With VAVA’s 4K Ultra Short Throw Laser Projector, you can have a 150-inch diagonal image from a display that sits just 16.7 inches from the wall. It includes a 30-watt speaker and an Android TV smart TV interface, so you can watch it without connecting an external source. If you choose to add an Ultra HD Blu-ray or other component, there are three HDMI inputs that support HDCP 2.2 and Ultra HD content with HDR. It’s an impressive package wrapped in a slick and solid chassis that looks good whether it’s running or not.
VAVA 4K Ultra Short Throw Laser Projector
- Solid build quality
- Slick styling
- Easy setup just beneath the screen
- Ultra HD resolution with HDR10 support
- Built-in 30-watt speaker
- Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity with integrated Android TV user interface
Ultra-short throw (UST) projectors are nothing new, but until recently, they were only sold as premium products for sometimes eye-watering prices. I recall seeing demos from Sony and SIM2 at CEDIA with beautifully-styled units that produced amazing images and cost upwards of $50,000. I thought it unlikely I would ever review one.
Recently, a few manufacturers have come out with UST displays that sell for more realistic prices. Two years ago, I saw Epson’s LS100 UST Projector at CEDIA and knew then that the technology had finally come to the rest of us.
Today, I’ll be checking out a UST model from newcomer VAVA. They call it simply the 4K Ultra Short Throw Laser Projector. It’s an Ultra HD display with HDR10 support and a single-chip DLP that is pixel-shifted from 1920×1080 to 3840×2160 resolution. It can throw an image up to 150 inches diagonal while sitting just 16.7 inches from the screen. With attractive contemporary styling, it looks good sitting on an AV bench whether it’s turned on or off. For minimalist installations, you can forgo external source components and speakers since both are provided in the unit. Android TV delivers streamed content from every major provider and there’s an app store from which you can add thousands more. A 30-watt Harmon Kardon speaker delivers surprisingly good sound. It’s my first chance to check out a projector like this so without further ado, let’s take a look.
single-chip DLP w/pixel-shift
1920×1080 shifted to 3840×2160, 16:9 aspect ratio
Max image size:
ALPD 3.0 laser phosphor
Light output (mfr):
2500 ANSI lumens
Laser service life:
3x HDMI 2.0 w/HDCP 2.2
1x TOSLink output, 3.5mm in/out
1x USB, 1x RJ45, Wi-Fi
1x Harmon Kardon, 30 watts
21” x 4.2” x 14.5” (WxHxD)
vava, 4k, ultra short throw projector, ultra hd projector, dlp projector, laser projector, hdr, ultra hd, Projector Review 2019
My normal procedure for reviewing projectors is to request a sample when a company introduces a new product. In this case, Vava approached me with an offer. They provided enough information about their display to whet my appetite, so I agreed. While waiting for it to arrive, I did a bit of research and discovered the 4K UST Laser Projector is an Indiegogo project. Vava managed to meet its funding goal inside of 30 minutes and at this writing, they have 128 backers with 23 days to go. The projectors should be shipping by the time you read this or shortly thereafter.
When the carton arrived, I opened it to find a well-built, beautifully styled projector; not something I would expect from a new startup company. It’s about the size of a small soundbar with a white plastic top and a fabric wrap that goes all the way around. Since it’s an ultra-short throw, the lens inside the chassis with the image projected by a mirror. You place it beneath the screen, then move it in or out to size the picture. The maximum is 150 inches with the projector sitting 16.7 inches out from the screen.
Inside the case is a single-chip DLP light engine with a native resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. XPR pixel shift technology quadruples that to 3840×2160. The shift is always in operation regardless of the input resolution. The Vava supports HDR10 and will accept signals up to 3840×2160 at 60Hz through its three HDMI 2.0 inputs. It also has a built in 30-watt speaker from Harmon Kardon that sounds quite good. Audio support is in the form of 3.5mm input and output jacks along with an optical output for external processors or receivers.
The only button on the chassis is a large backlit power key. Everything else is controlled by the Bluetooth remote. You pair it during initial setup, then it works without pointing to control all projector functions. It’s fairly simple with just power toggle, mute, volume, and menu navigation keys. Though it isn’t backlit, I was able to learn the button positions and shapes quickly.
