XGIMI Horizon Ultra 4K Dolby Vision Projector REVIEW

Review

This is a review written by Terry Ellis September 2023.

For my video review please see my YouTube channel link here

When I think of high-end home theatre projectors certain traits come to mind – big, expensive, noisey, hot, inconvenient but probably the worst of them for a newcomer is complicated. When I think of the world’s first Dolby Vision enabled long-throw projector I automatically think this would be a technology development in a projector with a very high price tag, such is the high cost of many high-end home theatre projectors especially with breakthrough technologies.

It’s very refreshing to have a very small, very lovely looking device that looks nothing like a traditional high-end home theatre projector. You can’t even obviously see a lens and at first I didnt even know how it could possibly work or how it could be such a high end projector. The XGIMI Horizon Ultra, is markerted as the world’s first long throw Dolby Vision enabled 4K projector and its packing serious technology and serious performance in a tiny and relatively package costing £1,749 or $1,699. That’s still of course a big chunk of money but not for high-end home theatre big screen projection, or at least not traditionally.

Its in that traditional vein, when you are used to huge devices costing many times more than the XGIMI Horizon Ultra does you could easily prejudge it and dismiss it as not being a serious performance projector. However, I have learnt to never judge a book by its cover, I tested the Horizon Ultra on a four metre screen in a pitch black light controlled room and it’s been delighting me with its picture clarity, quality, real brightness and contrast producing a punchy image. I think it could have easily gone bigger in image size too given the brightness which is incredible.

First Impressions

I want to start with my first impressions because the Horizon Ultra is the first XGIMI product I have seen. The overall packaging quality, not just the lovely white box but the outer brown cardboard box and the air protection bubble wrap system in that box was far better than I was expecting to find. This is a retail sample that was shipped to me from Amazon UK logistics so not a cherry-picked review sample and this will be how you receive it too.

Removing the lid of the white box and seeing the Horizon Ultra for the first time, I was super impressed with the styling and colour, XGIMI say the colour is misty gold.  From some angles I think gold from other angles it could be seen as beige  but overall it’s very impressive and I am super impressed with the styling and overall design. I can see this design very easily fitting into modern living rooms, maybe sitting on some sort of table or in a bookcase / shelf type setup with some plants around it. It looks more like a modern smart speaker than any type of video projector, it is a very non-intrusive design and the overall size physical foot print is less than an IPAD pro 12.9 inch so its is very compact.

Additionally, in the box, there is a good quality remote control, a very sizeable power brick that’s also misty gold in colour and a misty gold colour matching power cable. I do have one niggle here. The power brick is very large by comparison to the overall small size of the projector and I am fine with that because I am sure it is necessary to keep the unit size down. My niggle is the cable from the power brick to the projector is not very long so it can make placing the power brick a little tricky depending on how you mount the projector. Whilst this could just be my use case situation, I think a slightly longer cable would be better, as would a locking connection for the power connector.  At the time of the review I didn’t have but later XGIMI sent to me the dedicated floor stand for the Horizon Ultra which is a very lovely addition to the product and elegant solution to this problem.   With the stand the power brick becomes integrated so you cannot see it and the power cable feeds up inside the main upright column so you don’t see that either.   The stand has an adjustable gimbal the projector attaches to so its possible to adjust the angle to align to your screen.  The stand is limited in height but besides that its a very well build effective solution for using the Horizon Ultra day to day

On the are an impressive number of connections given the small form factor. There are two USB ports, two HDMI ports with one supporting EARC, an optical output for an alternative digital audio out and, interestingly, a 3.5mm headphone output, I have not seen that on a projector before. The HDMI ports are only HDMI 2.0, which does makes sense for a 4K projector, but gaming enthusiasts might feel a little short changed. They really shouldn’t as in game mode the lag is only 18ms which seems impressive to me for a projector.  Above the connections are what looks like heat sink fins. I am not sure if they are but the holes are heat vents and you do feel warm air coming out so you will want to leave some clearance behind the projector for that to exhaust away.  The Horizon Ultra offers WIFI6 dual band internet and Bluetooth 5.2 so you can have a huge screen late night movie experience with sound straight to your headphones wired or via Bluetooth, so big screen entertainment without upsetting the family. That is a very exciting prospect for someone like me with young children. 

The real excitement for me comes when you turn the Horizon Ultra on and the front slides down to reveal the lens, how cool is that on a projector at this price. Just as exciting is the main specification. The Horizon Ultra is a DLP 4k resolution projector that uses a dual light engine. XGIMI have combined a Laser light source with an LED light source they say is to give the best of everything without the compromises each light source offers, so high brightness, wide colour gamut 99.9% of REC 709 and 95.5% of DCI- P3 with a long 25,000-hour lifespan.

