Optoma HD81-LV Home Theater Projector Review: Overview

This section is organized into five areas, instead of four: Handling of flesh tones (or skin tones, which I’m starting to think, “sounds better”), Black levels and shadow detail, Sharpness, Brightness and Ambient Light (new), and finally, General image quality. Let’s get started:

Optoma HD81-LV Home Theater Projector: Skin Tones

If you take the HD81-LV out of the box, just hook it up, and feed it a gorgeous Blu-Ray or HD-DVD disk, you will be immediately dissapointed. The skin tones are not good. “Ghostly green” comes to mind as a descriptor, although that may be a bit too strong.

The good news is that it is very fixable, and once the projector is calibrated by a professional, or by yourself with a $40 calibration disk, (I recommend a professional calibrator, if you are spending in this price range), the improvement is nothing short of dramatic. Once the grayscale/white balance is corrected, the skin tones are excellent.

Here are two images to start you off with, the first is of Arwen, from Lord of the Rings after calibration, and the second one, is “out of the box.” Have I made my point? The greenish caste is definitely visible (especially on the upper half of her face) on the uncalibrated version.

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OK, so we agree, the projector needs adjustment. Once done, though, the skin tones are just fine. Here are a group of images taken after the grayscale balance, starting with two from House of the Flying Daggers – on Blu-Ray disk. As always, you can click on most images, for much larger versions.

I will mention again, although I calibrated for movie watching (6500K), I didn’t do a full adjustment for TV/HDTV, but rather took the brightest setting and modified it by eyeball, to get a decent balance. A full grayscale adjustment should produce even better skin tones than these below, from HDTV sources:

Optoma HD81-LV Black Levels and Shadow Detail

To my surprise, I found the black levels handling of the HD81-LV to be slightly better than the HD81, which was already extremely good for a single chip DLP. The HD81-LV may not match the JVC RS1 (best to date), or the Sharp XV-Z20000, and Sony Pearl (also both superb), but it comes very close, even without using the dynamic iris. Shadow detail performance, which closely follows black level performance was also very good, although the normal gamma settings produced dark areas with detail that were a little darker overall, than the others. The HD81-LV, though does offer a great deal of control over gamma levels. Bottom line, the HD81-LV has to be considered a top performer in these areas.

Let’s look at black levels first with the usual set of images, but before I start with those, here are two quick side-by-side images, comparing the Optoma HD81-LV (left) with the Mitsubishi HC4900 on the right. The HC4900 is almost the opposite of the HD81-LV, with mediocre black levels, although its shadow detail performance is about as good as could be expected considering the black level limititations. These images are from Batman Begins (HD-DVD):

Even though the HD81-LV is the much brighter projector (although I had the Mitsubishi on High Lamp Power, and the Optoma on low), you can see that the Optoma’s blacks are much blacker than the Mitsubishi. I left some of the lower letterboxing in the lower image, so you can see the relative difference in black. Bottom line, the HD-81-LV produces a much more dynamic, and dramatic looking scene.

Next, from standard DVD (SD-DVD), The Fifth Element, consider this image of the starship, and the starfield behind it. The Optoma reveals inky blacks, and tons of stars. Similar images are on most other reviews.

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