I’ve always wanted to build a media room in my basement. It’s finished, has nice carpeting, and it’s the place I have the most control over lighting. Unfortunately, my basement is long, narrow, and has low ceilings. So, I always thought a projector was impossible for my basement. The $2,800 Vava 4K HDR Ultra-Short Throw projector turned that assumption on its head. Now I want two—one for my basement and one for my living room.
The Woes of a Basement with Low Ceilings
Now when I say my basement’s ceilings are low, I mean it. At its highest point, it barely reaches seven feet. And, thanks to ductwork that runs the entire length of my house, the middle portion is even lower. There it stands just a smidgen over six feet.
Hanging a projector from my basement’s ceilings was always out of the question. I couldn’t get it high enough and sufficiently far away from a wall to work. Even if I found some acceptable position, as soon as anyone stood, it’d ruin the experience.
When Vava offered a review unit of its 4K HDR Ultra-Short Throw projector that claims it can create a 100-inch image from just over seven inches away, I jumped at the chance. The company was kind enough to loan me the projector and a motorized 100-inch screen with Ambient Light Rejecting material.
The projector itself has three HDMI ports, Android packed in, and will double as a Harman Kardon Soundbar. It boasts HRD10 compatibility and a 6,000 lumen laser-powered light source. With those specs, it should kick butt, and for $2,800, it had better. The good news? It does kick butt.
Looking Good Even When It Shouldn’t
The Vava Projector arrived a few days before the motorized screen did. Naturally, I was anxious to give the thing a try, so I didn’t wait. I set it up in my living room, pointed it at an empty wall, and fired it up just to see what happened. For a projector, that’s the worst kind of test. My living room walls are teal, and they aren’t perfectly flat (it’s an old house). Holy crap, it looked terrific anyway.
I backed it up enough to create a 150-inch image, and played movies to my heart’s content. The soundbar works impressively well, though it obviously can’t hold a candle to my 7.1 surround system. That left me wanting—when I watch Lion King on my puny 55-inch TCL TV, I can feel an elephant walking towards the screen. The thumps are there with the soundbar, but it’s no dedicated subwoofer.
If you’ve never had a surround sound system, you probably won’t know what you’re missing; the integrated soundbar is excellent for what it is. Plus, you don’t have to futz with hooking up speakers, a nice bonus.
But, I had to know how good it could get, so as soon as the screen arrived, I hooked everything up in my living room—surround sound system, game consoles, Roku, and all.
My house is from the ’50s, so its layout doesn’t lend well to modern-day media needs. The two best walls for putting a big screen on are across from either the fireplace or huge windows. We settle on the “opposite window” wall, and that usually means we have to close the blinds and curtains to prevent glare.
To my shock and amazement, between how bright the projector is and the screen’s light rejecting material, glare wasn’t a problem. For the first time, I could leave blinds and curtains open and still see fine. Granted, it looks even better in darkness, but using the VAVA projector with shades open is perfectly usable, whereas it’s impossible with my TV. I did eventually take the whole setup downstairs, but not before I encountered issues with the projector’s systems.
Android and HDMI ARC Left Me Frustrated
The Vava Projector runs on Android 7.1 (not Android TV) , which sounds nice in theory but isn’t in practice. See, you won’t get the Google Play store on this device. That leaves you with a third-party store that doesn’t scream quality. I was surprised to find Netflix in that store, so I gave it a whirl.
The first problem I ran into was a mouse requirement for the Netflix app. Thankfully, you can pair your phone with the projector and use that as a mouse. But, when I got everything set up, Netflix didn’t work. I could get into my account, choose a profile, and browse through shows and movies. But two minutes after starting a stream, the app throws an error and shuts down. In the long run, I resorted to using a Roku stick that supports 4K HDR.
With a Roku stick, I don’t need the Android interface at all (save for accessing projector settings). Thankfully, you can set the system to boot directly to an HDMI source, but that led to the other problems I had in the living room. The Vava projector has three HDMI ports, with the third serving as an ARC port. That mirrors my TCL TV exactly, so I assumed I’d move everything over—Xbox One X to HDMI 1, PS4 to HDMI 2, Stereo Receiver to HDMI 3. I’d leave my Switch, NVIDIA SHIELD TV, and Wii U plugged into the stereo, and add the Roku stick.
But as soon as I did that, my stereo went crazy. It switched through every source over and over and over. I couldn’t watch anything. Only one thing solved the problem—unplugging everything from HDMI 1 and HDMI 2. Turning off HDMI-CEC options helped for a while, but the next time I turned on the projector, it would start up again until I toggled the setting. The only thing that stuck was skipping HDMI 1 and HDMI 2 on the projector.
