Review: Sleek Z4 Aurora projector shines bright in some areas, not so much in others
There was a time when watching projection movies and TV meant a huge console in the middle of the living room floor with one red, one blue and one green light throwing pale images onto a nearby screen. Like most tech since then, projectors have gotten smaller and better, rendering super sharp images even from long distances. The Z4 Aurora continues the evolution of the home projector by building in Wi-Fi capability, a music player, gesture control, outstanding speakers and 3D viewing. Some of these features work well, but others clearly need improving, as our tests showed.
The Z4 Aurora is produced by Chinese manufacturer Xgimi (pronounced "ex-gee-mee"). The device is already sold in China, but the makers are currently running an Indiegogo campaign in order to launch it worldwide. The campaign is currently at about three times its initial goal of US$50,000.
First, the good.
The Z4 Aurora promises a super-sharp image and it delivers. This was especially true of any content that was played from the Apple TV we connected via HDMI to the projector, as well as for the demo video that came loaded on the device's 7 GB internal hard drive. The resolution was also impressive when viewing documents or photos that could be accessed through a solid file browsing system from a thumb drive plugged into the back of the projector.
Our test unit was placed about 70 inches (about 178 cm) from the wall and produced a bright, clear and sharp image that measured roughly 57 x 36 inches (about 145 x 91 cm) with a 65-inch (165 cm) diagonal. The projector also has an adjustment feature built in called "keystone correction." This means that even if your on-wall image is skewed from a projector that might be tilted up or aimed diagonally at the wall, you can just adjust the corners of the image till it all looks square. This functionality also worked well.
When streaming content from the internet through the built-in YouTube browser or when mirroring content from an iPad through AirPlay though, the content suffered, becoming pixelated.
The projector also made good on its promise of great sound. The built-in Harman Kardon speakers pumped out rich crystal-clear sound that, on max volume, should satisfy a family's viewing needs. The sound was a bit light on bass, but that helped make dialogue come through nice and crisp – more of a must when watching video content than booming explosions in our opinion. Upon plugging a flash drive containing MP3 files into the port on the back, we were also able to use the device's music player functionality to listen to songs.
What sets the Aurora apart from other compact projectors – aside from its sleek and sexy form factor – is that, while the projector can accept input from other devices (including 4K devices) through the two HDMI ports, it can also act as a stand-alone media center thanks to its Android operating system and built-in apps.
During our tests, we found that it quickly and efficiently connected to our Wi-Fi network and launched all apps and web pages with ease. The high-quality metal remote control paired instantly through Bluetooth and worked seamlessly. The remote doubles as a mouse pointer when it's shaken vigorously.
The projector also surfed the web well, and worked great with the mouse we plugged into the USB port (there's also a USB 3 port). Although we had trouble downloading apps like Hulu and Netflix, that seemed more to do with the device using Chinese characters in the Google Play search screen than any defect in the projector. No doubt that will be fixed when released for an international market.
Where the Aurora didn't do so well was in its Bluetooth and gesture control arenas.
The projector is supposed to be able to connect to Bluetooth devices like a wireless mouse, keyboard or speaker. While we tried connecting a Bluetooth mouse and a Bose wireless speaker several times, the devices wouldn't work – even if the system said they paired. We were finally able to get sound out of the external speaker when we connected it to the projector's headphone port with an audio cable.
Also, one of the distinguishing features of the Aurora is that it has a vinyl disc on top that's meant to provide gesture control. The idea is that you can circle your hand just above to increase the volume or wave your hand over it to switch from song to song. We found this functionality pretty glitchy. It only worked sometimes, and often with a significant delay. It was much more sensible to use the remote control.
Finally, the Aurora boasts the ability to not only play 3D movies, but to convert 2D content to 3D. To take advantage of this functionality, you first need to charge up the included 3D glasses via micro-USB. Once they're switched on, there's a simple setting accessible via the menu button on the remote. While we didn't have any 3D content on hand to try out, we did use the conversion setting on an episode of Marvel's Agent Carter.
The effect was interesting, but probably more of a novelty. It did indeed add some depth to the picture, but it also darkened the image, which detracts from the Aurora's real strength of strong, bright images, which the makers say can stretch up to 300 inches (762 cm) from 26-30 feet (8-9 m) away.
Indiegogo pledge levels for the Z4 Aurora start at US$499, which represents a $200 discount off the eventual retail price of $699 – assuming all goes according to plan.
If you're looking for a solid sleek projector that also lets you stream internet content and use Android apps on your wall or screen you could certainly do worse than jumping in as a backer. Just adjust your expectations in terms of Bluetooth connectivity and gesture control and you'll likely be satisfied.
Product page: Indiegogo