Optoma HD71 Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
HD71 Projector: Skin Tones
If you can't get skin tones to look natural, you've got a problem. The Optoma HD71, like most home theater projectors, does a decent, but not great job on skin tones, when you first fire up the projector, in its cinema mode. A basic calibration really improves performance in this area. In the General Performance section we discuss the settings we came up with after doing a basic gray scale color temperature adjustment.
Below you'll find a few images from movies, that are good for considering skin tone quality. The first two are from SD-DVD - Lord of the Rings, the rest in this section are from HD resolution Blu-ray discs.
When all that was done, the HD71 provided very good skin tones. I found that unless you reduce the color saturation slightly, the image tends to be a touch oversaturated. Unlike many projectors though, when oversaturated, the HD71 was more watchable than most.
Here are the Blu-ray images:
Here's a common sequence I use in reviews, which is Jame Bond, from Casino Royale, under different lighting situations. The first - bright, direct, sunlight, the second, florescent lighting at an airport, and the third, filtered sunlight.
Of course, you'll want some oversaturation if you have significant ambient light to deal with. Overall, I was most pleased with skin tone performance after basic adjustment.
HD71 Projector: Black Levels and Shadow Detail
Optoma HD71 Black Levels
The HD71 claims 3000:1 contrast without AI engaged, and 4000:1 with AI being used. For almost all of my watching of the HD71, the AI was engaged (which also means the fan is on high).
I'm currently jaded by the 1080p projectors, where 8000:1 and 10,000:1 is common, and 15,000:1 or more is found on several projectors. As a result I wasn't expecting very impressive black level performance. Futher, because the HD71 projector is so bright, I anticipated blacks coming out not exceptionally dark gray.
Viewing typical space scenes, produced a good feel of black, but not the inky blacks that would be hoped for.
I was pleasantly surprised, while black levels aren't spectacular, by any means, the overall product performed very well, in this regard.
Of course a key thing about the HD71 is its brightness, and its ability to work in rooms that are far from 100% free of ambient light, Family rooms come to mind, or even "cave-like" dark rooms dedicated for theater when an exceptionally large screen is going to be used.
This slightly overexposed black and white image from Casino Royale, shows off good black levels and shadow detail. (Blu-ray)
But, by the same token, the HD71 is significantly brighter, in Cinema mode, than any of the other 720p projector competition, so not only are the blacks - "brighter" (gray), but so is everything else.
Considering blacks and brightness combined, we end up with a projector that has comparable black level performance to most other 720p projectors. In other words, put the HD71 on, say a 130" screen, and a typical 720p projector on a 92" or maybe a 100" screen and the blacks probably look about the same, as will the brighter areas. So, you get similar performance but can use screens 40% - 60+% brighter than most other projectors. Keep in mind, I'm talking movie watching here. The HD71 is exceptionally bright in Cinema mode, but a couple of LCD projectors rival it or beat it in "brightest mode". The point is, brightest modes are usually used for TV and sports viewing, where black level performance is not considered very important.
Optoma HD71 Shadow Details
Shadow details, like black levels were very good, but not spectacular. Again, in a projector this bright, the extra brightness, tends to make up for that. With a brighter overall image, you are going to see more shadow detail. When I say that the HD71 is "not spectacular", I'm talking about compared to how well other 720p projectors do, when not factoring in brightness. Thus, a less bright projector may do better shadow details on a much smaller scene, but if you put both on the same screen, the brighter HD71 will most likely allow the eye to see as much or more detail. (I hope that makes sense.)
Here are a few of our standard "shadow detail" images, starting with this night scene of Gondor, from Lord of the Rings. The left most image is the Optoma HD71, the right, the Panasonic PT-AX200U, and the lower one, the Epson Home Cinema 720:
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 - HD71, 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 HD71. For comparison, the image below is the Epson Home Cinema 720. The Optoma image is just a touch darker, and if you allow for that you quickly realize that they are similar in performance, looking at the window shades (the whole right side). If anything, the HD71 has a slight edge here.
The next one is the Panasonic PT-AX200U, on the same image, in this case, the Panasonic 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, HD71, 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 HD71, the right one, the Panasonic PT-AX200U:
I've added one more pair, to let you consider the Optoma HD71 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.
For a different perspective, the images below are identical, however clicking on the first one brings up an overexposed version (from the HD71) for looking at the roof (and other dark areas, including the trees). Clicking on the second image gets you the Sony VW60, one of the very best 1080p projectors, when it comes to shadow detail. The VW60 sells for about four times the price of the Optoma.
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 HD71 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!
Optoma HD71 home theater projector: Sharpness
Overall sharpness of the HD71 is OK, it certainly isn't the best around. I am, of course, spoiled by watching primarily 1080p projectors these days, but even for 720p models, the Optoma is definitely not up to the best of the 720p models. You need to look no further than the Car images above between the Optoma, and the well known for a sharp image, Sanyo Z5.
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 HD71, Top right: Panasonic PT-AX200U
2nd row left: Epson Home Cinema 720, middle: Acer PH530, right: Epson MovieMate 72 (first 720p all in one projector).
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 HD71, 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, which uses smooth screen technology, which softens its image, in exchange for invisible pixels, and tends to be more similar, in sharpness, to the HD71, than some of the sharper projectors.
Projector Overall Picture Quality
It's all about bright. While the HD71 might othewise be considered only an average performer at best, it is a specialist. It's specialty is brightness, a tremendous amount of brightness, in "best mode" and one of the brighter, in "bright"It's brightness in best mode sets it apart from the competition. While the HD71 may not match the black level performance, the shadow detail, or the sharpness of some of the competition, those all seems to be only minors points, if you need a much brighter projector, to deal with exceptionally large screens, or, more importantly with inherent ambient light. A dimmer projector will wash out faster in even low ambient light, destroying any advantage that dimmer projector might have in black levels or shadow detail!
I should point out that the projector does provide a good bit of depth to the image. That has tended to be a trait of DLP projectors, and one the HD71 has, to its advantage.
Some additional images from Blu-ray disc:
Viewing - HDTV
OK, as we start feeding the HD71 some HDTV and sports, and kick in Bright mode, (the equivalent to Dynamic on most projectors), the balance of power changes between the HD71 and some of the competition. When looking for every last lumen, in brightest mode, the HD71 is no longer #1, but is still one of the brightest out there, about the same as the Epson Home Cinema 720, but still significantly less bright than the reigning champ, the Panasonic PT-AX200U.
Here are a few HDTV images for your consideration:
First, football, the small image shows how open the blinds are on one of the french doors, and then a screen image showing how the HD71 handles that amount of ambient light:
As you can see, with the blinds up on one door, all the way, the projector does take a significant hit, from the ambient lighting. The room itself is rather bright from that, as you could see a front looking shot with that much ambient light, in this old article on bright projectors.
Here are two shots from music videos from HDTV. The first is Pete Townsend (The Who), the second is Bon Jovi and Sugarland:
Lastly, one of Jay Leno and William Shatner on the Tonight Show:
Picture Quality - Bottom Line:
Overall, after proper adjustment, the HD71 is a pretty average 720p projector, but one that typifies the strengths and weaknesses of DLP projectors. Saturation is really very good, black levels and shadow detail are good, but not exceptional, and sharpness rather average.
As I keep pointing out, though, the HD71's strength is brightness, and that means that when you need the extra lumens, the HD71 delivers, and far less bright projectors with better black levels and shadow details, simply can't come close to matching the HD71's picture, because they will be significantly washed out, when the HD71 is only slightly affected!