It left me in a position of trying to run everything through HDMI 3 and my receiver, which was a pain. I had to give up on using the NVIDIA SHIELD TV and the Wii U, but at least HDMI-CEC flipped the source to the PlayStation or the Xbox when I turned them on. It’s not the best experience, but it works.
Gorgeous Colors and Gameplay
In my basement, none of that mattered. I don’t have a surround system down there, so I just used the projector’s built-in soundbar. I hooked up my Xbox One X and called it a day, as that gave me access to all my streaming services, a 4K HDR compatible system with Blu-Ray player, and gaming.
That was the real test: would it work in my strangely shaped basement? My goodness did it ever. I placed the projector on the floor (you can hang it, but I have to send the thing back), set up the screen, and then tried not to grow too attached (I failed).
I expected online games to be completely unplayable due to latency issues, but rounds of Rocket League were good enough. That’s surprising, because Rocket League is notoriously sensitive to lag, even more so than first-person shooters and fighting games. I could feel that it wasn’t quite right, and I’m sure others would call it unacceptable, but it was fine. But the real action is in anything that shows off the beautiful colors the Vava projector can manage. So, I loaded up Elite: Dangerous.
If you’re unfamiliar, Elite: Dangerous is somewhat like No Man’s Sky (E:D came first though). You have a spaceship, and you can roam the galaxy, taking jobs or exploring uncharted space. What’s great about the game is how dangerous it makes space feel. Space is trying, very hard, to kill you. You can (and probably will) die from dumb mistakes.
And, on a 100-inch screen, that feeling will shake you. You “warp” about space by hurtling yourself at stars. You come out right on top of a massive ball of death and pull away at the last second. If it’s the right kind of sun, you can scoop it for fuel. Every time I came out of Witch-Space, I flinched and panicked. It’s so good.
That’s the viewing experience in a nutshell. You feel like you’ve installed a theater in your home. The view is astounding in both its size and color capability. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about someone casting a shadow.
No Shadows, but Watch Out for the Laser
The Vava projector uses a laser system that’s so powerful it can project a 100-inch image from seven inches away. That’s fantastic for my basement because it meant the projector sat in front of all the people. If someone stood up, they didn’t cast a shadow on the screen. That’s not possible with most other projectors.
But that calls for a super-bright light; six thousand lumens, to be exact. And, for that reason, the projector comes with ample warnings. Do not stare into the laser. It can blind you. Thankfully, the projector also has sensors that let it know if someone is too close. Lean over the projector, and it will all but shut the laser off, and flash a warning on the screen.
That sounds annoying, but it’s a necessary inclusion. On one occasion, I happened to look towards the laser while I was off to the side of the projector. I had light spots in my eyes for a good hour. After that, I positioned my arcade machines to prevent that from happening again.
It’s something to keep in mind, and thankfully the fact that the projector can sit so close to the wall or projector screen should help prevent the issue in the first place.
I Want One—No Two!
Vava sent me the projector and screen on loan, and sadly I already had to send them back. Let me tell you something: it was super difficult to go back to my “puny” 55-inch TV. That sounds dumb, but I got used to the giant screen. Everything looked better, whether I was streaming Star Trek: Picard or playing a game of Forza: Horizon.
Now everything feels smaller and like I’m missing important details. The experience changed. It left me wanting two—one for my basement and one for my living room. In the basement, I’d set up a full theater room, complete with seats and all. The living room would be for gaming and regular TV watching.
That’s completely ridiculous, of course, so I’d settle for one in my living room. And, there’s only one thing stopping me from dropping $2,800 on a shiny new projector (plus more for a screen) right now—my wife.
I think the Vava projector is worth every penny. My wife doesn’t agree. To her, it doesn’t pass the “what else can I buy for that amount of money” test. And, she doesn’t like the hum the projector generates—something I barely noticed. Honestly, though, that’s a valid opinion. Given the high cost, you might feel that way, too. But you might see this marvelous wonder in person and side with me, especially when you consider the fact that LG’s Ultra-Short Throw laser projector goes for $6,000.
My wife and I make decisions together or course, so my dream of owning a 100-inch theater and gaming setup is dashed, for now. But I’m not giving up. I’ll continue making my case, and someday I will convince my wife that it’s worth the cost. It will be mine. Oh, yes, it will be.
Here’s What We Like
- Works even inches away from the wall.
- Gorgeous images and glorious color
- Integrated soundbar is a win for convenience
And What We Don't
- It's EXPENSIVE
- HDMI Arc didn't play well with receiver
- Hum noise may bother some people