JMGO N1 Ultra 4K Laser Projector Review: Impressive Picture but High Price – CNET

I am, as a general rule, extremely skeptical of product Kickstarters. In my opinion they fall broadly into one of two main categories, and neither instills much confidence. The first: a company looking for a way to get some early pre-review sales and easy marketing. The second: a startup company that realistically has no chance of ever shipping the product. 

There are exceptions, to be sure — not enough for me to preorder things, but occasionally a product makes its way through the process that is worthy of checking out. Like the JMGO N1 Ultra. This compact projector combines some impressive-looking specs with an interesting design. The entire projector can rotate and pivot, potentially making setup quick and easy.

Inside the JMGO is a three-laser light source, speakers co-designed with Dynaudio and streaming via Android TV 11. At $2,300 this projector is certainly not cheap, but it seems well made with lots of interesting features. It was, at the very least, worthy of a closer look.

4K Projector on a Gimbal: Up Close with the JMGO N1 Ultra

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Specifications: Spin me right ’round

The JMGO N1 Ultra at an angle on a blue background.

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="29"></p> <p>You can rotate the N1 Ultra 360 degrees, as long as you mind the cables. It can pivot up and down 135 degrees.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Geoffrey Morrison/CNET</span>
  • Native resolution: 3,820×2,160 pixels
  • HDR-compatible: Yes
  • 4K-compatible: Yes
  • 3D-compatible: Yes
  • Lumens spec: 4,000
  • Zoom: No
  • Lens shift: No, but the whole projector moves
  • Laser life: 30,000 hours

It’s worth pointing out that this thing is pretty tiny — it’s 8 inches high including the gimbal, 9.5 inches wide and 9.3 inches deep. Otherwise, the basic specs are in line with other 4K laser projectors including a light source that will last the life of the projector, HDR compatibility and an impressive brightness spec. At a claimed brightness of 4,000 lumens, this has the potential to be one of the brightest projectors we’ve ever tested. To skip ahead a little, I measured a more reasonable 1,614 lumens. Projectors basically never match their claimed spec, due to marketing creativity, and the fact we measure projectors in their most accurate color and color temperature mode. This measurement still puts the JMGO among the brightest projectors we’ve reviewed, and in line with its direct competitors.

There’s no zoom or lens shift, which isn’t great for a $2,300 projector. However, since the entire chassis moves that’s probably good enough for many situations. How much does it move? Quite a lot: It can pivot 135 degrees vertically and 360 degrees horizontally. I’m not sure in what situation you’d want or need to rotate the projector 360 degrees, but as long as you don’t have HDMI cables or headphones connected, you’re free to spin until your heart’s content. It’s a fidget spinner with Netflix, if you will. Conversely, the vertical range is such that if you wanted you could pivot the N1 straight up and project an image on the ceiling. I’m not sure what the verdict of such placement would be among the TVTooHigh crowd on Reddit, but I bet for kids during sleepovers it would elicit a plethora of giggles.

So that you’re not stuck with trapezoidal images when you’re angling the projector, there’s automatic keystone correction. That’s not something I recommend using if you’ve got the N1 Ultra placed permanently, if you can help it. But for more casual viewing it’s fine. Like some other projectors I’ve reviewed recently, the N1 Ultra also has automatic focus, which works quite quickly. In both types of automated image correction, you can adjust the end result manually via the menus. 

Right ’round, ’round, ’round

The rear of the JMGO N1 Ultra

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="28"></p> <p>Two HDMI inputs and a USB connection is all you&#8217;ll find on the back of the N1 Ultra. Note the power connection on the lower right. There&#8217;s a separate power brick.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Geoffrey Morrison/CNET</span>

Connections

  • HDMI inputs: 2 (1 with eARC)
  • USB port: 1
  • Audio output: 3.5mm headphone
  • Internet: Wi-Fi 6
  • Remote: Not backlit, Bluetooth

Like many modern projectors, there isn’t much in the way of inputs. That’s fine, considering there’s Android TV 11 built in, and one of the two HDMI connections has eARC. So if you want to stream internally you can or you can still set up the N1 Ultra in a more traditional projector/speaker setup.

The Android TV streaming interface is as polished here as it is everywhere else. Large icons for the channels you regularly watch, and some eerily precise recommendations for things you might want to check out. There is a USB connection on the back of the N1 Ultra, so you could add a streaming stick if you wanted, but that seems unnecessary.  

The two 10-watt speakers sound good for their power. Audio is clear, and they can play reasonably loud. Like all projector speakers, though, they’re limited by size and cabinet space. Ideally you’d pair the N1 Ultra with a soundbar or speaker system to better match the cinema-sized image.

Setup, if you’re on Android, is easy. Apple users will need a few more steps, and a Gmail account. There were a few oddities, however. There’s no true brightness control — the adjustment labeled “brightness” adjusts the laser intensity (meaning it only makes the whole image dimmer, like a backlight control). There’s no way to adjust the black level and this is especially odd given there is a way to adjust the white level, with a control correctly labeled “contrast.” There’s also saturation and hue, both of which are technically unnecessary. There is a bug with the Color Space control, as when it’s set to the “Auto” default, the colors are wildly inaccurate. Set it to “On” and they’re pretty spot-on correct. Don’t forget to turn off MEMC, aka the soap opera effect. You might need to turn it off several times, as if you make adjustments in the picture menu, it turns itself back on.

