Optoma HD81-LV Home Theater Projector Review: Overview

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)
  • Manual

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?

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