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Hisense PL1 review: Go big on your home cinema for less

Our Rating :
£1,455.24 from
Price when reviewed : 1,499
inc VAT

While it can’t quite match the best one-box 4K home cinema projectors, the PL1 gets most of the way there at a much more affordable price

Pros

  • Crisp and vibrant 4K images
  • Hassle-free VIDAA UI
  • Decent stereo sound

Cons

  • Automatic setup isn’t perfect
  • Only two HDMI sockets

Having caused a stir with the X1-Pro earlier this year, Hisense is back with another 4K laser projector boasting built-in streaming and an integrated soundbar – the Hisense PL1.

We love the X1-Pro – it’s a brilliant, convenient ultra-short throw 4K projector capable of matching rival products twice the price – but at nearly £2,500, it’s not what you might call cheap. And while the Hisense PL1 isn’t in budget projector territory either, it’s at the lower end of mid-range with a price tag of £1,499.

It can’t quite hit the same awesome levels of 4K image quality of the PX1-Pro, but it gets more than close enough given the price. If you want to go bigger than a traditional big-screen TV, you’re limited in space and don’t have a £2,000-plus budget, the PL1 is a real contender. 

Hisense PL1 review: What do you get for the money?

A 4K projector with an ultra-short 0.25:1 throw ratio, capable of projecting an 80 to 120in image onto a screen from a distance of just 9 to 16.5in away. It uses Hisense’s X-Fusion light technology with a peak brightness of 2100 ANSI Lumens and a lifespan of over 25,000 hours and supports HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision.

As with most cheaper 4K projectors, the PL1 uses pixel-shifting tech to create a 4K image from a native 1080p resolution, but the effect is convincing enough that, for most viewers in most conditions, there’s going to be no noticeable difference. The projector also incorporates streaming through Hisense’s established VIDAA UI, along with a built-in Dolby Atmos audio system, using two 15W speakers to simulate surround sound.

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Hisense PL1 review: What does it do well?

As with other ultra-short throw projectors, the PL1 wins when it comes to sheer convenience. Place it on a surface below a screen and you have a sort of halfway house between a projector and the more traditional TV experience, with a bigger screen than mainstream LED or OLED sets, but without any concerns around throw distance or where you’re going to place the unit.

Setup is easy, with VIDAA making short work of connecting to the network and adding all your favourite TV apps, and Hisense’s smart TV experience is evident in how slick and trouble-free its UI is to use. Apps load quickly, Netflix just works, and you have the full range of major UK streaming sources available from a single home screen. Configuration and fine-tuning of the image isn’t all pain-free, as we’ll see later, but the automated settings handle most of the hard graft.

Beyond the built-in services, you have two HDMI 2.1 ports for connecting consoles and Blu-ray players, along with RJ-45, headphones and 3.5mm line-out sockets, plus a USB Type-A port and an  SP/DIF optical out. One HDMI port supports ARC and both support ALLM for console/PC gaming, though there’s a hard 60fps limit on refresh rates, so you’ll get no 120fps gaming goodness here.

Now, image quality isn’t quite in the same superstar league as the PX1-Pro or XGIMI’s more conventional Horizon Ultra projector. You don’t get the same jaw-dropping levels of definition or clarity, while colours aren’t quite as rich or as nuanced. Where the PX1-Pro can exceed the DCI-P3 gamut to 129%, our tests found that the PL1 can only display 79%. The Horizon Ultra can do 92.4% and go slightly brighter.

Yet those numbers don’t tell the whole story. When watching movies and blockbuster TV shows on Amazon Prime and Disney, the PL1 is still a knockout.

Stick to the Cinema Light and Dark modes or engage Filmmaker mode, and colours are nicely saturated without looking unnatural, while the rendering of light, shade and texture is frequently stunning. There’s plenty of pop when watching Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse or the neon-lit action scenes of John Wick 4, but also the subtlety and tone to make the most of prestige dramas and nature documentaries. Planet Earth III in UHD on iPlayer is an absolute showstopper on the big screen here. Long tracking shots and fast motion are also handled well, particularly if you turn down any motion compensation. It’s a great performance for a short-throw projector at this price.

And while no projector is going to give you the same experience of HDR as a high-end OLED or mini-LED TV, the PL1 does its damnedest. Blacks look close to black, highlights zing and you don’t lose all detail in dark or gloomy scenes. What’s more, games look fantastic, with no significant lag once you switch to Game mode. I spent an hour or so cheerfully mopping up demons in Doom Eternal before a quick spin in Forza Motorsports, and both were about as exciting and immersive as you could wish for. Again, an impressive result.

On the audio side, the PL1 doesn’t pull off any miracles. The bass isn’t as warm or as articulate as on one of the best soundbars, and you won’t always be fooled into thinking that effects are coming from above or behind you, though there were a few moments in the opening scene of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World that came surprisingly close. There’s plenty of power on offer, while dialogue comes through clearly and effects are nicely spread across a stereo soundstage. I had a great time playing games and watching movies without feeling that I needed to connect the PL1 to a discrete audio system.

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Hisense PL1 review: What could it do better?

Where the likes of XGIMI, Anker and Yaber are doing great things with real-time automatic focus and geometry adjustments, getting the best out of the PL1 takes a bit more work. The automatic setup routine isn’t too onerous, however.

You first set up the projector and the screen, making sure the frame sits within a hatched area in the projected image, then take a photo of the screen on your camera and transfer it over Wi-FI to the projector for processing and adjustment. However, it’s sometimes tricky to get a photo the projector’s happy with – particularly if you have dangling light fittings in the frame – and the results need a little manual tuning afterwards to get the focus and the corners just so. This isn’t a huge issue if you have the projector permanently set up, but it can be more annoying if you use it with a temporary screen or in different rooms.

While we’re on the subject of the screen, Hisense recommends that you use an ALR (Ambient Light Rejecting) screen in order to get the best results. In fact, the screen settings assume that you have one, with no setting for another type of screen. These generally cost upwards of £500, and for a £1,500 projector that’s quite a tough sell. I’d say it’s a nice-to-have rather than a must-have, as performance is so good anyway, but if you’re looking to eke out every drop of colour, definition and contrast, then you might want to find the extra cash.

Finally, while the PL1 can work as a TV replacement, it’s not going to give you the same performance if you add daylight and bright ambient light into the mix. The image is bright enough to be visible, but you won’t get the colour or the contrast you might want for daytime viewing with the curtains open. Another HDMI port wouldn’t have hurt either, especially when most traditional smart TVs now pack in three or four.

Hisense PL1 review: Should you buy one?

When the Hisense PL1 gives you much of the image and audio performance of the stellar PX1-Pro for so much less, it’s an easy 4K projector to recommend. Picture quality is impressive across films, TV and games, the streaming features are simple to use and comprehensive, and the sound is more than good enough for everyday viewing. What’s more, the laser tech should ensure you’ll get a bright, clean image for many years to come.

The XGIMI Horizon Ultra is similarly priced and has a slight edge on clarity and audio quality, but it also needs more space and might not work so well in a permanent setup. Meanwhile, every other serious rival comes with a much more fearsome price tag. Factor in the convenience and performance, and the PL1 looks even more like an unmissable ultra-short-throw bargain.

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