What is an ultra-short-throw projector, and why would you want one?
An ultra-short-throw projector or UST is one that needs very little space between it and the projection surface to cast a large format image. This is achieved via ultra-wide lenses and light source and lens arrangement that can be quite challenging to pull off. Generally a projector needs to have a throw ratio of less than 0.4:1 to qualify as UST.
This kind of setup is desirable for a number of reasons. First, there is the question of space. With a traditional projector, you need a pretty big room to get a decent size image. You can use this nifty calculator to get a rough idea. Most traditional projectors tend to have a 2:1 throw ratio – you need to have the projector about 5 meters away from a surface to get a 100-inch image. With its 0.23:1 ratio, the Formovie THEATER can get an 80-inch image while placed just 14 centimeters away from the projection surface and a 150-inch one at 49 centimeters.
That allows you to have the projector in front of you and hence make better use of any onboard speaker system it might have while also keeping the noise from its cooling system as far away as possible.
Also, a UST projector is typically meant to cast up from a surface, like a table or a media cabinet, whereas you typically want to mount a standard projector on the ceiling to get the best image with the least amount of keystone correction. That means installation is normally far easier.
Formovie THEATER introduction
Formovie might not be a household name in western markets, but the brand is actually well-established and has quite the pedigree. Formovie is a joint venture between Xiaomi, which most of you are probably familiar with, and APPOTRONICS – a world-leading laser display technology company with its own patents and R&D and over 90% market share in the laser cinema space. So we are really talking some big players here.
The Formovie THEATER projector we are looking at today is an exciting high-end consumer-grade unit. Its formal claim to fame is being the world’s first and only Dolby Vision & Atmos UST projector. But there is plenty to like about it beyond that – 4K native resolution and 2,800 ANSI lumens of brightness. It offers ALDP (Advanced Laser Phosphor Display) 4.0 RGB+ triple laser technology – one of the most advanced current fluorescent laser technologies and great color accuracy of 107% REC.2020 with broad HDR standards support.
FENGMI R1 Nano specs at a glance:
- Dimensions: 550×349.2×107.5mm, 9.8kg.
- Optical parameters: ALDP 4.0 RGB+ triple laser (Advanced Laser Phosphor Display) UST (ultra short throw) DLP projector; 4K (UHD) optical resolution (Pixel Shifting); 3000:1 contrast ratio.
- Projection parameters: 2800 ANSI lumens (advertised); 20,000 hours light source life (advertised); 80~150-inch screen diagonal; 0.23:1 throw ratio; 0.47″DMD display chip; 107% Rec.2020 color space; 60 Hz.
- Optical adjustment: Automatic software electric focus; Omnidirectional manual keystone correction (8-point correction) or 4-point keystone correction.
- Audio: Two full-range 15W and two tweeters 15W Hi-Fi speakers by Bowers and Wilkins; Audio output via 3.5mm jack (stereo) and multichannel ARC over HDMI and optical S/PDIF; Dolby Audio, Dolby Audio, DTS/X and DTS-HD audio decoding.
- Internals: MediaTek MT9629 (4xCortex-A55 @ 1.5 GHz); Mali-G52 2EE MC1 GPU ; 2GB of RAM; 32GB storage.
- Hardware video decoder: Up to 4K video with 10bit color depth support; AV1, AVS2, HEVC, VP9, H.264, SHVC 4K60@10bit; HDR (Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG decoding); Widevine L1 (HD and greater streaming);
- I/O: Internal power supply with AC 110-240V support; 2xUSB 2.0 Type-A; 3xHDMI 2.1 (full-sized with eARC support on 1 port); 1×3.5mm stereo audio output jack; S/PDIF optical multi-channel audio output; 1xRG45 Lan port; Far-field microphone setup for voice assistant.
- Wireless connectivity: Dual-band Wi-Fi 6; Bluetooth 5.0.
- Software: Android TV 11 with Google services; Built-in Chromecast support and Google voice assistant.
- Other features: Far-field voice control; Remote control in box; Wireless projection support (Chromecast); MEMC; Speckle elimination; Automatic low latency mode for gaming.
