Optoma HD81-LV DLP Home Theater Projector Review - General Performance
Topics in this section:
Optoma HD81-LV, with optional Anamorphic Lens
User Memory Settings
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
SDE and Rainbow Effect
Audible Noise Levels
Lamp Life and Replacement
Projector Screen Recommendations
Optoma HD81-LV with Optional Anamorphic Lens
Optoma offers an Anamorphic Lens, with motorized sled option for $3999 additional, for those planning on a 2.35:1 (Cinemascope) shaped screen.
When using the Anamorphic lens and matching screen, the placement difference and screen size, of course, are different than using a 16:9 screen without the optional lens.
When using the Anamorphic Lens, one selects the LBX aspect ratio option from the remote control, or menus.
The actual result is a wider image, and the projector stretches the vertical, so every pixel is used, and there is no letter box at the top and bottom. This also means a brighter overall image, since all pixels are in use.
I may be a reviewer, but I'm not much of a DIYer (do it yourselfer.) The Lens and sled come with directions, mounting plate (for ceiling mounting), lots of screws and chains. Truth is, I just didn't feel that ambitious, so I set up the lens in front of the projector's lens, without using the motorized sled. As a result, I can't report on how well the motorized sled system works. On the other hand, Optoma has been offering the anamorphic option on the HD81 for quite some time, and word is, it works fine.
Viewing the projector in 2.35:1 with the anamorphic lens, produced an image that seemed as sharp as without the anamorphic lens. I did notice a slight increase in the bowing of the image (i.e., the top center of the image is a little lower than the top corners). This bowing (a slight curvature of the image) is primarily the result of the projector's significant lens offset, and the anamorphic solution does exaggerate that slightly, as would be expected. This is a minor issue, and to get the top center at the edge of the top of the screen, by the time you get to the top corners, they will be a bit higher, and overlapping the screen's border. This can't be helped.
According to the manual, the Optoma is smart enough when properly set up with the lens and sled plugged in, to know the aspect ratio of the source, and adjust automatically. Thus, if the source is 16:9 HDTV, the sled should automatically move the anamorphic lens out of the way, and switch from the LBX setting to 16:9, and so on.
All that brightness, and the anamorphic lens, make the HD81-LV ideal for a first class, huge screening room. I can imagine those with the budget and room size will take avantage, and create a theater environment with screen sizes up to 160" diagonal in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and that means about 12 feet of screen width - huge!
This Cinemascope option is not for those with limited budgets (a fully motorized, masked, and curved Cinemascope screen can cost up to $20,000). However we are starting to see any number of very affordable fixed anamorphic screens, at very reasonable (if slightly higher than 16:9 screens) prices.
If you are going 2.35:1 with the anamorphic lens, remember to pull the proper screen dimensions and throw distances to figure out where the projector needs to be placed.
If I were rich, and doing my theater all over again, I would seriously consider this option. My JVC, incidently, does not support Cinemascope, unless one purchases an outboard processor, bypassing the internal processing, since the JVC's processing lacks the necessary stretch mode for Cinemascope. If I were to go that route with the JVC, the JVC would end up costing a couple thousand more than the Optoma, similarly capable.
Optoma HD81-LV Projector: Menus
Overall the HD81-LV Menus are fairly logically though out, although there are a lot of levels for some of the advanced features. For example, from the main menu system, switching lamp brightness or controlling Iris settings are two levels down, three if you count the top Main menu.
Let's take a look. Note: The menus seem to be identical to those of the Optoma HD81, although that shouldn't be a surprise.
Pressing the Menu button on the remote or the Outboard processor, you will see the menu to the right: Image Menu. On the left side, you can see the three other primary menus as well: Display, System, and Setup.
The Mode gives you the choice of 3 User presets. All are slightly different. I used User 1 as the basis for most of my work. In addition the Mode lets you select from ISF Day, and ISF Night, if you have had your projector professionally calibrated, giving you a total of five sets of settings.
After that, there are the usual basic image controls, like brightness and contrast. Unfortunately if you scroll down, to, say, Brightness, you then have to Enter or right arrow key which will then bring up your ability to adjust Brightness. It would be nicer if once on Brightness, the left and right arrow keys simply let you change the value, instead of essentially opening another window, and adding several extra keystrokes.
