Optoma HD81-LV: 1080p Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
This section is organized into five areas, instead of four: Handling of flesh tones (or skin tones, which I'm starting to think, "sounds better"), Black levels and shadow detail, Sharpness, Brightness and Ambient Light (new), and finally, General image quality. Let's get started:
Optoma HD81-LV Home Theater Projector: Skin Tones
If you take the HD81-LV out of the box, just hook it up, and feed it a gorgeous Blu-Ray or HD-DVD disk, you will be immediately dissapointed. The skin tones are not good. "Ghostly green" comes to mind as a descriptor, although that may be a bit too strong.
The good news is that it is very fixable, and once the projector is calibrated by a professional, or by yourself with a $40 calibration disk, (I recommend a professional calibrator, if you are spending in this price range), the improvement is nothing short of dramatic. Once the grayscale/white balance is corrected, the skin tones are excellent.
Here are two images to start you off with, the first is of Arwen, from Lord of the Rings after calibration, and the second one, is "out of the box." Have I made my point? The greenish caste is definitely visible (especially on the upper half of her face) on the uncalibrated version.
OK, so we agree, the projector needs adjustment. Once done, though, the skin tones are just fine. Here are a group of images taken after the grayscale balance, starting with two from House of the Flying Daggers - on Blu-Ray disk. As always, you can click on most images, for much larger versions.
Note, if images appear oversaturated, you may want to adjust your monitor's color saturation down a little for best viewing.
More Blu-Ray disk action, this time from Aeon Flux:
From SD-DVD images from The 5th Element, and Lord of the Rings:
A couple of years ago, I used some SD-DVD images from Pirates. Now that I have it on Blu-Ray, I thought it time to resurrect a shot of Johnny Depp:
Here's another night time image, this time from Phantom of the Opera, HD-DVD:
Lastly, a sepia toned image from the SD-DVD of Sin City:
I will mention again, although I calibrated for movie watching (6500K), I didn't do a full adjustment for TV/HDTV, but rather took the brightest setting and modified it by eyeball, to get a decent balance. A full grayscale adjustment should produce even better skin tones than these below, from HDTV sources:
The first of these two above, is obviously Jay Leno, and the second, is Pete Townsend of the Who, from a HD music video from an Isle of Wight concert, under stage lighting.
Optoma HD81-LV Black Levels and Shadow Detail
To my surprise, I found the black levels handling of the HD81-LV to be slightly better than the HD81, which was already extremely good for a single chip DLP. The HD81-LV may not match the JVC RS1 (best to date), or the Sharp XV-Z20000, and Sony Pearl (also both superb), but it comes very close, even without using the dynamic iris. Shadow detail performance, which closely follows black level performance was also very good, although the normal gamma settings produced dark areas with detail that were a little darker overall, than the others. The HD81-LV, though does offer a great deal of control over gamma levels. Bottom line, the HD81-LV has to be considered a top performer in these areas.
Let's look at black levels first with the usual set of images, but before I start with those, here are two quick side-by-side images, comparing the Optoma HD81-LV (left) with the Mitsubishi HC4900 on the right. The HC4900 is almost the opposite of the HD81-LV, with mediocre black levels, although its shadow detail performance is about as good as could be expected considering the black level limititations. These images are from Batman Begins (HD-DVD):
Even though the HD81-LV is the much brighter projector (although I had the Mitsubishi on High Lamp Power, and the Optoma on low), you can see that the Optoma's blacks are much blacker than the Mitsubishi. I left some of the lower letterboxing in the lower image, so you can see the relative difference in black. Bottom line, the HD-81-LV produces a much more dynamic, and dramatic looking scene.
Next, from standard DVD (SD-DVD), The Fifth Element, consider this image of the starship, and the starfield behind it. The Optoma reveals inky blacks, and tons of stars. Similar images are on most other reviews.
