VAVA VA-LT002 UST 4K Laser Projector Review

Va-va-voom!

SRP: £2,799.00

What is the VAVA VA-LT002?

The VAVA VA-LT002 is a 4K HDR ultra-short-throw laser projector with a built-in sound system and smart platform. VAVA is a newcomer to 'Laser TVs', as these UST projectors are sometimes called, and was originally crowdfunded during its initial development.

The VAVA sits at the lower end of the price bracket, and will set you back £2,799 as at the time of writing (April 2021). For that you get a choice of matte black or white finishes, a claimed peak brightness of 2,500 lumens, and a Harman Kardon speaker system with 60W of amplification.

There are three HDMI inputs, one of which supports ARC, and wireless connections using Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi. In fact, the only TV feature missing is a tuner – but that's easy and cheap to fix. So is the VAVA a cost-effective alternative to a big-screen television? Let's find out...

Design, Connections and Control

The VAVA VA-LT002 uses a simple but stylish design that's all smooth curves and rounded corners. There's almost nothing to detract from the minimalist aesthetic, aside from an on/off button and the slot for laser light source. The Intelligent Eye Protection feature uses a sensor that dims the laser to a minimum if it detects anything in front of the slot. If this happens for some reason, just press any button on the remote and the image returns to full brightness.

VAVA VA-LT002
VAVA VA-LT002 left side view

There's a fabric grille that covers all four sides of the cabinet, and at the front are the speakers for the Harman Kardon sound system, to the sides are cooling vents, and at the rear (nearest the wall) are all the connections. The white unit uses light fabric, while the black version has dark grey instead. The build quality is excellent, with the VAVA measuring 534 x 115 x 367mm, and weighing in at 10.8kg.

VAVA VA-LT002
VAVA VA-LT002 connections

The connections consist of three HDMI 2.0 inputs, with input three also supporting ARC (audio return channel). The VAVA accepts a native 4K signal (3840 x 2160 pixels) at up to 60Hz, and supports HDCP 2.2, and HDR10. There's also a USB port, an 3.5mm AV input, a 3.5mm audio output, an optical digital output, and an Ethernet port. If you want to make a wireless connection, you have a choice of Bluetooth or dual-band Wi-Fi.

VAVA VA-LT002
VAVA VA-LT002 remote control

The included remote control retains the same aesthetic as the projector itself, with curved edges and a two-tone white and grey finish. The remote is also an exercise in minimalism, with limited buttons only identified by icons. VAVA don't include a particularly useful manual, but luckily the controls are fairly obvious with on/off, mute, volume up/down, home, menu, up/down/left/right, back and enter. The biggest problem with the remote is that it's quite difficult to see the buttons in the dark, but given the limited number it's easy to remember the layout.

Features and Specs

The VAVA VA-LT002 isn't native 4K, but uses a DLP chip with XPR technology to create an image that is perceived to have a resolution of 3840 x 2160. This illusion is highly effective, and is only really revealed when looking at Ultra HD test patterns. The projector can accept a 4K Ultra HD signal, and supports high dynamic range in the form of HDR10.

The VAVA uses the Appotronic ALPD 3.0 laser light source, with a claimed brightness of 2,500 lumens, and a claimed contrast ratio of 1,500,000:1. The projector supports wider colour gamuts, but uses a three-segment colour wheel, which means you may experience the colour-fringing and rainbow artefacts that often plague single-chip DLP projectors.

VAVA VA-LT002
VAVA VA-LT002 home page

The benefits of a laser light source are more than simply producing a brighter image, there's also a 25,000-hour lifespan compared to only 2,000-3,000 hours for a bulb, and fast on/off as opposed to the long start-up and cool-down periods associated with lamp-based projectors. There are three fans that dissipate any heat produced by the light source, and run relatively quiet at 30dB in the standard brightness mode.