The last item on the Image menu is the Advanced option, shown above, which gives you access to adjust the following: Noise Reduction, Gamma, Color Temperature, Image Mode, Edge Enhancement, Color Vividness, Black and White Extension, Demo mode, and a Reset. Shown here is the Color Temp Menu. In addition to the three presets (Warm, Standard, and Cold), you can access the User menu, shown immediately below. From this menu, you can individually control the R,G, and B Contrast and Brightness settings. This is where most of the calibration work gets done - to come up with a well tuned grayscale balance for movie watching. The ideal is a color temperature of 6500K.
Some notes on a few of these options: Gamma allows 10 steps of control of the image, leaving the blacks black and the full intensity colors and white, as is, but adjusting the lower, mid, and upper ranges. For example, movies are looking for a higher gamma to provide a richer (and some would say darker) image.
Color Vividness seems similar to TI's Brilliant Color circuitry. It seems to affect a number of aspects of the image, but basically allows you to increase intensity without oversaturating.
Demo is very interesting. It puts up a rectangle on the screen that allows you to compare the original settings with the changes you are making to controls, thus essentially giving you a bit of side-by-side comparison.
The next major menu is the Display menu shown here.
Format allows you to select the aspect ratio for your content. From reading the manual, the most interesting feature might be the Edge masking. The manual does not clearly explain what this is for. At first glance, it sounded like the projector was going to put a physical mask where you want it, to, for example, eliminate the dark gray light in the letterbox area. Problem is, I could never get it to do anything noticeable. So my assumption may be wrong. I plan to try to get someone at Optoma to explain exactly what it's for, and how to make it happen. Image shift, on the other hand, I am familiar with. It allows you to move the image up or down the screen. If you have a full screen image, using image shift will cause you to lose part of the image. If though, you are working with a letter boxed 16:9 movie, you could move the image up the screen so the top of the actual content is even with the top of your screen. If you have the ability to control how far down your screen goes (motorized or manual), for example, you could only extend it as far as the 2.35:1 Cinemascope shape. Then by moving the image up, you would fill the visible screen and not have a letterbox. I always thought that was a usable feature for some.
Moving to the System Menu, we find a couple of key capabilities, beyond selecting menu language or the background color. You can select source from here, but more interesting, you can program the 12 volt triggers for screen control, which would allow you to control a motorized masking screen. Equally important, is the Projector sub menu, which allows you to control the Iris (auto, off, or manual - with 16 settings), and the all important lamp mode. From there you can select low power or full power settings.
The last major menu is the Setup menu - which tells you the current source signal information, and allows more adjustments, such as choice of 0 or 7.5 IRE for most inputs, as well as additional white level, black level and saturation controls. It also provides access to the Auto Calibration mode.
In other words, the HD81-LV gives you a wealth of adjustable features, enough to likely keep even the most hard core tweakers happy.
Optoma HD81-LV Memory Settings
The HD81-LV projector has User settings in several areas, but does not offer formal saving of the settings. Image modes: Between the three User areas, plus ISF Day, and ISF Night (those two are for calibrators), there are plenty of savable areas. There is also User Color Temperature, and you can have different settings for each of the 5 modes.
Without formal Save settings capability though, you should definitely store what your settings are. For example, you might be using User 1 mode for movies, but find a particular movie needs some adjustment because the production qualities left something to be desired. So, let's say you increase color saturation, and reduce contrast. That is now part of your setting, and will remain until you change it. No big deal, when you want to return to your "default" setting for user 1, and you know what it is, but if you don't record it, I hope your memory is very good.
Optoma HD81-LV Remote Control
It's pretty (I love those blue LED lights, even though I'm not sure they are as easy to read as other colors), it's loaded with buttons, and the layout is pretty good, which means controls are logically grouped, and there are lots of different sized buttons and it's not all rows and columns. As a result, it is easy to navigate and find what you are looking for, without needing the backlight. The backlight, incidentally, comes on whenever you press any key.
Unlike many projectors, the HD81-LV has one button for powering up, another for off.
