Optoma HD72 Projector Review - Image Quality
I have been patiently waiting for the HD72. Originally, there was talk that this projector would be available in late December, but as it turns out, mid February saw the first shipments in the US, and I received a brand new production unit. Unlike some manufacturers who hand pick and pre-test projectors before shipping them to reviewers, my experience with Optoma, is that they simply send out new units without checking. This HD72 certainly looked like a brand new boxed unit, with no signs it had been opened or plugged in previously (and 0 hours on the lamp).
The image of Arwen above (from Lord of the Rings): is typical of the HD72's performance. Natural looking image but with vibrant colors, and very good sharpness, that just make you think "wow, this looks great".
The first thing I noticed when powering it up was brightness. With the default settings, in Cinema mode it was obviously much brighter than the projector I just finished reviewing, the Sony HS51A. As I continued to work with the HD72, I did side by side observations with the other home theater projectors I had available. In addition to the HS51A, I looked at the Optoma side by side with the BenQ PE7700 and the Panasonic PT-AE900u. It was slightly brighter than the BenQ, and significantly brighter than the Panasonic.
The Optoma is one of those projectors that needs some attention to its settings when you first get it. Just as I have previously experienced with their more expensive H78DC3 projector, colors are off a bit, with a slight greenish caste to the image. This is particularly noticeable with flesh tones. To get the most out of your HD72 projector, I would definitely recommend using a basic calibration disk, such as AVIA, to adjust the color balance. (A respectable color calibration by a novice should take less than an hour, with most of the time watching the tutorial. It really is easy, even for "non-techies". When it comes to out-of-the-box color, by comparison, the Panasonic has more accurate color, with only a slight shift toward yellow. The BenQ PE7700 does even better out of the box, with very good flesh tones, and only some minor changes to brightness. I haven't worked with the Sanyo Z4 in a while, but, like the Optoma HD72, it definitely needs more adjustment out of the box, to get best colors.
Down below I will provide some of the info from my calibration of the projector, but first, I want to cover how the HD72 actually performs, before getting into technical settings.
The flesh tones, after calibration, are excellent, as you can see from these two images, first, Gandalf, from Lord of the Rings, and LiLu from The 5th Element. Of particular note, the Optoma did not "blow out" (lose detail) in Gandalf's beard, while at the same time capturing realistic tonal qualities and extremely vibrant colors.
With the second image, the HD72 captures the rich colors of LiLu's hair and about the best rendition of her face that I can recall, for a projector in its price range. It produces a realistic caste, with a bit of yellow component in it, which is how I recall it is supposed to be. (Some projectors lack that caste and make her coloring a little too pink.
For still another look at flesh tones, here is an image of Samuel L. Jackson as Jedi Knight in Star Wars.
The HD72 does a very good job on shadow detail. I should note that often projectors (even after calibration), do not produce a true black. Rather you get a dark to very dark gray, depending on contrast levels, "AI" and other settings. In a perfect world
your "black" should be very close to true black, and it should be a perfectly balanced gray. Most projectors though, are off from a neutral gray. For example, with the Panasonic PT-AE900u, those blacks (such as a star scene) have a bluish caste. With the Optoma HD72, the shift on blacks is slightly toward brown. (This coloring of blacks, however is less than the Panasonic's shift to blue. It is not objectionable, and all in all about as good as any, except Sony's more expensive HS51A which really did neutral blacks.)
More important, is producing good black levels, and allowing the viewer to see the details in shadow areas. These two images (above and below) are the same frame, the first was exposed normally when photographed, the second, intentionally overexposed. The reason for this, is that my digital camera cannot capture the full dynamic range of what the projector can produce. So, on the first image the mountains look very good, but you really can't see detail in the right side of the image. By overexposing the second image, I have allowed you to see the see the shadow detail in this scene, that the projector captures.
The image above from Star Wars shows the HD72 picking up good shadow detail in the front of the rock walls on the right (give or take the limitations of my digital camera).