The Formovie THEATER also has an impressive quad 15W speaker system at its disposal with sound tuned by Bowers & Wilkins. Last, but not least, it runs Android TV 11 on a MediaTek MT9629 chipset with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The Formovie THEATER is also rich in I/O with far-field microphones for the built-in Google Assistant. Also, three HDMI 2.1 ports, two USB 2.0 ones, an RG45 lan port, 3.5mm audio jack and S/PDIF optical out.
The Formovie THEATER arrived in a massive cardboard box, which contained a slightly smaller but still massive product box within. The inner box is made of thick cardboard and has a lot of precision-cut compression foam on the inside, which is great for protecting the unit in transport. It also features a carrying handle on the outside, making it perfect for transporting the Formovie THEATER. We wouldn’t necessarily suggest lugging around the massive projector too often, but if you plan to definitely keep the box around.
The contents include the projector itself and the proprietary remote. The latter doesn’t even come with batteries, which is odd but not a major issue. Also in the box – a standard three-prong AC power supply cable like what you would find on a two-piece laptop charger. It plugs directly into the back of the Formovie THEATER since its power converter is built in. That means less cable clutter, which we always appreciate. The only other thing in the box is a user manual and some other documentation.
Hardware, ports and remote
Measuring 550×349.2×107.5mm and tipping the scale at 9.8kg, the Formovie THEATER is formidable. The projector itself feels very reassuringly dense and stays firmly in place. It won’t just skit around if you accidentally bump it or the table you’ve placed it on.
We were happy to find out that the Formovie THEATER has height-adjustable feet on the bottom side. That means that you don’t need to rely just on keystone corrections. It is always best to physically level and position a projector as best as possible before applying any other image fixes since those tend to take away from quality and often lead to some compromises.
In terms of looks, we would probably describe the Formovie THEATER as rocking a traditional industrial design. It doesn’t feel overly modern nor deliberately retro and should fit in just fine as part of any media cabinet.
The bulk of the unit is made of metal with a nice matte finish that is not prone to smudges or scratches. The uniform shell is interrupted by grilles on either side of the unit. There is at least one fan inside the Formovie THEATER. Fan noise is very low and pretty much inaudible even with prolonged use. And this being an ultra-short throw projector, the Formovie THEATER is meant to sit far away from you. Any noise that the fans do make gets easily drowned out by the excellent audio setup.
The Formovie THEATER has a total of four speakers – two full-range ones and two tweeters. We believe that all four are positioned on the front of the unit, behind the soft fabric mesh. Though, some of the sound might also be directed sideways into the two circular holes on either side of the projector. These are also covered with mesh.
The Formovie THEATER sounds truly great in person. Plenty of bass is available, and the sound stage is rich and full. Even the directionality of Dolby Atmos content is not half bad and pretty convincing.
The top of the unit looks very slick, with just a single big slit for the business end of the optics and projection and a couple of sensors. Unfortunately, there is no protection available against dust and other contaminants. We would have appreciated a flap of some sort to keep the up-facing optics clean when not in use. The power button for the unit is also positioned on the top.
All of the ports on the Formovie THEATER are found around back, which is great for cable management if not best convenience. A front-facing USB port would have been appreciated. With three whole HDMI ports, you can successfully use the Formovie THEATER as the central hub of your multimedia setup, though with some limitations. Just one of the ports supports eARC (HDMI 3), which is fine in our books. We got it to work nicely with a Samsung home theater setup for multichannel audio output.
However the Formovie THEATER lacks CEC, which meant that we still had to control the volume of our surround sound with its own remote control – an annoying omission. We were also kind of perplexed as to why the HDMI ports are version 2.1. Not that we are complaining about getting recent tech standards, but the fact is that being limited to 4K@60Hz, the Formovie THEATER can’t benefit from the extra bandwidth of the HDMI 2.1 standard.
The two USB-A ports available on the Formovie THEATER are both USB 2.0, which means a theoretical speed cap of 480Mbps. Seeing how you are most likely to attach an external hard drive or SSD to said ports and consume multimedia off of it, USB 2.0 speeds are perfectly adequate, even for modern 4K content.
Both the LAN port and S/PDIF optical audio output are great to see and offer added flexibility in the case of the latter and better stability for the former. The 3.5mm audio jack is also welcome, even though it would definitely be our last choice for outputting audio from the Formovie THEATER.