From Space Cowboys, on Blu-Ray DVD:
And since I'm on a "space scene" roll, another from Space Cowboys:
Now it's time to take a look, specifically, at shadow detail handling. We'll start with the cavern scene from Phantom. Click on the image below, for a much larger, and overexposed version, to see how much detail is really in the dark walls, etc. We used the trick of overexposing, because my digital camera's dynamic range is less than a good projector's so it loses shadow detail if normally exposed (and some near white detail, too.)
By comparison, here is the same setup, for the JVC RS1, our reigning shadow detail champion:
From Lord of the Rings, click on this image, for a larger, overexposed image. You can observe the shadow detail in the shed, and along the bottom:
From Space Cowboys - Blu-Ray DVD, reentry. These images are intentionally, seriously overexposed, look for details in the shadows, on the right side of the screen. This image can be found in most recent reviews. The overall performance on this image is extremely good, although still shy of the JVC's abilities.
This photo below, from Sin City (SD-DVD), of the car on a dark night, is another good indication of the very good shadow detail the Optoma delivers:
Lastly, from Aeon Flux (Blu-Ray), the table scene. Note the detail in the dark table surface, and the shadows cast on the table, the dark black levels and shadow detail combine for a vibrant image, and no lack of detail:
Optoma HD81-LV home theater projector: Sharpness
Like the HD81, the Optoma HD81-LV offers one of the sharper images available of the 1080p projectors.
Click on the left thumbnail for a closeup of the DTS logo (the thumbnail image gives you a good idea of how small a portion of the whole image, the logo takes up). For comparison, the middle thumbnail is from the JVC RS1, and the right most one, links to the same logo from the Sharp XV-Z20000. Pricewise, the JVC is the least expensive of the three, but not by that much.
This next image is from Aeon Flux, on Blu-Rayl. Note the sharpness in her eyes and in the loose strands of her hair:
Lastly, a cropped view of a computer monitor from Space Cowboys on Blu-Ray. Again, a similar image is found in most reviews, so you can compare. Readability of the type on the computer screen is the key, and the HD81-LV does very, very, well.
Click on the thumbnail for a large version:
Bottom line: A very sharp image. Watching the Optoma HD81-LV home theater projector filling my 128" diagonal screen from just over 11 feet (very close compared to where most people would sit), the Optoma, like the Sharp, and Mitsubishi, produce that "razor sharp" type image, that we are all looking for. Step back a few more feet, and it looks so sharp, that it's like looking out a window.
Optoma HD81-LV Brightness and Ambient Light
When I find a particularly bright projector (and of the under $10K 1080p projectors, so far this is the prince of brightness), I feel it important to let you see how much ambient light the projector can deal with, as there are two types of buyers, seeking maximum lumens: Those who want very large screens (more than 110" diagonal), and those who want to watch some content with more than a little ambient light (like you would want it, if you have friends over to watch a football game, or maybe just regular TV programming).
I'm not going to talk lumens here, that is covered in the next page - General Performance, but rather show you several room lighting levels in my theater (which has motorized shades to darken it, though not completely).
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First of all, no projector has survived having sunlight entering the room through all the glass of my double doors, and still presented a very watchable image.
For this section I have images of how my room lighting is set up (window shades in three different positions - lots of light (bright), medium ambient light (medium) and low light (low - my shades all down), with the room still leaking enough significant light so that you could easily read a newspaper, anywhere in the room.
Please note, that for this sequence, I'm not filling the full screen, but the area I am filling measures 115" diagonal, still larger than most home theater systems.
Bright: This first image shows the shades up on my double doors. In reality, the room appears much brighter than what you see here, and there are large streaks of sunlight hitting the back wall.
The image immediately below, shows a football game, under this lighting condition.
As you can see, the sunlight is taking its toll. Still, the
The game is viewable, but, hardly acceptable. However, no other 1080p projector, including my JVC, provides even marginal viewing with this much light.