This projector is extremely bright with a rated 2,300 lumens, extremely impressive from this tiny package. This all comes through a very high-quality lens system producing an extremely clean and sharp image. The Horizon Ultra has a bionic variable iris for adjusting the brightness to improve contrast and an automatic optical zoom system so you can adjust the image size without losing quality, all excellent technology again at this price point.

Then there are a whole bunch of automated technologies for achieving a correctly aligned and oriented picture easily even when the projector is off centre but all that means nothing to me unless the picture quality is there. 

Testing

I don’t have ideal conditions at home so I spent a week at Reference Audio, who are a high-end HiFi and AV dealership based in Witham, Essex. They have a dedicated home theatre demo room which has a four-metre screen. They also have an excellent Sony 4k laser projector costing around £15,000 I was able to use to get set some kind of picture quality benchmark reference, excuse the pun.

For starters is the challenge of filling a four-metre screen, a very large screen with enough light for the projector to have enough punch, especially for doing HDR10 HLG and of course Dolby Vision content any kind of justice.  On paper I thought the rated 2,300 lumens should be enough but I doubted the Horizon Ultra could deliver the good considering its size in relation to the screen size, but it was, maybe it was too bright. The image from the Horizon Ultra is ultra bright, and it is punchy for its brightness impact and dynamic contrast when it needs to be without bleaching the overall image or raising the overall black level too much. I did find a nice compromise of manually controlling the IRIS to improve the contrast for SDR content but then using the default bright mode for HDR content. That worked great for adding more image pop and dynamism, especially with Dolby Vision content where I used the Dolby Vision bright mode. I appreciated having the options to adjust this but would have preferred more control still.

Comparing to the much more expensive Sony laser projector, it was a little further away from the screen, maybe six metres compared to five and a half metres which will of course effect the brightness but the little by comparison XGIMI was more than holding its own for the overall image brightness. I would say the Sony had an obvious better image contrast and subtlety to the image, but the XGIMI seemed to have slightly more vivid punch to its image. For brightness, perceived contrast and image pop the little XGIMI was bettered by the Sony but it was holding its own with the much larger and much more expensive Sony. I found quite unbelievable so kudos to XGIMI for this achievement.

Black levels were a little different though. For a four-metre 16:9 screen where you are watching 2.35:1 content with black bars top and bottom it shows you some indication of the black level performance of a projector. The XGIMI black levels were very good for a DLP projector and exceptionally good for a projector at this price level with such a bright image.  The black levels were noticeably better on the Sony and that gave the image and colours more contrast and solidity and XGIMI couldn’t match the Sony here. But it wasn’t as extreme difference that what I would call a night and day difference, again the little XGIMI was holding its own against the Sony, which is another incredible achievement.

The next thing thing that impressed me was the clarity of the image. When you are looking at video images this big the production values of the content and the quality of the signal are laid bare. Some content is very clean, some is very grainy, the better projector makes you more aware of the creators intent, it cannot solve any issues in the content or stream of couse. The XGIMI has a very clean look with excellent sharpness, a clear indicator of a very good lens.  Straight out of the box it looks massively over sharpened, but if you reduce the sharpness control the image doesn’t go soft, it looks better and more natural and you can very clearly see how sometimes shots in major movies they have missed focus or the image has been softened or made creamy quite on purpose. A great example here would be comparing Mission Impossible Fall Out with Transformers The Last Knight. Mission Impossible looks super grungy early on in the movie, whereas Transformers has a clean cut image throughout. The XGIMI clearly shows you this difference and much more, it gives you an accurate image.

For colour quality it is very easy to put the Horizon Ultra into the wrong mode, warm is very warm with an obvious orange/red cast as an example.  The Horizon Ultra I think is a good enough projector warrants a professional calibration. It is good enough to be worth the cost and there are some basic white balance and colour correction options in the menu as well as basic settings for gamma and more. Professional calibration is not something I did for the review and so it was just an eyeball-based setup which I know is not perfect. I do understand colour visually to some degree from my video editing work and so I was able to determine some good settings by eye and I preferred the overall colours set a little strong, a little more TV like for some extra pop. Not going crazy with the settings to achieve this maybe only +2 from stock. There is an option in the menu for high colour accuracy which seems to get the colours and everything to a very nice place with the press of a button and this will be great for many people but, of course, different screens and room conditions will require different adjustments, and I appreciated the level of adjustment and controls available, but more would have been better.

Colour accuracy is of course measurable, but colour preference is subjective, and I think the Sony delivered better colour quality because of the better black lev el and contrast. Again, we are not talking night and day here and its very much depended on the source of the image, HDR 10 or Dolby Vision for example, but I was very happy with the colours of the XGIMI especially with better quality UHD disc content, especially Dolby Vision.