One more image which displays good shadow detail is this image from Sin City:
"Vibrant colors" is the phrase you will keep reading in this review. That is the HD72's real strength. This Optoma being an exceptionally bright projector, only partially explains the vibrant colors, but the combination of the richness of the colors and the brightness of the projector certainly has certainly convinced me that this is one excellent projector, image wise!
The HD72 projector uses "Brilliant Color" technology from TI. This is the first projector I have seen sporting this combination of firmware/settings. I am aware that Mitsubishi's new HC3000, a more expensive DLP projector also uses "Brilliant Color", but I haven't yet been able to get one for review. BTW, for most of my viewing I have Brilliant Color set for 4 (1-10 scale). I found 3 or 4 to be the most natural, with 4 providing the punchier image, which I preferred.
The image above is also a good image to start our consideration of the Optoma HD72's color dynamics. One thing striking, about the HD72 projector is its ability to bring out color especially in darker areas. I have found this also to be true of Optoma's H78DC3, one of my favorite projectors. I would watch a scene on the more expensive Optoma, and notice subtle colors that went unnoticed on other projectors.
The same is true for the HD72. Another good example of this is this night skyline shot from I, Robot. I notice more color in some of the lights than I did with the Panasonic AE900u, for example, which tended to display this image as a little more "black and white" looking.
The Optoma also did a very good job on this highly dynamic image from Sin City, capturing highlight details in her hair, very well. (Again, my camera is the biggest limitation in properly displaying what the projector captures from the DVD, and as a result some of the details are blown out.) You can see good shadow detail on the right side of her face (around her ear and cheek).
Above, you can appreciate the rich color saturation in this image of Frodo sleeping.
"AI" Artificial Intelligence
The term AI is getting very popular with home theater projectors. In using the term AI, or artificial intelligence, manufacturers are not describing the ultimate in AI, a computer that theoretically demonstrates real intelligence (learn more? search for Turing Engines in your favorite resource). In the world of projectors it normally means
using software to analyze the image frame by frame and adjusting the image to yield the best results. And the primary direction companies use AI for is to produce "blacker blacks" Two popular adjustments used are:
1. Dynamic Iris. Some projectors have an iris behind the lens, which can open or close to let out more or less light. If an image has no really bright areas, by closing the iris part way down, everything gets darker, so areas that should be black, now get closer to that ideal. At the same time an area that should be 40% white would also dim, but the projector would adjust the brightness of that area to maintain the correct brightness. (If the iris blocked 50% of the light, the projector's AI would adjust that part of the image to 80% so, that after the drop of 50% it is still the correct 40% brightness desired.
2. Variable lamp. Very similar, but instead of an Iris opening and closing, the lamp actually brightens or dims, frame by frame. With the same general result.
The Optoma uses AI in conjunction with variable lamp brightness. (That's why, if you have AI turned on, you cannot change the HD72 lamp's brightness setting.)
The drawback to most AI, is that to darken the blacks, you can only accomplish this with frames that don't have any really bright areas. If you have an area of the scene that is supposed to be full white (or a fully bright color - red, etc.), then if you dim the lamp, or close down the iris, you cannot get the full brightness of that white or color. Effectively the AI is disabled.
Quicktip: This has posed a serious problem for me recently in my photo shoots. Since I switched to Oppo DVD players in both my theater and testing room, when I pause an image to photograph it, a small pause indicator, appears toward the top right of the frame. (You can see that in some of the photos, but it's cropped out of others). Unfortunately, the pause indicator is full on white. On darker scenes, I can actually see the image on the screen change on the HD72 when I hit pause, as the AI can no longer dim the lamp for fear of not having the pause indicator be bright enough. I am going to check with Oppo, to see if this can be disabled.
As a result, what I see watching the DVD's (or HDTV) with AI on, and what is on the screen for me to capture when I hit pause are definitely different, with the actual being better than the captured image. My commentary as to how I find shadow detail, etc., is based on what I see while watching, not the captured photos, which at best approximate what is on the screen - remember, as mentioned before the camera also has limited dynamic range.
