Optoma HD65 Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
As usual, I'll start with how well the HD65 performs in terms of skin tones. I've said this many times before, slight overall color shifts in an image mostly go unnoticed, but if a skin tone is noticeably poor looking, it's a major downside for a home theater projector. It's easier to spot poorly done skin tones, than, say, to determine whether the red in an American flag is the right shade of red.
Please remember, images from movies and other sources shown here, should not be taken as accurate representations of what you would see on the screen. First, in almost all cases, what's on the screen will be strikingly superior. There are a great number of reasons, relating to your computer monitor, mine, my camera, etc. For more information, check out this article I recently published on the subject. In addition to points in the article, my dSLR - an Olympus E-510, just got a firmware upgrade with new color tables, correcting some issues I've had to deal with. The new version is giving me more highly saturated colors, a good thing, but it may be they are a touch over the top, at least they look that way on my Mac, before publishing.
More of a concern, is that I'm picking up a slight shift to green in the mid and dark areas. Not enough to have any significant impact on skin tones. The exception is the James Bond images below in fluorescent lighting scenes, where it is slightly detectable. Overall though, you will really notice it in the black and white opening shot from Casino Royale, the green is very apparent, although the projected image on the screen was a beautiful gray, with no trace of green. The camera has the ability to be adjusted to some degree, so I'm still tuning it, meantime - whenever you see that slight green tinge - it is the camera, not the HD65.
Optoma HD65 - ImageAI
The HD65, like all Optoma home theater projectors sports ImageAI, which increases contrast by allowing the ImageAI circuitry, to analyze the image frame by frame, and adjust lamp brightness, to achieve better black levels in darker scenes. This is not dissimilar from other projectors that use a dynamic iris to accomplish the same end result, and there are some projectors (Sanyo comes to mind) that use both an iris and lamp dimming.
While the ImageAI does help out slightly in scenes without full on bright areas, there is also a downside. I have noticed that, when a scene switches from one that is fairly dark to one that is pretty bright, if that bright scene is pretty stationary for a few seconds, all of a sudden the image brightens up, it just sort of instantly snaps to a brighter output. This is certainly easy to spot when it occurs. Is it a big deal?
To some folks, the answer is yes, to most folks though, I would think of this as a minor flaw that you just might see a few times per movie. Those who have no tolerance for these types of artifacts caused by dynamic irises or dimmable lamps, will either run the projector with ImageAI off (not a big difference), or shop for a different projector.
Bottom line: A serious issue for a small percentage, a minor flaw for the rest of us.
HD65 Projector: Skin Tones
One of the most impressive things about the HD65, is how well it handles skin tones, even before any adjustment (calibration). This is a huge plus for the projector. While we reviewers, pundits, and hard core enthusiasts, recommend almost every projector be calibrated, to get the most out of it, it is well understood that few buyers will pay someone to calibrate a projector, especially the lower cost ones. As to do-it-yourself calibration using popular calibration discs like AVIA, and DVE (Digital Video Essentials), it is understood from talking to dealers, and from my own previous experience selling thousands of home theater projectors, that most buyers of home theater projectors won't buy one of the discs to do a step by step, follow the instructions calibration that takes about an hour, despite the benefits.
In the case of the HD65, skin tones are really good, without adjusting. True, they improved slightly with a big time calibration, but even I could live with the skin tones this projector delivered, unadjusted, out of the box, when watching both HDTV, standard, and Blu-ray disc.
While I rarely show "before and after" images, I decided to do one, this time, just to give you a good idea, of how good the HD65 is. This first image below is from Casino Royale (Blu-ray). The first image is the HD65 in default Cinema mode, and the one below it, the same image, after a full calibration.
OK, with that out of the way, here are the usual collection of images that show off skin tones, starting with two images from Lord of the Rings (standard DVD). Unlike the images above, most of these will allow you to click for a larger version of the image.
OK, time to look at the best - images from Blu-ray disc. The first three are from House of the Flying Daggers, a movie with rather spectacular color, and what I would describe as intentionally having slightly modified, but beautiful skin tones.
Here are the Blu-ray images:
As usual, we'll start with two from The Fifth Element.
From Aeon Flux:
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Next, is a sequence I've been using for many months. It's easy to say - look, great looking skin tones, but what are accurate skin tones?
The reality is, that each different lighting condition gives you a different color balance. We all look markedly different in terms of skin tones, as we move from sunlight, to filtered sunlight, to cloudy day, to standard incandescent indoor lighting, to fluorescent lighting... In this case, you get to sample several of those environments. I think you'll find that all look natural, once you consider the lighting conditions, even though each one has James Bond having noticeably different skin tones. OK?