 

This projector accepts 4K HDR, has a laser light source, a Harman Kardon sound system, and built-in smart platform

The built-in Harman Kardon sound system is based on a pair of high quality speakers, each with 30W of amplification. The projector is capable of decoding Dolby and DTS, plus there are Standard, Theatre and News audio effects settings. The sound quality is surprisingly good, whether watching shows or listening to music, helping the VAVA fulfil its role as a big-screen alternative to a TV.

VAVA VA-LT002
VAVA VA-LT002 right side view

The VA-LT002 sports a built-in smart platform based around the Android 7.1 operating system, with 2GB of RAM, 32GB of EMMC, and the Aptoide app store. The home page is clean and easy to navigate, and the overall system is fairly slick and intuitive.

At first glance the choice of apps looks impressive, but you quickly realise there's not much for the UK-based user. Unusually, there's no Netflix, Amazon Prime or YouTube, plus there are no UK TV catch-up services apart from My5 – which didn't work. There is NOW but it's the Italian version so that didn't work either, neither did the Apple TV app, leaving Disney+ as the only working service. VAVA is obviously aware of this limitation, and is currently working on it, but in the meantime a free Apple TV 4K box is included with every projector purchased.

 

At first glance there's a host of apps, but most of the popular ones are missing, and many don't work in the UK

The home page has boxes for the inputs on the left, then the app store, file manager, and multi-screen features on the right. If you load an app, it's added to the space below these boxes. At the top there are indicators for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the time and the settings menu. The latter offers submenus for Network, Source, Display, Sound, General, Bluetooth and Others. There also a side menu that can be accessed by pressing the dedicated button on the remote while watching something, and this provides access to Image Parameters, Brightness, 3D Switching, HDMI CEC, HDMI 2.0, Keystone Correction, Electric Power Focus, Projection Mode and Screen Ratio.

VAVA VA-LT002
VAVA VA-LT002 rear view

Set up is straightforward, you simply place the projector next to the wall and move it backwards and forwards to change the image size. The VAVA can produce an image of 80 inches diagonally from a distance of 18cm from the wall, but it can go up to 150 inches if you have enough space. You move the projector left or right to centre the image, and use adjustable feet to level it. There's a grid to help you setup the image, and an electric power focus to dial in a sharp image.

You can choose between different projector modes (normal/mirror/flip/flip and mirror), and there's a keystone correction control; but VAVA wisely recommends you avoid using this if possible because the geometric processing and scaling will rob the image of fine detail. While you can project onto a white wall, for the best results use a dedicated screen. The VAVA is very bright, but in a living room with windows and white walls, you should consider an ambient light rejecting screen (which they also sell).

Measurements

SDR Out of the Box

The VAVA VA-LT002 has a fairly basic set of picture settings that are called Image Parameters in the menu system. These include a choice of five modes: Standard, Theatre, Colourful, Sport and Custom. There's a simple set of calibration controls with Brightness, Contrast, Saturation (colour), Definition (sharpness), Tone (tint) and Colour Temperature. We used the Theatre mode as our default out-of-the-box setting, because it was the least accurate in testing. 

VAVA VA-LT002
SDR out-of-the-box greyscale measurements
VAVA VA-LT002
SDR out-of-the-box gamut tracking measurements

We say least accurate because it's not a great mode in its default setting, partly because the Colour Temperature uses the Standard option, which as you can see above contains way too much blue energy in the greyscale. The gamma isn't great either, although given the projector's brightness and the fact it will be primarily used in living rooms with ambient light, this is less of an issue compared to the noticeable blue tinge to whites.

 

The out-of-the-box accuracy could be better, but this can be significantly improved by changing a few simple settings

Unsurprisingly, the colour gamut is being skewed by the excess blue in the greyscale, but at least the VAVA covers the Rec.709 colour space (not always a given with DLP projectors using a colour wheel). In fact, the projector is over-saturated, especially in terms of green and, as a result, yellow. The overall performance out of the box isn't terrible, but certainly could be better, although many people will enjoy the bright and saturated images.

