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When it comes to reviewing tech, a lot of the things that fall into my wheelhouse revolve around mobility, from flipping smartphones to thumb-sized action cameras. But when I'm not out and about, I like to dedicate my downtime to electronics that make life at home more enjoyable, like this projector I've been testing over the past few weeks.
It's the Horizon Ultra from Xgimi (pronounced "ex-gee-me"), the latest entry on my running list of projectorcandidates for my bedroom. Because when you have a large white wall across from your bed -- and you're not overly passionate about anything to stick posters of -- projecting movies and videos just makes sense.
Here's the thing: Finding the best projector is not as simple as looking at the specs alone. You really have to set the thing down, get a feel of how it fits in with that house plant beside it, determine if the output looks satisfactory both in the daytime and nighttime, and finally answer the question of "Is this worth it?"
Here's another thing: The Horizon Ultra may be the end game of my home projector quest. It delivers some of the best picture quality I've seen, doesn't sound like a blow dryer when I increase the scaling, and dare I say, at $1,699, is not expensive at all.
I'll talk about the elephant in the room first, especially if you're at the beginning stage of projector shopping: that price. $1,699 is half the commitment of Apple's Vision Pro headset, and easily a month's worth of rent someplace, somewhere. But if you're at the deeper end of the rabbit hole, you'll know that $1,699 is the starting price for flagshipprojectors.
In fact, the previous-gen Horizon projector started at $200 more, so my initial estimation for the Ultra model, which fields a brighter output, dual LED and laser technology, Harmon Kardon speakers, and a motorized lens cover, among other things, was closer to $2,000. (I had mentally prepared to call Xgimi out for up-charging on its new projector, but that clearly won't be necessary.)
That said, here's what you're getting for the money. First, the design of the Horizon Ultra makes it clear that this isn't your ordinary light bulb boxed in a glossy white casing. There's a beige PU leather coating (read: plastic leather) that wraps around the device, providing an elegant appearance that effortlessly uplifts the furniture around it. "Misty Gold" is your only color option with the Ultra, but I find it just neutral enough to suit most home decor.
When the Horizon Ultra is turned on, the motorized lens cover automatically pulls down, revealing the iris while doubling as the speaker's grill cloth. It's such an innovative and purposeful design, making more expensive projectors look outdated by comparison.
How many times can the sliding cover stay motorized? Xgimi tells me the "current test is 5,000 times" and the Horizon Ultra should stay functional for "around 10 years of use." But, as is often the case with any moving parts, longevity and after-sales support are things you should consider when buying this projector.
As for the rest of the design, I'm a fan of the color-matching power cables, brushed aluminum remote controller, and wealth of ports on the backside, which includes two USB-A, two HDMI (one with eARC), optical input, and an Ethernet port.
The only thing that's missing on this projector for me is onboard controls. Too often have I tried setting up a new projector only to discover that the remote controller can't pair properly (or hold a charge), and there are no built-in controls for backup.
Once the Android 11 setup process was complete, and what Xgimi calls Dual Light Technology was, well, lighting up the space, I was met with a satisfyingly accurate projection; accurate in the sense that the visual didn't look distorted, off-centered, and discolored, all three of which is common across cheaper (or just bad) projectors.
For once, I didn't find myself needing to manually adjust the keystone and sharpness of a projector, though the default image did appear more vibrant than my eyes could comfortably process. And with movies like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which can be visual overload every frame of the way, a little less saturation went a long way for me.
And while you're in the settings, I'd suggest turning off any motion smoothening or deblur effect. The real-time processing often weakens the image quality instead of making things better.
But that's about all the negatives I have with the Horizon Ultra's projection quality because everything else about it is as good as things get. From the Dolby Vision-certified color accuracy -- something that projectors often struggle to qualify for due to the imbalance of color reproduction, clarity, and brightness -- to the impressively bright output that's capable of beating daylight, this is one of the few, if not the only, projectors that I've felt confident enough to use every hour of the day.
ZDNET's buying advice
If you're on the market for a projector, whether it's for your living room, backyard, or bedroom like me, I wouldn't think twice about Xgimi's new Horizon Ultra. It's that good, even if it's only available in one configuration: Misty Gold for $1,699.
Should you buy one if you're looking for a portable projector that doesn't have to be tethered and/or can be lugged around in a backpack? Definitely not. But if you want an at-home entertainment hub that can transform your wall into a window of cinema goodness, look no further than this.