Playing Atomic Blonde in Dolby Vision the grungy neon vibe of this movie came through amazingly well. The beach scene, early on, in The Shallows again on UHD but this time HDR10, the green trees, blue sea and then red blood all excellent and holding its own with the much more expensive Sony.

Motion and movement were also very good, maybe not quite as smooth as from the Sony with its true-cinema mode engaged, but still very good. If you want smoother motion, you can engage motion compensation which would probably be fine for TV but for movies it adds too much motion interpolation for my liking but the option is there. However, the implementation of motion compensation seems to have been done very well, I didn’t notice any weirdness or obvious artifacts, just the non-normal motion that is inevitable, and some people like.

Sources and Content Types

For content I watched a whole range of movies from 4k UHD discs and streamed from Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime video and YouTube. Obviously, there is a huge difference here in quality and the Horizon Ultra is more than good enough to show you the very big differences between the content sources. 4K UHD disc looked noticeably better than anything from streaming even when it wasn’t Dolby Vision grade.

What is Dolby Vision and how much does it add for picture quality? Well, what you perceive as a benefit will very much depend on how the content is made. Dolby Vision offers several technical advantages and for projection it is very cool because it is an end-to-end dynamic HDR where the display is able to tone map its image frame by frame in line with how the creator or Dolby intended for it to be to at a given maximum brightness.  So this is a standard and should give us a guaranteed excellent image so long as the implementation has been done well. This is s great technology for projectors as they generally fall very short of the 1,000 nits luminance target. I have generally seen projectors crush the bright areas of an image rather than lower the whole scene brightness to keep as much detail as possible in the highlights. Dolby Vision is the de-facto modern standard for Dynamic HDR. The big streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon have all adopted it and yet the Horizon Ultra is first long throw projector to offer it, which is a further great achievement.

I watched a lot of Dolby Vision content, from streaming and from disc. It is not possible to engage and disengage it to see what it is doing as when you play Dolby Vision encoded content the projector auto engages the mode and shows you a visual indicator in the top right corner of the screen. There are two Dolby Vision picture modes, one for a dark room and one for a bright room, but there is also a custom mode where you can make some manual adjustments. I appreciated this because streamed Dolby Vision content looked better to me after some modifications showing some variance in the source more than the projector.

For me the best image I saw from the XGIMI was Dolby Vision from a UHD disc. Aquaman, for example, looked amazing, a real visual spectacle on a four-metre screen with popping colours and a clean image and some of the best projected images I have seen to date. From a sub £2K projector that’s nothing short of incredible.

The second-best image came from non-Dolby Vision UHD discs like Black Hawk Down which, whilst very grungy, also looked amazing.  Lucy and Pacific Rim both looked great, there were good black levels, strong colours, great brightness, and a very engaging picture that had me mesmerised for hours.

Next best quality was Dolby Vision streaming from Disney+ and Netflix and so on. If you want to see the best of what the XGIMI can offer you still need a 4k disc player as it is much better than streaming, even Dolby Vision streaming, but let’s hope that changes going into the future.

Streaming Features

The XGIMI has a streaming service platform built in running on Android TV 11 and that means you have access to thousands of apps available from the Google Play store. I installed just a basic few like YouTube, Disney, Tidal, Amazon and with a work around for Netflix. For me the streaming aspect of the Horizon Ultra is not my favourite part, it was a little clunky and quirky in operation. YouTube worked well, Amazon was OK, Disney was OK, and Netflix not so good. For starters there was a noticeable slowdown in accessing the menu of the projector when streaming from Disney or Amazon, like its not as happy playing and streaming compared to just playing. I don’t know why as it didn’t happen when streaming from YouTube. Also, from Disney+ it showed Dolby Vision for the content such as for the new Avatar – The Way Of Water, but it didn’t seem to play the content in Dolby Vision, not every time anyway.  So there are some things not perfect here but its hard to know if its the fault og the streaming app or the platform in the XGIMI. Worst for me was the Netflix experience which only seemed to show the content in HD not the full 4k and again no Dolby Vision, as I mentioned the picture quality was very obviously worse. I tested this against an AppleTV box and that worked better and played everything correctly once I had adjusted the settings to enable Dolby Vision.

For me the built in streaming is sort of OK, it works, and could well be good enough for many people but it’s not my favourite part of this projector. For £100 an AppleTV is an obvious and excellent addition.

In Use

One major advantage the Horizon Ultra has over other high-end projectors is practicality, it is small and very quiet, I could barely hear its fan noise inches from my head compared to the Sony which was a metre or more away and its fan noise was much louder. It also pretty much switches on and off instantly. If you look underneath, the Horizon Ultra has a screw thread that is typical in video so I could use one of my video light stands, or a camera tripod with a ball head to allow movement to align the image to the screen. This was not a brilliantly stable solution, but it was a quick easy and mobile one and ideal for testing the advanced auto features of the XGIMI.

