Optoma H78DC3 Projector - Overview
This is the finished review (following three earlier preliminary reviews) of the Optoma H78DC3 home theater projector (with Darkchip3 DLP processor). The Optoma H78DC3 is the first low cost (typically selling for around $4000 as of this update on 10/26/05) DLP projector to offer the new DarkChip3 DLP processor, which provides significantly improved contrast ratios and much better shadow detail. The next two lowest cost DC3 projectors are Optoma's own H79, and InFocus's Screenplay 7210. Both sell for $5000 plus, and command significantly higher prices from local install dealers than the limited number of online resellers that have access to those two products.
The H78DC3 claims 800 lumens, and it claims a 4000:1 contrast ratio. In the Projector Performance - Image Quality section, I have posted a number if images shot from DVD on the H78DC3 projector - after calibration was completed. However, because of all the questions I am getting about how it stacks up against the competition - both more, and less, expensive, I first shot a great many "side-by-side" images before calibrating. Out of the box the H78DC3 projector has a a slightly greenish caste, but I assumed that the calibration would fix (as it did) Those comparison shots are against the BenQ PE7700 projector and the very expensive Marantz VP12S4 projector, and are found below the H78DC3 images shot after calibration.
From the front: There are two large screw thread adjustable front feet. The lens is recessed (it offers power zoom and power focus, as well as manual lens shift. An infra-red sensor is hidden below the DLP insignia in the lower left corner of the front.
Moving to the top. The first thing you notice is the Big Optoma name, and the almost as large DarkChip3 marking - for those of you still not convinced that this is a darkchip3 powered projector. (The European version of the H78 projector started shipping with the older HD2+ DLP chip.
Pictured is the control panel on the top. The first round disk (closest to the front of the projector) is a manual dial for optical lens shift. This lens shift allows the image to be moved up and down without resorting to image destructive digital keystone correction. The range of the lens shift will be a dissapointment to some. it seems to allow the image to be moved up and down to a significant degree. The range is +/- 100%.
Translation: if you are setting your projector on a table, you can have the bottom of the image as low as even with the center of the lens, or you can (for shelf mounting) have the projector's lens has high as the center of the image.
For ceiling mounting, this Optoma H78 DC3 projector can be mounted at a height with the lens center being even with the top of the screen surface. For those of us with high ceilings, I had hoped the projector - thanks to its lens shift - would be able to be mounted up to a few feet higher than the screen top, but, alas, its not to be. (For those of you considering BenQ's PE7700 with its lack of lens shift, and "0 offset" - it also mounts with the center of lens even with top of screen surface, but with the Optoma projector, you can ceiling mount it lower if need be (great if you have a beam or soffet in the way).
The Optoma H78DC3 DLP projector's zoom lens is longer throw than many (much more so than the BenQ PE7700). The throw ratio is 1.6:1 to 2.16:1. That means a range of 35% - which gives reasonable placement flexibility. To translate in to English, if you have a 100" diagonal screen (87" wide), you can have the front of the lens as close as 11.6 feet, and as far back as 15.66 feet. This will allow many to mount on a shelf on the back wall, and not have to ceiling mount. (Certainly this projector is so quiet that even if the projector is almost right behind you, you won't notice it.) Venting for the fan is on the side (angled back), so shelf mounting should not be a problem.
Below the lens shift adjustment dial, is a round disk pad with 4 arrow keys. Without engaging the menu first (the arrows are also for navigating the menus), you can hit the four arrows to respectively adjust the power zoom lens and power focus.
Right below (toward the back) of the disk pad, are four recessed buttons: Resync, Source select, Menu/Exit, and Enter. (In all my test shooting, I never had to resync.)
The Optoma H78's Menus (and the remote) will be examined further in the Projector Performance - Other section (use the pull-down menus) to navigate around this review.
On the left side (viewing from the front) is a small panel, with the input for the power cable, a hard power switch (must be on to power up the projector from the remote, an electronic power switch (lights up blue) and two warning leds: Lamp and Temp.
Back panel: The Optoma H78DC3 projector has a good variety of inputs, but could have done a bit better. First, there is another IR sensor. Next to it is a DVI-I connector, for digital input from your digital sources like cable/satellite box, or some of the newer DVD players. If you have more than one digital source, you'll need external switching such as one of the newer home theater receivers that may offer two digital inputs and one output. (ie. my Marantz SR8500 receiver).
In addition there is the usual composite video input (lowest performance), S-video, and component video (3 RCA jacks - Red/Green/Blue. Below those, are 5 BNC connectors, which can handle component video, or an analog computer signal. (more in a moment.)
There is the all important RS-232 serial port for command and control - if you are hardwiring your projector to work with a Crestron, AMX, MediaLink or other room control system. And also you will find not one, but two 12volt screen triggers. Having two can allow you to have one trigger dropping the screen all the way down, and the other to drop a side mask (ie. to convert your screen from 16:9 to 4:3), or to do a different amount of screen drop - if your screen allows.
OK, back to inputs.
A significant - if not large - number of buyers - will want to also hook up a computer as well as video sources. An analog computer input can be put through the DVI-I interface, but then you are giving up the ability to have a digital video source. The solution is to have an analog computer source use the BNC connectors. You'll need the right cable, but, with it, you can have digital video, component video and computer.
That raps up the physical tour, except to say that you can change the lamp without unmounting the projector. Part of the "top" cover removes - a single screw, giving you access to the lamp housing. (Wait until the projector is fully cooled off (30 minutes?), and disconnect the master power before fooling with the lamp!!!).
Enough! Let's look at the Optoma H78DC3 home theater projector's picture quality - afterall, that's what the fuss is all about.