Review: Viewing large with the XGIMI Aura 4K UST laser projector
Last year we had the toaster-sized Horizon Pro 4K/60p projector from XGIMI to keep us company during hard COVID lockdowns. Now it's the turn of the company's flagship ultra-short-throw model to spend some time on our review bench.
At a glance
- Big, bright and colorful 4K viewing
- Top-notch built-in sound
- Bulky box won't suit every room
Ultra-short-throw projectors can be a good fit if you're looking for a big-screen viewing experience but don't want a huge TV dominating your living space or simply don't have the room for the complicated rear or ceiling installation of short/long-throw home theater projection setups. Even better if it's a so-called smart model with access to streaming entertainment apps out of the box and built-in speakers.
And that's precisely what's on offer from the Aura, and you won't necessarily have to break the bank to join the UST smart party.
4K on the wall or screen
XGIMI's flagship model is capable of displaying 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160) visuals onto a wall or screen up to 150 diagonal inches at a throw ratio of 0.233:1.
That top image size proved a little larger than my biggest available wall could host, but I got fairly close with 125 inches, highlighting the importance of ensuring that you have the display space to allow this projector to truly shine. Also, given its own sizable proportions of 23.8 x 15.7 x 5.5 in (606 x 401 x 139.5 mm), you might want to check that you have enough room for the device itself.
With the unit sitting just 8.2 inches (20 cm) away from the viewing surface – due to the location of the power cable on the rear of the unit, it won't sit flush against a wall – you can watch monster 100-inch movies, YouTube content or shows form streaming services like Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ or Disney+.
Processing power comes from a MediaTek MT9612 quad-core system-on-chip, with integrated Mali-G52 graphics, and support from 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of onboard storage.
The I/O panel around back features three HDMI 2.0 ports – one of which includes ARC (audio return channel) for easy integration into home theater audio configurations – and the projector accepts 4K UHD input at up to 60 Hz. You can also feed in content from a thumbdrive via the two USB 2.0 (plus another to the right near the power button).
There's built-in 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi for wireless connection to the internet and Chromecast for screen mirroring, plus Ethernet LAN is onboard for cabled connection to a home router. The projector runs Android TV 10 for access to Play Store apps – but one glaring omission from the available offerings is Netflix.
XGIMI explained that in order to provide the best viewing experience for customers, the streaming company tests consumer products such as televisions, laptops, smartphones and other smart devices to ensure they can easily and reliably stream Netflix content. And the Aura is currently on the waiting list for official approval to run the streaming service natively – though workarounds are pretty easy to find.
Huge eye-popping visuals
The Aura's DLP display technology is built around a single 0.47-inch DMD chipset with XPR technology that quickly shifts each pixel four times to produce a 3,840 x 2,160-resolution image. The projector makes use of monochromatic (blue) laser technology, an RGBY color wheel and an Advanced Laser Phosphor Display – or ALPD 3.0 – light engine that's reckoned good for up to 25,000 hours of use, and can put out 2,400 ANSI lumens.
The company's own X-VUE 2.0 image engine is featured as well, to boost clarity and color detail while reducing noise. The laser projector supports 80 percent of the DCI-P3 and 90 percent of the Rec.709 color gamuts and can handle HDR10 and HLG dynamic formats too.
In use, this translated to a wholly watchable viewing experience during daylight hours without having to close the blinds, providing there was no direct sunlight beaming through, but the visuals were nowhere near as defined, sharp or color-rich as in a darkened room.
The Aura supports 16:9 and 4:3 display aspects, 3D content can be viewed though you'll need to supply your own glasses and you have to head into the settings to enable it manually, and there's cooked-in 60-Hz MEMC motion compensation – which proved surprisingly good at reducing judder during action scenes, but can be disabled for those who prefer less processed moving images.
Though we did use the eight-point manual keystone correction to bring the image into a tight rectangular form, some slight image distortion in places was noticed so simply using the feet to the front bottom of the chassis and moving the unit left or right for adjustment proved preferable.
Automatic eye protection dims the light source output when the projector's IR sensors detect someone or something passing near the projection slot, which is a useful safety feature but we found this to be overly sensitive – particularly during manual positioning and setup. But tapping the remote brought the image back faster than waiting around for the sensor to declare the area clear of obstruction.
Powerful built-in Harman Kardon sound
The projected viewing experience is complemented by a built-in 60-W Harman Kardon sound system with Dolby Audio and DTS support, and comprises two 15-W tweeters and two 15-W woofers and fronted by a black fabric grille.
This proved to be a quality room-filling audio system in its own right, meaning that we didn't feel the need to cable the projector up to an external home theater setup – though as the sound blasts out of the front of the unit, some may prefer to make use of the S/PDIF optical port or HDMI ARC for output to a surround sound system.
One of the default apps is a proprietary music player, which presents itself as a turntable deck when playing music files only (fed in from a USB thumbdrive, for example). The platter spins during playback, and the tonearm rests on the faux vinyl. When playback stops, the tonearm rises and returns to its cradle. This fun animation made me smile so I felt it worthy of comment here.
There's also a 3.5-mm audio jack for headphone listening, and included Bluetooth 5.0 means that the projector can pair to wireless speakers, but I couldn't find any settings to compensate for the slight-but-noticeable lag between streamed visuals and wireless audio output.
The Aura ships with a stylish, minimalist wireless remote that matches the overall aesthetic of the projector and will be needed for operation.
Navigation is via clickwheel and low-profile buttons, one of which is a shortcut to key settings, including manual keystone correction and an image mode that adjusts parameters for movie viewing, watching sports, office/work use and playing games – and though these presets were fine for "works out of the box" use, we found that spending a little time fine tuning settings in the custom option allowed for the best viewing experience.
There's also a dedicated button for adjusting display focus, and another for voice queries via Google Assistant and the built-in mic. The remote isn't backlit though, which did lead to a few fumbles in the dark and misfires early on.
The bottom line
XGIMI bills the Aura as a replacement for the big-screen TV, and that could certainly be true for some folk. The living room gogglebox will offer deeper blacks and more life-like colors – particularly during daylight hours – and the lack of a built-in tuner could be a scale-tipper, but this projector delivers enormous eye-popping visuals and truly impressive sound in a relatively inexpensive smart package. Investing in an ambient light rejecting screen would doubtless improve the viewing experience even further.
This is by no means a small and light entertainment all-in-one, but it does benefit from a fairly neutral design that won't stand out too much in a larger modern home and you could even stow it away between viewing.
Users can look forward to pain-free setup out of the box though will benefit from spending some time tweaking image quality, the remote functionality is fairly limited but having Google's digital assistant on tap can certainly make life easier, and fan noise is low during normal operation.
The combination of capable UST projector, streaming smarts and top-notch audio make the XGIMI Aura an easy recommend. It's available now for US$2,799.
Product page: XGIMI Aura