Next comes the Brite Mode button for toggling the projector between lamp in high power mode, or economy. To its right, is the Iris button which lets you choose from Auto, Manual, and Off.
Below them, your primary preset modes, which consist of Users 1,2,3 and the ISF Day and Night settings.
Directly below those controls are four image controls in a slight curve - Edge enhancement, Gamma, Color Vividness, and BW (black and white image) enhancement.
Right below that, the obligatory four navigation arrow keys and a center Enter button.
To the lower left, the Menu button (just about where you would expect to find it), and opposite it, the Demo button (again, this allows you to compare original settings with the changes you make).
The next two are vertical bars for the Vertical image shift, and Overscan adjustment (for those pesky TV images that have noise at the top, bottom or sides of the image). I'm not sure why they get such prime real estate on the remote, but, so be it.
Finally, at the bottom you get to be overwhelmed by the vast number of input choices. The three HDMIs are in the first row, with space between them and the other twelve buttons. That's about it for the HD81-LV remote, except to say that it fits well in the hand, and you can access most of the buttons you are likely to use, without needing your other hand, or having to shift your hand up and down on the remote. Overall, a really nice remote control. And, don't forget those lovely blue lights!
Optoma HD81-LV Projector: Lens Throw and Lens Shift
As noted, the HD81-LV lacks adjustable lens shift, which will pretty much limit mounting the projector on a back wall. The projector will end up being placed (due to the significant fixed lens shift), either well below the bottom of the screen, or ceiling mounted well above the top of the screen. If you are using a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen that offset is going to be just over 16 inches (above the top, or below the bottom of the screen surface).
As to distance, for a 100" diagonal screen, the front of the lens can be as close as 13 feet 6 inches, to approximately 16 feet 2 inches from the screen. That's only a 20% range, far less than the range offered by LCD and LCOS home theater projectors.
A good place to start in determining if the HD81-LV is for you, is to see if you can place it in your room. If your ceiling isn't too low, however, you should be fine, when ceiling mounted, as that's where you have maximum flexibility.
Optoma HD81-LV Screen Door and Rainbow Effects
Ahh, the beauty of 1080p resolution projectors - pixel structure visibility is no longer a real issue. (In fairness, it is still a minor issue with LCD based 1080p projectors due to the inherently more visible pixels with LCD technology). (Note: The exception is the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, which uses their Smooth Screen technology to make their pixel structure virtually invisible unless you are standing a couple of feet from your screen.)
I enjoyed watching the HD81-LV filling my 128" diagonal screen from 11 feet back. I had to strain to make out any pixel structure at all, in credits or stationary type and graphics on the screen, and never could spot pixel structure in any normal viewing. 11 feet back from a 128" screen is CLOSE! - think front half of a movie theater.
That takes us to rainbows. The HD81-LV is a typical higher end DLP projector, with a 5X color wheel. That means the usual very small portion of viewers may see rainbows (which are most visible when fine edge white areas are moving across a dark background). That also means even those rainbow sensitive that see them occasionally on a dark movie scene, are not likely to ever see one while watching a football game, or a typical well lit sitcom. Fortunately for 90-95% of the population (my best guess), rainbows will not be an issue.
Optoma HD81-LV Home Theater Projector: Light Leakage
The Optoma leaks a small amount of light out the lens. It is spottable (barely) if your walls aren't dark, and the scene on the screen is extremely dark (black, or maybe a starfield). Although easy to spot when feeding the projector the right dark image to project, it is not something that I noticed during normal viewing in my theater room, (which still has light colored walls). Considering how bright this projector is, I'd say Optoma did well in this regard.
Optoma HD81-LV Audible Noise Levels
Audible noise is definitely one of the HD81-LV's weaknesses. Not that it's terribly loud, but in full power mode, it is noisier than any other 1080p projector I have seen (except the equally loud HD81). It is noisy enough, I believe, to discourage some buyers, but not most. Remember too, the HD81-LV is amazingly bright, so in low power mode, for example, its still brighter than any 1080p competitor under $10,000. In other words, few will need to run the HD81-LV in full power mode. In a serious theater environment, you might want to try to absorb some of the sound, if practical. Let me put it this way- in full power mode, it's noisier than when the fan for the heater and air conditioner come on. Of course, it is a steady sound, so the mind tends to ignore it to some degree, just as you normally don't notice when your refrigerator is running.
