There’s a projector trend over the past couple years that’s hitting full steam in 2019: ultra-short throw 4K projectors with built-in soundbars. Major display manufacturers Optoma and LG announced their products during CES this past January. Relative newcomer VAVA, founded in 2015, is going up against that big name competition with the simply-named VAVA 4K Projector (see it on VAVA’s website). It has Harman/Kardon stereo speakers built into the front, can display an image up to 150 inches using ALPD 3.0 laser technology, accepts HDR10, and only needs to sit less than a foot from the projection wall. At $3,500 it’s certainly not an inexpensive display option, but still falls in the low- to mid-range of 4K laser projector prices.
The Harman/Kardon speakers are hidden behind a gray fabric grille that extends around the entirety of the projector’s edges. Feet adjustment wheels and exhaust vents are on both the left and right side panels. The back connections panel has three HDMI (one with ARC), a USB input, a 3.5mm audio output, a 3.5mm A/V input, an optical S/PDIF output, an Ethernet port, and power connection.
The look of the projector is clean and subdued. There were numerous occasions that friends wouldn’t realize until 10-15 minutes into playing a game or watching a movie that it was a projector. It looks at first glance to be an unobtrusive speaker bar. The table footprint of the VAVA is 21 inches wide, 14.5 inches deep, and 4.2 inches high. To project an image on my 100-inch screen, the projector is just over 7 inches away from the wall. For a 150-inch, it only needs to sit 16.7 inches from the wall. Ultra-short throw projectors are a game changer for anyone that doesn’t want, or is unable, to mount a standard projector.
Sound can be played through the stereo speakers or sent to an external sound system via the HDMI ARC or the optical out. When an external system is used the sound signal can be sent out as PCM (the projector decodes the audio source before sending it to the sound system) or RAW (the decoding is done by your sound system). Testing the PCM setting with my Denon AVR setup, I encountered audio delay of more than half a second. Usually a sync issue happens in the opposite direction, where the audio is ahead of video, and many AVRs (including my own) have an audio delay setting to compensate. Video delay settings are very rare, so I either used the internal Harman/Kardon speakers for stereo or bypassed the projector for surround audio with an optical cable from my source directly to my AVR.
The projector’s interface is laid out nicely.
The projector’s interface is laid out nicely. There’s a preview window that shows content playing from one of the sources (mine defaulted to display HDMI 3). It helps remember what’s connected to each port as there’s no way to rename them. There are three more primary menu panels that open the Aptoide store, the file manager (for accessing internal storage, a connected USB stick or shared computers over NetHood), and a multi-screen option for connecting a mobile device that’s installed with the VAVA Projector app (the app was not yet available on the iOS App Store for the review).
Apps installed from the Aptoide store, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, get added to the main interface page for easy, quick access. Sometimes. Netflix showed up immediately after I installed it, but I couldn’t get a Prime Video shortcut to display there and had to go into the store and search for it each time.
I had trouble consistently streaming 4K shows from the Amazon app due to it claiming low bandwidth. I didn’t encounter this issue streaming the same Amazon shows through the app on other sources. The VAVA remote wasn’t compatible with all of the Aptoide apps, either. It worked fine navigating Prime Video, but was unusable with Netflix. There’s a multitude of apps and games available through the Aptoide store, but that’s partially because there are multiple version of the same app. Using Netflix as an example again, there were three different Netflix apps that came up in a search – Netflix, Netflix for Android TV, and Netflix Viewer. Five different apps for HBO GO. It was convoluted and frustrating.
The remote is laid out well and easy to use. The buttons are all accessible with just your thumb. There isn’t a backlight, but all the buttons are slightly raised, so finding their location is no trouble.
VAVA Ultra-Short Throw 4K Projector – Testing and Gaming
Testing was done with a Photo Research PR-650 spectroradiometer, a Konica Minolta LS-100 luminance meter, and CalMAN 2018 calibration software. HDR patterns were from Diversified Video Solutions’ UltraHD/HDR-10 Test Pattern Suite. SDR patterns were from a VideoForge Classic generator.
Even before setting up the test gear it was obvious that the color balance of the VAVA 4K Projector was very blue. Even in the Movie setting with color temperature set to warm there was still a distinct blue coloration. This was confirmed with both the SDR and HDR patterns.
Blue was oversaturated, and both the cyan and magenta color points were far more blue than green or red, respectively. I’d almost call the magenta color point purple instead. When playing something like Horizon Zero Dawn or Red Dead Redemption, while running around in the daylight the sky looked artificially blue and even the clouds had a blue look to them. It took away from the realism.
It should be noted that the projector’s color gamut is Rec.709, which isn’t the wide color gamut many HDR enthusiasts are hoping to see, and doesn’t allow a wider array of colors than standard HDTVs. The VAVA isn’t alone in this as there are other projectors around this price point that don’t have the wide color gamut coverage that you can find in a 4K HDR TV. Putting the projector side-by-side with a TV like the comparably-priced Samsung Q9FN and the TV’s colors will look more vibrant.
Using a projector in a room with any ambient light is quite often a disaster, even when shadow detail isn’t a huge concern like with sports. The VAVA though has a good amount of light output and I was able to use it for daytime viewing with a bunch of material, be it watching the Red Sox have a dismal season start or to watch Bobby Flay win yet another cooking competition. When it comes to games I had to draw the curtains or wait until the sun set. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was far too dark to be able to play during the day with the amount of nighttime sneaking or cave crawling necessary. Once the sun went down though, the shadow detail looked great.
The 4K detail of Tomb Raider was excellent.
The 4K detail of Tomb Raider was excellent. The water of the Amazon river, the blowing of the leaves of the rainforest all had nice clarity to them. That detail quality translated to 4K movies like Blade Runner 2049, where the beautiful cinematography was supported by the VAVA. 1080p through my PS3 looked great as well. I love the expansive vistas in Horizon Zero Dawn and the mountain passes and sweeping fields did not disappoint. But while the detail was spot on with both 4K and 1080p, the blueish color was distracting. Lara and Aloy both looked in need of medical attention because of their skin tone.
Gamers tend to shy away from projectors for one problem in particular; input lag. Even projectors that employ a game mode to address this often can’t compete with TVs. Unfortunately, the VAVA has no game mode that I could find. Using the Leo Bodnar input lag tester I measured a whopping 101.2ms of lag in 1080p. I easily felt this while trying to jump for my life in Tomb Raider, and ended up on the end of many a sharp stick because of it. After falling multiple times during a jumping puzzle I shut the game off in frustration. For fighting games or competitive FPS the input lag makes them unplayable, however if your passion is turn-based combat games the VAVA would likely be fine.
The built-in Harman/Kardon stereo soundbar is nice and clean. It can also get pretty loud without significant added distortion. Even so I never needed to have it much higher than around 40%. They lack low-end response, which can be expected without an external subwoofer, and there’s an upper midrange peak that can get fatiguing and a bit grating at higher volumes. You can connect sources via Bluetooth but I found the connection to my iPhone to be unreliable.
The VAVA 4K Projector has an MSRP of $3,500. VAVA offers multiple early-adopter deals through an Indiegogo campaign that could get your price down to $2,433, but only if you buy three at once.
2019 is no doubt going to be the year of the ultra-short throw projector. VAVA promises a lot and it looks great, but it falls short, especially for gamers. The excellent detail and upper-end brightness for a projector doesn’t offset the inaccurate color, significant input lag, and frustrating Aptoide app interface experience. If you need a UST projector now, the discounted Indiegogo price isn’t a terrible deal, but it might be worth waiting to see what Optoma and LG offer later this year.
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