Projectors have never really been a cheap alternative to a big TV, because if you’re not willing to spend well north of $1,000 for one, you’ll struggle to get a decent movie theater experience at home. But XGIMI’s follow-up to its excellent 4K Horizon Pro projector is a more affordable way to turn an empty wall into a supersized HDTV—even if there are some trade-offs that come with its $650 price tag.
There’s no law that says you have to spend a lot on a projector, but if you’re spending considerably less than $1,000 you’re typically going to be sacrificing brightness—limiting when and where you can actually use it—and image quality. A few months ago I reviewed the Anker Nebula Capsule II, and while at $700 it wasn’t necessarily going to break the bank, trying to fill a large wall with an equally large projection was problematic because the projector just wasn’t very bright. With its new Elfin, XGIMI has made some more strategic feature trade-offs. It lacks features like a built-in battery, but also offers a decent 800 lumens (the Anker mustered just 200) and full HD resolution (the Anker topped out at 720p) for a very competitive $650.
The Elfin isn’t XGIMI’s first attempt to make a lightweight projector that’s easy to move from room to room or even take on a weekend glamping trip, but it does feature a new horizontal design that looks like the company took its larger Horizon Pro and sliced it up into a stack of smaller projectors.
The Elfin is much lighter than the Horizon Pro, too, weighing in at just two pounds, so it’s much easier to carry around and travel with. But part of what keeps the weight down is a slightly chunky external power brick that you’ll need to bring everywhere the projector goes.
I’m not exactly sure when an extending leg stopped being a standard feature for projectors, but like the pricier Horizon Pro, the XGIMI Elfin has no way to prop itself up so it can be positioned at an ideal angle. You’ll either need to stack some books under the front of it, or take advantage of the tripod mount on the underside. Thanks to the projector’s minimal weight, you don’t need an especially large or expensive tripod to support it, but I would definitely consider one a must-have accessory if you don’t plan to permanently mount the projector somewhere.
Both the XGIMI Horizon Pro and the Anker Nebula Capsule II include redundant manual controls on the top of the projectors themselves, but the top of the Elfin is as smooth and bare as a baby’s butt—or at least a baby that’s been branded with the XGIMI logo and upgraded with a single white power status LED.
The Elfin’s included remote isn’t quite as fancy as the one included with the XGIMI Horizon Pro. It’s a smaller, all plastic affair, and there’s definitely some rattle when you move it around thanks to a loose battery cover. It’s also lacking the dedicated button for triggering auto and manual focus like the Horizon Pro’s controller, but otherwise it includes all the buttons you’ll need to navigate Google TV. You’ll learn to like it, if only because it’s your only way to do anything.
Like the Horizon Pro, the XGIMI Elfin is an impressively quiet projector. Yes, there’s a fan, but it’s paired with large vents on the back and underside of the projector so it never needs to roar to life like a jet engine to keep the LEDs cool. If you get up close you can hear it, but once you start playing something it becomes imperceptible white noise.
Where the Elfin might be more challenging to use as an all-in-one solution is the built-in speakers. The Horizon Pro utilized a pair of 8-watt Harman Kardon speakers inside to effectively fill a room with sound without distorting when the volume was cranked, and it managed to pull off some decent bass performance so effects like explosions sounded surprisingly satisfying without needing a separate woofer. The XGIMI Elfin instead features a pair of forward pointing 3-watt speakers and you can very much hear the difference between the two.
The Elfin’s speakers aren’t necessarily quiet, and you can still fill a room with sound, but they lack the ability to really push lower-end frequencies. If you’re hoping for a true home theater experience, you’ll probably want to pair this projector with some larger external speakers, but if you’re just going to watch TV with it, the built-in speakers should be more than adequate.
If you’re interested in buying a projector, the one feature you should focus on most, even over resolution, is its brightness or lumens rating. Because projectors work by bouncing light off a surface, instead of projecting it directly toward viewers like a TV does, they can be easily washed out by external light sources. XGIMI’s Horizon Pro boasted 2,200 lumens ,which meant it could be used to create a large projection even in the middle of the day (for comparison, the projector in a movie theater can be rated as high as 60,000 lumens), but the 800 lumens of the Elfin does limit where and when you can use it.
At night, in a very dark room with no lights on, I was able to use the Elfin to project an image roughly 10 feet in size on a wall with sufficient brightness and contrast to be comparable to what I’d expect from a TV. In the middle of the day, however, with natural light pouring into a room, I could at most muster a five-foot image using a brightly colored video game as my source, but I had to make the image even smaller for a movie with darker, moodier scenes. Your mileage may vary, and what you consider a decent viewable image will certainly be different than what I do, but I definitely wouldn’t consider permanently swapping a large TV for the XGIMI Elfin unless you used blackout curtains throughout your home all day long. The 2,200-lumen Horizon Pro is a more plausible TV replacement, but the 800-lumen Elfin is better suited for watching movies in the dark.
What XGIMI hasn’t sacrificed with the Elfin is the Horizon Pro’s excellent auto-focus and auto-keystone correction features. They can be triggered to activate whenever the projector is moved, and do a good job at giving you a sharp, straight image—assuming your projection angle isn’t too extreme. One feature I’d maybe turn off, however, is the projector’s ability to resize the image so that it avoids obstacles on the wall like light switches. It usually means you’re going to end up with a very small image—it very much overcompensates—so just make sure to be extra careful with where you position the projector and you’ll be fine.
Like the Horizon Pro, the new XGIMI Elfin isn’t an approved Netflix device, which means that even though the projector runs Google TV and you can download the Netflix app, you won’t actually be able to stream any Netflix content without an error message.
There are workarounds to the issue, but the easiest solution is to just pair the Elfin with a cheap streaming dongle like a $50 Chromecast with Google TV, which plays Netflix just fine.
But using a streaming dongle with the Elfin means you’re using up the projector’s single HDMI port. So unlike the XGIMI Horizon Pro, which includes two HDMI inputs, if you plan to use the Elfin with a device like a game console, you’ll either have to do some cable swapping again and again, or add an HDMI switcher to the mix, which adds to the projector’s affordable price tag.
Although 800 lumens is more brightness than you’ll get with similarly sized and priced projectors, it’s simply not enough illumination to effectively use the XGIMI Elfin as a TV replacement in the day time. You’re definitely better off spending $650 on a 55-inch 4K TV you can use day and night without issue. The XGIMI Elfin is instead a more affordable way to occasionally create the big-screen movie theater experience at home, as long as you can adequately dim the lights.
And while competitors’ products like the Anker Nebula Capsule II feature built-in rechargeable batteries for improved portability (how many times has your campsite had a power outlet?), I think the increased resolution and brightness of the new XGIMI Elfin makes it a more compelling alternative for use away from home. You’re not going to find a 120-inch TV for $650, and if you do, you’re definitely going to have a heck of a time squeezing it into a backpack.