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The most charming projector I've tested has now replaced my TV for movie nights

LG's CineBeam Q projector transforms any wall into a theater screen with 4K video and a massive 120" image size. You'll just need to be strategic with the cabling.
Written by Kyle Kucharski, Editor
LG CineBeam Q Projector
Kyle Kucharski/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • LG's new CineBeam Q projector is a compact, premium 4K projector available for $1,299.
  • Its auto keystone screen adjustment, vivid projection, and portability make it a top-tier projector.
  • However, the CineBeam Q is expensive and requires an external speaker to really feel cinematic.

Projectors are cool; they can take whatever media you want and blow it up tenfold, making screens out of blank walls and transforming the most mundane of spaces into mini theaters. The problem is that these devices are usually cumbersome, unportable, loud, fragile, and finicky.

LG CineBeam Q easily solves all those problems as a three-pound, portable projector capable of screening in 4K at an image size of up to 120 inches. The Q has a laser RGB light source (instead of the traditional lamp projectors) that creates a vibrant, robust image across a wider spectrum of color, turning any wall that's big enough into a cinematic movie screen or gaming display.

Also: The best outdoor projectors you can buy: Expert tested

Focusing and image arrangement -- typically a lengthy process of trial and error with other projectors -- is a snap with the Q, which has keystone screen adjustment technology that automatically senses and adjusts the picture to whatever space you're projecting on. Achieving the right image is as easy as adjusting the rotating kickstand to the proper height, allowing projection at any angle, including straight up, if you want to project onto the ceiling (which is awesome when you're lying down).

View at LG

The maximum size "screen" you can achieve on the CIneBeam Q is about 120 inches and requires a distance of about 12 feet away from the wall or projector screen to get that big. On the flip side, the smallest the image can go is around a 50-inch projection, at about five feet distance. Anything closer or further than these extremes will see a drop-off in image quality and focus.

The CineBeam Q operates much like an LG smart TV when you fire it up. LG's webOS 6 pulls up an app menu where you can load different streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney+, and YouTube, as well as use AirPlay to connect directly to your mobile device. You can also plug in an Apple TV or Chromecast with Google TV.

Also: Samsung's latest projector is secretly the best gaming console you can buy

On the back is one HDMI port, one USB-C port, and a power port, allowing for physical connections to other devices such as a gaming console or soundbar. Speaking of sound, you will definitely want to consider getting an accompanying soundbar or Bluetooth speaker to pair up with the Q, as its internal three-watt speakers don't do much to convey a theatrical experience.

LG CineBeam Q Projector
Kyle Kucharski/ZDNET

Also like a smart TV, there are a number of preset image profiles you can play with to get the optimal color and image, and it's worth cycling through these to see if you're getting the best possible image. When I was testing, setting it to 'Vivid' resulted in a significantly better image.

The thing with projectors is that they're not TVs; they don't have their own light source illuminating each pixel on the screen, so to get the optimal image quality, you really need to be in a dark space. Under these optimal lighting conditions, the Q looks fantastic, projecting at 500 ANSI lumens of brightness: the picture is vibrant, bright, and visibly 4K with a high degree of contrast.

Also: This odd-shaped soundbar fixed my biggest audio issue with modern-day movies

But if you're in a space with any amount of ambient light, the image quality degrades quickly. Those vibrant, saturated colors quickly become washed out and cloudy. Again, this isn't necessarily an issue with the Q specifically, but with all projectors, and should be considered as part of their limitations.

While the Q isn't designed to replace your TV full-time, its flexibility and portability make it best for certain use cases, like movie nights. The experiential device transforms any wall big enough into a theater screen in a hardware package that screams premium. There are other portable projectors out there, such as Samsung's Freestyle 2, which are smaller and less expensive, but they don't provide quite the same visual quality as the Q.

The use cases for this device are varied, and may not be for everyone. Kids will absolutely go crazy for the Q, and I can see this being used in a kids' room as part of a movie night or fort-building adventure. Likewise, movie buffs who want to have a nighttime screening in the backyard or on a rooftop will love the portability and easy adjustment built into this projector. The only caveat is that the projector is not battery powered and can only be taken as far as its cord will go.

LG CineBeam Q Projector
Kerry Wan/ZDNET

This is perhaps one of the more limiting traits of the projector, as it's portable enough to go anywhere, but in practice is actually tethered to the power outlet. The device's power cord is also quite short, and I can't see this being used without an extension cord if you're going for that massive cinematic screen, especially if you're taking it outside.

ZDNET's buying advice

The CineBeam Q is a premium device that looks and feels high-end. Even when not in use, it's unique and well-designed enough to add personality to a desk or bookshelf. In terms of usability, it couldn't be easier: anyone who's navigated a smart TV menu will be able to fire it up, and the auto-adjustment technology makes focus and image arrangement seamless.

In order to achieve a cinematic experience (and honestly, even if you're using it for gaming) you'll want to complete the package with a soundbar or Bluetooth speaker, but that's something that isn't too big of a deal: its small, compact form factor is the tradeoff for the lack of powerful sound. The price point does represent its niche market, but if you're looking for a top-tier projector that brings fantastic image quality, the CineBeam Q is where it's at.

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