Optoma HD81 Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
Overall, I was very impressed with image quality. Color out of the box was good, not exceptional, but easily tunable. The color Temp I found to be too "cool" for movies - in the mid 7000K range, instead of 6500K. But, as I said, easily fixable with a basic calibration disk designed for end users.
Other highlights include an extremely sharp image, and very good black levels and equally good shadow detail.
A very important point for you to think on. The HD81 is an ISF certified projector. What that means is that it has all the "hooks" to allow a professional (ISF) calibrator, to work with the projector, and produce near perfect performance, in terms of color handling, accuracy, dynamics, and more. Also an ISF calibrator normally works in your room, and the settings they place into the projector (areas called ISF Day, and ISF Night), will have been designed to take into consideration, your room (walls, ambient light), screen, and sources.
Considering the price tag on the HD81 home theater projector, the typical $1000 or less for a professional calibration is something I would definitely recommend. Certainly, the overall performance doesn't call out for a calibration, but having a professional one done, should take the overall performance and viewing pleasure up a notch!
Optoma HD81 Projector: Handling of Skin Tones
Once the color temperature was adjusted, the resulting flesh tones were excellent. I should point out that they were very respectable out of the box, but tuning the color temperature improves them visibly.
The first images are from standard DVD; Arwen and Gandalf from Lord of the Rings (Return of the King), and The Fifth Element. Rounding out the standard DVD's is a shot of Will Smith in I, Robot. You may click on most images for much larger versions. Also, you will find many of these images in other 1080p projector reviews, so that you can compare.
Note, there are limits to what my camera (digital) can capture, compared the performance of the projectors I review. The camera can't capture the full dynamic range (for example, it looses most shadow details). Please understand, the images, while helpful, are here to support the commentary, not the other way around. So take them with a prescribed pound of salt.
Pretty good! Yes?
Now it's time to look at some Hi-Def images, from HD-DVD.
The first is from Phantom of the Opera, of Carlota. This is another excellent image for comparison, fleshtones (despite makeup) look natural, overall color saturation is very good.
Two more for your consideration: Clint Eastwood (from Space Cowboys). I should note that these fleshtones lean towards red, as is true for the same image shot on other projectors.
And here are a couple of images from AeonFlux, (also HD-DVD): (note, AeonFlux does not support the HD-DVD bookmarking feature, so the images are typically a few frames apart, from review to review.
Optoma HD81 General Color Handling
Colors, overall, are rich, and again, Optoma, somehow manages to have particularly rich colors in the dark ranges, something I have always admired in their projectors. The result of watching hours of movies, is that, even on my large screen, the HD81 was both film-like (and free of pixel visibility), and vibrant, and in some scenes (especially AeonFlux, a very well produced Sci-fi movie, in terms of production values), I have to say, "eye-popping" imagery.
Since I just mentioned the HD-DVD AeonFlux, here is a side by side of the HD81 (on the right) and the BenQ W10000 (the Optoma's closest competitor) on the left: (click to enlarge). Note, the HD81 image is slightly brighter - an error on my part, so don't let overall brightness fool you.
I mentioned the HD81's ability to have particularly rich colors in dark scenes. The image below from Phantom, is a good example of the combination of saturated colors and good contrast.
Of course you'll find more images rich in colors, for you to check out, at the bottom of this page, and on the summary page.
HD81 home theater projector: Black Levels and Shadow Detail
Overall, black levels are very good. The Optoma HD81 has a dynamic Iris, as do all the competing LCD based 1080p projectors. The purpose of a dynamic iris, is to adjust from frame to frame, which allows blacks to get blacker in dark scenes. While this is not as good as having inherently excellent black levels, since on scenes with some bright areas, the iris cannot close down, or only slightly.
In the case of the HD81, however, I think the dynamic iris is a non-issue. That is, I recommend not using it at all - turn it off from the menus. Why? Simple - it's noisy. There are times when you can hear the iris at work, in the form of a short (1 second or less) grinding type of sound. This sound is loud enough to be easily heard (much louder than the fan noise for example). I think most users will find this occasional noise to be be - well - annoying.
So, you can try it on, but I suspect you'll end up turning off Auto Iris. The other options for the Iris are fully open, or choose one of 16 steps to close it down. Closing down the iris part, or all of the way, will overall darken the image. As confirmed with Optoma (and others), closing down the iris also does result in very minor increases in contrast levels, however, I don't believe any increase is significant, or for that matter visible. As a result, you can just use the iris to fine tune the brightness of the HD81, and not worry about black levels/etc.
So, without using the dynamic iris, I found the black levels to be very good. On really dark scenes, those LCD projectors with their dynamic irises (and lamps), can muster up a blacker black, but overall, the HD81 would have the advantage (and no issue of "seeing" a dynamic iris in action. (You can occasionally spot the action of dynamic features in scene changes, or even if the scene you are watching changes dramatically in brightness - sometimes it's like someone is screwing around with the room lighting - sliding the dimmer up and down a bit.