Bottom Line: The HD65 is a winner when it comes to skin tones, in fact it performs, uncalibrated, pretty close to most projectors post calibration. Since there are lots of factors - even the director's intentions and the colorist (the guys who decide on the necessary compromises going to digital DVD, etc.) actions, may end up with a technically perfect reproduction that you just don't like. (Think the green cast in the Matrix movies - although that is an extreme example.)
Now, not all movies try to produce faithful skin tones. Consider, for example Lord of the Rings, which tends to vary the color balance differently for each part of Middle Earth - The Shire - strong greens, lands of the Elves - strong on pastel look, Mordor, dark and green-gray, etc. Or the Matrix movies, with their heavy green caste on everything. Sin City is a movie that is mostly black and white, sepia and white, etc. with some spot colors. Here is a shot of Nancy, from Sin City, with that sepia flavor to it:
And what review would be complete without the usual shot of Johnny Depp from the first Pirates of the Carribean:
HD65 Projector: Black Levels and Shadow Detail
Optoma HD65 Black Levels
Like the HD71, the HD65 claims 3000:1 contrast without AI engaged, and 4000:1 with AI being used. For almost all of my watching of the HD65, the AI was engaged (which also means the fan is on high).
When viewing the image above from Space Cowboys, the blacks are good, they are not the really deep "inky" blacks that many 1080p projectors can produce, and some of the better 720p models, (including most DLP projectors that use the better Darkchip3 DLP chip).
Black levels are respectable, actually pretty good. I think there are a couple other low cost projectors that can do a bit better, but we're considering a true entry level projector here. If its performance in terms of black levels, started looking more like that of a particularly $3000 1080p projector, that sure would be surprising, and beyond any reasonable expectation.
There is certainly room for improvement, but, overall the performance is typical of many current, and last year's, 720p home theater projectors.
For best black level performance, you'll want to engage the Optoma AI circuitry, which will make adjustments for dark scenes. It doesn't seem to have any real impact on a scene that is mostly dark, but has some really bright areas, but it does help slightly with very dark scenes that lack any really bright area. The downside to using AI is that the fan will run on high speed. Only with AI off, can you select the quieter low (power) lamp mode.
This slightly overexposed black and white image from Casino Royale, shows off good black levels and shadow detail. (Blu-ray) Note the slight green cast caused by my camera, as mentioned above.
This next image, also from Casino Royale, is a mixed brightness scene. The blacks look pretty good, not best in class, however:
I still love those space scenes, and again, while blacks could be blacker, the HD65 handles this overall, very dark scene, but with some pure white and bright reds, from Space Cowboys, rather nicely:
While the HD65 isn't as bright as, say the HD71, it is still, in "best mode" one of the brighter projectors around. After calibration, it still managed over 600 lumens (details on the General Performance page). Most home theater projectors tend to fall into the 350 to 500 lumen range, in best mode, after calibration, so this is definitely still pretty bright.
As a result, the HD65 can handle larger screens or more ambient light than most. As long as the screen size and type is appropriately larger (and similar gain), to a less powerful projector on a smaller screen, then the visible blacks (dark grays), should be about the same as most of the competition. Set up the HD65, though, with a small screen, say 92", and while the whole image will be very bright, the blacks will be lighter gray, than many would find ideal. I'd probably recommend about a 100" diagonal screen as a good starting place, for those wanting to keep the absolute black levels down pretty low.
Bottom line on Black Levels: The HD65 is pretty typical for 720p projectors and definitely not exceptional, but well within reason.
Optoma HD65 Shadow Details
Shadow levels a bit better (relatively) than black levels. Without getting into a lengthy discussion, let's just say that you can have superior black levels and only good shadow detail, or the other way around. In the case of the HD65, shadow detail, is very good, but not exceptional. While this would be considered, technically, a slight weakness, there is a trade-off worth mentioning.
I note frequently that Optoma projectors are particularly good at displaying very rich, dark colors, better than most projector brands overall.
Now that I have Mike Rollett doing the actual measurements and calibrations, he's doing a few extra measurements that I haven't done in the past. One of those is measuring gamma. That provides me with some measurements that can, at least in part, explain this tendency to rich dark colors.