The remote control for the Formovie THEATER is fairly basic, but it works great for navigating the Android TV OS. You get a YouTube shortcut, which is convenient and a button to trigger the Google voice assistant. It is important to note that no microphone is built into the remote. Instead, your voice will be picked up by the far-field microphones on the projector itself.
Why is ALPD the next major step?
Let’s get some basics down for anyone not intimately familiar with current popular projector tech. In very simple terms, there are a couple of main ways to generate the light needed to project an image. The simpler solution of old is using a bulb of some sort. The most common technology out there is based on Metal halide and UHP (Ultra High Performance) lamps – a technology dating back to the 1960s. These types of projectors frequently require maintenance on things like filters, and the lamp has an average life expectancy of around 3,000 hours. An alternative to these lamps is using an LED light source, which lasts significantly longer – around 20,000 hours. And then there is the best currently available light source option – a laser.
Most projectors out there tend to be marketed as DLP, LED, LCD or Laser, like the Formovie THEATER. Barring some exceptions, most projectors simply branded DLP are lamp-based, require filters and have a light span of around 2,000 – 3,000 hours. DLP itself stands for Digital Light Processing – a chip that uses tiny microscopic mirrors and a spinning color wheel to create an image. DLP chips are also used in other projector types, notably Laser ones.
A projector marketed as LED is typically a DLP projector that swaps the lamp for an LED light source that should last around 20,000 hours, consumes a lot less power and has virtually zero maintenance. It is, on average dimmer than an LCD or DLP projector but also much smaller enabling things like pico projectors.
On the other hand, LCD projectors tend to require constant filter maintenance. They do not have a DLP chip, hence fewer or no moving parts. On average, they are more budget-friendly due to their simpler one-chip implementation, though usually at the expense of image contrast. You can get three-chip LCD projectors that address some of those issues but are also more expensive as some sort of middle ground. LCD units tend to offer a very sharp image but sub-par contrast.
The Formovie THEATER is an ALDP projector, which stands for Advanced Laser Phosphor Display, which is arguably the most advanced fluorescent laser technology. Laser projection basically has all of the benefits of LED projection – the light source is compact and energy efficient and allows for easier non-standard optical angles, which is precisely what the ultra-short-throw optics on the Formovie THEATER are.
You also get the benefits of virtually zero maintenance and around 20,000 hours of life expectancy for the light source. One of the major benefits of laser projection over LED is the availability of significantly brighter light output (theoretically up to 30,000 lumens).
ALPD has been through a few interesting iterations through the years, and the Formovie THEATER uses the latest (we know of) version of the technology. All versions share the core principle of having a laser as the primary light source, usually a blue laser, which then shines onto a yellow phosphor-coated spinning wheel, exciting the phosphor-producing yellow light.
In its simplest version, the yellow light is then separated using dichroic coatings to create red and green light, while the blue light component directly passes through a diffusion segment in the phosphor wheel. The separated red, green, and blue colors are then sent to an imaging surface like a DLP chip, which in turn sends the light through a lens and onto the projection surface.
Laser projectors are typically available in either single-laser or three-laser varieties like the ALPD 4.0 Formovie THEATER. In a single laser projector, all of the primary colors need to be derived by separating them out of a single laser beam with a color wheel. This has certain disadvantages, like blue tinting and occasionally a color rainbow effect on fast-moving images. Also, the color wheel itself is frequently prone to producing a high-pitched whine. These are all problems a three-laser ALPD 4.0 projector doesn’t have since it has all of the primary colors as direct laser light sources. This technology also gives you the benefit of richer, deeper colors and wider color space coverage.
Projection performance, features and settings
The Formovie THEATER definitely lives up to the ultra-short-throw classification. The first impression can be quite striking if you haven’t experienced one of those before. If you push the projector right up against a wall or other surface, you can end up with an image as small as 40 inches or so in diagonal. With a ratio of 0.23:1, you only need 14cm from the wall to get an 80-inch picture, 33cm for a 120-inch and at 49cm away from the wall, you can get 150 inches of display from the Formovie THEATER. That’s quite impressive and generally means that you can almost always have your projector as far away from where you are sitting as possible, which is great for preventing noise pollution. Not that the Formovie THEATER generates a lot of that.