The HD81-LV may have lots of strengths, but it does deserve criticism here. It really is just a bit too noisy in full power mode! I'm not a fanatic for noise levels, but I really am impressed with the HD81-LV home theater projector, and it may well be my next projector when I replace my JVC. (I tend to replace about once a year, to stay "current").
Fan noise isn't the whole story, either. That auto iris system, as previously mentioned, makes an almost grinding sound for about a second as it adapts to different scenes. That noise is even louder than the fan, and is noticeable enough that I recommended that the Auto Iris not be used with the HD81, and have to repeat that recommendation with the HD81-LV. In my theater, I didn't always notice the iris, but when it happens during relatively quiet scenes, you can't miss it. Tsk, Tsk. Optimistic as I am, I had hoped Optoma would solve that deficiency in the 9 months between the first shipments of the HD81 and the HD81-LV.
Optoma HD81-LV Brightness - Measured Lumens
The Optoma HD81-LV brightness performance is, quite literally, dazzling! In best mode, it is the brightest 1080p projector we have yet seen, and by quite a significant margin.
Here are the numbers:
In "Best" mode after I did a quick brightness and contrast adjust, and a gray scale balance, and with the Iiris set to fully open, lamp on Bright, the HD81-LV measured a best in class 1474 lumens - 800 more than the HD81!!! Nothing price competitive comes close.
For my mesurements with the HD81-LV, the way I had the projector set up, the lens was in full wide angle. Change the zoom to the opposite extreme, and the projector will produce less lumens. Since, however, the zoom ratio is a very narrow 1.2:1, the drop is not great (figure about 20%). If we assume the average user will have the zoom range about in the middle, then our measurements would be about 10% dimmer than the numbers posted here.
In low power the HD81-LV is roughly 28% dimmer than with the lamp on full power, which surprised me. The surprise comes from the fact that the HD81 only measures about 20% dimmer, in its low power mode. I'd like to think that Optoma realizes that even 20% less (about 1180 lumens) maybe too bright for some. The bottom line - lamp in low power, and it still produced 1061 lumens (full wide angle on the zoom), and therefore, probably just below 1000 lumens in low power, with zoom in the middle of its range.
Like the HD81, the HD81-LV doesn't seem to have a user mode tricked out for maximum brightness where some color performance is sacrificed. Unlike my HD81 review, this time I invested some time to see how many lumens I could squeeze out of the HD81-LV with definitely some sacrifice of image quality, for when maximum brightness is really needed.
I really was surprised. The HD81-LV measured out at 2906 lumens!
With further tuning, I expect that settings designed for HDTV (rather than DVD), with a 7500K desired temperature, could produce at least 1700 - 2300 lumens and still deliver excellent picture quality. It is great, though to have 3000 lumens if you really need it.
I did not bother to measure the HD81-LV with the iris stopped down. There is little benefit to stopping down the iris (unless you want to use it to dim down the projector for small screens in a dark room). Technically, stopping down an iris will increase contrast slightly, but slightly is a poor trade off against a darker image, for most people.
Optoma HD81-LV Lamp Life and Replacement
Oh, how typical: 2000 hours in full power mode, and 3000 hours rated for low power. That has to be the "industry norm".
When it comes to replacing the lamp, the lamp door is on the bottom of the projector. That means you are going to have to unmount a celing mounted projector to change the lamp. That's a pain, but typical of most projectors. Problem is, its competition includes the BenQ W10000 and the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, neither of which requires unmounting to change their lamps.
On the plus side, few people will need to run the HD81-LV in full lamp mode, so most of us will be working with the 3000 hour rating.
