Leica Cine 1 review

Can UST projection on steroids hit the home cinema sweet spot? Tested at £8495 / $8995 / AU$13999

UST projector: Leica Cine 1
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The Cine 1’s luxurious design and largely excellent picture and sound quality deliver an exciting if expensive Leica projector debut

Pros

  • +

    Spectacular build quality

  • +

    Soundbar-rivalling sound

  • +

    Bright, crisp, colourful picture quality

Cons

  • -

    Vastly more expensive than most USTs

  • -

    Black levels aren’t the best

  • -

    Mild reddish ‘hot spot’ effect

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While Leica is a household name in the camera world, it’s not a brand we’d typically associate with the AV world. Until now, that is. For in one of those rare, slightly mad but ultimately enjoyable moments of industry crossover, Leica has decided the time is right to apply its reputation for high-quality lenses and photographic slide projectors to the home entertainment world by delivering its first home cinema video projector.

The resulting Cine 1 model is no ‘ordinary’ home cinema projector either. For starters, rather than the ‘traditional’ long-throw design we might have expected Leica to debut with, the Cine 1 is an ultra short throw (UST) design of the sort typically produced these days more as a replacement for a big-screen TV rather than a premium home cinema experience. Yet it also sports an unprecedentedly heavy-duty metallic finish, an ultra-bright triple laser lighting system, a motorised dust cover, a high-end lens and a wallet-challenging £8495 / $8995 / AU$13,999 price – all of which establishes it very much as a model targeted at the uncompromising higher-end of the home projection market.

It’s fair to say, then, that Leica has very much come out swinging in its bid to establish itself in an already ultra-competitive UST projector market. But is the Cine 1’s beauty more than skin deep?

Price

UST projector: Leica Cine 1

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

At £8495 / $8995 / AU$13,999, the Leica Cine 1 is comfortably (or maybe 'uncomfortably') the most expensive ultra short throw projector we’ve seen for a long, long time. In fact, we can’t think of anything as ostensibly ‘high end’ in this increasingly busy area of the home cinema world since Sony’s megabucks (and now discontinued) VPL-VZ1000ES

While this premium pricing certainly makes you notice the Cine 1, it also, of course, puts a serious onus on Leica’s debut UST projector to deliver something special in both the feature and performance departments. Especially when you consider that our all-round favourite Ultra Short Throw projector for 2023, Hisense’s PL1, is available at the time of writing for just £1500 / $2000 / AU$2995. 

It turns out that £8495 / $8995 / AU$13,999 is actually just a starting point for the Cine 1. Leica’s lens perfectionism means that it in fact sells two different models: one for 100-inch screens, and one for 120-inch screens, with the latter option actually upping the price to £8995 / $9495 / AU$14,999. Note that some European territories also get an 80-inch Cine 1, but this isn’t available in the UK, US or Australia.

If you feel like contributing still more to Leica’s coffers, the brand also sells its own £2200 / $1995 / AU$2690 wall-mounted ALR screen for use with the Cine 1. Whether you go done the official route or not, we’d still recommend that you partner a Cine 1 with a high-quality ALR screen of some sort – you don’t want to squander any of the potential quality delivered by its high-end lens by projecting it against a wall.

Design

UST projector: Leica Cine 1

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

No projector we’ve seen before has looked quite like the Leica Cine 1. In fact, the closest thing to it that sprang to mind when we first heaved (for yes, it’s as heavy as it looks) the Cine 1 into place was the new Tesla Cybertruck. Both feature unique silver metallic housings (aluminium in the Cine 1’s case, steel for the Cybertruck), sleek futuristic shapes and cool cutting-edge features.

In particular, in the Cine 1’s case, its top edge features a motorised cover that slides shut to protect the lens from dust when you turn the projector off and slides smoothly open again when you power the projector up. Seeing such a thick chunk of metal gliding to and fro so effortlessly gives the Cine 1 just the sort of instant premium thrill such an expensive projector needs.

Leica Cine 1 tech specs

UST projector: Leica Cine 1

(Image credit: Leica)

Dimensions (hwd) 150 x 600 x 379mm

Processing Leica Image Optimisation, motion processing

Screen size Up to 120 inches (depending on chosen model)

Native resolution 1920x1080 pixels, but supports 4K via DLP XPR technology

Input lag with 60Hz in game mode 35.3ms

Projector type Triple laser DLP UST

It also scores style points for installing the legendary red Leica branding at the centre of its front edge, and for wrapping the projector’s front and sides in a gorgeous metallic grille designed to provide plenty of egress for the Cine 1’s powerful built-in sound system. 

