Optoma HD81 Projector Review: Summary, Pros, Cons
Check out how the Optoma HD81 fared in our comparison report.
It's hard to imagine that anyone who purchases the HD81 won't be completely thrilled with the image on their screen. Despite the higher price than competing projectors, the HD81 has a lot going for it, to make it worth the difference.
As stated earlier, out of the box color is very good but not exceptional, sharpness is about as good as one could hope for, and black levels and shadow detail are certainly comparable to the best of the competition. In my opinion, this is one projector that you seriously want to consider spending the extra dollars on a professional calibration. Not because it is flawed, and needs fixing, but rather: Why not take the projector from extremely good performance, to greatness?
Another key advantage of the HD81, is brightness. It is significantly brighter than the Panasonic PT-AE1000U or the Mitsubishi HC5000, the two 1080p LCD projectors I have reviewed. It's a much closer contest compared to the W10000. In best mode, the Optoma has a slight edge, but Optoma hasn't set up a really bright mode for watching TV/HDTV/Sports. In playing with the various settings I was able to get a jump in lumens, but, without really spending some time on it, it looks like the W10000 has a slight advantage.
I haven't mentioned the Mitsubishi HC5000 yet, so a few comparative comments. In terms of sharpness, the very sharp Mitsubishi, at first exhibits a feeling of a slightly sharper image. However, the Mitsubishi is the only one of the 4 1080p's reviewed that has slight pixel visibility at some normal seating distances. This tends to give the initial feeling of a sharper image. However, when looking at specfic fine details, close up, the Optoma (and BenQ), both equal or very slightly exceed the detail in the HC5000, or perhap I should say, the HC5000's pixels get in the way of more detail. If you like to sit fairly close the HC5000 is definitely at a disadvantage. The Panasonic (2nd unit - full production) was definitely sharper than the pre-production projector, but still visibly softer than the HD81.
This takes us to ergonomics, and that is the HD81's weakest area. Of all the 1080p projectors reviewed, this is the only one that lacks lens shift, which pretty much limits you to celing mounting the projector. Combine that with the short range of the zoom lens (1.2:1) and back wall mounting is extremely unlikely. That may cause a significant number of potential buyers to favor the BenQ W10000 or one of the LCD models. The LCD models have both vertical, and horizontal lens shift and lots of range in their zoom lenses (Panasonic PT-AE1000U 2:1, Mitsubishi HC5000 1.6:1). Then there is the minor annoyance that the HD81's lamp door for changing out the lamp, is on the bottom, so that if you are using a ceiling mount, you'll need to unmount the projector to change the lamp. Although this is pretty standard, on low cost projectors, the BenQ W10000, Panasonic and several other similarly priced projectors do not require umounting to change the lamp. While I'm picking on the HD81, I better mention again, the noise levels. At best, the HD81 is not a very quiet projector. It's noise level in low power mode is definitely acceptable, but noisier than the competition. In full power, however, it is noisy enough, that some people will be unhappy. This is one area where the BenQ W10000 has a big advantage, and the LCD projector competition - well, by comparison, they are dead silent!
While placing the projector in your room may be a challenge, interfacing it with the rest of your equipment is not. No other 1080p projector under $10,000 comes close to the input flexibility of the HD81 home theater projector, thanks to the extensive capabilities of the outboard Gennum processor box. First, of course, the box sits with the rest of your equipment, so only two cables get run to the projector (plus power). With 3 HDMI inputs (four counting the AV receiver option), 2 standard Component, and two more (BNC) inputs that can be used for component video or computer inputs, the HD81 is a class of one in input capability.
If you like to "play" with your projector, you'll simply love the HD81. It has extensive controls to adjust the image. The Panasonic is similar in that regard, (and has that slick waveform generator), but the Mitsubishi and BenQ just can't match the extensiveness of the HD81's image controls. (The BenQ has more controls available to an ISF calibrator than users can access, so from a pro calibration standpoint, it isn't really an issue. Again, however, if you like to tweak, adjust, tune - whatever you call it, the HD81 is a dream projector.
As I have mentioned, the HD81 is supposed to have an Anamorphic lens available for it, for those who want full Cinemascope (2.35:1) movie watching without the upper and lower letter box. For most people, that means a Cinemascope (extremely wide) screen, and probably a masking solution to reduce the width for HDTV, TV, etc. With that in mind, Optoma included fully programmable 12 volt triggers, so that you can control a masking screen. That's a feature not found on other competitors. (There are workarounds - a serious programmable remote, or room control system, can control an IR or RF equipped masking screen.
Here's how the HD81 stacks up overall.
Optoma HD81 Pros, Cons, and Typical Capabilities
Optoma HD81 projector: Pros
- Extremely sharp image
- Good color out of the box (can be improved with a basic end user calibration disk - like AVIA), or go full ISF calibration
- Brightest 1080p projector so far, in "best" movie mode
- Outboard processor simplifies setup, with only two data cables running to the projector
- Offers far more inputs than any other competitor (thanks to the outboard processor box)
- Very good shadow detail
- Very good black levels
- Effectively invisible pixels at normal seating distances
- Remote control -it's busy, but has a good backlight and most key controls are accessable with one hand operation.