One more note. I did not find the dimming lamp to be noticeable in normal content. If you look hard enough you can see it at work, but so far only one projector was lamp dimming visible enough to occasionally bother me (Sanyo Z4). Of course once you own an HD72, you can may your own decision. You'll be watching it far more than I got a chance to.
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The Optoma HD72 projector's sharpness is one of the best in its price range. I found its sharpness to be virtually identical to the BenQ PE7700 on DVDs and HD sources. Compared to the Panasonic PTAE900u, the HD72 is definitely sharper on DVD and slightly sharper on HD. The Epson 550 (although I don't have one here right now),
was even softer than the Panasonic on DVD when I reviewed it. That leaves (of the most popular models), the Sanyo Z4. I don't have one of those here at the moment, but the Z4 was definitely sharper than the Panny 900u (check out that comparison review), and I would venture to guess that the Sanyo Z4 is a touch sharper than the HD72, at least on DVD.
I recently completed the review of the Sony HS51A, which is a step up in price, and I would say that, the Optoma HD72, like the Sony HS51A, is very sharp.
My own BenQ PE8720 is a real step up in sharpness from both, but all's fair, it sells for about 3 times the price and has a lens that is probably over twice the size found on any of these other projectors. (Other projectors with sharpness rivaling my BenQ tend to be in the $10,000 and up price range.)
Bottom line: The HD72 produces, an excellent image in terms of sharpness, for its price.
Quicktip: Remember, DVD's are lower resolution than the projectors anyway, so you'll get a big boost in viewing sharpness, soon, as Blu-Ray DVD, and/or HD-DVD come to market, with higher resolution, true Hi Def movies. Of course, you'll have to go out and buy your favorite DVD's all over again. I should note, that for most of my testing I have my Oppo DVD upscale to 720p, but, ultimately, the source material on today's DVDs is still 480i.
Tweaking the Optoma HD72
You'll find more details in the General Performance section. However the point is this, the Optoma really does require your attention to get out its best performance. Get a calibration disk, or you can try the settings I've published in the next section, but you will enjoy your projector a lot more for the little effort required. In a perfect world, for watching DVD's your projector should output a color temperature of 6500K (Kelvin). Projector lamps however are more like 10,000K which means whites have a bluish caste, vs a reddish caste at 6500K. DVDs are color balanced for 6500K, so for a projector to faithfully produce a move, it should be balanced for 6500K. The adjustment to get that 6500K setting is normally one of a projector's presets, the one manufacturers recommend for watching movies. In this case, it is the Cinema mode.
Out of the box this new HD72 projector measured just under 6700K, with the green component significantly stronger than the red or blue components.
After calibration, here are the measurements for 30 IRE (dark gray) = 6514 , 80 IRE (light gray) = 6557. (I make adjustments at those two IRE levels). I also measured the results of the calibration at 50 IRE (neutral) of 6511, 90 IRE (almost white) of 6642, and lastly at 100 IRE = 6788. So you can see, in the brighter ranges the HD72 shifts a slight bit more toward cooler blue. Most importantly, overall, the images at this setting were extremely pleasing.
Optoma HD72 home theater projector:
Image Quality Summary
As I've said before, if you put in the effort, the HD72 produces a great image. I would have to say that its color handling produces the most vibrant, and brightest image of any projector in the price range that I have yet seen. While the projector cannot match the shadow detail of more expensive DLP projectors using the Darkchip3, black levels are very good for the price range. Shadow detail follows with that. In my opinion, the projector does a better than average job on shadow details considering the expected limitations in doing the blackest blacks. I would attribute this to the punchy, vibrant overall image quality. Whether this is a direct result or TI's Brilliant Color" technology, or other aspects of the projector's design, doesn't really matter.
Continue on to the General Performance link for more on adjusting the Optoma projector, as well as a look at its menus, remote control, some screen recommendations, lamp life, and more.