SDR Calibrated

The calibration options are fairly limited, but you can at least set the contrast setting correctly (the default is 45 but 38 eliminates any clipping), and choose the Warm colour temperature. The default settings for brightness and tone are both 50, which is correct, and the default for definition is 30, which is also fine. The default for saturation is 40, which is already lower than any of the other picture modes, but if you want to reduce the saturation you could dial this back further. Interestingly, if you change any of the settings, the mode switches to Custom (unless you're already in that mode).

VAVA VA-LT002
SDR calibrated greyscale measurements
VAVA VA-LT002
SDR calibrated gamut tracking measurements

Simply changing the colour temperature from standard to warm immediately results in a more accurate greyscale. There is still an excess of blue, but it's less obvious when looking at whites, and the overall accuracy is much improved. That's just as well because the customisable colour temperature setting starts at standard, and only has a single point control for red, green and blue gain, so you can't get better than the warm mode. There's nothing that can be done about the gamma because it has no controls, and the same goes for the colour gamut (aside from using the saturation control), so this is the most accurate image you can get in SDR.

HDR Results

The VAVA switches into HDR automatically when it detects the appropriate signal, although the only real indication this has happened is an increase in fan noise as the brightness mode goes from standard to high. HDR is the only directly-related control, with a choice of auto (default), on or off. Clearly the default is best, and thankfully the projector didn't have any issues detecting or handling HDR10.

VAVA VA-LT002
HDR peak luminance
VAVA VA-LT002
HDR DCI-P3 coverage

The laser light source is pretty bright, even in the lower standard brightness mode, and is capable of hitting 180 to 200 nits, depending on which brightness mode you select. The projector doesn't use a colour filter, which is good news for image brightness, but does mean the colour gamut can only reach 87% of DCI-P3.

VAVA VA-LT002
HDR greyscale measurements
VAVA VA-LT002
HDR DCI-P3 tracking

The tone mapping is actually pretty good, tracking the PQ EOTF within the limitations of the projector, and the greyscale is also fairly accurate until it starts to roll-off. The projector handled 1,000 nits content very well, but suffered from clipping with grades using 4,000 and 10,000 nits. However, this was only really noticeable with specific test content. The colour tracking is also a bit ropey, but again that's not unusual with lower-priced DLP projectors that use a colour wheel. Overall, the HDR performance was pretty good given the inherent limitations.

Performance

The VAVA VA-LT002 generally performed very well, but as a DLP projector it has certain strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, the single chip nature of the technology produces a nice sharp image, and the ultra-short-throw optics are effective at projecting a picture with accurate geometrics and good uniformity.

The motion handling is also excellent, with smooth images that are free of judder, smearing or blurring. This is a strong point of DLP projector technology, as is the ability to deliver a bright big-screen image. As mentioned previously, the laser light source is not only consistent, with long-life and fast on/off, but also bright enough for the average living room.

 

The big-screen images are bright, punchy and detailed, the motion handling is good, and the HDR is effective

The downside to all this brightness is that the black levels are fairly poor, although this is also fairly standard for a DLP projector where the blacks are often weak. The contrast ratio is 2500:1, which is actually impressive for DLP, even if it is a far cry from the claimed 1,500,000:1, and the detail in shadows remains fairly good.

Since this projector is intended as a replacement for a TV, and is primarily aimed at rooms with windows and light coloured walls, the weak blacks aren't really an issue due to any reflected light washing out the contrast performance anyway. An ambient light rejecting screen would certainly help in this regard, resulting in improved perceived black levels and contrast.

VAVA VA-LT002
VAVA VA-LT002 lifestyle image

Watching SDR content reveals a clean and detailed image, with effective upscaling. The pictures are a touch saturated in terms of colours, but there's plenty of brightness and pop that's sure to please most. The delivery is generally free of any unwanted artefacts, but given this projector uses a three-colour wheel, anyone who suffers from rainbows could see colour fringing on moving objects.

The HDR performance is also generally good, and in Bumblebee the yellows of the titular autobot look great even though the projector can't reach the full DCI-P3 colour space. The brightness definitely helps, as does the good tone-mapping with 1,000 nits content, and despite not being a native 4K projector you would never realise when looking at an excellent 4K DI like The Revenant.

