Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Lumos Auro Projector – Can it be used for a proper home theatre? (Or even for video post-production?)

The Lumos Auro Projector has been heavily promoted by social media and influencers recently as a pretty popular entry-level 1080p projector that cost under S$1,000. So, some time back, out of interest, and also wanting to dabble into projectors for the first time, I decided to purchase one and see for myself whether is it any good. Now that I’ve used it for a good 9 months in 2 different environments, I think it’s about time I gave this projector a proper evaluation.

I’m sure at this point there are many reviews of this projector already made out there by various YouTubers and online personalities, and they’ve covered much of the casual use cases of the projector, so in order for me to add to the conversation, I need to dive much deeper into analysing the actual picture quality with professional-grade tools, something that seems to be lacking even at the time of this writing.

This review pertains only to the non-smart version that I have here, and it’s going to focus more on the actual picture quality of the projector, like it’s colour balance, lens quality, etc. Therefore, this review will not cover the basic features or the various Android features of the smart version that you can probably already see or read in other reviews. If you’re reading this review, you’d probably want to know if this projector can live up to the standards of the more high-end home theatre projectors or TVs out there, or how accurate is the colour reproduction, so you’ll most likely wouldn’t need me to talk about how good the in-built speakers are, because you will most likely have your own dedicated home theatre speakers anyway. But for the record, the in-built speakers are actually pretty decent.

Some of you may not know this, but I actually also run a small video post-production business, and although I am not a professional screen calibrator, accurate colour reproduction is very important here, and therefore I do run basic calibration on my screens and monitors on a regular basis. I’ve been using this projector in my home for about 6 months, projecting it on a 68-inch screen, before moving it to this office space to project a 100-inch image, so as to provide a large screen viewing experience for my clients. I do have a professional broadcast monitor if they need a more colour-accurate reference. We’ll get back to this monitor when it comes to evaluating the colour reproduction.

Keystone Correction vs. Lens Shift

So let start by looking at the features that you can use if you are unable to project the image straight-on. You have two ways to do it, one is using the lens, known as lens shift, as well as the digital keystone correction feature. There is one important difference between the two: If you use keystone correction, your display resolution will be compromised, which is to say the side of the image that is squashed will have a lower resolution. You can see this effect when you have straight horizontal or vertical lines in the image, and you will notice aliasing or jagged edges on the lines if you use keystone correction. So ideally you would want to use the lens to adjust the image as much as possible.

The problem is that on the lens of the Auro projector, you only have vertical lens shift, and no horizontal lens shift, which is a little disappointing. There is also no zoom lens whatsoever, but that is to be expected for a budget projector. Although now in my office setup I am projecting straight on using only vertical lens shift to adjust the image, I had to use horizonal keystoning when I was using this in my home setup, but even with that, the image still appears more horizontally stretched than a proper 16x9 image, which is also an issue you would not want to have on a projector in a quality home theatre. So essentially, if you use keystoning, you have a stretched image that is of lower resolution. Not ideal at all. At one point I’ve even DM’ed Lumos on their Facebook page if they have an aspect ratio correction feature to rectify this stretched image issue, but they just gave me a copy-and-paste response that is the same information as the guide that is on their website, that doesn’t actually answer the question. I guess that means that means you’re stuck with the stretched image. Oh well…

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the quality of the lens itself. Unfortunately, even when I can get the image mostly in focus, there are still areas in the middle of the image that is blurry. This may be anecdotal, but I recall seeing school projectors that look sharper than this. Lumos does claim that this projector is not really meant for business or school use, but seeing this inconsistent blurriness on the image is still a little disappointing if you value picture quality in your movie watching. Also, when using the vertical lens shift, there will be a part of the image, either the top or bottom, that will be a little out of focus, so you will have to decide which area you would want to sacrifice your sharpness.

On top of that, after a couple of months of use, I did spot what seems to be a little bit of moulding on the lens itself, it’s especially noticeable when you look at the lens on the side when it’s on. Although that doesn’t seem to directly affect the projected image quality itself, but it does put the QC of the lens in a not-very-good light.

Colour Accuracy

Moving on to colour accuracy, I’ll be comparing the projected image to a professional broadcast monitor. In this case it will be the 23-inch TVlogic LVM-232W. Although it looks small and its only in full HD, this thing can cost up to S$2,700, because this is the kind of reference-grade monitor that movies and TV shows are mastered on, and it’s almost exactly what the filmmakers see when they finalise their movie. As for the calibration tool we will be using to measure the more objective colour balance metrics, we will be using this I1Display Pro Plus colourimeter to measure and balance the RGB gain values of the projector.