Another benefit of having the projector between you and the screen is that sound can come from a natural direction. As we already mentioned, the total of four 15W speakers on the Formovie THEATER offer rich sound with practically no distortion, even at 100% loudness.
On to image quality and starting with brightness. The Formovie THEATER is bright enough to use in a dim room and really shines in complete darkness. It is only usable at very small screen diagonals during the day. If you invest in a projection screen the perceived brightness would significantly increase making it usable in brighter environments.
The advertised brightness figure of 2800 ANSI lumens sounds about right since the Formovie THEATER can even get unpleasant to look at during the night. We don’t have the proper equipment to test the exact brightness output, but it clearly has enough of it to throw around.
The Formovie THEATER has a few settings related to brightness. There are three separate brightness modes. These are “Office Mode”, “Viewing Mode” and “Night Mode” with decreasing levels of brightness. As one would expect, Night Mode generally gets you the best possible colors since these are not skewed to boost brightness and legibility.
The Formovie THEATER has outstanding overall image quality. Colors are vivid, and contrast is great. It can use some tuning, but it can impress even with its out-of-the-box settings. Black levels are some of the best in class.
The 4K native resolution noticeably helps with sharpness. Once warmed up to proper operating temperature and focused properly, the THEATER is so sharp that you can discern individual pixels. HDR performance is a true highlight with excellent tone mapping and contrast.
The Formovie THEATER has a number of pre-set color profiles and thankfully there’s also a Custom profile that lets you adjust individual parameters as you see fit.
Video options are really in-depth on the unit. These can be set on a per display-mode and input basis, so you can really dial things in the way you like them. If you are like us and want to get the purest image experience possible with the least amount of post-processing and input latency, you will probably want to turn most of these options off. Especially things like noise reduction and MEMC.
The Formovie THEATER offers pretty convenient focus and keystone correction menus. These are two separate interfaces, though they do overlap somewhat in their functionality. The latter can make finer adjustments on a corner-per-corner basis. There are simpler keystone corrections available as well.
The Formovie THEATER can also be configured to project an upside-down image or do back-projection if your setup requires it.
Naturally, we tried hooking up the Formovie THEATER to a few different devices. A PC at 4K works really well as there’s plenty of resolution to read fine text. It works better if you don’t have chroma subsampling on, and you probably want to enable YCbCr color mode on the PC. You can quickly change image settings for the HDMI port from a convenient context menu on the projector remote, including things like CEC support and color and display modes.
We tried gaming as well. The Formovie THEATER has a dedicated Game mode, and it does well to lower input latency to around 40ms, which is good enough for casual gaming. We tried a PC, a Nintendo Switch, and a Valve Steam Deck. All worked solidly.
Optical resolution works a bit differently compared to traditional monitors and is generally more forgiving to lower-resolution inputs. Lowering the resolution down to 1080p still resulted in a pretty sharp picture while relying solely on the upscaling of the projector itself. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend a “THEATER ” product for gaming, this allows it to pull double duty.
Sound output from the onboard speaker system is rich and full. Unsurprisingly, given that Bowers and Wilkins tuned it. Mids like voices and dialogue come out very clean and audible. Highs are also sharp and not distorted in any noticeable way, even at high volumes. There is even a surprising amount of bass. Nothing earth-rumbling, naturally, but more than plenty for a casual movie experience.
Moving on to sound settings, there aren’t nearly as many settings available as for video output. You can toggle Dolby Audio on and off, as well as a volume leveler and sound virtualizer on the internal speaker setup.
There are settings for audio desync as well, but those are most likely to be useful with an external speaker setup. The Formovie THEATER has a 3.5mm jack for basic stereo output, TOSLINK (S/PDIF) and eARC support on one of its HDMI ports. There is no shortage of audio output options.
Unlike the Formovie/FENGMI R1 Nano we recently reviewed the Formovie THEATER unit we received does not run a proprietary FengOS or anything of the sort. Instead, it has a clean install of Android TV version 11. That’s technically not the latest version of Google’s OS, but Android TV 12 is still technically not shipping, so you are getting a current software experience for all intents and purposes.
