Price (RRP): $8999
We’ve looked at plenty of home theatre projectors over the years, and they’ve always been pretty much stand-alone affairs: they supply an image and you supply everything else, including a display screen.
But the LG HECTO laser display is like a front projector with the lot. It’s ultra short-throw, it has its own screen, it can deliver sound via built-in speakers, and it even comes with a Blu-ray player and PVR.
Think of that when considering the almost $9,000 purchase price. And also think of the 25,000 lamp life, which, suffice to say, compares more than favourably with the 2,000 to 5,000 hour lamp life in regular projectors.
Note: LG only made this unit available for review in its PR company’s offices so there were some differences with my normal test routine, and limitations on what I could check with regard to environment, WiFi connectivity and test signals. Indeed, I could not be certain what images were being supplied to the unit since it did not appear to have any way of displaying signal information.
The key to this product is suggested in the name: laser display. Rather than rely on a UHC lamp, the LG HECTO employs 36 laser diodes to generate the light required for image projection.
The word ‘laser,’ however, conjures visions of the picture being generated by lines drawn rapidly across the screen by laser-pointer-like devices, but that’s not actually the case. They merely act as the light source which is modulated to form an image by a DLP engine.
When I say ‘ultra-short throw,’ though, I’m not kidding. The projection unit sits at the foot of the display screen, just a couple of hundred millimetres away.
It has to be carefully setup, and a rack is provided as a means to to allow its position to be subtly tuned to get the image projecting properly on the screen.
One thing worth noting is that the positioning must be exact. There are no optical adjustments, not even focus. Instead, the LG HECTO throws its image to a particular place and the 2.54 metre (100 inch) screen must be placed specifically to catch it.
And you also must use the screen that comes with it.
This display has a slender frame – just 15mm on each side – with the surface made from a stiff panel rather than fabric, and featuring a surprisingly dark finish, perhaps fifty per cent grey.
The surface is treated, though, to reflect the light more strongly back towards the main viewing area, rather than off to the sides and upwards. A regular non-directional screen would likely bounce a large proportion of the image up at the ceiling.
The projector unit itself has a sliding panel covering its optics. This retracts when the unit is switched on, allowing the image to be cast upwards at the screen.
LG’s HECTO projection unit has a good range of inputs, including three HDMI ports and a couple of USB sockets. Wired Ethernet connectivity is also built in, as is WiFi.
In fact, it’s rather like a smart TV, albeit without the TV tuner.
A lack of a built-in TV tuner doesn’t matter as much, however, as the HECTO comes bundled with LG’s HR938T Blu-ray player with 1TB twin tuner PVR. That’s a far more useful TV tuning arrangement than offered by any standard TV given the enormous recording capacity and the twin tuner convenience.
The HECTO does play multimedia content and should be able to connect to music, photo and video content served up via DLNA. I say ‘should’ because I did not have access to my usual network arrangements so I couldn’t check for certain. However, LG TVs have always been reliable in this regard in my experience.
Unfortunately, the display does not offer 3D, a shame since DLP displays seem to offer the best home 3D performance.
The unit has a small loudspeaker built into its front.
The first thing to note in the LG HECTO is that laser LEDs not only last a long time, but they also start up and get working fast. Really fast.
Switching on the HECTO to reaching full brightness took just twenty seconds. They also operate relatively coolly, so the cooling fan was fairly quiet, and seemed even more so because – rather than being over my head as most projectors are – the unit was about three metres away near the far end of the room.
We first heard about the HECTO’s unique laser projection at the Consumer Electronics Show in the year, but one reason why this unit might have taken a little while to come to market could be because the menu system is very basic, echoing what it was pretty much like for LG in 2011, rather than 2012 or 2013. Nonetheless it’s serviceable.
As I mentioned earlier, the bundle should offer things like DLNA support, but the wide range of internet features available in modern LG Smart TVs were missing from the unit itself. You can ignore this omission, though, as these featured are handled by the included Blu-ray player/PVR which offers LG Apps and a wide range of Internet content.
This unit can of course record all TV content for later viewing, and of course it also spins your DVD and Blu-ray media. If you have it connected to the net, it will use the Gracenote database to provide you with on screen information about what you’re watching or playing.
The display’s brightness was remarkably good, and reasonably even across the screen.
On a simple grey test pattern screen, there was a gentle bias towards higher brightness at the centre of the screen than at the sides, and towards the bottom rather than the top.
Even so, this effect was quite unnoticeable with actual program material. In fact, the picture retained its reasonably consistent brightness and excellent richness of colour when viewing from a quite wide area.
Test patterns were perfectly acceptable when sitting four comfortably abreast at a range of three metres, and with real program material, you can stretch that angle significantly.
LG’s ‘standard’ picture setting was rather nicely calibrated, with both blacks and whites at their proper levels (ie. stretched to the full notional scale used for video signals) and an even gamma (ie. brightness ramp) from one extreme to the other. There was the very subtlest of green shift at around 40% grey, but it was only viewable on test patterns.
In a darkened room the 50% grey of the screen material looked appropriately white when needed by the image, and wonderfully black, also when required.
It’s likely that the black levels are limited by the fact that the extreme angle of the projector means a fair amount of light is reflected from the screen up onto the ceiling. It isn’t just an amorphous glow that’s produced there, but a fairly sharp, highly distorted reflection of what is happening on the screen.
Much of this must surely reflect back from the ceiling onto the screen, though, and in my normal test office, there’s a blackened section of ceiling over the screen to avoid such results. Whether such décor would be acceptable one’s own home we leave up to the reader.
Even under room lights, though, there was surprisingly effective colour and brightness, although optimal viewing is definitely in a dark room.
Given the quick switch-on and the long life of the lamp, I would hesitate to use this unit as a regular TV in normal room lighting, switching them off only for proper evening viewing.
With such an extreme angle of projection, it was impressive that the picture geometry was pretty close to perfect, with no trapezoidal or mis-scaling distortion.
The ‘smooth’ setting for the TruMotion picture smoothing system did a very good job of eliminating judder while producing almost no artefacts.
When I switched it off, the combination of the extremely quick pixel on/off times of DLP, the sharp focus, and the big screen made judder seem quite marked, so I think most people will prefer the default ‘smooth’ setting.
One thing that should be changed by the user is the sharpness control.
With its default setting of 25, it produced harsh outlines around on-screen objects in high definition content.
Since the screen is massive, turning it all the way down to zero made even Blu-ray test patterns appear a little too soft, but setting it to about ten gave a nice balance of a slightly sharper picture without introducing noticeable distortion.
As for the speaker at the front of the projector, this didn’t sound too bad, but of course is woefully under-scaled in view of the size of the screen. I’d strongly suggest that you add at least a decent sound bar audio system to this unit.
Without a doubt, there are cheaper ways to get such a big picture in your home, and all involve home theatre projectors. Most of these will match this unit for picture quality in optimal circumstances, and now many also offer 3D, a noticeable omission here.
Few are as watchable under regular room lighting, though, and none can offer the worry-free use provided by the 25,000 hour lamp life.
If your budget is up to it, LG’s HECTO is well worth checking out.