Picture quality comparisons

A closeup of the JMGO N1 Ultra's lens.

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>The sensor bar on the left houses a time-of-flight sensor for fast automatic focus.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Geoffrey Morrison/CNET</span>

The Nebula Cosmos Laser 4K is a direct competitor to the JMGO: They’re both 4K, laser lit and designed to be extra portable. The Nebula is about $100 cheaper. Meanwhile, the Optoma UHD38x is a more traditional, lamp-based home projector. Its specs are nonetheless similar, also boasting 4K resolution and a claimed 4,000 lumens. It’s a lot cheaper, though, at $1,449 and often even less (about $1,100 street). I connected all three projectors to a 1×4 distribution amplifier, and viewed them side-by-side-by-side on a 1.0 gain screen. 

As you’d expect, looking at the specifications, these three projectors are far more alike than different. The JMGO seems the brightest of the three, even though it has roughly the same measured brightness as the Nebula and the Optoma is actually a little brighter. This is likely due to the JMGO’s excellent contrast ratio. The image is just punchier. The other two still look decent, but are noticeably flatter. I measured an average contrast ratio from the N1 Ultra of around 1,278:1, which is twice what the Nebula or Optoma could manage. That’s also in the neighborhood of several of the best PJ performers I’ve tested recently. 

A side view of the JMGO N1 Ultra on a blue background.

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="30"></p> <p>The N1 Ultra has 2 10-watt speakers co-designed by Dynaudio. They sound OK, but like all projectors, you&#8217;re better off pairing them with a larger speaker system or soundbar.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Geoffrey Morrison/CNET</span>

Color-wise, the Optoma looks a little more accurate. Caucasian skin tones, grass, sky, all look a little more realistic. It’s fairly close, though, and the JMGO handles the wider colors of HDR better. The Nebula lags a little bit behind the others in this aspect. In general, HDR caused the Optoma to stumble a bit, with visible banding issues in the highlights that neither the JMGO nor the Nebula had. 

Overall the image from the Optoma looks smoother and less processed than the JMGO, even with the latter’s extensive image “enhancement” features turned off. For what it’s worth, I tried these and didn’t find any that I thought made the image better. I could see some people liking the results, though, so to each their own. 

The thin JMGO N1 Ultra remote on a green background.

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="29"></p> <p>The remote is easy to use, connects via Bluetooth, but isn&#8217;t backlit.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Geoffrey Morrison/CNET</span>

There was some speckle with the JMGO, and perhaps that contributed to the Optoma looking smoother. Speckle is visual noise, caused by the laser light source, which creates a slightly sparkly “texture” to the image. Apparently JMGO tried to minimize this artifact, but it’s still there. I didn’t find it distracting, and at 10-plus feet away it’s barely noticeable. Next to the lamp-based Optoma, though, it was visible and was one of the few situations where this minor issue stood out.

Cost aside, the JMGO looked the best of the three. Great contrast, great color and super bright. It wasn’t 60% better than the Optoma, however, as its price would suggest. More like 15%. 

A projector by any other name

A front view of the JMGO N1 Ultra projector on a blue background.

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>Not shown: the power cable and large power adapter brick.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Geoffrey Morrison/CNET</span>

The JMGO N1 Ultra is a very good projector. Let’s get that part out of the way first. Bright and colorful with a contrast ratio that’s well above average. The price, however, gives me pause. Over the last few years there’s been a trend of companies selling projectors that are trying very, very hard not to be projectors. They appear to “solve” some issue with traditional projectors by seeming more portable, or easier to install, or some combination. Except, unless you’re going really high-end, all projectors are portable. And if you don’t care about a perfectly rectangular image, or don’t mind correcting it using keystone, then they’re all easy to install too. Just put the projector on a table. I guess the JMGO’s ability to spin and pivot makes it a little easier in some fringe situations, but honestly, how often are you really spinning and pivoting? 

It makes me think this was specifically designed for only occasional, and therefore temporary, use. Use for a short time in different rooms, in different situations, with different setups. If so, it is really expensive. If this isn’t something you’re watching every day, $2,300 is a lot of money and the performance is overkill. Or to put it another way, if you’re interested in easy setup for noncritical viewing, there are far cheaper options since the performance isn’t necessary. Alternatively, if you’re interested in the performance of the N1 Ultra, and that’s fair as it does perform quite well, then it’s still several hundred dollars more expensive than designs that don’t spin and pivot, two features you’ll rarely need. 

I’m all for new companies trying something different with projectors. It’s a far more stagnant market than TVs. It’s also dominated, in the home, by basically three companies. For JMGO to do this well, and get so much right, so early in its history, is commendable. I’d be interested to see what it could do aiming for the same price, but with a more traditional chassis (ideally with a zoom!). Or, keep the innards the same and ditch the pivot, reducing the price.

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