If you’ve seen Android TV before, you’ll feel at home here. The main UI is very clean and relies on an interface of rows Google calls channels. There are some general ones, but also ones that surface content from third-party apps installed on the device. There is a simple app drawer beyond that, a simple notification interface, an input selector and the settings we already went over in the previous section. Clean and straightforward.
There are a lot fewer baked-in features and apps here than on FengOS, which is both a good and a bad thing. Some things are noticeably missing, like a proper file manager and a default video player app. On the plus side, however, our Formovie THEATER unit has Google Play Services, including the Google Play store. The latter is a version specifically tailored to Android TV and with a limited selection of apps. However, you can find great options here to cover all the basics, like players, file managers and the like.
Unless you plan on playing all your content back from a USB-attached storage device, the most important bit of information regarding the software experience on the Formovie THEATER is how well it handles streaming services.
In no particular order, YouTube works great. The app came pre-installed on the projector and is more than happy to serve up 4K@60fps HDR content. It even triggers the appropriate HDR video mode on the projector, which is great to see.
Disney+ works just fine after installing from the Play Store. The same goes for HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video. We have no way of verifying what actual resolution any of these services is streaming in on the Formovie THEATER, though.
If you want to get your hands a bit dirty and start a personal movie collection of your own, then our first suggestion would be Plex. It worked great on the Formovie THEATER after fetching the app from the Play Store. We managed to play some high-bitrate 4K HDR content with both HDR and surround sound working flawlessly.
Netflix is the one major and notable omission on the Formovie THEATER. For whatever reason, the Android TV version from the Play Store refuses to run at all. Sideloading a normal Android APK does work with busted UI navigation and only access to SD quality streams.
For this reason alone, we would probably suggest picking up some external streaming stick or box with better software support to use with the Formovie THEATER. If you don’t care about Netflix, though, its Android TV install is actually very clean, usable and amazingly snappy and responsive.
Video playback capabilities and performance
Speaking of Netflix, its insistence on only providing SD stream quality, while not unexpected, was a bit perplexing since Netflix claims that the Formovie THEATER only has Widevine L3 DRM. In reality, it has the highest possible L1 certification, which should allow for HD and greater streaming. The mismatch probably stems from lack of official Netflix support, so the app fails to recognize it properly.
The Formovie THEATER has a MediaTek MT9629 chipset powering its Android TV smarts with 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of onboard storage. The chip has a total of four ARM Cortex-A55 CPU cores clocked at up to 1.5GHz and a Mali-G52 2EE MC1 GPU. You shouldn’t bank on doing any gaming on the Formovie THEATER. Just for fun, we ran a few traditional benchmarks. It scored 364 points on the Geekbench multi-core test 7fps on-screen on GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 and 615 points on 3DMark Sling Shot. If these figures don’t mean anything to you, they are pitifully low.
The fact of the matter is that the MediaTek MT9629 is not really a general-purpose ARM chipset like those you would find in a smartphone or tablet. Even MediaTek markets it as a “smart display SoC”. Its true strength is multimedia decoding and playback. The MediaTek MT9629 has excellent hardware decoder, supporting AV1, AVS2, HEVC, VP9, H.264, SHVC 4K60@10bit for video decoding and BBC HLG, HDR10 (SMPTE2084), Dolby Vision HDR, Technicolor/Philips JHDR (ESTI TS 103 433), HDR10+ of the HDR standrads. Plus, Dolby Atmos and DTS Virtual X for audio. You can see a full list of supported codecs below.
The Formovie THEATER basically chewed through every multimedia test file we threw at it with ease and zero stuttering. Even insanely high bitrate 4K content proved to be no challenge for the hardware decoder.
We had a great time with the Formovie THEATER. It is easily one of the best in its projector class and price range. Currently, it will set you back right around $3,500, which is no small sum, but it is very reasonable for the excellent all-around performance and feature set the THEATER delivers.
Its unfortunate Neflix limitation means that you either have to not care about that particular streaming platform or be willing to jump to extra hoops to get it working. If you don’t fall within either of those two groups then you are better off looking elsewhere, but members of either should have the THEATHER 4K UST on their shortlist.
It will offers an excellent all-around experience in a light-controlled room. Just don’t forget to get a decent quality screen if you are planning to also use it in daytime with ambient light around.