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Incredible amount of connections and ports
Bluetooth and headphone jack for external audio
Fairly small throw ratio at 1.4:1
Pretty bright for such a small size
Not 1080p resolution
Not the best audio chip
Not the brightest
Could benefit from an SD card reader
If you’re looking for an HD travel projector, the LG Cinebeam PH550 is a great 720p projector with a ton of convenient features for travellers and the occasional home theater party.
The small/business/travel projector space is a weird one, filled with many low-resolution projectors claiming to offer 1080p or 4K through their “supported” upscaling. A projector with “4K support” has a lower native resolution (1080p, for instance); it receives 1080p input, processes the image, then upscales it with an algorithm that estimates what adjacent pixels would look like if it were a true 4K image. It produces an image sharper than a standard 1080p projector, but it’s not accurate to the 4K source and generates a lot of artifacts.
The LG Cinebeam PH550 is a native 720p resolution projector that makes few compromises in its class. It has a full set of features, from Bluetooth to cable TV, to make sure every kind of owner can use it with ease. It’s not the smallest projector, but it’s still ultra portable, about the same size and weight as a paperback novel. At this size, it’s hard to find native 720p projectors, and the Cinebeam manages to offer a crisp image with a high quality of life for around the price of a Playstation 4.
Everything in the PH550 is optimized for travel. It weighs 1.43 pounds and measures 6.9" x 1.7" x 4.3", making it super easy to carry around in an airline-approved carry-on. It even comes with a soft felt case to protect it from scratches and mild jostling. In total, this projector is comparable to a large paperback book in size and weight. The projector’s body is made of a glossy white plastic with side vents for air circulation. It’s a beautiful finish, but it’s sadly not scratch-proof. Its power button on the top is also a directional pad, which allows you to use it to navigate the menus should you not have the included remote on hand (a common occurrence when traveling).
On the rear, there’s an on/off switch, an HDMI port, a USB type A port, an AV input, a headphone jack, a VGA input, a DC power port, and an antenna cable connector. It’s a plethora of compatibility in a great way, with support for both the latest technologies (Bluetooth) and the oldest standards (VGA), allowing the PH550 to adapt to whatever room you use it in. On the bottom, the projector has five nonadjustable rubber legs for stability and a standard camera tripod mount. (Fun engineering fact: because it has five legs, it has five points of contact with a surface. Three points of contact is the ideal for stability, because you only need three points to define a plane. Four or more points of contact make the object over-constrained, which may lead to a wobbly product. A common example of an over-constrained product is a 4-legged chair.)
Everything in the PH550 is optimized for travel.
We really like the tripod mount, since it is compatible with any photography or videography tripod you may already have on hand. Check out these great tripods if you need some suggestions.
The lens is housed in a glossy silver frame, and there’s a manual focus lever on the top. We love the focus lever, which moves smoothly and gives a fairly wide range of focal lengths. The included LED lamp has a 30,000 hour life, sure to outlast the projector itself. If you use this projector for four hours a day, the lamp will last 20.5 years. We hope that by 2036, you’ll be able to upgrade to the $200 16k travel projector on sale at your local electronics store, if it’s still around— we hear that Amazon will offer same-second shipping if you order through your wireless eye implants. For 2019, this 720p LG projector is really cool.
It also comes with a great remote, which is full-sized and easy to maneuver. It feels great in the hand, thanks to its resemblance to a classic TV remote, but it’s a little cumbersome for lightweight travel. If the remote dies after some heavy use, it can be easily resurrected with two fresh AAA batteries.
The tripod mount makes it easy to place the projector at a perfect height and distance from any screen or wall. According to the official spec sheet, you can get a 40” diagonal from 4.07 feet away, and the projector does not have an optical zoom. This comes out to a 1.40 throw ratio, so the projector needs to be 11.67 feet away for a 100” wide image. The average projector has a 1.5 throw ratio, so this is still shorter than average, which means that the Cinebeam is well suited to smaller spaces.
The PH550 has an internal battery that lasts 2.5 hours on a full charge, and it comes with a DC charger. It takes three hours to fully charge, however. The 2-watt speakers are surprisingly loud, so you won’t have to worry too much about volume in a noisy room with guests, but there’s also Bluetooth connectivity and a headphone jack if you need to watch something silently.
It’s a 720p image, which feels a bit blurry in 2019, but this isn’t so much a shortcoming of the PH550 as it is a sign of the current state of small and pico projectors. Most projectors in this size range project WVGA resolution, and the smallest 1080p projectors are still bulky compared to their 720p and VGA cousins. So we will review the LG PH550 as what it is: a great 720p travel projector.
The projector can cast up to 550 lumens, which is enough for a 60” screen in a dark or dimly lit room. As with any projector, the brighter the room, the more washed-out the darks become, but even in a dark room the blacks are a touch light. Under ideal conditions, the Cinebeam’s image is surprisingly bright and crisp. The colors are a touch oversaturated, but this helps keep the contrast ratio high.
Overall, the image profile of this travel projector is one of the best in its class.
LG reports that the PH550 has a contrast ratio of 100,000:1, and while that sounds a little too good to be true for a sub-$500 projector, we will credit the Cinebeam with a fantastic contrast comparable to our home theater BenQ projectors, the HT2070 and the HT3550. Even though the Cinebeam is a 720p projector, it looks very sharp, and it produces a clean image with no evident rainbow artefacts.