Rounded corners soften the Cine 1’s Alpha Male styling a bit, while final practical touches include adjustable feet for slightly adjusting the angle of projection and a large power-on button in one top corner.

One last bit of suitably premium design good news is that the Cine 1’s remote control handset also enjoys a gleaming, gorgeous-to-hold aluminium finish. However, it does let itself down a little by not featuring any backlighting. 

Features

UST projector: Leica Cine 1

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

As you would hope of an £8495 / $8995 / AU$13,999 projector, the Leica Cine 1’s treasures go deeper than its admittedly grandstanding and slickly motorised design. 

On the picture quality front, a 4K (using double flashing ‘XPR’ technology rather than a truly native 4K array of pixel mirrors) single-chip DLP optical system is illuminated by a premium triple RGB laser lighting engine. This laser lighting contributes to a high claimed peak brightness of 3000 lumens, support for a wider range of colour than you get with regular lamp projectors (in fact, Leica claims 100 per cent coverage of the BT 2020 HDR colourscape), and a claimed dynamic contrast ratio of two million to one. 

Don’t forget, though, that the Cine 1 quoting a Dynamic Contrast ratio, where the contrast for any given shot is governed by an automatic light adjustment system rather than a native contrast ratio, means you won’t actually get to see anything like a 2,000,000:1 contrast range with real-world content. In fact, the native contrast ratio is quoted at a much more conservative 1000:1.

The biggest contributor to the Cine 1’s cost (and, hopefully, its picture quality) is likely its Leica Summicron lens. Comprising four aspherical lenses, manufactured to Leica’s famous standards and fixed, as noted earlier, to a specific image size, the Cine 1’s lens is claimed to deliver the “unmistakable character and outstanding quality of a Leica image… in 4K quality in moving images up to 120 inches”. 

Leica also claims, a little vaguely, to have tuned the Cine 1’s pictures using Leica Image Optimisation processing. Though naturally we aren’t just taking Leica’s word for this and will be running the Cine 1 alongside not one but two other UST projectors at mid-range and entry-level price points to see if the fancy lens and tuning really do make a clear performance difference. 

The Cine 1 boasts better connectivity than most UST projectors. In particular, you get three HDMI inputs rather than the typical two – two that are claimed to be HDMI 2.1 specified and one limited to 2.0 features. One of the HDMIs supports ARC, so you can pass sound – including lossy Dolby Atmos tracks – through the Cine 1 and on to a soundbar or AVR.

The HDMI functionality on the two highest capacity inputs doesn’t extend to the 4K at 120Hz or VRR goodies so sought after by gamers these days. But this is true, also, of the vast majority of other UST projectors on the market. There is Auto Low Latency Mode switching support, though, and the projector turns in a respectably low 35.3ms of input lag when running in its Game mode. 

Another excellent feature of the Cine 1’s HDMIs finds them capable of receiving all four of the main high dynamic range formats the AV world now revolves around: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ and even Dolby Vision. The Dolby Vision implementation is fully backed by Dolby, too, contrary to some rumours we’ve seen bandied about concerning the new generation of DV-equipped projectors. The Dolby Vision spec even includes a request from the projector for the size and gain of the screen you’re projecting onto, so that it can optimise its Dolby Vision algorithms.

Further evidence of how seriously the Cine 1 takes its home cinema duties is the UHD Alliance-approved Filmmaker Mode included among its picture presets, and the presence of both automatic and (satisfactorily subtle) manual geometry adjustments.

As you might suspect from its Cinema TV branding, the Cine 1 has designs on replacing a TV rather than just being a convenient projector. So its connectivity includes an RF input feeding into a Freeview HD tuner, and integrated wi-fi for unlocking a full suite of streaming features courtesy of the VIDAA smart system. Unlike the messy, half-baked, and patchily supported smart systems still common in the projector world, the Cine 1 delivers all the main streaming services the vast majority of households will ever need. These include the catch-up services for all the UK’s main terrestrial broadcasters (even ITVX works, for heaven’s sake!) as well as YouTube, Disney+, Prime Video, Apple TV, Paramount+ and Rakuten. 

Even better, all of these apps appear to be fully nativised for the Cine 1, meaning they all deliver the best picture and sound quality (including 4K resolution, Dolby Vision/HDR10+ HDR and Dolby Atmos audio tracks) a service can offer rather than reverting to some sort of low-quality, one size fits all internet feed. 