Installing a UST projector is quite different than setting up a traditional two-piece display. The Vava has no zoom control so image size is dependent on its distance from the screen. In my case, I filled a 92-inch Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 130 by placing it 5.5 inches out from the screen and 8 inches below. There are two feet that can be adjusted with dials that offer a fine thread. One can level the projector very precisely to square up the picture. Once this is complete, the menu offers a focus pattern and a motorized control which is also very precise. It’s a little tricky to get the entire image in focus and you’ll need to tweak the position and level until it’s right. On-screen instructions explain how to adjust the projector for every type of geometric distortion. After a few minutes, I had it dialed in.
The menu system has basic image controls, networking, and a streaming interface courtesy of Android TV. An app store offers thousands of streaming options along with games and other convenience items. Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube were already installed on my review sample. The projector has Wi-Fi, or you can use a hardwired connection with the included RJ45 port.
There isn’t much one can do to change the image beyond the two lamp power settings. There are four picture modes but to my eyes, they all look the same. Comparisons are difficult because when you display the menu, you can’t see any test patterns or content. It also appears that the brightness and contrast controls have no effect. Fortunately, the color temp presets (there are three) do work though the warmest one is still quite blue in tint.
Though the Vava supports HDR10 signals, it does not increase contrast with any sort of iris or dynamic feature. Color is Rec.709 regardless of signal type so there is no significant benefit to viewing Ultra HD material versus Blu-ray. Resolution is slightly sharper with 4K discs but that is all.
I started with a few shows on Netflix. Like any display, quality is content-dependent though most things look pretty good these days with only minor compression artifacts here and there. The Android TV interface is intuitive and responsive, and I had no trouble navigating through my watchlists or search screens. There was an occasional lockup though but waiting a few minutes seemed to bring things back to rights. I never had to unplug the projector to get it going again.
I always prefer to watch movies on disc, so I connected an OPPO UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray player for the remainder of my viewing. There was no real difference between the Blu-ray and UHD version of the films I watched except for a slight bump in sharpness so I stuck with the UHD versions throughout.
Starting with Planet Earth II was a good demonstration of the Vava’s Ultra HD capability. The picture was nice and sharp with very saturated color, a bit too saturated in some instances. Blue skies were extremely blue, and I saw a bit of banding here and there indicating that color depth is likely 8-bits, not the 10-bits of the original content. Reds and greens were also a bit overblown though I suspect many viewers will not have a problem with this. Picky videophiles will find the color inaccurate if they’re used to watching a calibrated display. But those who like the vivid or bright modes on their TVs will like the Vava’s presentation.
The Incredibles 2 also showed some extreme shades of red, but banding was minimal, and detail was sharp and well-defined. Contrast was better than many DLP projectors I’ve seen with decent black levels and bright highlights that never looked harsh. Motion processing was reasonably smooth though I could see a bit of judder in horizontal pans, a symptom of 24p to 60p conversion.
I ran into a bit of trouble when I dropped in Aquaman and First Man. These two Ultra HD discs feature Dolby Vision which is supported by the OPPO UDP-203 but not by the Vava projector. An image was displayed but it was covered by a severe red tint and the audio exhibited frequent dropouts. I switched to a Philips BDP-7501 Ultra HD Blu-ray player which does not support Dolby Vision and the problem was solved. Both movies showed highly saturated color and good contrast. If you like a vivid and bold presentation, the Vava will not disappoint. If you want accurate color, this is not the projector for you.
As I said earlier, though the Vava supports HDR, it does not provide additional contrast or an extended color gamut. The high saturation I observed comes from inner gamut targets that are over-saturated. You’ll see what I mean in the test results below. The projector exhibits good contrast overall regardless of content, but you will see little difference when viewing Ultra HD material.
Measuring an ultra-short throw projector requires a different meter setup than I usually use. Since there’s no way to place the i1 Pro in the light path, I opted to measure from the screen with a SpectraCal C6 placed a close as possible to the surface, about 10 inches. I used my reference 92-inch diagonal Stewart Filmscreen Luminesse with Studiotek 130 material, gain 1.3. Patterns were generated by an Accupel DVG-5000 and controlled with CalMAN, version 5.9.
Since there are no traditional calibration controls available, I measured all the picture modes and chose the best one, Custom. I also changed the color temperature preset from Standard to Warm. The brightness and contrast controls appear to have no effect.
Even at the warm color temp preset, the grayscale tracks very blue. The error is easy to spot in test patterns, but actual content looks reasonably good unless a lot of whites or neutral grays are present. Gamma tracks a little light but since it remains linear throughout the brightness range, perceived contrast is quite good. With a native ratio of around 2500:1, the VAVA projector delivers good image depth that’s comparable to most compact DLP displays.