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Optoma HD81-LV Projector Screen Recommendations
In this case, think of the HD81-LV as the proverbial 800 pound gorilla. What screen is best? Pretty much whatever it wants will work. I fully enjoyed the HD81-LV on my large Stewart Firehawk screen. When I took the HD81-LV into my testing room, I viewed it primarily on the Carada Brilliant White, but also on a HC Gray Elite motorized screen. With the 106" Brilliant White, the image was almost blinding in brightest modes, and black levels (i.e.. the letterbox), are starting to get a bit too light (still a dark gray). In other words, for movie viewing, the Carada Brilliant White at 106" is just too much with the iris open. However, dialing down the iris manually from the menus, reduced the overall brightness to acceptable levels, and the blacks in the letter box dropped back down in brightness to the usual very good near blacks that most consider perfectly acceptable.
My Firehawk, being a gray surface, even with its large, 128" diagonal size, isn't even a challenge for the HD81-LV to fill. The result is a a dazzling image, even in low lamp mode, while filling the entire screen.
So the bottom line. Consider your ambient light situation. If you have side ambient light to deal with, a HC gray, like my Firehawk, or Elite's HC Gray, Da-lite's HC Da-Mat, etc. should serve well, because they can reject some of that side light. For a full court press - looking for maximum lumens, though, a StudioTek 130 has got to be a great choice. And for those needing a fixed wall screen, but running shy of cash, Carada's BW will work great for less than half the bucks.
If you are going really large screen - 123" to 160" diagonal, you can go either HC gray, or white, depending on your other room conditions. If you have the lighting control, though, and dark walls, I would tend to think the Stewart Studiotek 130, or Carada Brilliant White, is the way to go. And, should it be too bright, manually close down the iris until you are satisfied.
Optoma HD81-LV Calibration
Taking the HD81-LV from its relatively poor color settings to a great image, was actually pretty easy to do. I set up the User 1 mode, for movie watching, and I also adjusted User 2, but for maximum brightness, for dealing with lots of ambient light. I didn't run a full adjust for best settings for TV/HDTV, but rather eyeballed the User 2 settings I came up with, removed some green, and got a-not-quite-as-bright, but better looking image, than that for maximum brightness.
I won't even bother to give you the color temperature numbers before adjusting, as the picture was unacceptable.
I set User 1 up this way, and movies just looked sensational:
Contrast: 4, Brightness: 3, Color (saturation): 2, Gamma: 2, Sharpness: 0
In the Advanced menu, I adjusted Color Temp (User) this way:
Contrast: Red=7, Green=-8, Blue=0
Brightness: Red=0, Green=-5, Blue=-1
And here's how that measured out, (with lamp at Full power). Ideal is 6500K:
100 IRE (white): 6790K
80 IRE (light gray): 6418K
50 IRE (med. gray): 6400K
30 IRE (dark gray): 6335K
With further adjusting, some of the slight shift from cooler (higher temp) to warmer (lower temp), could likely be reduced even more. These numbers however, result in a great looking image.
Maximum brightness: I really went to town, in setting up User 2, for maximum ambient light. I cranked up just about everything, especially Brilliant Color, and still had a watchable image. Mind you, if you have so much ambient light that you need every last lumen, you probably won't be too critical. Easy enough to compromise, and give up 20-30% of maximum brightness, and end up with a much better color balance for TV/sports. Ok, here's what I ended up with for maximum "horsepower":
Contrast: 8, Brightness: 3, Color: 0, Brilliant Color 6, Color Temp: Standard.
That resulted in a white (100IRE) temperature of 7472K, right about where you want it for TV/HDTV. However, the Standard selection for Color Temp was fairly heavy on the green.
Ideally, you would choose User for the Color Temp setting, instead of Standard, and get that green under control. Having high settings on Brilliant Color more than offset the slight drop in color saturation from setting Color to 0.
Optoma HD81-LV Image Noise
Overall image noise is very acceptable, and typical for a DLP. The Optoma HD-81-LV (like the HD81), performed well on the HQV test disk.
I did see significant noise when I cranked up the brightness, contrast, and Brilliant Color, to get the most lumens out of the HD81-LV for watching with a fair amount of ambient light. Even the noise filter barely put a dent into the noise. Of course, the way I had everything cranked up, is something you would only do in lighting conditions that no competitor could handle, so, a little noise is a relatively small price to pay.
Ok, time for a quick look at the Warranty, then the Summary section!