Optoma EP1690 Projector Review - Image Quality
The Optoma EP1690 Widescreen DLP Projector is extremely flexible. It is suitable as a business projector, and will definitely work for many, as bright home theater projector.
As a result, we will look at this Optoma projector separately for these two potential types of use, focusing first on its performance as a business projector. However, information relating to home use will be found under Projector Brightness, etc.
And, as a bright home theater projector
Optoma EP1690 Projector - Brightness
I should say first, that the EP1690 I reviewed came from a dealer, a brand new, unopened projector. This differs from some of the review units that I get directly from manufacturers, which are as often as not, hand picked and tested projectors - "golden units", that are sent out to reviewers. Units that tend to perform a little better than the average. As a result of getting this from a dealer, the performance of this EP1690 should be typical of what you would get if you buy one.
As many of you are aware, rarely does a projector (even those hand picked ones) produce as many lumens as the manufacturer claims, so it's not surpising at all that the EP1690 did not equal the lumens claimed on the brochure. (Of the last 10 business projectors reviewed, only one beat the factory claim, and of the others, the typical projector measured in brightest mode, less than 80% of claim).
In the case of the Optoma EP1690, it performed fairly well, considering. In Bright mode, with lamp on full, Optoma claims 2500 lumens. Our measurements produced a lumen measurement of 1922 lumens - about 77% of claimed performance, and in that regard, typical. For this measurement, the Color Temp setting was 1, there was no difference in brightness regardless of which gamma mode was selected (film, video, graphics, PC).
Switching to ECO (low) power mode, which dims the lamp, the brightness dropped to 1476 lumens, a drop of about 23% which is also very typical.
The color temperature in this brightest mode produced a reading of 7642K (and 7839K in Eco-mode). This is cooler than used for movie watching, and 8000 is the general area where most business projectors measure, as the projector lamps used today are cool - more bluish, less red content. Thus, around this color temperature (or slightly higher) is where a normal business projector will produce its brightest readings, and will perform as expected for Powerpoint presentation, spreadsheets, etc.
Switching out of Bright mode, into Cinema mode where a home theater user is likely to be, drops lumens significantly as expected. With color temp set to 0, we got a measurement of 7588K, still too cool for proper movie watching, but we recorded an impressive 1029 lumens.
At that point the projector was calibrated for video - targeting 6500K. Interestingly the lumen rating after all of this, was 513 lumens - almost identical to Optoma's HD72, one of our Hot Product Award winning home theater projectors, (same box, same lens, etc.)
Translated, in its best possible setup for movie watching the brightness of the EP1690 is not any brighter than the HD72, but if you really need plenty of extra lumens to fight ambient light, the EP1690 has the extra horsepower to make a real difference in your room.
Optoma EP1690 - Color Accuracy
The primary concern with DLP business projectors is how well they produce bright reds, and bright yellows. For years this has been a huge problem for DLP projectors, with bright reds coming out, most typically, as inky dark reds - wine colored. Yellows traditionally come out with some green, and have a mustardy look (like a deli mustard). Recently I have seen improvement in a number of newer DLP projectors, including Dell's 2400MP, and our very recent review of a direct competitor of the EP1690, the Mitsubishi HD4000 widescreen.
The Optoma even in brightest mode did a pretty good job on both reds and yellows, a little dark on reds, and definitely a little yellowish green on bright yellows. Moving into less bright modes, the reds brightened up nicely, and yellows improved as well, although I never did see a really excellent pure yellow (no surprise).
Overall the EP1690's color handling in brightest mode should be more than acceptable for almost all users. The exception will be those that require near perfect color for color matching purposes. (Perhaps you need a perfect red to match your company's logo, or perhaps you are doing architectural renderings or some other application where exact color is essential. Blues and greens, I should note, were, as expected, just fine.
I better point out that one of the modes is sRGB - rarely used by anyone but designed for color matching. I did not test this mode, but it should produce the best overall color, but it will also be one of the least bright settings, and it presumes your source is sRGB calibrated.
Comment: If you need lots of lumens and near perfect color accuracy, most often, LCD projectors are the way to go.
For those interested: Here is the calibration results for video. I mentioned above, under Projector Brightness that we calibrated the projector in Cinema mode for best video color. The adjustments we made to the Gain and Bias (contrast), resulted in these red, green and blue settings:
Gain: R=3, G=1 (or 0), B=-2
Bias: R=0, G=-1, B=-2
The end result: we ended up with Cinema mode temperatures of:
100 IRE (white) = 6775K
80 IRE (light gray) = 6587K
50 IRE (neutral gray) = 6458K
30 IRE (dark gray) = 6330K
Overall that's very good (far better than most home theater projectors do, out of the box). I don't doubt that a more careful calibration could further tighten up the numbers around 6500K.
Enough of the technical, let's move on.
Nothing wrong at all with the overall sharpness of the EP1690. I did note that when perfectly focused in the center of the screen, the image was the smallest bit soft, and, there was just a little bit more softness in the corners. This would be considered normal, but occasionally a projector comes along that is razor sharp everywhere on the screen. The EP1690 has a pretty short throw lens, making edge to edge sharpness more difficult than projectors that sit further from the screen.
The EP1690 projector performed very well when it comes to how it handles higher resolution sources. As you know, it's native resolution is 1280x768. For viewing compression technology performance I fed the projector SXGA+ (1400x1050), UXGA (1600x1200) and one higher resolution widescreen mode - WSXGA.
