My colleagues and I have for years recommended projectors over flat panels when it comes to home theater displays, since we’re often asked by friends and family for purchasing suggestions. Relative to cost especially, we stress the ability to watch a really good looking picture on 100 or so diagonal inches of a projection screen setup typically trumps that of the 55- to 65-inch flat-panel TV commonly thought of as “home theater” by the masses.
That being said, one area in which flat panels have held an undeniable edge has been the emergence of “smart” TVs that offer a wealth of streaming services, social network platforms, photo sharing, games and other applications within whatever proprietary system that manufacturer calls it. Well, LG has taken its “Smart TV” platform and made a smart projector, the PF85U 1080p DLP — turn it on, go to the Smart TV menu and start firing away at the myriad content choices potentially at your service (potentially, because as is the norm with many of these users must first register for or subscribe to a particular service).
As a mid-market offering it’s not surprising that the PF85U is heavy on some features while light on others. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but more along the lines of not being able to address everything in a $1,299 projector.
The good news is that what’s available among the features far outweighs what’s missing. The most notable omission is the ability to zoom, so measuring screen distance and figuring out proper projector placement will be key. This projector is probably intended to be pulled on of the closet and pointed at the wall for movie night, rather than permanently hung from a ceiling. The lens has a manual focus, and weighing less than five pounds (4.85) the slim projector easy to maneuver and highly portable. Interestingly, the projector comes with a standard remote and LG’s “magic remote” — more on that later.
This DLP projector features an LED lamp that LG says can provide a lifespan of up to 30,000 hours, so customers can run the PF85U on a virtual daily basis and not worry about the expense of replacing a bulb. LG says the projector can throw an image up to 120 diagonal inches, and includes a handy screen size-to-projector distance (in 16:9 aspect ratio) guide in the manual.
Rear-panel connectivity options are abundant and with more than the usual suspects. Users can pick from twoHDMI inputs, including one for MHL devices like the Roku stick (though with the Built-in smart TV features, you don’t need an additional Roku), two USB ports, one component and composite input each — as well as an Antenna/Cable In port with built-in digital tuner, something I hadn’t encountered on a projector.
There’s also a headphone jack, Digital Optical Audio Out and Ethernet port; related, the PF85U offers built-in 5W stereo speakers and Wi-Fi connectivity. Plus there’s the aforementioned Smart TV, which delivers Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, Amazon, Vtuner, MLB.TV, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps and Picasa among the primary functions; a ton of downloadable free and paid apps and games through LG’s own suite; web browsing; and LG’s Smart Share that allows the projector to be part of a network for cloud-sharing content from compatible devices. (I didn’t test this last aspect.)
There are numerous ways to begin enjoying this projector and, admittedly, I skipped the “initial setup” that includes establishing network connectivity because the first time I used it was with my laptop as a video source plugged into the HDMI port (with the audio out from the laptop to my Anthem processor). Next time, however, I tapped into the network settings, magic remote registration and Smart TV streaming operations, all of which LG makes fairly easy to accomplish.
At various times I had the projector connected via HDMI to a Blu-ray player and cable box, with audio routed from those components to the Anthem. However, I must say the beauty of the PF85U is that with LG’s Smart TV baked in and internal speakers you can pare down the amount of wiring to really just the power plug — it’s an ideal solution for secondary media rooms and kids’ playrooms.
But even for playback in my theater, most of the time I was watching Netflix or YouTube and for audio I used an RCA adapter and analog cables into the Headphone Out or the Optical Out. (An attempt at connecting Meridian’s Explorer DAC via the USB port failed to recognize the device.) I did hook up an HD antenna, but the channel scanning only found a couple of Spanish language stations; UnivisiÃƒ:³n in HD looked colorful and crisp.
Tweaking video settings allows you to work with the usual brightness, contrast, sharpness and color — don’t expect advanced fine-tuning settings in the menu. As I’ve experienced with other manual focus projectors, it’s tough to hit the nail directly on the head but I managed to get the picture pretty sharp; in my case on a 92-inch SI Black Diamond screen and 92-inch Elite Screens Kestrel 2.35:1 screen.
One knock I would say is that the fan noise was more noticeable than I’d found with other projectors. I thought animated material like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Phineas and Ferb from Netflix delivered a good deal of pop and I was impressed by the image depth. With live-action content such asThe Parent Trap (Lindsay Lohan version) on Netflix, colors and textures were very natural, like the greens and golds of Napa in much of that film’s backdrop.
Overall, picture quality was on par with what I’ve seen from similarly priced projectors, and I was surprised at how well YouTube videos fared blown up. If those seem like odd review content, that’s because I have to credit my 8-yearold daughter with the impetus, as well as her underscoring the fun and intuitive nature of the magic remote. Picture quality is essentially secondary to functionality in telling this projector’s story.
One of the keys I found with the magic remote is that it puts an arrow icon onscreen and lets you point-and-click your way around — a much easier way than using left/right/ up/down arrows (both remotes include) to do onscreen “keyboarding” for Wi-Fi passwords and web or YouTube surfing, for example. You can also click the remote’s microphone icon and conduct search via voice recognition. Between that and wielding it like a Nintendo Wii remote, it took about five seconds for my daughter to feel comfortable using the magic remote. She swiftly navigated the excellent Netflix and YouTube interfaces, searched for and selected content.
LG has a winner in the PF85U, which fits in with today’s multi-use media rooms perfectly. As an LED projector, it’s decently bright, and the lamp lasts forever. The enhanced functionality and family friendliness of the Smart TV and magic remote, as well as the projector’s portability make it highly versatile. Plus the kids will have a blast not only watching it, but demanding to be in charge of movie nights.
DLP display, LED lamp
Brightness up to 1,000 lumens
Lamp life up to 30,000 hours
Wi-Fi, DTV tuner built-in
Connections include 2 HDMI (1 MHL), 2 USB, component, composite, RJ45, 3.5mm, S/PDIF
5W x 2 stereo speakers
LG Smart TV streaming, apps and sharing
MSRP is $1,299
PROS: Streaming services, web surfing and more built in; nice app interfaces; “instant on” and other LED benefits; solid overall picture.
CONS: Bit too much fan noise; no zoom capability; micro-detail lacking.
More information here.