There is a very comprehensive guide by the YouTube channel Hardware Unboxed where they will guide you on how to use this colourimeter to do some basic screen calibration, and you can take a look at it here. But the idea is that you will use a software called DisplayCAL to measure your RGB gain values, and you adjust those values on your display device until they are as even as possible. The only difference between the Hardware Unboxed guide and this is that for projectors, instead of hanging the device over the screen, you will point the lens at the projected image at a distance.

To be absolutely clear, there are more advanced ways to calibrate screens, but using a colourimeter is relatively easier for beginners, and will still give you a very good baseline for colour accuracy. You are going to want to do this in as dark of a room as possible for the most accurate results. Also, unlike what the guide on Lumos’s website says, you should project the image on a wall that is as pure white as possible if you want colour accuracy.

On the broadcast monitor, you can see that even straight out of the box, the RGB values are very close to being even, and usually doesn’t need much tweaking when you recalibrate it every once in a while. However, with the default values on the Lumos Auro projector, you can tell it’s very imbalanced, and even after tweaking to balance it as much as possible, going so far as to maxing out my reduction in green gain all the way to zero because the calibrator is detecting way too much of green, the image still does not look anywhere close to the broadcast monitor, and I have to tweak it manually by eye thereafter. After much experimentation, these are the RGB values that I find delivers the most accurate image colour to me, at least to my eyes:

Red – 35

Green – 30

Blue – 9

Do note that your results may vary, and if these values don’t work for you, then I recommend to do a more thorough calibration, and you can start by using the Hardware Unboxed guide that was mentioned earlier.

Another thing that I would like to briefly mention here is regarding the brightness levels. There seems to be a little bit of an uneven brightness curve. The best way I can demonstrate is this shot below from the movie Tenet, where the skin tones on John David Washington seems to be fairly visible on the broadcast monitor, but on the Lumos Auro, his skin tones suddenly seem darker, although everything else in the shot seems to be at the right levels. 

The shot from the movie on the broadcast monitor

The same shot on the Lumos Auro projector

It’s a fairly minor issue, but it is noticeable.

Final Thoughts

So it’s clear by this point than many casual users and online personalities seems very impressed with this projector, and I think a large part of it also boils down to its pretty affordable S$299* price point, and even just 10 years ago, a full-HD projector would have cost at least 7-10 times this price.

But back to the main question, is this projector suitable for a home theatre enthusiast? The short answer is no. And how about using it in a professional video post-production environment to monitor your colour grade? That’s an even stronger no! However, that said, it is possible to get a pretty good image out of it, it’s just that it requires a significant amount of tweaking. But then again, the target customers of this device would probably not go all this trouble to calibrate it, or they might not even know how. They probably just want an affordable projector that will let them watch their movies and shows on a big screen, and they’ll probably get the Smart version anyway since it has more additional video and streaming apps for it.

On a personal note, having used this projector to showcase my editing and colour work to clients, I haven’t got any serious complaints about the colour from them, but that’s also because I had to manually tweak the colour myself to match the reference broadcast monitor as much as possible. I also wished that Lumos will include a horizontal lens shift in a future revision of the product, or even roll out a more premium model of it, like an Auro Pro or something with both that as well as a zoom lens.

Until they do that, there are honestly other projector models from other brands that will deliver a much better quality image than the Lumos Auros, even the mid-range ones, and they’ll probably have more lens shift and zoom functions. But also bear in mind that those will start off from at least S$800 – S$1,000 and above. 

So overall, it’s not a bad product if you’re dipping your hands into projectors for the first time, and the low price of entry makes it a really compelling buy for casuals. However, I think most people who are a stickler for picture quality, and this is their first projector purchase, are going to be moderately impressed for the decent picture quality they’re getting for the price, but the minor, but noticeable flaws such as the uneven focus and the colour imbalance, as well as the lack of in-lens adjustment options, are going to leave them wanting to upgrade to a higher-end model later down the road.

*It should be noted that apparently this S$299 is at a 54% sale price according to their website, but at the time of this writing, it’s still listed as such even since the time I bought it 9 months ago, and I have never seen this price go back to its original price tag, which is a little misleading, and might even be violating the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, but I am not a lawyer, and therefore I cannot say for sure, so I will leave it to legal experts to determine if that is so. Until then, we shall assume the usual price is at S$299 for the non-smart version of the product.

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