Optoma CinemaX P2 4K Laser Projector Review
John Archer is surprised and delighted by this compact, affordable new projector…
CinemaX P2 Short-Throw Projector
Home cinema has certainly seen its share of discarded trends, but the push for ultra-short throw 4K laser projectors – such as the £2,799 Optoma CinemaX P2 tested here – is one we can get behind. They can throw huge images while sat just an inch or two from your wall, barely compromising your interior design as well as costing much less than TVs with comparable viewing areas. What’s not to like?
The CinemaX P2 delivers a picture up to 120 inches across, and while the projector's footprint is relatively large, it's not unattractive. Being a short-throw projector means its light retains more intensity, and its 3,000 lumen laser-based lighting system has a stated 30,000 hour lifespan. This helps to make the Optoma much more watchable than standard home cinema projectors, where ambient light can cause issues. You can also turn laser-based projectors off and on almost instantaneously, without the tedious warm up or warm down wait – important when looking to replace a TV in a day-to-day environment. The final bonus is that the laser's performance only degrades a little over its impressive lifespan.
The CinemaX P2's DLP projection system promises a contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1, plus a large proportion of the DCI-P3 digital cinema colour range. It can play 4K but isn’t a native 4K projector, as you’d expect at this modest price. Instead, Texas Instruments' ‘double flashing’ system is employed, which is the most convincing and compelling ‘pseudo 4K’ projector technology around to my eyes.
As a projector muscling in on TV's domain, the glossy white CinemaX P2 sports a 2.0 channel audio system built into its rear edge, hidden behind the tasteful, room-facing grey felt cover. It also comes equipped with a series of ‘smart’ features. Tapping the Optoma Connect icon on the home screen for the first time activates a video introduction to two of the main ones.
Firstly, InfoWall lets you use the Optoma Connect smartphone app to set up a personalised ‘wake up’ screen on the projector, giving you such goodies as the day’s weather forecast, breaking news, or your schedule for the day ahead. Secondly, Voice Assistant leverages any Google Home or Amazon Alexa devices you may have, to enable you to issue basic verbal instructions to the projector such as “switch to game mode”, “change input to…”, “increase volume” and so on. The jury is still out regarding voice control, and the CinemaX P2’s beautifully made backlit remote control isn’t especially intuitive to use. It’s also very easy to lose in a darkened room.
The CinemaX P2 boasts video streaming apps including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, but none of the current versions seem to support 4K or HDR. While Spotify, Rakuten, Hulu, Tidal and BBC News are supported, the whole thing is disorganised. I'd recommend that you factor in the cost of an external smart device, such as an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, or an Apple TV and ignore the onboard apps. In contrast, the useful TapCast lets you wirelessly mirror the screen of Android, iOS, Windows and macOS devices on the projector, and cast documents, images or videos. Also handy is the projector’s support for playing multimedia files from USB sticks.
Connection options are impressive with three HDMIs sockets, with two supporting 4K HDR at 60Hz, HDMI 2.0 and one 1.4a option. If opting not to use Wi-Fi, there’s an Ethernet port to hardwire network the projector. Rounding things up are optical digital and 3.5mm audio outputs, and a 1.5A USB port you can use to power HDMI dongles such as Amazon Fire TV sticks.
Some TVs support the latest variable refresh rates, 4K at 120Hz, automatic low input lag mode switching gaming features introduced by the Xbox Series X and PS5 consoles, and Nvidia RTX 30 GPUs. Currently no projectors do however, and this could have been a game-changing feature for the CinemaX P2. That said, the projector's Game setting does cut the image production time from 120ms to 57.7ms. It also supports the HDR10 and HLG formats although the latter is currently limited to USB playback, meaning you can’t enjoy HDR from your Sky Q receiver via HDMI. I'm told that Optoma is hoping to develop a software fix for this. Finally, the CinemaX P2 will play 3D, but you will need to provide your own compatible 3D glasses.
Given that neither zoom nor focus are issues for ultra-short throw projectors, set up should be simple. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Ironically, the CinemaX P2’s attempts to simplify installation actually emphasise the complexities involved. It ships, uniquely from my experience, with a pair of guide strips and a laser point alignment tool to help you position the projector and screen correctly in relation to each other. There's even SmartFIT app support, a calibration tool that uses photos of projector images to correct the geometry. In practice, I found it more trouble than it was worth, and opted for a manual set up instead.
With manual install, your main friend (and foe) will be the Geometric Correction screen that has you move the image’s edges in and out and up and down at eight different points on a large grid. It’s ultimately effective and precise once you understand it, albeit time-consuming. Recall that Game setting? Even if you have that picture preset selected, you still have to choose a separate Game setting to achieve the 57.7ms input lag figure mentioned earlier. Bizarrely, this setting jettisons all the geometry adjustments you’ve spent time tweaking, resulting in having to game on the same misshapen image you started with!
Thankfully, switching back out of Game mode for TV and movie viewing sees your adjustments return. So, gamers note – set up the projector physically to produce as geometrically accurate an image as possible, without using the Geometry Correction feature.
While we’re on the subject of the Game mode, on a couple of occasions it caused the image to glitch, overlaying two slightly different frames on top of each other. Toggling between another preset and back seems to resolve this. Another oddity is that Game mode defaults to the projector’s Film gamma preset, which leaves the picture looking very dark and muted. This, along with reducing the brightness to -9, feels counterintuitive to gamers' needs.
As you would expect of any serious projector, the CinemaX P2 can be calibrated to ISF standards. Additionally, there are welcome features like a decent Pure Motion processor that removes excessive judder that works cleanly if you stick to its lowest ‘1’ power setting, and audio delay adjustments for the internal speakers and digital output. There’s also the useful option of turning the image off when using the projector's built-in speakers for music.