Overall, the image profile of this travel projector is one of the best in its class. Its vivid colors also make it a great choice for casual viewing, and for business use, where high contrast is important for a presentation. The blacks are not especially dark, but the contrast is again strong enough to offset this and offer an image that is easy to digest. The picture is uniform across the screen, with almost no variations in brightness or color perceptible to the human eye.
We’re not sure it would be bright enough for an average daylight living room, but the PH550 is a great projector for movie nights, outdoor events, and office use. All you need is a curtain or two and you’ll get to enjoy the PH550’s awesome color range.
We won’t pretend that it’s the best audio we’ve ever heard, but it’s not disappointing for a travel-sized box. It has two 1-watt stereo speakers that can each get loud enough to fill a small room. They can’t produce any bass whatsoever, though, and their treble is quite fatiguing. If possible, use an external listening device, like one of the best Bluetooth speakers for an improved audio experience. Still, it’s unreasonable to demand much from a travel projector, as it was never designed as a music-oriented device.
More importantly, let’s discuss its Bluetooth and headphone output performance. Its onboard sound processor isn’t great, so the sound is a little tinny even with quality headphones or speakers. Using the headphone jack was a marginally better listening experience than using Bluetooth, but it wasn’t enough of a difference for us to prefer the jack. The sound lacks bass, and the lower mids are also recessed, just leaving some vocals and treble at the forefront. It should do in a pinch, but we wouldn’t spend hours listening to audio from this projector. If you plan on using this as a main projector, consider routing your audio directly from your media source, such as your laptop, for a more faithful audio experience.
The PH550 is loaded with features, making portable entertainment easy and convenient. The Bluetooth works one-way, from projector to audio device, so you can’t listen to music on the projector unless you feed it through the 3.5mm AV breakout cable. However, the Bluetooth works well with our Bose QuietComfort headphones and our JBL Flip 3 speakers, with no noticeable input lag from the projector.
The USB port is a media reader, so you can play various files off a USB drive with no problem. The HDMI port also works flawlessly, supporting most major streaming devices and any standard HDMI cable. It’s a shame that the USB port isn’t powered, which would have been convenient for devices like the Fire TV stick.
One major connectivity feature that’s lacking from this LG projector is an SD card reader. When traveling, a lot of people like to take photos and videos of their journey with a camera, so an SD card reader would be especially convenient. On the other side of the feature set, it’s a little hard to imagine when you’d use a small travel projector with an antenna cable to watch live TV—anywhere that has cable TV probably also has a TV to go with the antenna.
On the other hand, this projector supports wireless screen share with Android-powered smartphones and tablets. This is especially nice for unwinding and popping a YouTube video onto the projector from your favorite Android device.
Regardless of how you use the PH550, there’s relatively little latency. Some users have reported 34ms lag, which isn’t bad for a projector, but it will make a difference in some video games, like rhythm or fighting games. It’s perfectly fine for casual gaming and movies.
If you need or want a good travelling projector, the LG PH550 is a good value. It comes from a trusted projector manufacturer with a great parts warranty, offers almost all the quality-of-life features you could want on the go, and it looks great in a dim room. It retails for $500, but you can often find it on sale for as little as $375.
Kodak Luma 350: This tiny projector is a little bigger than a pack of sticky-notes, and it upscales its VGA-native resolution to 4K. This may not be as sharp as a true 4K projector, but it still has a great image quality for such a small product. It also comes equipped with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, one HDMI port, one USB Type A media reader, and an Android-based interface. It’s only 350 lumens bright, but in subjective use, reviewers have found it plenty bright for outdoor movie nights and work presentations. It goes for about $350, making it a decent value for a tiny projector.
Optoma ML750: This compact Optoma projector is a little over 720p resolution (WXGA), offers 700 lumens and great color contrast. It retails for about $500, making it a little pricier than the Cinebeam PH550, but it’s smaller, lighter, and only has 17ms latency. If you find yourself choosing between the Optoma and the LG PH550, it’s a difficult choice, but you’ll be happy with either one. We think the LG projector has a sleeker look, but the ML750 has a mini-SD card reader.
LG PF50KA: Two years after LG released the PH550, they unveiled the PF50KA. This projector is superior in pretty much every way: native 1080p projection, LG Smart TV interface, a USB-C connector, 2 HDMI ports, and a LAN port. It keeps the coaxial cable connection, USB-A connector, 2.5 hour and small profile of the PH550. It is a little bigger than the PH550, weighing 2 pounds and measuring 6.7”x6.7”x1.9”, but that’s not a huge difference for the major upgrades the PF50KA provides. Currently, this sweet projector retails for about $600.
An older travel projector that still holds up.
The LG Cinebeam PH550 projector is a great option for road warriors, who need something built around diverse connections in a small form factor. With HDMI, cable TV antenna, USB-A, Bluetooth audio, and screen share support, there’s a lot packed into this 1.5 pound projector. Because of its 720p resolution, it may not be the best choice for a main living room display, but it still offers some of the best images in the travel-size projector ecosystem. It’s only about $350 if you can find a sale, but if the resolution is a deal-breaker, there’s an updated model from LG that offers native 1080p resolution for about $600.