Home Theater Projector Reviews:
Optoma HD81-LV DLP Projector:
Summary, Pros, Cons
The HD81-LV is simply an awesome home theater projector!
I have yet to stumble on a "perfect" home theater projector, as even the "best of the best" have some limitations, or their manufacturers just haven't gone the extra mile to produce the best product they can for the money.
The Optoma HD81-LV is certainly one of the best of the best out there, in the $10K and under, front projector home theater market. It has some outstanding strengths, and a few things that could be improved upon. But overall, it has got to be a serious contender for almost anyone's home theater, if the budget allows.
Although the primary pitch for the HD81-LV is for dedicated home theaters, the HD81-LV also has to be about the best candidate around, for those trying to put a home theater projector in a family room type environment that can't be fully darkened. I say that, because there is no other 1080p resolution projector that can touch it when it comes to producing a bright image that can handle more than the usual minimal ambient lighting.
Let's start there, with brightness. Outputting almost 1500 lumens in "best" mode (zoom in full wide angle setting), after a grayscale calibration, it is roughly twice as bright as most of the other bright home theater projectors. Even Panasonic's lower resolution (720p), and low cost PT-AX100U can't match the HD81-LV. And, in best mode, the HD81-LV is about three times as bright as the average 1080p projector.
In addition to outstanding brightness, the Optoma HD81-LV is capable of a beautiful image, with accurate, rich colors, excellent black levels, and very good shadow detail. If that isn't enough to interest you, there is also the outboard processor box, which provides superior processing electronics (from Gennum - who also provides the processing for JVC's RS1 and HD1, and also the Marantz 12 series projectors). And let's not forget, the HD81-LV has perhaps the best (tie) warranty package of any sub-$10,000 home theater projector.
The Optoma, though, is not without limitations. My biggest beef is the out of the box color handling. It's anything but great, with a shift to green, that, without proper adjustment, makes the projector barely watchable. Fortunately, a professional calibrator, can turn disaster into spectacular. And, even if your budget is so tight that you can't afford the roughly $400 - $1000 to bring in a calibrator (highly recommended), you can end up with a really fine picture, with just the basic brightness, contrast and grayscale balance, that can be accomplished with a $40 calibration disk. One way or another, though, you will have to deal with fixing the out of the box color issues.
There are three other issues with the HD81-LV projector: Audible noise levels, the dynamic iris, and the limited placement flexibility. I've covered all three elsewhere, but this is a good place to summarize:
Audible noise: the HD81-LV is fairly loud, or rather not quiet, in full power mode. This isn't a big issue, because, if you give up less than 30% of the projector's brightness (which still makes it the brightest game in town), the projector quiets down in low lamp mode, to levels that should be acceptable to almost all rational people.
The Dynamic Iris is the second issue, and there are two components to the dynamic iris, that are of concern. The first, and more critical, is that the iris when in auto, sometimes makes a somewhat loud ticking kind of sound, sort of a "da-da-da-da-da-da-da noise for a second or two when adjusting. Personally, I'm most disapointed that Optoma hasn't dealt with this problem, which also exists on the HD81. They've been taking heat from reviewers for almost a year now, so I would have thought that they could have come up with a quiet motor. I recommend not using the dynamic iris, which means you are sacrificing some black level performance. In reviewing the projector, though, I spent at least 90% of the time without using the dynamic iris, so my overall comments on image quality are with the iris fully open. Plan B, since you have so many lumens, is to improve contrast (and black levels) by using the iris in manual, and closing it down part way.
The dynamic iris itself, is slow, should you use it. That is, you can see (and hear) it lightening or darkening the overall image at scene changes. Enough said, as the HD81-LV does a great job without it.
The third issue is room placement. Entry level DLP projectors lack lens shift, but most of the HD81-LV's competition offer at least vertical lens shift. This projector has no adjustable lens shift. In addition, the lens offset has the projector being mounted well above the top of the screen (about 17 inches for a 100" screen). This is going to make life very difficult for those with 110" and larger screens, and rooms without high ceilings. In other words, I sure hope you have a 9, or better, a 10 foot or higher ceiling. The other aspect, in terms of room positioning, is the 1.2:1 zoom lens (20%). That means you only have a couple+ feet of placement flexibility front to back. This is typical of DLP projectors - LCD and LCOS projectors usually have zoom lenses with three to five times the range. If you are ceiling mounting, this probably isn't a big issue, but if you, like me, prefer to shelf mount, you may well be out of luck, you'll need just the right shaped room, although, if you are close, you might decide to increase or decrease the screen size a bit to make it work, if that is practical.
OK, that about covers the downside.
Optoma HD81-LV - how does it stack up to the competiton?
Just some basics here, as I plan another 1080p projector comparison in November (click here for the April comparison).
I won't bother repeating the placement issues, since the others here all are far more flexible in that regard.
Optoma HD81-LV home theater projector vs. JVC DLA-RS1
Tough one. The JVC RS1 is a great projector, which is exactly why I bought it for my home theater. However, if Optoma came to me tomorrow and said "If you want an HD81-LV, we'll do an even up exchange for your RS1," I would have to very seriously consider it.
These have to be my two favorites as of right now. The JVC does beautiful work, right out of the box, whereas the HD81-LV needs tuning, but I can live with that.
The Optoma, however, is much brighter, almost twice as bright (which, by the way, is not quite as huge a difference as you might think), when both are in best modes, but it is also about three times as bright when you try to get the maximum out of both. I have the big projector screen, and while the JVC easily handles the 128" diagonal with the room darkened (or near fully darkened), it starts running out of lumens quickly, when it's time to watch some football or TV, with some room lights on. Oh, how I wish my RS1 was as bright as the Optoma!