Lo, and behold! The HD65's gamma curve (optimal for movies is 2.2), is not linear, in that dark and lower mid brightness areas, tend to come out darker than ideal (higher gamma). By the time you get to the brighter side of the mid-range - 70 IRE, however, the measured curve starts closing the gap with the ideal. By 80 IRE, and through white (100 IRE), it is about dead on.
The image above, from Aeon Flux, is also found on almost all reviews done in the last year. If you are comparing, note in particular, the stone walkway on the left and right, and details in the dark areas around the shrubs, and lower building.
I mention all this because, it means that a medium dark area is going to be darker than ideal, while fairly bright areas are pretty much dead on. It's a pretty good "compromise", as the projector has that rich look in dark areas, despite not having exceptional blacks.
And this explains not only the the rich dark colors, but also explains why there is some shadow detail loss in the darkest areas. As we consider the darkest areas, they are darker than they should be, and considering they aren't bright to begin with, it becomes harder for the eye to make out those darkest details.
Is this a problem? Not really. You will see a touch more dark shadow area detail on some other projectors, but the HD65 really does a very good job overall. As many readers of my reviews already know, one of my very favorite projectors, the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB - at almost three times the price, has best in class black levels, but, like this Optoma, its shadow detail could be improved.
But, we are spliting hairs, unless the loss of shadow detail is really significant (not the case), few scenes are fully dark enough for a typical home theater viewer to notice the loss. (Note: I said typical viewer, - not the hard core home theater enthusiast - so no hate mail please.)
Click on the thumbnail images below for a closeup, overexposed, of this night scene in Gondor. Of particular note, you can see a dark mountain in the top right, you can also, depending on the projector (and the exposure) make out some or more other landscape below the mountain. Also look for slight colors in some of the buildings. The top left image is the HD65, the top right is the Panasonic PT-AX200U, and the lower left is the Epson Home Cinema 720, another formidable competitor.
Next up, also from Lord of the Rings, is this overexposed image of mountains and a shed in the foreground. By overexposing, we overcome the camera's limitations so that you can see the dark shadow details lost by the camera at normal exposure. Compare, looking at the shed on the right, the posts on the left, and along the ground! First row: Left - HD65, Right, PT-AX200U, 2nd row: left, Epson Home Cinema 720, right: the older, less bright Optoma HD73 (which uses the Darkchip3).
From Space Cowboys, this image of Clint is in a very dark room only illuminated by a down facing table lamp.
The image above is from the Optoma HD65. For comparison, the same, very dark scene, in the image below, is the Epson Home Cinema 720. You can pick up a bit more shadow detail in the dark blinds in the background, and the vertical bright lines, part of the blinds, do show up a touch better on the HD65. However, the HD65, is also a touch brighter when comparing these two images overall. Not a real significant difference between these two images.
The next one is the Panasonic PT-AX200U. Using the same image, in this case, the Panasonic image is definitely brighter than the other two, but even more so, you can see more shadow detail on the Panasonic than the other two, and, for that matter, it is producing slightly blacker blacks. The white in the blinds is more visible, and you far more easily make out the reflection from the glass behind the shades, right above his hand and bottle!
Here's the re-entry image from Space Cowboys. Click on the thumbnail image for an overexposed version, and look for the details on the right side. This image is found on most recent reviews (left, HD65, right PT-AX200U)
Now for a more balanced scene (where dynamic irises, and AI, are not very effective). The left thumbnail when clicked on, shows a cropped area. This scene has extremely bright areas, and dark. Look at these overexposed images to details of the satellite on the left side. The left thumbnail is the Optoma HD65, the right one, the Panasonic PT-AX200U:
I've added one more pair, to let you consider the Optoma HD65 vs. the venerable Sanyo PLV-Z5. The Z5 has been around longer than any other popular 720p projector so it has fewer images in common with the more recently reviewed projectors. Here is an image from Sin City - top is the Optoma, below, the Sanyo PLV-Z5 (note these are not the same frame, but several frames apart, and because the Z5 review was so long ago, captured with two different cameras):
From Casino Royale, this image is overexposed to reveal the level of detail, in the roof. Under normal viewing, projectors' shadow details vary from the roof being essentially invisible on some projectors, to being able to see every individual tile.
The smaller images below are generic, clicking on them gets you to the overexposed versions from the different projectors. The first image is the Optoma HD65, but the second one, for a change of pace, is from one of the very best performing 1080p projectors, one selling for at least four times the price, Sony's VPL-VW60.
And, the larger version of the third image (below), is the Epson Home Cinema 720.