- Great Warranty (3 years)
- ISF Certified - (if you are really serious, get the HD81 professionally calibrated by an ISF calibrator)
- Supports 1080p/24 (at 48hz) - no judder, from 3:2 pulldown, if you have 1080p 24fps sources (some Blu-ray DVD players, and probably HD-DVD in the near future)
- Device dependent user savable modes
- Programmable 12 volt screen trigger, can control masking screens
- Low image noise
- Shutter for aspect ratio
- Sealed light path
- Future optional anamorphic lens
Optoma HD81 projector: Cons
- Noisy - although definitely acceptable in low power, in high power mode fan noise will be an issue for some!
- Lack of vertical lens shift
- Limited zoom lens range (1.2:1)
- Dynamic iris makes occasional short bursts of noise, sufficient that most will not use it's Auto function (making it a manual iris).
- Price - although price performance is good, it is selling for more than $2000 above the lower cost 1080p competition
- Leaks light out the lens - not a real issue, but possibly barely visible off the right side of the screen when watching a very dark scene
- Slightly uneven color temperature, makes tuning a bit tricky
Optoma HD81 projector: Typical Capabilities:
- Average lamp life
- User manual
- Styling (they tried, at least it's not a "box"), some will really like its looks
- Price/Performance - It cost's more, but has the performance to match
- Menu system - a bit awkward for setting up user settings, but fine for day to day use
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Optoma HD81 Summary
If you are putting together a serious home theater, the HD81 is a major league contender. I find no fault with overall image quality, and with a full professional calibration, the HD81 should be about as good as a single chip 1080p home theater projector can get.
Although black levels are not the very best, they are certainly extremely good. Not once in many hours of viewing including dark movies like Sin City, and (much of) Phantom of the Opera, did I ever feel that the black levels and supporting shadow detail, left the image flat in dark areas. Of course perfect black levels would be great - but who wants to deal with CRT projectors in this day and age (although CRT projectors can do true black).
I definitely loved the input flexibility of the HD81, combined with the advantage of not having to run lots of cabling to the projector, instead plugging in all sources into the outboard processor. With some of the competition, like the BenQ W10000 with its very limited input selection, I fear people will have to run out and buy a new AV receiver with 3 HDMI inputs. Afterall, you'll want one for HDTV, one for your HD-DVD player, and since the format war will probably not be won, one for a Blu-Ray player. With the HD81, there are not only 3 HDMI inputs, but also, lots of component video inputs, computer inputs, etc. The HD81 is a dream, in that regard.
With a minimum advertised price (MAP) set at $6999, the HD81 is $1000 more than the BenQ W10000, $3000 more than the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, $2500 more than the Mitsubishi HC5000, $2000 more than the Sony VW50. So, it's not the low priced spread. On the other hand, it is $3000 less than SIM2's new Model 80, which we will review in January, or very early February.
Another key capability I really like about the HD81 is the brightness. I, like most, prefer to have a nice bright image, and the HD81 definitely can put out a brighter image in "best" mode, than any of the competition, although the BenQ comes close. The key point here, is that the Optoma HD81 had no problem filling my 128" Firehawk screen for serious movie watching. It had plenty of horsepower on HDTV, making those beautiful scenes on various Discovery-HD, and other hi-def channels look rich and vibrant. I only watched one football game on the HD81, and my only complaint was that I was rooting for the losing team.
If your budget doesn't limit you to the slightly lower performance LCD 1080p projectors, the HD81 will deliver a truly stunning image - whether movie or TV.
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Of course as soon as you get your HD81, you'll be trading in all those acceptable, but low resolution DVD's for shiney new Hi-Def ones on HD-DVD or Blu-ray. You will find the difference between the older format, and the newer ones to be simply breathtaking on the HD81 - which is exactly how your movies should be!
Congratulations to Optoma - Despite limitations normally associated with DLP projectors in terms of ergonomics, they have created a superb platform for watching great content. We are pleased to grant the HD81 our Hot Product Award, for providing a projector with great image quality, and massive input flexibility, that will appeal to a significant number of home theater projector buyers, seeking a great image, maximum control of the image, and who can work around the Optoma's placement issues, and iffy fan noise level in high power mode. (Note that the Optoma is still brighter in low power than most of the competition in full power).
I really do like this one. It won't work in my own theater due to placement, (and the fact that I have all my wires pulled and walls sealed, and didn't anticipate needing an RS-232 along with the HDMI). I really had expected the BenQ to have an advantage in sharpness, and was leaning BenQ's way until I started working with the HD81, and found it to be at least as sharp, and having a few more lumens in best mode. ! My own conclusion, is that these two projectors are so similar in overall image quality, that for most of us, it will come down to other issues, like placement, and specific features. From a standpoint though of someone who not only wants a great image, but also likes to play with their projector, the HD81 is going to "knock your socks off". Much fun!
PS. Unlike previous 1080p reviews, I did not put separate comparison paragraphs between the HD81 and the various competitors. With a major article directly comparing the 1080p's coming out in late January, I figured just pointing out the specific differences would suffice for now.
I've stashed away a number of comparison images not found in these reviews, and will have lots of comments in that forthcoming 1080p comparison. -art
Happy Holidays 2006. (As soon as this is posted, I'm off on vacation)!