In all cases large type as is typically found in Powerpoint looked almost flawless (as expected). On small type, the EP1690 did very well on the SXGA+ and the widescreen WSXGA resolutions. The EP1690 struggled a bit with UXGA, and that is too be expected, as that represents a two step jump in resolution. When viewing UXGA, you are using the EP1690 as a 4:3 not a widescreen projector, so you are trying to compress 1600x1200 down to 1024x768. Basically the projector only has half the pixels of the source, so small type and fine lines will suffer. That said, 10 point type (typical spreadsheet) was very readable, but soft, and "not very pretty" when trying UXGA.
In reality, most users that actually have a UXGA source, will simply turn off their computer's display and let it output the Optoma's native resolution for a really good, uncompressed image.
Basic Video Performance
For business video, the Optoma EP1690 performed beautifully, with good contrast, vibrant colors being very accurate (a little less so in Bright mode), but, again, no problem at all. As to how it fares as a home theater solution, I'll discuss that in detail below.
The EP1690 as a bright home projector
The first thing I should say, is that you might seriously select this projector if your home environment doesn't allow for a full (or almost full) darkening of your room, at least some of the time. Keep in mind though, that due to color wheel speed, and some other issues, it will not, in its best video mode, match the overall performance of a good dedicated home theater projector, such as it's sibling, the HD72.
On the other hand, the EP1690 is, in its brightest modes, significantly brighter than the traditional affordable home theater projectors, you'll sacrifice performance in terms of black levels (a difference that would be wiped out by not very much ambient light), contrast, and overall color accuracy. I expect almost everyone will find the performance still to be excellent for things like gaming, and viewing sports, or regular TV/HDTV viewing.
Yet, if evening comes, and your room is now dark, you can kick the EP1690 into its best mode, still have what would be a brighter than most home theater projectors, and still have an image easily rivaling most of the best under $3000 home theater projectors of just a couple of years ago. You should still be very pleased with the overall performance, in the dark.
Out of the box color balance was very good, in fact significantly better than Optoma's old H79, H78DC3, and H27 home theater projectors. Flesh tones were handled very nicely, without the strong green that many Optoma's have exhibited out of the box.
The image above of Arwen, from Lord of the Rings, was shot in "best mode".
Brightness of the EP1690 compared to dedicated home theater projectors
With 513 lumens, in its best mode, the EP1690 is almost identical to Optoma's dedicated HD72, which is still the brightest lower cost (selling under $5000) home theater projector we have tested to date.
When it comes to cranking up the lumens, though, to fight ambient light, the EP1690 puts out a brighter image than any of the home theater projectors we have reviewed (short of the $12,000+ 3 chip DLP models). Even the Optoma HD72, and those bright Epson LCD projectors, can't match the EP1690. A real, measured 1922 lumens, makes a real significant difference when there's a fair amount of ambient light.
I should note, at this point, that in brightest mode, it came in almost 600 lumens brighter than Mitsubishi's HD4000, a similar widescreen "business" projector, that we reviewed recently.
Review continues below this advertisement.
Black Levels and Shadow Detail
The EP1690 claims a contrast ratio of 2500:1which is common for business DLP projectors. In Cinema mode, black levels are very respectable but by no means exceptional. Interestingly, I would say that the black levels were not as good as the competing, but more expensive Mitsubishi HD4000, just as Optoma's HD72 home theater projector can't match the black levels of Mitsubishi's HC3000. In both cases, the Mitsubishi projectors are significantly more expensive (by about $500). As you would expect, shadow detail, while good, could also be better. In the brigher modes both black levels and shadow detail diminishes, which you can see if you view in a darkened room. Of course, if you are using the brighter modes, most likely you will have ambient light to deal with, and both black levels and shadow detail will be lost regardless
Below are our standard two images from Lord of the Rings, that we normally use for considering shadow detail. The first is normally exposed (Cinemea mode), the second, also Cinema mode, but overexposed so you can see how the projector brings out shadow details.
Shadow details leave a bit to be desired, but I must apologize, the "overexposed" image wasn't as overexposed as I had inteneded, making it a little more difficult to make out the details in the shed area on the left and along the bottom.
The Optoma runs its color wheel at 2X speeds, (normal for business projectors), as opposed to 4X or 5X used in dedicated home theater projectors. I am slightly sensitive to rainbows, rarely able to spot them on 4X or 5X color wheels but tend to be more sensitive on the slower color wheels. As expected, I was able to catch those occasional flashes of rainbows on dark scenes with bright objects, most often when the scene is being panned, so areas of the screen go quickly from dark to bright and back to dark.
If you are very sensitive to the rainbow effect (RBE) you will likely be better served with a bright LCD home theater projector like the Epson 550, than the EP1690. The question is, how many people are affected, and while I have never seen published numbers, even with 2X wheels only a very small percentage can ever see them, or are bothered by those rainbows. From the days of owning an online AV dealership we sold prbably 100 business DLP projectors a month for home theater use. We might have had a return rate of 5% on those 2X projectors, due to the rainbow effect.
Based on that, the chances of it bothering you are slim, but a projector with a faster wheel, or an LCD projector tend to solve the problem, if a 2X machine isn't for you. Unless you are familiar with your reaction to the rainbow effect, if you are buying online, it's important to make sure the company you buy from is reasonable in handling an exchange, etc. should rainbows be a problem for you.
So, ultimately the EP1690 does an impressive job as a very affordable widescreen business projector, and also is the lowest cost widescreen projector that can actually put out 2000 lumens (ok, 1900+). Add to that particularly good color handling (noteworthy reds and yellows), for business, and you have a very versatile projector.
Let's consider some of the non-image related capabilities of the EP1690 next, in our General Performance section