Good, not exceptional black levels and shadow detail, but many folks will be choosing the HD65 for its brightness first, and if you need that brightness, then, you also are likely operating in an environment where there is some ambient light, and some shadow detail and black level performance will normally be lost anyway!
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Optoma HD65 home theater projector: Sharpness
No problem with sharpness. Overall, very good, but not the best around. Of note, the Sanyo PLV-Z5 produces an exceptionally sharp image for a 720p projector, and the HD65 can't match it, but, with 720p resolution projectors in mind, I certainly had no complaints while filling about 120" diagonal of my 128" screen, and viewing from just under 12 feet back. Moving up to a 1080p projector will resolve more detail, but, that means spending close to twice the price, or even significantly more.
Bottom line: Sharpness is just fine. I seriously doubt that it will be factor for 98% of the folks shopping for a 720p projector!
The thumbnails below when clicked on, show a drastically cropped area of just the logo and dts-hd area. The five thumbnails are for the following projectors:
Top left: Optoma HD65, Top right: Panasonic PT-AX200U
Unfortunately, reviews of other 720p projectors like the Sanyo PLV-Z5, pre-dated Blu-ray, and the DTS test disc used above.
Our last sharpness image is a close-up of this computer monitor from Space Cowboys on Blu-ray. You can click for larger images to compare the readability. Over time these images have been cropped differently.
Left HD65, Middle Epson Home Cinema 720, Right Optoma HD70 (older), 2nd row: PT-AX200U
Bottom line: Reasonable sharpness, but rather typical. Several of the best 720p projectors are quite visibly sharper. Also not sharp is one of my favorites, the Panasonic PT-AX200U. It uses smooth screen technology, which softens its image, in exchange for invisible pixels, and tends to be more similar, in sharpness, to the HD65, than some of the sharper projectors.
Projector Overall Picture Quality
In this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While most of the descriptors I use to describe black levels, sharpness, and shadow detail are "good" or "very good" but never "excellent", when I consider the overall picture quality, "great" or "excellent" really best describes the HD65. As I mentioned at the start of this review, American Idol, on HDTV was stunning.
Above, from the animated movie Cars.
Movies were equally impressive. Any lack in specific areas were more than made up for with the HD65's great skin tones, and rich deep colors that provide a lot of depth to the image. While a further improvement in black levels would be a significant benefit, all considered, the picture is consistently most impressive!
The image above, is from House of the Flying Daggers (Blu-ray).
This is, therefore, a very well balanced projector. There are no really important weaknesses to damage the overall picture quality. The HD65 may not have the most perfect picture quality around, but it would only come up short by direct comparison. I am thoroughly convinced that virtually all owners will be extremely pleased, and, impressed!
Now there are almost an infinite number of image settings on most projectors, when you think about it. In addition to individual RGB (and sometimes CYM) controls with as many as 50+ steps each, there are the brightness, contrast, color saturation controls, etc. In other worlds "billions and billions" of combinations.
To further complicate things, many DLP projectors now feature TI's Brilliant Color circuitry, which may provide up to 10 additional settings options, which affect a number of parameters. Further, this Optoma offers what they call Tru-Vivid, which seems to be, first, a color saturation control (there is no "color (saturation)" control on the HD65), but this one does affect such changes. There are 4 Tru-Vivid settings.
Just to give you an ideal of what these controls do, I've got two images of each, selecting different settings that are already used as default settings in some of the modes.
First, Brilliant Color - the top image is set at 6, the bottom one at 10 (all other settings are the same):
Now for Tru-Vivid - first image a 0, second at 1 (but both with all other settings the same):
Some additional images from Blu-ray disc:
The two images immediately above are from Planet Earth, on Blu-ray disc.
Viewing - HDTV
Picture Quality - Bottom Line:
Overall, after proper adjustment, the HD65 is a 720p home theater projector, that when it comes to technical performance, doesn't seem to be exceptional at anything, but is so well balanced, that most buyers should be thoroughly pleased with it.
The HD65 is a projector that typifies the strengths and weaknesses of DLP Darkchip2 projectors. Saturation is really very good, black levels and shadow detail are good, but not exceptional, and sharpness rather average, which in its own right, is not an issue of significance.
It is also a projector that does a great job, even if you don't calibrate it or tweak it. It's out of the box performance is surprisingly good. This is actually surprising for Optoma, who's projectors usually aren't that great "out of the box" in terms of color accuracy. For example, the Optoma HD71 is no where near as good in color accuracy out of the box). The out of the box performance is going to be a really strong selling point for those that just want to buy an affordable projector, and enjoy it, without having to "screw around with it"!