The Leica Cine 1 further stands out from the cheaper ultra short throw crowd with its sound. Beneath that metallic grill that wraps around its edges is a 2 x 25W speaker system capable of delivering Dolby Atmos decoding. Built-in sound support and even Atmos decoding is fairly common in the UST projector world now, of course, but the power and build quality of the Cine 1’s speakers is, as we’ll explain later, unprecedented.

One last comment to add about the Cine 1’s features is that most of the provided picture and sound quality adjustments, like the VIDAA smart system, are very reminiscent indeed of the menus and features you get on Hisense projectors. Clearly, Leica has built the Cine 1 on a core Hisense projector chassis. The Cine 1’s unique design, lens arrangement and sound system, though, go far enough to dispel any notion that the Cine 1 is just an overpriced Hisense projector clone. 

Picture

UST projector: Leica Cine 1

(Image credit: Leica)

As you’d hope of such an expensive projector, the Leica Cine 1’s pictures make a dazzling first impression. So much so that it took some real effort to try and break down all the individual elements that were contributing to such an out-of-the-box ‘wow’.

Perhaps the most important of its strengths in terms of explaining its £8495 / $8995 / AU$13,999 starting price is how incredibly sharp and detailed 4K images look. There’s a clarity and resulting directness to the picture that experience suggests can only be obtained from a seriously premium lens. The clarity holds good right across the image, too, even into its top corners, which is a particularly difficult trick for UST projectors to pull off.

In fact, aside from, perhaps, that now ancient and ultra high-end Sony VZ1000ES mentioned earlier, we haven’t seen such a precise and pure 4K output from any other ultra short throw projector. Even regular long- and mid-throw projectors with lenses as pristine in their delivery are few and far between in the sub-£10K market

Some cheaper rival projectors can also, it should be stressed, deliver what feels like pretty forensic levels of detail. However, in those cases, this extreme clarity tends to not look quite so natural as the Cine 1’s sharpness because it’s down more to sharpness processing than the innate purities of the lens.

The Cine 1’s stellar clarity lets you appreciate how impressive its colour performance is, too, as you’re able to see how immaculately it renders even the most subtle of colour blends. Skies thus seem to be infused with completely natural light, skin tones look exceptionally credible and three-dimensional with no blocking effects or waxiness, and tricky-to-handle content such as forests, meadows, deserts, snowscapes and so on all appear with enough nuance to ensure that they feel authentic and life-like rather than flat or forced.

There’s more range to the Cine 1’s colour than we’re accustomed to seeing with projectors, too. Backed up by some pretty fearsome brightness (the 3000 lumens quoted peak actually feels slightly conservative), bold, heavily saturated colours enjoy a degree of pop and vibrancy that feels almost TV-like in a dark room, but the projector also holds up better in rooms with ambient light to contend with than most UST rivals. Even though those rivals are usually specifically designed to remain watchable in more regular living room conditions than typical dedicated home theatre projectors.

The sum total of the Cine 1’s sharpness, brightness and combination of bold but also refined colours is a picture that’s typically both eye-catching but also easy to watch for extended periods, refined and immersive. Bright scenes look truly cinematic in a way that makes you forget you’re watching a convenient UST projector rather than a full-on dedicated home cinema machine. 

This is not to say, though, that Leica has achieved projection perfection at the first time of asking.

The biggest concern is the Cine 1’s handling of dark scenes. Specifically, its inability to come up with really convincing black. Anything that should look black instead looks a bit grey, leaving dark scenes looking less natural and realistic than bright ones. This can also cause some faint, dark colours to lose a little of that naturalism and boldness that’s so evident with bright material.

Happily, the lack of true black isn’t bad enough to stop the Cine 1 from reproducing excellent amounts of shadow detail in dark areas (as long as you avoid the Dolby Vision Dark setting when playing Dolby Vision content, anyway). On the contrary, it’s unusually good in this respect, ensuring that dark scenes avoid that flat, one-dimensional look you see with projectors that either lose shadow detail in greyness, or take too much brightness and therefore detail out of dark scenes in a bid to deliver more convincing black tones. 

Nonetheless, the Cine 1 doesn’t have enough control over its laser lighting to adjust between bright and dark scenes quite as effectively as we would like. Hisense’s much cheaper PL1 UST projector delivers a slightly more even dark/light playback balance – though that projector isn’t as bright or colour-rich as the Leica model.

Dark scenes can also be affected by a faint reddish ‘hot spot’ over the image’s bottom half – though this happily disappears completely with bright scenes.

