#4 in our 4-Way Comparison: Optoma HD91 Home Theater Projector

As it turns out, the Optoma HD91, the most expensive of our four projectors comes in last overall by my judgement, but that doesn’t mean it can’t put a really impressive image up on the screen. I can get pretty critical as I write these comparisons, but try to remember that I’m often being really picky – that’s the job, that’s what many readers are looking for.   For folks that don’t “pay close attention” these projectors are all mostly merely awesome.

Overall, Optoma’s HD91 is a projector for small to medium sized screens.  It’s simply not as bright as the competition.  It is a single chip DLP projector, and it is 3D capable!  It comes with an external RF 3D emitter and one pair of RF 3D glasses as part of the price.  The official brightness claim is 1000 lumens, with “best mode” calibration measured 552 lumens at mid point, the HD91 hit it’s 1000 lumen claim dead on the money, with the zoom at wide angle, in its brightest mode.

Read the full Optoma HD91 review here.

 

Skip ahead to the shootouts containing this projector
Optoma HD91 vs. BenQ W7500
Optoma HD91 vs. Sony VPL-HW40ES

 

HD91 Projector's Relative Strengths

Let’s start with the HD91 projector’s strengths.  The most obvious, and unique strength is the HD91’s LED light engine, which they rate at 20,000 hours.  Assuming it lasts that long, or even close to claim, that pretty much guarantees that there are no expenses similar to the cost of buying replacement lamps.  If you use your projector 40 hours a week, that’s a full decade.  LED light sources also have some technical advantages such as brightness drops off very slowly compared to lamps, and that color accuracy is supposed to remain relatively constant, while by comparison lamp based projectors suffer from some color shift as the lamp ages.

With lamp based projectors there is also some variance in the color temp from one lamp to the next, while multiple units of the same projector’s LED light engines should have almost identical color.  Unfortunately, with today’s color standards, the extra color space doesn’t come into play.  If standards increase (such as DCI) then such light engines may have an advantage, but that wouldn’t be something that would be expected to have any effect on current projectors

The Optoma seems to be the second quietest of the four projectors.  In fact it’s significantly quieter than two of them at full power.  (All four are very reasonably quiet in their “low power – or eco modes” although this Optoma doesn’t really have a true eco-mode.) As the HD91 is the most limited in brightness, it’s also the one to be found in smaller rooms, because of that.  The smaller the room, the more affect of a given amount of audible noise.   That said, audible noise is not a real factor for this projector, except for the seriously noise adverse!

Cosmetics – they often are very important – usually to other family members – rather than the primary user.  As it turns out the HD91 is nicely attractive, and appears to be the smallest of the four. Unlike the others, it’s deeper than wide, and its nicely sculpted black case helps it seem relatively small, yet impressive looking.

Calibration controls.  The HD91 has a full set of controls, and it really takes advantage of them, or rather you get to take advantage.  This projector can look great calibrated, but it desperately needs to be calibrated (or try our published settings).

HD91 Projector's Relative Weaknesses

Brightness – definitely is a relative weakness.  Hey, if you have a good room – mostly dark surfaces, full lighting control, the HD91 can be very happy on a 100” diagonal screen or even a little larger, so if you primarily watch movies in the dark and don’t need a large screen, this can be a fine projector.  But, the Optoma definitely lacks the brightness to leave the dedicated home theater to try to tackle a living room or bonus room, or media room…  Sure, you can compensate with very high gain screens, but the other three projectors – all dramatically brighter, would be much better suited.

Color Accuracy Out of the Box — The HD91 really needs to be calibrated.  It needs it more than any other projector we’ve reviewed in more than a year.  None of its modes look very close to being right, and some are just awful.  Of course just the settings we publish on our calibration page in the full review, and the advanced calibration page for our subscribers, will end up with a very good, and reasonably accurate picture.  But, you need to do something, face tones are extremely red, etc.

Black level performance – Not bad, but rather than a traditional dynamic iris to lower brightness of dark scenes to achieve deeper blacks on your screen, Optoma goes with a lamp dimming solution to accomplish the same goals. There are 3 settings, but none of the three are as smooth as the competition with irises. Sometimes the action of the lamp dimming seems slow and obvious. The lowest setting isn’t bad, but this is an area that I think Optoma needs to improve on to stay competitive. My complaints are not new, I’ve picked on previous Optoma projector for similar issues.

The Cost of the LED Light Engine – Here’s the thing, under normal circumstances its hard to rationalize the extra typically $1000+ for a solid state light engine. What complicates things is that typically there could be significant offset savings by not needing lamps. My concern for most of you, though, is that if you are dropping over $3000 for a projector like this, rather than some $800 or $1500 projector, it’s because you are looking for top quality performance – picture quality. You certainly aren’t paying the difference to get a brighter projector (in this case) since most projectors are significantly brighter. That supports my belief that for those of you who read reviews (rather than those who call up a dealer, give them a budget and say install what you think is best), are looking for quality.

That suggests that many of you will be very interested in upgrading to true 4K resolution in the next two to three years as prices come down under $5000, and maybe under $3000. If that’s your case, you’re likely ready to upgrade at a time when with these other projectors, you will likely still be on the original lamp, or at worst, have bought just one replacement. The point is, anyone upgrading in 2-3-4 years doesn’t get any significant cost benefit for having the LED light engine.

On the other hand, if you just want a great looking picture, install it, and forget about it until technology forces you to make changes again (6-10+ years out), (Blu-ray hasn’t even been around a decade – our first HD disc) then you can benefit from the light engine’s savings.

HD91 Bottom Line

Once properly calibrated the HD91 showed no real color flaws, it’s a good projector.  And for those with a dedicated theater and a small to mid-size screen it’s definitely a viable choice.  And it is very quiet, a real plus in the smaller theaters that it is best suited for.

The bottom line, though, is other than the advantages of the light engine, the HD91 doesn’t seem to really excel at anything compared to the other three projectors, and, of course, it costs a lot more.   Now if it were perhaps $1000 less, it would have to be considered a very competitive projector for smaller installations, than those other three which are all light canons compared to most.

Click Image to Enlarge

The HD91 is a pretty impressive projector, but check out the BenQ W7500, in the #3 slot, it’s a much brighter projector that we liked even more.

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