Home Theater Projector Reviews:
Optoma HD803 DLP Projector:
Summary, Pros, Cons
The Optoma HD803, is so similar to the HD80 and HD8000 that they all are virtually the same projector when comparing to other projector models from other manufacturers. (In fact the image on the right is actually an HD8000.)
Street price of the HD803 seems to be right about $2500 or slightly less, at the time of this review (2/08)
Throughout this review, I've commented on how this Optoma compares with other 1080p projectors, and normally I do a lot of competitive commentary here. Since, however I plan to be publishing our 1080p comparison report, in about 3 weeks (or less), I'm just going to reiterate a few comments, and leave the rest for the Comparison Report.
Optoma currently (at least in the US) dominates the DLP segment of the 1080p home theater projector market. Techically they have five 1080 projectors, although three, the HD80, HD803, and HD8000 are almost identical. Moving up, they have the HD81, with better processing, and the spectacular HD81-LV, a light cannon that, when it comes to lumens, leaves everything else under $10,000 (US) in the dust.
1080p Projector Competition
DLP projectors have always been described as film-like - natural looking, and the Optoma HD803 is no exception. The choice, for example, between the HD803, and the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, in many ways is going to be a personal one. The Epson may do significantly better black levels, but has a slightly hard looking image, compared directly to the HD803. The Epson can also really crank out the lumens when needed, offering close to double that of the HD803, even though it's a tad less bright in best mode. Personally I didn't find that hardness to be an issue, even being the owner of the JVC RS1, definitely considered to be a very film-like projector. Interestingly, despite the slight brightness advantage in best mode of the Optoma, I found the Epson to handle larger screens better. This I tie to the Optoma's overall slightly darker look to images (but in fairness, it has richer dark color handling).
Image below has the Optoma on the left, Epson on the right:
The Sony VW40 poses a greater challenge for the Optoma HD803. It's similar in film-like nature, although it has a different flavor to the image, and almost identical in brightness in "best" mode, although not as bright when you want maximum lumens (it's not that much less bright though). The Sony, like the Epson, wins hands down in placement flexibility, compared to the HD803, which being a typical DLP has only a 1.2:1 zoom (compared to 2:1 (Epson) and 1.8:1 (Sony VW40). Also, the other two have lens shift, making shelf mounting easy (the Optoma can't be shelf mounted except down low).
Image above shows Optoma on left, Sony on right.
Between the Panasonic and the HD803, I just don't know. Black levels should be roughly comparable, and the Optoma appears sharper, but both provide really watchable images, though without gamma adjusted the Optoma will be noticeably darker. I've seen these, too far apart in time, to figure out which I would prefer. I'd really have to see them together, or at least close in time. Most people will buy the Panasonic though, because of its placement flexibility. The HD803, really needs to be ceiling mounted, and in addition, the significant lens offset puts it more than 1.5 feet above the top of the screen, which kills it for people doing basements that don't have standard ceilings.
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What about the really low priced 1080p projectors?
The Sanyo PLV-Z2000 is far less, and it really is a nice projector, roughly in the same class as the Optoma, and being 3LCD it has the usual placement advantage. The Optoma HD803 clobbers the Sanyo PLV-Z2000 in terms of brightness. It's got 40% more lumens when comparing best modes, and double the lumens when you need them for sports, etc., with significant ambient light.
The Mitsubishi HC4900 is also very good sharpness, but can't match the HD803 in black levels. The HC4900, though is one of the brightest projectors out there in best mode, producing about 650 lumens in Cinema mode. The two projectors are similar in brightness when in brightest modes. If you need the lumens, the Mitsubishi is the way to go. To me, however, there is enough of a step up in black level performance, that I really prefer the HD803 to the HC4900 for viewing. Of course, we're talking about a huge difference in selling price, with the Mitsubishi, it seems, currently being at least $600 less.
Optoma HD803 projector, Pros, Cons, and Typical Capabilities
The HD803 looked just gorgeous on this scene from Casino Royale.
Optoma HD803 Projector: Pros
- Slightly better than average brightness
- Very acceptable black levels
- Shadow detail is very good
- Overall, very good picture quality (after adjustment)
- Support for ISF Day/Night calibration
- Optional Anamorphic Lens for those wanting a Cinemascope (2.35:1 aspect ratio) theater - with no letterboxing when watching movies
- Three digital inputs, including 2, HDMI 1.3 inputs - very impressive, especially for an "entry level" 1080p projector
- Very good (extensive) image control options on menus
- Good menu system
- Sealed light path, no filters to change or clean
- Fairly attractive, relatively small, projector
- Average value proposition
Optoma HD803 Projector: Cons
- Placement flexibility: Limited zoom lens range (1.2:1)
- Placement flexibility: No adjustable lens shift at all
- "Out of the Box" color accuracy is not good, but fixable
- Large lens offset, requires projector well above, or below screen surface - a problem for those with low ceilings (or normal ceilings, and larger screens)
- Noisey! One of the louder projectors in full power lamp mode
- Lamp door on bottom requires removal from a ceiling mount to change out
- Remote has more limited range than most - hard to get a bounce off the screen in larger rooms
- One year warranty
Optoma HD803 Projector: Typical Capabilities
- Lamp life
- Pixel visibility (for a DLP projector)
- Documentation (needs better, more, explanations of features)
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Optoma HD803 Summary
A classic DLP projector, both in terms of the good, and the not so good! The Optoma HD803 may be currently the lowest priced 1080p projector using DLP technology, and the look and feel of the picture from DLP projectors has always been highly regarded, and in fact, until recently (the last two years), many would say unchallenged. (Please, no hate mail from those still using CRT projectors.)
My point being, the HD803 puts a high quality, very watchable image on your screen. It isn't technically the best at anything, but well balanced, with no real issues with picture quality once calibrated.
The HD803 has many challenges in terms of competition. I think it would be a killer product if it was down at $1999 at this time, competing directly with the two projectors currently in that space. At its price however, it faces stiff competition, not just from a wide range of projectors including Epson, Sony, and Panasonic, but from its own two siblings, the HD80 and HD8000.
Bottom line: Good projector, really good image, and some real strengths, including sharpness and better than average brightness in best mode. Despite that, it won't find a large following (but it will be the right match for some folks), due to the usual DLP placement issue, and the heavy competition. It needs to be lower priced at this time, to be a formidable competitor.