 

This UST projector is a good performer, with only a high input lag and 3D that doesn't really work to complain about 

All these factors combine to deliver results that are often very impressive, and when watching Planet Earth II the 4K images are wonderfully detailed, with highlights that are nicely rendered. The limitations in blacks were obvious in nighttime scenes, but in general this projector is sure to produce a pleasing HDR experience. Granted a TV is better, but at these screen sizes, also considerably more expensive.

The motion handling would usually make the VAVA a great choice for gamers but, with no dedicated game mode and an input lag of 120ms, it's definitely better suited to those with a more casual interest in gaming. In addition, while VAVA makes no mention of it in the marketing, this projector technically supports 3D. However, no glasses are included, and we were unable to get this feature to work properly with the active shutter glasses we use with DLP projectors.

Verdict

Pros

  • Bright, punchy and clear images
  • Good geometry and uniformity
  • Excellent motion handling
  • Built-in smart platform
  • Good sound system
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Possibility of rainbows
  • Mediocre black levels
  • No built-in tuners
  • Limited working apps
  • High input lag for gaming
  • 3D didn't work properly

VAVA VA-LT002 UST 4K Laser Projector Review

Should I buy one?

The VAVA VA-LT002 is an affordable 4K HDR ultra-short-throw laser projector that delivers bright, punchy and detailed big-screen images with ease. The picture is bright enough to handle the average living room, the motion handling is excellent, and the HDR tone mapping is effective.

The colours are nicely saturated, although the lack of a filter means the projector can't reach 100% of DCI-P3. This DLP projector also uses a colour wheel, so there may be issues with rainbows, and the blacks could be better – although the contrast ratio is actually better than many competitors.

It looks great, is extremely well made, simple to setup and, thanks to a Harman Kardon sound system, it even sounds good. There's even a built-in smart platform, plus plenty of connectivity including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and three HDMI inputs (one of which supports ARC).

There's no built-in tuner, but that's easy to fix by simply pairing the projector with a PVR like the Manhattan T3-R, and while the apps are limited VAVA is currently including a free Apple TV with each purchase. So only a high input lag and ineffective 3D spoil an otherwise impressive package.

What are my alternatives?

The BenQ V6050 makes for a great, if more expensive alternative at £3,999. This 4K HDR ultra-short-throw projector also delivers detailed, bright and saturated images using a DLP chipset and laser light source. There's no built-in smart platform, but you get similar connectivity and a decent sound system. The BenQ also delivers a more accurate image, a wider colour gamut, a lower input lag, and excellent 3D. However, in most other respects the performance is quite similar to the VAVA.

If you have a larger budget, the £4,999 LG HU85LS is another cracking alternative. This 4K HDR ultra-short-throw projector also uses a DLP chipset and laser light source, plus a built-in sound system and webOS smart platform. Like the VAVA and BenQ, it has no built-in tuners, but otherwise this is a highly effective beamer with excellent SDR and HDR big-screen images that are sure to please. The LG also has a similar input lag to the BenQ at 78ms, but doesn't support 3D.

If you can afford the £6,999 asking price, then the Samsung LSP9T (The Premiere) is the only 4K HDR UST DLP laser projector in this group that can actually replace a TV because it has built-in tuners, impressive sound system, and a full Tizen OS with a comprehensive choice of apps. There's excellent connectivity, the lowest input lag at 55ms, HDR10+ support, and amazing images thanks to an RGB laser light source. In fact the only thing missing is 3D, but otherwise this is the one to beat.

If you're interested in the VAVA UST laser projector it's available exclusively from Keene and the link is here.

Recommended

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
.
.
7

Colour Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Image Uniformity

.
9

Video Processing

.
.
8

2D Picture Quality

.
.
8

Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box

.
.
.
7

Picture Quality Calibrated

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
9

Build Quality

.
9

Value For Money

.
9

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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