The Cine 1’s extreme brightness and bold colour saturations also come at the cost of slightly more single-chip DLP rainbow effect than is ideal. How much you notice the rainbow effect’s stripes of pure red, green and blue flitting over stand-out bright picture highlights will depend to some extent on how personally susceptible you are to seeing it; some people won’t notice it at all, while others will feel aware of it all the time. While far from the worst example of rainbowing we’ve seen, we did notice it slightly more than we have on some recent UST DLP rivals.

Another smaller issue with HDR10 content is clipping, where subtle colour and shading details are lost in the very brightest parts of the picture. You can bring some of this lost picture detail back by fiddling with the provided Adaptive Contrast setting, but at the point where the clipping is substantially reduced the picture starts to look generally darker than most users will feel comfortable with. Note that clipping is much less noticeable when playing Dolby Vision sources.

Other smaller problems include a mild grey ‘frame’ around the image if you’ve had to adjust the image’s keystone and geometry settings to get its edges looking perpendicular (though you may be able to hide this in a black frame around your screen); some awkward looking motion playback unless you turn off the Cine 1’s motion processing; and an oddly washed out look to relatively mildly mastered HDR sources in the Standard and Dynamic presets (that’s fortunately decently resolved by switching to the Filmmaker mode instead). 

While the Cine 1’s assortment of niggles are enough to cost it a mark for its picture score, though, it’s only fair to wrap this section up by saying that for much of the time it’s the dazzling strengths of its pictures that reign supreme. A point we can stress, too, by saying that despite the Cine 1’s name revealing that it’s tuned first and foremost for movie use, it’s also great fun as a gaming display as its sharpness, colour and brightness strengths join forces with its reasonably low input lag to serve up a superbly immersive and responsive gaming experience.

Sound

UST projector: Leica Cine 1

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Cine 1 is comfortably the best sounding projector we’ve heard bar, perhaps, Sony’s much more expensive VZ1000ES. 

For starters it can get seriously loud – much more so than we’d have thought possible from a pair of speakers rated at 2 x 25W. It uses this volume to project most of its sound well clear of the projector’s bodywork, too, filling your room with a soundstage that actually does justice in its scale and presence to the projector’s 100- or 120-inch pictures. 

There’s a sense of height as well as width to the soundstage, too, and the audio processing and steering is clever enough to help specific placement sounds in Dolby Atmos mixes appear to be coming from the right sort of area. 

There’s enough dynamic range in the Cine 1’s speakers to ensure that the rollicking power and volume doesn’t start to sound compressed or overly congested when a film mix gets dense or heavy. In fact, even at high volumes the speakers still have enough head room to shift up through a few gears as an action scene heads to a crescendo. 

Bass is consistently deeper and more present than you’d expect it to be with a built-in projector sound system, and the low frequency response only succumbs to slight crackling or buzzing break-downs with the most extreme (and thus rare) bass hits. 

Our only complaint about the Cine 1’s explosive audio, really, is that deep male vocals don’t project as well as higher pitched voices, leaving them sounding a touch ‘locked in’. Which additionally means they can occasionally seem to be coming from the projector’s body below the screen rather than from the image above.

Verdict

UST projector: Leica Cine 1

(Image credit: Leica)

Leica has boldly – and, it turns out, sensibly – decided to leverage its premium lens and imaging strengths by going high-end for its debut UST projector. 

This will limit its audience, of course – especially at a time when a) one or two very respectable UST projector rivals are available for less than a quarter of the Cine 1’s price, and b) we’re even finally starting to see nearly 100-inch TVs getting down to prices substantially cheaper than the Cine 1. 

It has to be said, too, that even the Cine 1’s uncompromising approach doesn’t eliminate every UST picture quality problem.

There are things about both the Cine 1’s picture and sound quality, though, that are unprecedented for a UST projector selling for less than five figures. So much so that it’s arguably a unique proposition for AV enthusiasts and custom installers looking for a projector solution that bridges the gap between UST convenience and a premium AV experience. 

Let’s not forget, either, that the Cine 1 is only Leica’s first UST projector, making the brand instantly one we’ll be keeping a close eye on in the future.

SCORES

  • Picture 4
  • Sound 5
  • Features 4

MORE:

Read our review of the Hisense PL1

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Read our Xgimi Aura 4K review

Best projectors: Full HD, 4K, and short-throw

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  • Friesiansam
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    With its Cybertruckesque design, laser lighting and an exclusive Leica lens, the Cine 1 is out to make UST projection posh.

    Leica Cine 1 : Read more
    Very difficult to see how anybody could think, this looks even the tiniest bit like a Tesla Cybertruck...
    Reply