VAVA has taken a unique approach with its color reproduction. Given the positions of the red and green primaries, it is clearly a Rec.709 display. Blue is significantly over-saturated, and that error can be seen in content that shows the sky. It’s always a brilliant blue with none of the subtleties that would give it extra dimension. Green is also over-saturated in the mid-tones but hits the mark at the gamut perimeter. The blue white point pulls magenta and cyan off their hue targets. Gamut luminance isn’t too bad with some extra brightness. When viewing color bar PLUGE patterns, there is clipping that cannot be fixed with the contrast control.
To simulate an HDR10 signal, I added an HD Fury Integral into the signal path. It creates the proper tone map to allow HDR measurements using CalMAN’s special workflow.
The VAVA projector tone maps HDR10 signals with an EOTF that is reasonably close the mark. Unfortunately, grayscale is just as blue in HDR as it is in SDR. There are no menu settings that can correct or mitigate these errors. Based on these results and my observation of Ultra HD/HDR content, the VAVA can correctly process HDR10 signals but there is no visible benefit since contrast is no higher.
The HDR gamut tests show that the VAVA uses the same native color gamut for all content, whether it be SDR or HDR. It falls short of the DCI-P3 red and green primaries though blue is still quite over-saturated. Tracking is relatively linear but red, green, and yellow all clip from around 80% brightness and higher. As I stated above, there is no visual benefit to viewing HDR-encoded content on this projector. It works but looks no different that the same material presented in SDR formats.
To see the best possible image from the VAVA UST Projector, you will need a source capable of RGB signal output. Component formats show significant rolloff when displaying the one-pixel multi-burst and zone plate patterns. Most UHD Blu-ray players can handle this as well as premium streaming boxes like Apple TV. Motion processing was a mixed bag. The 2:2 test was a failure which is quite common but the VAVA can handle 3:2 pulldown correctly. This bodes well for those watching film-based DVDs. 24p is not processed correctly as the projector converts the incoming signal to 60fps. While motion resolution is OK, there is noticeable judder during side-to-side camera pans. The jaggies test showed good resolution as well with no signs of anti-aliasing or edge enhancement. The projector will not display below-black or above-white information, regardless of signal format.
All luminance values are expressed here in nits, also known as candelas per square meter (cd/m2). For those needing a frame of reference, 1fL equals 3.43 nits, or 1 nit equals .29fL.
In the Standard light mode, the peak white level was 164.6411 nits with a black level of .0673 and a contrast ratio of 2446.3:1. Upping the light to High only produced a small gain with the white peak at 177.7488 nits, black level at .0731, and a contrast ratio of 2430:1.
HDR signals make no difference in either output or contrast. I measured 179.1727 nits peak, .0731 nit black, and 2452.5:1 contrast
At $2499, the VAVA 4K ULTRA SHORT THROW LASER PROJECTOR is the least-expensive display of its type available at this writing. It offers good performance with solid build quality.
- Clear, bright picture in both SDR and HDR modes
- Solid build quality and slick styling
- Excellent audio quality
- Bluetooth remote
- Convenient streaming interface with built-in Wi-Fi
- Better color accuracy
- Grayscale, gamma, and color adjustment controls
- Menus that allow one to see the image while adjusting it
For a first effort, the Vava 4K Ultra Short Throw Laser Projector is pretty good. Though its color accuracy won’t impress most picky videophiles, image quality is sharp and contrasty with rich bold tones. There are moments where things look a bit overblown but by and large, I found it enjoyable to watch. I loved the Bluetooth remote and the Android TV interface. It was quick and easy to navigate with thousands of potential streaming options available. One could just plug in the Vava and binge on Netflix and YouTube for days.
The menu system was a disappointment as there is no way to correct the color errors I found. An adjustable color temp would be a huge improvement as would an accurate gamut option. If you’re looking for an impactful HDR experience, you won’t find it here. Though the Vava offers good contrast, its HDR presentation does little to improve upon image quality. But 4K discs do look a tad sharper so I recommend going for the highest res content possible to maximize the projector’s potential.
Ultra-short throw projectors are something of a niche product. They’re a bit more costly than compact short-throw models but their small footprint and easy installation are a plus. If your space demands something more like a television, but you want a jumbo image, the Vava is a good choice. With many of its competitors costing five figures, it represents a decent value as well. If you aren’t too picky about color accuracy, then I can recommend the Vava 4K Ultra Short Throw Laser Projector.