The JVC, on the other hand, does better black levels and shadow detail, but not by much. The HD81-LV is one of only 3 1080p projectors that come close to the RS1, and it easily makes my acceptability list for my theater (the other two are the Sharp XV-Z20000, and the Sony Pearl).
The Optoma has all those inputs, and outboard processing box, which is great, and can save you bucks when installing the system. The JVC, by comparison is relatively thin on inputs (and no PC input). The JVC, fortunately puts an excellent image on the screen, without adjustments, which is a good thing, since it has the most limited set of controls of almost any home theater projector I have reviewed. (Note, the JVC reds are "off" not close to dead on, and there's no way to adjust).
Tough call between these two. As I said, for the same price, if I had to do it again, I'm not sure which way I would go. (Another thing for me, is that I am slightly sensitive to the rainbow effect. I rarely see it, but, I do like knowing that the JVC, being a 3 chip device, is free of the issue). Of course I'm one of less than 5% (estimated) of the population that can see it at all.
Optoma HD81-LV vs. Sharp XV-Z20000 home theater projectors
This one is easier to call. The XV-Z20000 is actually the slightly more expensive. The Sharp may well have slightly better black levels than the Optoma, but if so, they are so close that it wouldn't be a determining factor.
Both are single chip DLP projectors, but the Sharp does offer vertical lens shift, and its zoom lens of 1.35:1 combine to give it far more flexibility, and, should make shelf mounting an option for most people. In addition, low ceilings are not a problem.
Once you get past the placement aspects, though, the Sharp enjoys better color out of the box, but is at least as loud as the Optoma.
Between these two, similar projectors - in terms of post calibration picture quality, I have to go with the Optoma unless placement is a problem. The lower price, better warranty, very comparable (post adjustment) picture quality all point that way. When you factor in the huge difference in brightness (the Sharp measured only 367 lumens with iris set to medium mode, where black levels are roughly comparable, and the Sharp likely has the slightest advantage). True, the Sharp did measure 873 lumens with the iris fully open, but in that case the Optoma wins in black levels and shadow detail, and still has about an extra 600 lumens! One other exception. If your room calls for a smaller screen - 100" diagonal or less, the Optoma may just be too bright, but I don't think that would be an issue, since there is a manual control on the iris, to dim it down if needed.
For any of the earlier reviews of 1080p projectors, refer to the 1080p comparison. Since the JVC took Best In Class honors, you should be able to put 2 and 2 together to figure out how the HD81-LV stacks up against the other 1080p projectors.
Time to summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the Optoma HD81-LV.
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Optoma HD81-LV projector, Pros, Cons, and Typical Capabilities
Optoma HD81-LV Projector: Pros
- Extremely, and exceptionally, bright
- Very good black levels and shadow detail
- Superb image, with excellent skin tones, rich colors, once calibrated
- Support for ISF Day/Night calibration
- Outboard processor provides convenience, capability, and reduces installation costs, by only requiring two input cables from processor to projector
- Optional Anamorphic lens for those wanting a Cinemascope (2.35:1 aspect ratio) theater - with no letterboxing when watching movies
- Offers the most flexibility, in terms of more inputs, screen triggers, etc., than any other 1080p projector under $10K.
- Very good (extensive) image control options on menus
- Excellent gamma, in part responsible for suprisingly good shadow detail
- A great deal of excellent controls, including Briliant Color to enhance the image
- Good menu system
- Optional motorized anamorphic lens system, for true Cinemascope
- Best in class warranty
- Low cost of operation - most people will easily have enough lumens, in low lamp mode, for extended lamp life.
- Sealed light path, no filters to change or clean
- Physically attractive, relatively small, projector
- Considering its uniqueness (brightness), outstanding price/performance
Optoma HD81-LV 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 very fixable
- Large lens offset, requires projector well above, or below screen surface - a problem for those with low ceilings (or normal ceilings, and huge screens)
- HDMI 1.2, not 1.3 (only a couple of projectors with 1.3 are currently shipping as of this writing)
- One of the louder projectors in full power lamp mode
- Lamp door on bottom, requires removal from a ceiling mount, to change out
- Auto iris occasionally makes a clicking noise, so best turned off
- Color controls are primary colors only (RGB, no Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) which is typical, but some competitors offer more comprehensive color control
Optoma HD81-LV Projector: Typical Capabilities
- Lamp Life
- Pixel visibility (for a DLP projector)
Optoma HD81-LV Summary:
Awesome! Buy an HD81-LV, decide if you need, and your budget allows, the anamorphic lens option, and Cinemascope width screen, and break out that credit card. With or without the anamorphic lens, a calibrated HD81-LV, is not just the brightest projector in town, but produces picture quality that has to be considered as one of the best available.
It is ideal for those desiring large screens, in dedicated home theaters, or not much smaller ones in family room type environments with ambient light. It is a dream projector for those who don't want lights out, for TV/HDTV, and especially, sports viewing. On the 106" Carada Brilliant white, I had no trouble watching a DVR'd football game, filling the screen with all lights on, and some light coming in the window (not direct sunlight though). That is something no other under $10,000 1080p projector can claim, or at least none that I have seen. (There are one or two 1080p projectors that might come close in brightness, including a new one from Digital Projection ($9995 list price)), and SIM2. (I doubt the Sim2 has the muscle, but they do have a $15,000 machine, that probably is as bright).
The HD81-LV is a great choice, and a tempting one for my own theater. As noted, the HD81-LV is certainly not without weaknesses, but when all is considered, "Awesome" is still a great descriptor!
Remember though, the bottom line, is it's not about a projector, but the content, and the viewing experience. With the HD81-LV, the content really is something to behold. It certainly works for me, so, the only real question left, is: Will it work for you?