OK, now the shades on the windows are half down, still some sunlight hitting the back wall, and even in this mode, you could read a book all day long, there is plenty of ambient light in the room. I never have the shades this far open when watching on my JVC.
As you can see in this image of the same frame of the football game, the picture quality
is now very acceptable. The most light I let in with my JVC, is to have these windows down to just below the top of the couch that you see. (That prevents any sunlight from actually hitting the back, white wall).
Next, the shades are fully lowered, but still leaking significant light into the room, as you can see. With the HD81-LV, the room might as well be pitch black, for all the difference it makes. The football game is now in its full glory, with no noticeable loss of contrast or saturation.
And here's what that same frame looks like under this "low ambient light" condition:
For the fun of it, I left the door shades, down, but opened the shades a bit on the picture window closest to the screen. I watch a lot of sports, and I can assure you that I have never successfully watched any, with any projector, with this front shade opened even the tiniest bit. Here, though, you can see a little washout in the lower left hand side. Not perfect, but, it certainly works! You get a good idea of how much light is coming in (sunlight is hitting the carpet), by looking at how bright the painting, speakers, and wall are.
If you are not yet convinced, that the HD81-LV is a cut above, in terms of brightness, then I should give up!
Although still not ideal, the HD81-LV, is the brightest projector since I reviewed the 3 chip DLP, 2500 lumen SIM2 C3X (720p, current pricing still over $15,000), more than a year ago, and the Optoma is every bit the equal to the SIM2 in brightness.
As to movie watching, even the HD81-LV with the shades all down (on a sunny day), still isn't bright enough to not lose significant shadow detail in the dark areas, but it did demonstrate that it could do a decent job. The scenes from House of the Flying Daggers, and The Fifth Element were very watchable, except for the very darkest scenes.
Bottom line: The HD81-LV has the horsepower for serious watching of TV, and even a movie (for those less critical) in family rooms with significant lights on, or even some daylight sneaking in. In a properly darkened room, the Optoma should handle screens 10 or even 12 feet across with no difficulty for normal movie watching.
Optoma HD81-LV Overall Picture Quality
Colors are richly saturated, black levels inky black (but not the best), and shadow detail is very good. Default gamma seems a little dark in the darker areas, but this can be adjusted, and overall, the HD81 produces a beautiful image, and one that is far brighter than the competition. For your consideration, here is a batch of images, from SD-DVD, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, and HDTV, with an occasional comment thrown in. Here goes:
Two photos from House of the Flying Daggers - Blu-Ray DVD. Very few movies offer richer or more spectacular colors than this movie, and the HD81-LV has the colors jumping off the screen. Wow!
From the DTS Blu-Ray test disk:
And one more from that disk, the dark, vibrant scene of a bazaar:
From Aeon Flux on Blu-Ray:
More from Blu-Ray - Night at the Museum:
From Phantom of the Opera on HD-DVD:
From SD-DVD, The Fifth Element:
From the BBC / Discovery Channel, on Blu-Ray:
You have to see the Planet Earth Blu-Ray DVD to believe it. The HD81-LV produces spectacular imagery on this disk. Not being a traditional movie, the Planet Earth scenes fully appreciate the far greater brightness the HD81-LV can deliver.
Space Cowboys - Blu-Ray edition:
Here are a couple more images, from SD-DVD, starting with Sin City:
Lastly, it's time to check out an HDTV image, and there's no place better to start, than football (remember my comments about not fully calibrating for HDTV):
OK, that's a wrap, of this section.
Bottom line, the HD81-LV produces bright, rich, and saturated images, with deep blacks and good shadow detail. I seriously doubt any friend you invite over (except maybe a professional calibrator, or a Hollywood colorist), will believe that they will see anything in a modern movie theater, that can rival the imagery that the HD81-LV puts up on your screen. And, that, truly, is the bottom line!
Time to consider general performance items like menus, remote control, brightness, projector screen recommendations, and more!