First I tested autofocus, which worked as expected, it automatically focuses the image for you and you can have it do it eveytime you power on the Horizon Ultra if you move it around a lot, or not if its fixed in position. Second I tested was auto-keystone which aligns the image when the projector is off centre either veritcally or horizontally and would normally angle distort the image. The horizon ultra can complete auto keystone, auto focus, and auto alignment and in a few seconds an unwatchable image becomes very watchable. It works perfectly well and is very cool, I have never seen anything like.  To correct the image  In practice, you could have the projector in a not-perfect position, and you would still get a correct and great image. Think how useful that could be in the real world – you could place it in a bookcase at the back of your room and it does not have to be square-on to the screen to project a perfect image.

Next, I tested the intelligent obstacle avoidance by placing a broom up against the screen. The projector auto corrected and auto aligned the image to avoid the obstacle and create a watchable image away from the obstacle.  This sound amazing and almost too good to be true so its important to know how it works.  The projector has a maximum image size based on the throw distance, how far away the projector is from the screen dictates this.  The auto technologies create an image either via resizing the image or moving the image away from the obstacle but resizing the image within of the maximum image size, so by correcting the image it might make the image smaller.  This is something to consider as you can see a grey border of the maximum image size, this is a downside of DLP technology not the XGIMI in particular.

I also tested auto eye protection which dims the image when eyes are detected in the line of sight of the projector and this worked perfectly as well. I think this is a  brilliant technology if you have young children because of course as soon as you tell them not to look at the bright light it’s the first thing they will do.   Lastly, I tested the intelligent wall colour adaption, this corrects the colour of the image if you’re not shining onto a perfectly white wall. I found a magnolia wall, ran the adaption and it auto fixed the colour to be more accurate.

All these technologies can make your life much, much easier and they take away a lot of the complexities and inconvenience of home theatre projectors. I was amazed by how well they all worked. However, I was very happy to see in the menus that you can turn them all off  and can manually apply keystone correction, focus and zoom the specify the exact image to the size you want without it changing, this feels more like a high-end projector to me because I am stuck in my ways when really it’s the opposite when you think about it.

Sound Quality

It feels very weird to talk about the sound quality of a home theatre projector, but the Harmon Kardon badge on the front should give you some idea that sound has been thought about here with the built in 12 watt stereo speakers. There are several different sound modes, I thought cinema was the best, but maybe on a bookshelf or more enclosed placement a different mode would sound better.  I was massively impressed with the sound quality of the Horizon Ultra because I was sitting and watching content with the projector only inches behind me. When I wasn’t thinking about it, the sound seemed to come from the front of the room and from the screen, it’s amazing how your brain can trick you. There is a lot of volume available here too, from only twelve watts of rated power, but that is more than sufficient to plays loud without distortion. Obviously, its not going to replace a good sound bar or home theatre audio system, but it is definitely as good as better than average TV speakers and that may be good enough for you.

Is There a Downside?

So far, this review has been a lot of praise and not too many negatives but, of course, the Horizon Ultra is not perfect. The menu system could be more concise to navigate, the remote is nice, but the button tactile feel I didn’t find obvious enough, I found myself pressing the wrong buttons a lot. The streaming service experience could be a lot better, the power brick is big, and the cable is quite short. Additionally, I would like to have seen some user saveable presets as I would like faster ways to engage specific picture settings for different content sources.  Then black levels and contrast could be better but they can always be better with projectors.

XGIMI horizon ultra 4k projector review website 5

Conclusion

There is room for growth and improvement here for sure, but we must remember the price £1,749 and what we are getting here for that in terms of raw projection performance, image quality, and all the extra technology I think is exceptional. I really do think the Ultra Horizon is the home theatre great buy.

Yes, its is still a DLP projector so there are some picture atttriubtes that come with that but WOW what a projector for what is is, I have genuinely been blown away by it and I was not expecting to be at all.

I have been in many peoples homes and seen so many home cinemas where having a big projector hanging from the ceiling has been essential for getting a huge image but really it is very impractical to have it.  I have hit my head on more than a few of them.  Now you don’t need to ceiling mount your projector, you may still want to of course but you don’t need to, and you are not giving up anything really in terms of performance for having much more convenience. In fact, you are gaining in areas such as Dolby Vision support and I am thrilled to finish this review with a virtual applause for XGIMI and the Horizon Ultra.

pecial Performer Award Website No Background

A Special Performer Award is Pursuit Perfect Systems highest accolade and is in recognition of exceptional product performance regardless of price

For the full specification of the XGIMI Ultra Horizon Projector please see their website linked here