Optoma HD20 - Review Summary
A summary of the Optoma HD20 projector's pros and cons and capabilities.
8/30/09 - Art Feierman
Optoma HD20 Projector - The Bottom Line
As the first $999 1080p projector to hit the market, the HD20 can't really be expected to match the performance of many projectors that are more expensive. On the other hand, it's only $999, and overall, it's a very nice "entry level" projector with 1080p resolution, and is the first of three announced DLP models at that price - the other two from Vivitek and BenQ, both which will be reviewed in the next month or so.
Not surprisingly, it isn't a match for most of the more expensive projectors, but does provide an excellent value, regardless. As a buyer, you'll need to reconcile your budget. If you have more than $1000 to spend on a new projector, really, upward of $1400 street price, you can find several projectors which can outperform the Optoma HD20 in many areas. Still the HD20 makes an excellent "first projector", with performance similar to many 720p projectors for only an couple hundred dollars.
One key strength of the HD20 projector is that it is brighter than most lower cost home theater projectors when in its very best mode. In this case, the HD20 measures in almost right at 700 lumens, while many projectors come in around 400 - 500 lumens, and some even less. I should note that, when you need maximum brightness, the HD20 does a little better than average. While we measured the HD20 in its Bright mode, pretty much right at 1000 lumens, that's based on Mike's setup.
There is room to spare, though, in lumens, if you are willing to boost Contrast beyond Mike's recommendation. Doing so should find you a couple hundred extra lumens. The cost - you'll get some crushing of bright details (near white's become white). That works fine for me. When watching HDTV football, I cranked Contrast to 52 or 54, and got the extra lumens I needed to maintain a respectable image while having some light coming in from my windows.
Perhaps most importantly, after our basic calibration, the Optoma does very good color, both in accuracy and in terms of having a natural looking image. This is a key strength. The end result is that the image impresses and is enjoyable to watch, whether movies or HDTV/Sports.
So, what do you give up if you save $400 to $1000+ by going with the Optoma HD20 home theater projector, compared to more expensive models?
The answer is several things:
Black level performance. The HD20 is very basic here, more typical of 720p projectors than even other almost-as-low cost 1080p projectors. Great black level performance is pretty much at the top of most enthusiasts list of what's important, and for those of us who watch a lot of dark movies, including sci-fi, horror (no horror for me), and many action flicks, the black level performance comes up short - with a flat, undynamic look to dark scenes. From an image standpoint, that's my biggest complaint.
Noise - Fan noise that is. The HD20 is one noisy projector. If you have a nice dedicated type of room, and you really want a quiet projector, that can't be heard except over the softest scenes, the HD20 isn't for you. This projector's fan is pretty loud compared to most. We're not talking huge differences, but definitely there is a significant, steady fan noise level that will be there.
Light leakage - some light comes out of the front right vent, it's not huge, but more than almost any other projector, and enough that it is likely to be slightly visible in a fully darkened room if your wall color is light.
Heat - not unexpectedly, due to its small size, it throws a lot of heat out of that same vent. If you are putting it on a table top, you won't want to be sitting just forward and to the right of it (within 3 feet), or you'll wilt a bit from the fan heat.
The HD20 is a typical DLP projector, in that it has a limited range zoom lens and no lens shift. That said, you'll have to go with a more expensive 3LCD projector, or, to find a DLP with lens shift, spend twice as much (you'll need lens shift if you want to rear shelf mount, instead of ceiling mount, or if you are placing it on a table). A minor additional complaint is with the remote control, which has a too-bright backlight that overwhelms you if you are trying to fine tune image controls.
OK, it's an entry level projector, and therefore you must expect it to come up short compared to more expensive alternatives.
On the plus side, however, the Optoma HD20 has excellent shadow detail - better than many more expensive projectors. And, as previously noted, it is brighter than most in "best mode" among projectors up to $2500. Combine that with very good color, and you still have a really nice picture on your screen.
Because the Optoma HD20 is small and lightweight, it is a good choice for those looking for casual home theater in their backyard. It certainly is easy enough to pick up and take outside, or move from room to room.
Bottom line: At $999 you definitely get what you pay for, and then some. Overall, even considering black level performance, the picture quality is very good for a projector this affordable. You can buy better, of course, but figure to spend at least $400 more. And for a projector in a "whole different class" like the Panasonic PT-AE3000 or the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB, you will definitely be spending twice as much.
This should be a fine, low-cost choice for your family room, and even acceptable for movie viewing in a room better laid out for theater. The fact that the projector has a longer life lamp (3000 hours) in full power lamp mode, is another benefit, as it reduces your long term cost of ownership.
Whether the HD20 will turn out to be the best $999 projector from this new crop, or just an average one, we'll have to wait until the Vivitek and BenQ arrive. In the meantime, however, with only more expensive projectors for comparision, the Optoma HD20 does have an impressive value proposition, and for that reason, wins one of our Hot Product awards. Not bad! Not bad at all!
Optoma HD20 Projector: Pros, Cons, and Typical Capabilities
Optoma HD20 Projector: Pros
- Good out of the Box picture quality (though greens are a touch weak)
- Very good color accuracy post calibration in best mode
- Well balanced, good overall picture quality, pretty natural skin tones
- A very bright entry-level projector in its "best" mode, just above average brightness in its brightest mode
- Two HDMI 1.3 inputs, full support for 24 fps, Deep Color, CEC etc.
- Good, well structured menu system
- Longer than average lamp life for lower cost of operation
- No filters to change, minimizing maintenance
- Small size makes it portable - a good choice for those backyard movie nights
Optoma HD20 Projector: Cons
- The remote control's LED light is too bright for making fine adjustments to the image
- Black level performance is basic - very entry level. It comes up short of almost all other low cost projectors (keep in mind that all of them are more money)
- On that same black level subject, the ImageAI, which is designed to improve black levels, does so, but I find it annoying because it makes changes many seconds after scene changes, and is noticeable. I recommend you not use ImageAI
- Limited placement flexibility, and no lens shift
- Fan noise is - substantial, up there with the other noisiest home theater projectors
- Throws a lot of heat - not surprising for a small DLP projector
- Light leakage out the front vent is significant. You may notice it if your side walls are light as it pushes that light to the front right side. Not too bad, however.
- No support for an anamorphic lens
- Warranty - one year - too short for my taste, but typical of most lower cost 1080p projectors, although a few under $2000 models have 2 year warranties
That's all folks!
Optoma HD20 Projector: Typical Capabilities
- Audible noise - just about average, and a little quieter than most DLP models
- Documentation is very "Optoma" that's neither exceptionally good, nor bad. Documentation is typical in that it doesn't go into really useful explanations of a number of features. It will tell you how to work them, but not explain some of the differences that would be helpful in choosing the best setting.
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