ambient light, that’s just physics. But being able to watch a movie with some lights on, not having to completely black out a room, that’s useful. Having a bright 100-inch+ image is compelling, to say the least. The image on the Sony is fantastic, as you’d hope for something that, when new, cost several times the LG. It is not, however, what one would call “bright.” Even in its brightest mode, you need a totally dark room to enjoy the Sony. That’s not the case with the LG. 

Those two lasers, plus the phosphor, also let the LG create some impressively rich and vibrant colors. It delvers a wide color gamut in a way that’s extremely difficult for color-wheel-based projectors to do. The BenQ 3550i had excellent color, but it was super dim, compared to its competition. The LG does even better than the 3550i, while being as bright as the brightest projectors I’ve reviewed. That’s an impressive feat, and goes to show how much lasers are the next leap in projector technology that we’ve been hoping for.

Then there’s detail. 4K on a huge screen is what higher resolutions are made for. DLP’s greatest strength is its ability to create an ultra-sharp image with no hint of motion blur. It’s actually the only current technology that lacks motion blur (pour one out for plasma, friends). So every wrinkle, every hair, every blade of grass, it reveals all the fine detail promised with higher resolutions. The UHD30 pretty much matches it in this regard, but the LG seems a little sharper overall. That might be the lens, it might be processing, it might be both, neither of which were great on the Optoma. The Sony, despite being 4K, looks far softer. LCOS still has motion blur, and while black frame insertion helps, that makes the image even dimmer. A tricky trade-off.

So overall the LG HU810PW looks far better than you might expect, given its mediocre contrast ratio. 

Lastly, the LG has an odd artifact that I’ve seen in other laser-based projectors. I want to call it “sparkle” but it’s technically called speckle. It’s like certain pixels are brighter than others. If you’ve ever played with a laser pointer, you might have an idea what this looks like. However, at a normal viewing distance of around 10 feet, it’s hard to notice and after a day or so watching it, I stopped noticing it. Even when I did notice it, it didn’t bother me.

lg-810p-3-of-6

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

But lasers!

What the 810P gets right, it really gets right. That’s why, after all the issues mentioned above, I still actually like it. When showing content that plays to its strengths it’s capable of a truly gorgeous image. Detail for days together with some of the best color I’ve seen in a projector at any price. It’s just beautiful. 

I was constantly reaching for the remote trying to fix the black level, however. The contrast ratio is flat out poor. LG has done everything they can to mask that fact, but there’s only so much they can do with the Texas Instruments’ DLP tech compared to something like SXRD. TI’s 4K chips seem to be even worse in this regard than their 1080p chips, and that’s a problem since contrast ratio is by far the most important aspect of overall subjective image quality. 

With brighter scenes the 810P is capable of truly gorgeous images. But when the dark scenes arrive, as they always do, making the whole image dimmer by dropping the light output only partially masks the problem. In the end the HU810PW is good, but not great, and at this price I want great. 

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.418 Poor
Peak white luminance (100%) 116.3 Average
Derived lumens 1498 Average
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 10.372 Poor
Dark gray error (20%) 6.416 Average
Bright gray error (70%) 11.213 Poor
Avg. color error 4.934 Average
Red error 2.112 Good
Green error 0.651 Good
Blue error 4.134 Average
Cyan error 13.8 Poor
Magenta error 4.264 Average
Yellow error 4.642 Average
Avg. saturations error 5.97 Poor
Avg. color checker error 5.6 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 129.3 Good

Measurement notes

I could spend pages upon pages trying to explain what each setting means and which are the best, but this review is long enough already. Here’s the short(ish) version. 

As mentioned earlier, the labyrinthian menus have endless settings. To help, somewhat, there are pop-up tooltips. Sadly these are often less helpful than you’d hope. Many could refer to anything. For instance, the Black Level control reads “Correct contrast and brightness by adjusting black levels.” If this sounds like what on most displays you’d would call the contrast and brightness controls, you would be correct. Except this has three settings and is completely separate from the actual contrast and brightness controls. 

Then there’s the Real Cinema setting, which reads: “Adjust the frame ratio in the same way with the movie and it provides the feeling of the movie theater.” The owner’s manual just explains that it “Provides a cinema-like experience.” So my guess is it shows 24p content at a multiple of 24, which is great! But it should just say so.  

I don’t mean to harp on this, but there are projectors that cost a fraction of the 810P, from significantly smaller companies, that are easier to use and far more polished. For $3,000 I would hope for more of both. I say this as someone who reviews projectors professionally, have done so for nearly 20 years, have had a projector as my main display for nearly that same amount of time and I found all the settings here almost baffling at best, and frustrating at worst. I hope anyone who buys this either loves spending hours on setup, or is willing to pay someone who is.

One other noteworthy issue when attempting to get an accurate picture, the color temperature varies with the iris setting. At lower brightness levels it drifts noticeably blue.

What follows are some of the more important settings, to help you dial in the 810P without too many hours invested. 

  • Energy Saving: “Minimum” is brightest, which is technically accurate, but confusing. 
  • Brightness Optimizer>Iris Mode: The presets are just steps you can adjust in the User setting, e.g., Bright Room=10
  • Brightness Optimizer>Adaptive Contrast: Varies the laser power depending on the brightness of the image. Slightly helps with apparent contrast.
  • Advanced Controls>Dynamic Contrast: Changes contrast and brightness settings based on content. I left it off. Didn’t seem to help much.
  • Picture Options>Real Cinema: 24fps content displayed at a multiple of 24. On.
  • Picture Options>TruMotion: Motion interpolation, aka soap opera effect. Off, of course.
  • Picture Options>Black Level: My guess this deals with 0-255/16-235 ranges. Leave on Auto unless you have an odd issue with some piece of gear.

On the measurement front, the LG was all over the place. In the Warm color temperature setting, the closest to accurate, the image lacked green with brighter images, and had too much red with darker images. Generally the color points with HD content were accurate, with only cyan drifting blue and magenta drifting slightly red.

Brightness was certainly not an issue. I measured 166 nits, or roughly 1,498 lumens, with HD content. The contrast ratio averaged an abysmal 490:1 across multiple modes and settings. Even with the laser adjusting its brightness to the image, the best dynamic contrast ratio I could get was 2,407:1.

With HDR content it was even brighter, maxing out at a massive 290 nits, or 2,600 lumens in the Brightest picture mode. However, this mode was visibly blue/green and wasn’t worth the trade-off in overall image quality. Still, 2,600 lumens! Impressive.