LG CineBeam PH30N review: Palm-size projector shines softly – CNET

The LG PH30N is a tiny, somewhat weird, portable projector. You could hold it in your hand and nearly put it in your pocket. That tiny size lets you create images in places where other projectors don’t fit — a second “screen” on your desk, a TV show on the ceiling, YouTube recipe videos in the kitchen. There’s even an internal battery. What it doesn’t have, unlike some portable PJ competitors, is internal apps. Instead, you need to connect a streaming stick or run HDMI from somewhere. 

Like

  • Absolutely tiny
  • 720p resolution
  • Built-in battery

Don’t Like

  • Not very bright
  • Power brick is nearly half the size of the projector.

The PH30N ends up being a rather odd product that’s tough for me to wholeheartedly recommend. It doesn’t perform well enough to outshine the better portable projectors like the Anker Nebular Mars II Pro or ViewSonic M2, nor is it as easy to use. Overall it’s not bad and I liked it better overall than the (slightly cheaper, waaaay cuter) BenQ GV1, but in both cases my advice is to spend a little more for a much better projector. If your budget has a hard cap or you just want something really small, however, you could definitely do worse than the PH30N.

Basic specs

  • Native resolution: 1,280×720 pixels
  • HDR-compatible: No
  • 4K-compatible: No
  • 3D-compatible: No
  • Lumens spec: 250 ANSI
  • Zoom: None
  • Lens shift: None
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): Up to 30,000 hrs

The PH30N is HD, at 1,280×720, so it can create a fairly large image before you start seeing pixels. Not nearly as big as a 1080p or 4K projector, of course, but given its size and price, 720p is pretty good. The BenQ GV1, for example, is close in price and actually larger, but only 480p.

There’s not a lot of light here, though. Rated at 250 lumens, I measured 143 once it was set to produce a reasonable color temperature. That’s quite dim, and in its most extreme battery-saving mode, it’s less than half that bright. Even a cheap traditional projector would be able to put out 10 times that amount of light.

There’s no lens shift or zoom. A manual focus lever works well enough.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Connectivity and convenience

  • HDMI inputs: 1
  • PC input: None
  • USB port: 1 (0.5A power)
  • Audio input and output: 3.5mm output (headphones)
  • Digital audio output: None
  • Wi-Fi: None
  • Miracast: Yes
  • Remote: Not backlit

The lack of internal apps is surprising. You’d think LG would have a billion leftover “smart TV” chips sitting in a container somewhere they could have used. Instead, you’ve got a sort of “BYOStreaming” solution that ends up being oddly frustrating for something that’s designed to be so portable. 

The alternative is to connect a streaming stick, which works with some caveats. There’s a built-in USB port so you can power the stick using the LG’s internal battery and remain wireless, but it’s only rated at 0.5-amp — less than most streaming sticks ask for. The Roku Streaming Stick Plus I plugged in warned of low power but loaded eventually and worked fine.

You should be able to mirror your laptop or smartphone screen via the projector, but this too proved difficult. I was able to get my laptop’s screen mirrored, but not my Pixel 4. LG’s support page says LG phones are supported, and other phones via an app — but the link no longer works. Searching through LG’s Android apps, the LG TV app seems to support screen sharing, but wasn’t able to find the projector.

The internal speaker isn’t very loud, which makes sense as it’s only rated for 1 watt. There is a headphone output, so you can connect a small speaker or, of course, headphones. There’s also Bluetooth, and conveniently there’s an AV Sync adjustment to help with lip-sync issues.

The internal battery is rated by LG for 2 hours, though this is in its dimmest mode. Increase the brightness and connect a streaming stick running off the USB and you’re unlikely to get a full movie out of it. The power supply is nearly half the size of the projector itself, and comes with a thick cable, so together they end up being surprisingly bulky for something that’s supposed to be portable.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Picture quality comparisons

I connected the Anker and the LG to a Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier and viewed all on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen. I tried the same setup with the GV1 but, as detailed in that review, I ran into some problems.

Despite measuring the same, visually the LG seems brighter than the GV1. I imagine this has to do with greater pixel density for the same size image. There’s just more “black” in the GV1’s image due to the greater distance between its pixels. This isn’t to say the PH30N is bright — far from it. It’s functional, let’s call it that. The Anker, on the other hand, is much brighter. Technically it’s a little more than twice as bright, but that’s enough to subjectively seem a lot brighter.

Contrast ratio measures roughly the same across all three, but again, because the Anker is so much brighter, it’s more watchable. After I adjusted the PH30N’s contrast and brightness however, it ended up looking like it had a better contrast ratio than the Anker or GV1, which lack even those basic controls. That’s a point in the LG’s favor for people who want to take the time to adjust it (here’s how). 

Color and color temperature are not bad, for the price. The image is fairly cool (blue), even in the Warm setting. Colors are all a little off from accurate, but they’re still closer than many more-expensive projectors I’ve tested. They’re not quite as “off” as the Anker, but not as close as the BenQ’s. What this means in practice is that the entire image looks a touch artificial, but not egregiously. Reds, especially, look rather electric crimson. Though again, for the price and size, it’s not terrible.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

What is an otherwise watchable image, for the price, is letdown in one notable way: motion smoothing. A mild soap opera effect is present, and as far as I can tell, you can’t turn it off. So everything looks a bit too smooth; movies look a bit too much like video. Some people don’t mind this processing, some even like it, but if you’re like me and hate it, this is nearly a deal-breaker. I say nearly because, well, it’s a projector for under $400, and I doubt most people will be doing significant critical viewing with it. So unless SOE drives you bonkers, it’s probably fine.

A case could be made for a gaming setup with the PH30N and any random wall. The input lag is 47.1ms, which isn’t great but probably fine for most nonhardcore gamers.

There is one other comparison worth mentioning: the Optoma HD146X. It wasn’t included in this direct comparison as it’s not as “portable” as these, but at $550 it’s in the ballpark price-wise. It’s more than twice as bright as the Anker, can easily fill a 100-inch screen, and if you don’t mind slightly worse color accuracy, can be exceptionally bright. I mention this for anyone looking for a projector for occasional movie nights that doesn’t need something battery powered. There are better-looking options for similar money if you ditch the battery. 

Check out some other options in our Best Projectors for 2020 guide.

Conclusion: Tiny niche

While writing up this review, I did find an odd use for which the LG worked perfectly. I had it set on the edge of my desk, shining on the wall beside and behind my monitor. The image was about the size of my monitor, and fairly bright. Running Netflix proved to be a great distraction and slowed down the review process considerably, but I could imagine a situation where a setup like this, where the PH30N’s tiny size lets it fit in someplace a larger projector couldn’t, to create a small but watchable image, perhaps even functioning as a secondary computer screen.

But beyond that, the LG PH30N struggles to find a suitable niche. It’s a highly portable projector, but you’d need to be very careful to be able to get a full movie out of the battery. It’s hard to get content on it, and connecting a streaming stick drains the battery even faster. If you do plug it in, you’ve kind of eliminated the whole point of a battery-powered projector. Spending a bit more, on the Mars II Pro for example, gets you a much brighter image, with built-in apps and much louder speakers. 

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