The CinemaX P2's picture is crisp and detailed. This is especially true with native 4K footage which really looks 4K – especially impressive when talking about images over a hundred inches across. Sharpness only deteriorates marginally in the image’s top corners; you really have to look for it. Also, detail and texturing don’t seem forced; there’s no overt grittiness or edge ringing/ghosting that suggest this sharpness is being artificially enhanced by video processing. The detail looks authentic, believable and immersive. Its sharpness holds up well during camera pans or over fast moving objects too, even without the Pure Motion system in play. While many film fans will choose not to use motion processing as a matter of principle, in the CinemaX P2’s case it really can be quite helpful.
Pictures look bright and dynamic in fairly dark room conditions, delivering at least a sense of HDR’s charms compared with standard dynamic range images. HDR really wasn’t designed with projectors in mind, but the Optoma achieves a decent level of baseline HDR brightness in a domestic setting, while still having enough headroom for a bit of extra shine and polish on those important peak highlights. For an affordable projector to deliver compelling HDR feel without making the picture look forced, certainly counts as a win.
The CinemaX P2 is excellent at bringing out shadow detail in dark areas of the picture while delivering surprising colour subtlety. There’s no sign of colour banding, and skin tones look natural and subtle with no sense of the plasticky, monotone quality they can exhibit on less accomplished projectors and TVs. Tricky content with lots of subtle colour details and tonal shifts, such as shots of woodland, grass or close-ups of hair, looks completely convincing, with no sense of tonal ‘clumping’ or flatness. Even better, this remains true during dark scenes with only a hint of tonal compression during tricky scenes such as the opening sequence in It where Georgie visits the dark basement.
Black levels are decent but not spectacular. In scenes with bright and dark sections, there’s a grey wash over the darkest areas that’s more pronounced than you get with some lamp-based rivals. Even then, the CinemaX P2 is good enough not to make the image feel unbalanced or flat. This is due in part to the dark sections sharing screen space with impressive brightness. For while the projector's images don’t hit quite as intensely as the claimed 3,000 lumens suggests, but are plenty bright enough to hold up against the sorts of ambient light levels expected in living rooms. If your room is unusually bright, I’d advise that you partner your CinemaX P2 with one of Optoma’s bright, ambient light-rejecting ALR101 screens.
As someone who considers themselves susceptible to single-chip DLP projection’s infamous 'rainbowing', I was only occasionally distracted by it. For most viewers, I wouldn’t anticipate this being much of an issue. While the CinemaX P2 is good at retaining plenty of colour subtlety and detail, the overall palette feels a little stretched by the projector’s brightness. This results in a slightly washed out feel with aggressive (especially 4000-nit mastered) HDR sources, especially when it comes to heavily saturated colours such as the reds of Pennywise’s balloons in the 4K Blu-ray of It.
Bright blue skies can look a bit bleached, and peak bright parts of HDR pictures can noticeably clip, losing subtle shading detail. You do acclimatise to the projector's colour approach over time. While the brightness slightly bleaches bright colours during dark room viewing, it actually helps it hold on to more natural looking and punchy tones when there’s ambient light in the room than regular projectors can.
The CinemaX P2’s focus in 4K HDR and producing pictures that hold their own in regular living rooms could compromise its ability to adapt to the SDR HD sources that TV viewers – its target audience – often still find themselves watching. Thankfully, it gives a very decent SDR performance. Black levels improve over their HDR counterparts – as there is less light range for the laser lighting array to try and manage. Colours look natural, warm and benefit significantly from the CinemaX P2’s ability to render impressively small shifts in tone. This helps the projector wring bags of colour and detail out of good quality SDR, HD sources.
HD pictures aren’t as crisp and detailed as native 4K sources of course, but there’s nothing soft or processed looking about them. The CinemaX P2 doesn’t do anything to exaggerate any noise an HD source may contain. Finally, it’s able to inject enough brightness into SDR pictures to ensure that they remain watchable in ambient light, and it does this while also delivering slightly more rounded colours than you get with bright HDR sources.
Making sound systems good enough to take on premium TVs is still new for projectors. The CinemaX P2 has a good stab at it, though. For starters, the soundstage projects far and wide. This helps voices sound as if they’re coming from the mouths of people talking on the screen, rather than from some dislocated location below. Indeed it’s one of the most convincing built-in projector sound systems I’ve heard in this key respect.
Voices are as clear and defined as they are well placed, and never become overwhelmed by background noise. As action scenes build up, so the dynamics increase – ending up with a sense of scale that's hard to correlate with the projector’s compact form. Yet even when the going gets seriously loud, the speakers still present plenty of the subtle details that bring film soundtracks to life.
In an ideal world, bass would descend a little deeper. It’s adequate, doing enough to stop the midrange sounding thin, but can’t rival the rumbles that the best TVs or soundbar systems provide. Things get a little harsh at its highest volumes, starting to become a bit lively in the treble when you really push it hard. Stick to below its level 80 setting, and you should be fine.
The Optoma CinemaX P2's bright, sharp images and surprisingly big sound are good enough to make it great value for money – this is a projector capable of delivering king-sized pictures in all but the brightest of rooms. It may not be perfect, but does an admirable job without a standard projector's intrusiveness, and at a fraction of the cost of a similarly sized TV.
I’ve spent the past 25 years writing about the world of home entertainment technology. In that time I’m fairly confident that I’ve reviewed more TVs and projectors than any other individual on the planet, as well as experiencing first-hand the rise and fall of all manner of great and not so great home entertainment technologies.
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