In a side by side with the BenQ W10000 projector (HD81's iris off), the W10000 (left) had a slight advantage in overall black levels (it too has a manual iris). The key point here, is that the difference is slight - not enough, in my opinion, to affect your decision between these two projectors, just one factor, and in this case a small one. In the image below, I have zoomed in on a frame from AeonFlux (not that you can tell). The BenQ is on the left, the HD81 on the right. What you are looking at, though is the black level in the letter box area. You can see that the BenQ is slightly darker. (I had used the irises of the two projectors to get the images as close to identical in brightness as possible).
here are a few dark scene images (a lot of space scenes).
The Fifth Element (DVD)
Space Cowboys (HD-DVD):
Starship Troopers (DVD):
And that takes us to shadow detail. Before I put up the usual images, I want to say that the HD81 has extensive gamma control of the image (10 steps). By altering the gamma, you can reveal more shadow detail, but there is a balance to maintain. Movies count on higher gammas to enhance contrast, than, say regular TV. For that reason, consider that the Optoma HD81 also has settings like Film, TV, Graphic, PC and User, four are preset gammas to match the content, and the fifth - User - allows you manual control of the gamma settings.
These two images are from Sin City. You can make out a lot of detail in the walls around Nancy dancing:
The second Sin City image again, is very dark. You will find the same image in other reviews:
Our first comparison images are from Lord of the Rings. Immediately below it, is the same frame, but overexposed so that you can see the details in the shadow areas (right side, bottom, etc.), that are lost by the digital camera during the normal exposures. For your consideration, I have also included the same frame from the HD81's closest competition, the W10000. You can click to enlarge images for comparison.
BenQ W10000 Overexposed:
You'll note that the HD81seems to favor reds in the dark areas, which matches my measurements in the Calibration section. Spending a bit more time on the color balance of the HD81 should solve that problem (or get that ISF calibrator in to really tune your projector).
Moving to HD-DVD, here are images from Phantom and again, the first is normally exposed, the second, significantly overexposed so you can see how much detail the HD81 can resolve in dark areas:
For comparison purposes, below are the same overexposed frame on both the BenQ W10000, and below it, the less expensive Panasonic PT-AE1000U.
So, what do you see? Beside the color shifts between the projectors, look at the wall stones on the near right, also the darker parts of the frescos painted on the stone under the lights on the right, and in the fireplace. And the lower stones in the arch.... Actually what you are probably seeing, are three enlarged images, that all have very similar shadow detail capabilities. Overall, the BenQ W10000 (on this image, has the advantage, with a slightly higher contrast look that makes details stand out more. As to the Panasonic, this is the type of frame, that does allow the dynamic iris and lamp, to do their thing, and as such, the Panasonic rises up and performs extremely well, in shadow detail.
This image below, from the beginning of Phantom, is in black and white and is extremely dark in the movie. The HD81 handled it extremely well.
My overall opinion is that the Optoma has a very slight advantage in black levels, over the W10000 (if the iris is in auto - dynamic), but the W10000 has a small advantage when the (noisy) auto iris is off. Again, this assumption is based on the viewing I did. Professionally calibrate these two projectors, and the results are likely different, but still comparable. The point is, however, that they are, again, very close.
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I was actually surprised here. The competition - BenQ's W10000, like the lower resolution PE-8720 have exhibitied superb sharpness. Historically Optoma projectors competing with BenQ's have been a touch softer. (example HD-7100 vs. BenQ PE-8720). Of course, in fairness, the Optoma models are traditionally less expensive than the BenQ's. This time around the HD81 is a $1000 more than the BenQ.
Depending on settings, relating to sharpness (sharpness controls, edge enhancement, etc.) you can actually go from one being the tiniest bit sharper, to the other one. For example, BenQ's default sharpness is 3, but I find it oversharpens, and I adjusted it to the one setting. When I ran the BenQ at 1, against the default Edge Enhancement setting on the HD81 of 2 (out of off, 1-5), the HD81 has a very small advantage. However I ended up preferring the 1 setting on the HD81 as well, and here they were about as close to a tie as one can imagine.
Some comparative images:
Now here is another 3 way. This full frame shot of Aeon's eye lets you look at the sharpness in the eye itself, and lashes.
And lastly from Aeon Flux, again. Look for sharpness of her eyes, and details in her hair! Note, they are not the same frame.
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To put your mind at rest, regarding sharpness, compared to the much less expensive PT-AE1000U, consider these two:
PT-AE1000U (full production projector):
Our last sharpness image is from The Italian Job, on HD-DVD. You'll find the same image on other reviews. Look to the sign next to the lamppost, and the details in the columns... The enlarged image (click) is cropped for more detail.
Below are a few more photos to give you a sampling of the overall color handling, dynamics, and image quality of the Optoma HD81 home theater projector.
Overall, the HD81 produces a great image. Colors are vibrant, and unlike the LCD 1080p projector competition, the Optoma HD81 has more muscle, in terms of lumens, and can handle a larger screen or a bit more ambient light.
Too many images! You are probably overloaded by now, so let's jump to General Performance, and consider the other aspects of the HD81, such as its remote, menus, brightness, screen recommendations, and much more.