Optoma UHL55 review

A hands-free home cinema that excels with 4K content

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

Alexa voice control is the headline act, but this projector’s novel design and sharp 4K images is what impresses most.

For

  • Alexa voice control
  • Compact design
  • Doubles as a Bluetooth speaker
  • Built-in 4K USB player

Against

  • HD sources look poor
  • Black levels not the best
  • No protective case

It’s not often we see a home cinema projector – that most old-fashioned and clunky of devices – with three unique features. 

And yet, that's exactly what you'll find on the Optoma UHL55 HDR projector.

The first notable feature is built-in voice control for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Impressive, but not unexpected. The second is a compact one-box chassis with built-in speakers that – get this – enables the UHL55 double as a standalone Bluetooth speaker and stream music to it straight from your phone. Thirdly, this 4K projector can play 4K videos straight from a USB memory stick or flash drive.

All of this – plus access to Android TV apps like Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, Ted TV, CBC News, BBC News, NBA, a Firefox browser – leaves the WiFi and Bluetooth-endowed UHL55 looking like an exciting new take (LG CineBeam aside, perhaps) on the traditional concept of a home cinema projector. But is it? 

On the list of negatives you'll find price ($1,599/£1,299), limited voice support (limited to the US, UK and Germany at launch) and low brightness (1,500 ANSI lumens). None of that means the Optoma UHL55 is destined for mediocrity - we actually quite like it, in fact - but it does mean that its appeal is limited.

Design and setup

Measuring 220 x 220 x 135mm and weighing 3.8kg, the UHL55 is designed to be highly portable. You can easily carry in under one and climb the stairs/walk to the car without breaking into a sweat ... though it would have been nice if it came with a faux leather cover, or similar, to help prevent knocks and scratches. However, at least there’s a sliding lens cover to keep the glass safe.

The lens cover doubles as the on/off switch, so unveiling its lens also brings the UHL55 to life. Despite its small, portable size, the UHL55 isn’t as versatile as it could be in terms of where it will sit in a living room: This isn’t a short-throw projector, though to make use of the auto-focus feature – and get a decent-sized image of 80-inches and above – means placing the UHL55 about 2m from the screen or wall. 

However, even when the auto-focus feature works, it’s not quite spot-on. No matter, because manual focus is easy enough ... Or it would be if the dinky Bluetooth remote control was more responsive. Instead, almost every other button-press lagged during our test, which was frustrating. 

Happily, Alexa comes to the rescue. 

Getting set-up is a little long-winded, though no more so than any Alexa gear is; you first have to create an account with Optoma, then get a serial number, swap it with the projector, download the skill, etc... Despite the complexity of the instructions, however, it all worked well upon first installation and was lightning-quick.

In terms of connectivity, the UHL55 more than covers the basics: There are two HDMI 2.0 slots to hook-up a games console, set-top box or Blu-ray player, while audio outputs comprise optical audio (to route to a sounder or AV amplifier) and a standard 3.5mm audio jack. It may have its own speakers on the front, but the UHL55 also has Bluetooth to receive audio streams from a smartphone. 

In practice that really helps with the easy occasional cinema the UHL55 is clearly aimed at creating. Activated by long-pressing the on/off switch on the remote, the UHL55 appears immediately as a Bluetooth source. 

What it lacks in outright volume (a house party-creator this is not) it makes up for in rounded sound quality, which has just enough bass to make the UHL55 perform another useful task while sitting otherwise unused on a living room bookshelf. 

However, the UHL55 can also decode Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks to send to a separate surround sound speaker system over an optical audio cable.

Performance

Despite its not inconsiderate image talents, it’s the voice control feature that the UHL55 will live or die by. The good news is that in our test with an Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation), the UHL55 excelled. After deciding to call the UHL55 ‘living room’ (there’s a long list of choices), we told our resident Echo Dot to “increase the volume on living room”, “switch to HDMI2 on living room”, and to “fast forward on living room” without any hitches. 

The latter works when within the Media Player, which plays back 4K MP4 videos from a USB stick. In our test it flawlessly picked-up some MP4 files rendered in 3840x2160 pixels and played them without a hitch. From both USB and a connected 4K Blu-ray player, the UHL55 showed deliciously detailed images containing well-saturated color, and although its images are best viewed in a blackout, it can easily withstand ambient light. That’s a huge plus, though don’t expect cutting-edge black levels.

We’re less convinced by Optoma’s frame-interpolation technology, called PureMotion. It’s designed to smooth out motion blur on fast-moving scenes, and remove image judder from 24p pans. It mostly works well, though not everyone will appreciate the video-like effect it subs-in. 

However, the UHL55 is strictly a 4K machine. Turn to a HD source – in this case a broadcast of F1 motor racing from Austin, Texas on the 4HD channel via a Virgin Media V6 box – and image quality collapses. The cars look a touch blurry in some sequences, but the people in the crowds in backgrounds lack any kind of definition or detail. PureMotion makes no difference. 

It’s great that built-in speakers are becoming standard on projectors of all kinds, and the UHL55’s 8W stereo speakers pack just enough power and punch. However, that option to link a smartphone to the UHL55 via Bluetooth speaker is a master-stroke. 

Verdict

The UHL55 has a lot of unique features, but it does come at a high price and lacks versatility when it comes to video sources. 4K impresses, so does Alexa voice control, and we love the option to stream to its speakers from a phone via Bluetooth. It might not be the best projector to ever cross the threshold of our living room, but add the UHL55’s fresh compact design, decent built-in audio and a content-savvy user interface, and overall we’re impressed if not quite head-over-heels for it.