Optoma HD81 Projector Review - General Performance
Check out how the Optoma HD81 fared in our comparison report.
User Memory Settings
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
SDE and Rainbow Effect
Audible Noise Levels
Lamp Life and Replacement
Projector Screen Recommendations
Optoma HD81 Menus
Overall the HD81 Menus are fairly logically 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.
Upon pressing the Menu button on the remote, or the Outboard processor, you see the menu to the right, the Image Menu. On the left side, you can see the four primary menus: Image, 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.
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.
Last on the Image menu, is the Advanced option, not shown, gives you access to adjust the following: Noise Reduction, Gamma, Color Temperature, Image Mode, Edge Enhancement, Color Vividness, Black and White Extension, Demo, 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.
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. When I get back from vacation, I'll 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 gives you a wealth of adjustable features, enough to likely keep even the most hard core tweakers happy.
Optoma HD81 Memory Settings
Optoma's memory settings are device dependent. As such you don't get a lot of individual savable areas, but you can, for example make adjustments to the image settings while viewing your DVD player. When you switch to your cable or satellite, bingo, you can put in different settings. The bottom line is there are no real limits other than not being able to have 2 or three different setups for the same device.
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Optoma HD81 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 has one button for powering up, the other for off. Below them, your primary preset modes, which consist of Users 1,2,3 and the ISF Day and Night settings. The last button in the group, is the Iris control. (I'm not sure why its up there, but, it's easy to find.
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 or bottom 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 come about a zillion input selection choices. The three HDMI's are in the first row, with space between them and the other twelve buttons. That's abount it, 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 Lens Throw and Lens Shift
As noted, the HD81 lacks adjustable lens shift, which pretty much eliminates mounting the projector on a back wall. The projector will end up being placed (do 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, again 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.
Optoma HD81 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 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 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 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).
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Optoma HD81 Audible Noise Levels
Ouch. Noise is the HD81's achilles heel. Not that it's terribly loud, but in full power mode, it is noisier than any other 1080p projector I have seen. It is noisy enough, I believe, to discourage some buyers, but not most. Remember too, the HD81 is bright, so in low power mode, for example, its still brighter than the Panasonic or Mitsubishi 1080p projectors. 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, its noisier than when my heater or air conditioner come on. Of course, it is steady, so the mind tends to ignore it to some degree.
As nice a guy as I am, though, the HD81 deserves criticism here. It really is just a bit too noisy in full power mode! I'm not a fanatic for noise levels, but since the HD81 has been on my short list for my next projector, it is an issue I am not taking lightly.
Optoma HD81 Brightness
The Optoma HD81 really shines (sorry - had to throw in a pun), when it comes to brightness. In best mode, it is the brightest 1080p projector we have yet seen. I know that SIM2 has a single chip DLP 1080p that just started shipping, that is brighter, but then since it sells for about $15K, it isn't exactly "competition".
Here are the numbers:
In "Best" mode - Film, Color Temp set to Warm, Iris fully open, and lamp on Bright, the HD81 cranked out a very, very impressive 674 lumens. More importantly: After doing a basic grayscale calibration and brightness/contrast adjust, the HD81 still managed 526 lumens.
Even the very bright BenQ W10000 came up slightly short of that with a meere 506 lumens is its most similar mode, and after its grayscale calibration.
In low power the HD81 is almost exactly 20% dimmer, still putting out 419 lumens.
We measured the Graphics mode at full power, at 693 lumens. The HD81 doesn't seem to have a user mode tricked out for maximum brightness where some color performance is sacrificed, to be able to punch through ambient light. I didn't spend much time trying to create such a setting, but while fooling around, I did get some measurements in the high 800 lumen range. I have no doubt I could push it further, but, unless I was going to be really intent in "designing" my "Family Room/ ambient light mode, to the point where I felt it really usable, it didn't make sense to worry about the lumens.
Let's figure, that if you need it, the HD81 won't have any trouble producing a usable picture at 1000 lumens, or higher. By comparison, the best I got out of the BenQ was 1119. As such, I'll say for practical purposes that the HD81 and the BenQ are going to be pretty much comparable in "bright modes" and the HD81 has a very, very slight edge in best mode.
I did not bother to measure the HD81 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.
Optoma HD81 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, it's competition includes the BenQ W10000 and the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, neither of which requires unmounting to change their lamps.
Optoma HD81 Projector Screen Recommendations
As is typical of fairly bright home theater projectors that have extremely good black levels, you can go "either way". The HD81 looks absolutely great on my large Firehawk, and it had simply eye popping colors on my smaller 106" Carada Brilliant white. I don't think the Brilliant White at that size is too bright - black levels in the letterbox area, are still pretty dark. I would say, though that below 100" diagonal, a white surface screen like the BW with it's 1.4 gain (measured 1.3), is too bright, unless this is a family room and you are watching football with some light coming in the windows.
My Firehawk at 128" is about the limit for the HD81 in best mode. Not a lot of horsepower to spare.
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.
Optoma HD81 Calibration
A very strange projector. Color temperatures measured, first had me baffled. None of the modes I worked with produced a color temperature below 7000K when 6500K is the standard for movie watching. In fact most modes were very similar - with 100IRE (white measurements) around 7500K (closer to HDTV temperature viewing).
More perplexing, however, was the characteristic of the color temperature over the brightness spectrum. Some projectors tend to be cooler (higher temp) at full bright (white, 100 IRE), and their temperature drops as you go to darker and darker grays. Others are the other way around. Not so the HD81. It measured out like this in User 1 Warm Temp, Film setting:
The drop and rise and drop in color temp made adjusting it a particular challenge. Ultimately, I settled for
Basically I got the average right down around the ideal 6500K, but still had some (smaller than before) peaks and valleys. Instead of a 545K range, I was able to reduce that to 371K. More to the point, the image colors looked definitely better for movie watching.
The settings for those numbers ended up like this:
Contrast: R=11, G=0, B=-10
Brightness: R=-3, G=-4, B=0
Another thing to watch out for. As is typical of projectors, the color temperature varies with the brightness of the lamp setting. The HD81 was no exception, when dropping to low power mode, the color temp at 100IRE (white) was typically about 250K cooler (bluer).
Optoma HD81 Image Noise
Overall image noise is very acceptable, and typical for a DLP. The Optoma performed well on the HQV test disk. I did, however notice a slight jaggie problem. It was visible when I was pausing to do my photo shoots, but that in itself is not surprising since I was using a 1080i source at the time, and the Optoma is freezing essentially "half" of the interlaced signal. (Some projectors will freeze the combined two fields and provide a smoother image, but who really cares about some really minor jaggies that show up only when in Pause mode.
I lied. They are also visible when watching the content normally. The good news is that the level of visibility is much, much smaller than the freezed frame. And, more to the point, it really wasn't visible at normal seating distances! So much for that!
Ok, time for a quick look at the Warranty, then the Summary section!