Optoma HD81-LV Home Theater Projector Review: Overview

When I find a particularly bright projector (and of the under $10K 1080p projectors, so far this is the prince of brightness), I feel it important to let you see how much ambient light the projector can deal with, as there are two types of buyers, seeking maximum lumens: Those who want very large screens (more than 110″ diagonal), and those who want to watch some content with more than a little ambient light (like you would want it, if you have friends over to watch a football game, or maybe just regular TV programming).

I’m not going to talk lumens here, that is covered in the next page – General Performance, but rather show you several room lighting levels in my theater (which has motorized shades to darken it, though not completely).

First of all, no projector has survived having sunlight entering the room through all the glass of my double doors, and still presented a very watchable image.

For this section I have images of how my room lighting is set up (window shades in three different positions – lots of light (bright), medium ambient light (medium) and low light (low – my shades all down), with the room still leaking enough significant light so that you could easily read a newspaper, anywhere in the room.

Please note, that for this sequence, I’m not filling the full screen, but the area I am filling measures 115″ diagonal, still larger than most home theater systems.

Bright: This first image shows the shades up on my double doors. In reality, the room appears much brighter than what you see here, and there are large streaks of sunlight hitting the back wall.

The image immediately below, shows a football game, under this lighting condition.

As you can see, the sunlight is taking its toll. Still, the

The game is viewable, but, hardly acceptable. However, no other 1080p projector, including my JVC, provides even marginal viewing with this much light.

Next:

OK, now the shades on the windows are half down, still some sunlight hitting the back wall, and even in this mode, you could read a book all day long, there is plenty of ambient light in the room. I never have the shades this far open when watching on my JVC.

As you can see in this image of the same frame of the football game, the picture quality

is now very acceptable. The most light I let in with my JVC, is to have these windows down to just below the top of the couch that you see. (That prevents any sunlight from actually hitting the back, white wall).

Next, the shades are fully lowered, but still leaking significant light into the room, as you can see. With the HD81-LV, the room might as well be pitch black, for all the difference it makes. The football game is now in its full glory, with no noticeable loss of contrast or saturation.

And here’s what that same frame looks like under this “low ambient light” condition:

For the fun of it, I left the door shades, down, but opened the shades a bit on the picture window closest to the screen. I watch a lot of sports, and I can assure you that I have never successfully watched any, with any projector, with this front shade opened even the tiniest bit. Here, though, you can see a little washout in the lower left hand side. Not perfect, but, it certainly works! You get a good idea of how much light is coming in (sunlight is hitting the carpet), by looking at how bright the painting, speakers, and wall are.

If you are not yet convinced, that the HD81-LV is a cut above, in terms of brightness, then I should give up!

Although still not ideal, the HD81-LV, is the brightest projector since I reviewed the 3 chip DLP, 2500 lumen SIM2 C3X (720p, current pricing still over $15,000), more than a year ago, and the Optoma is every bit the equal to the SIM2 in brightness.

As to movie watching, even the HD81-LV with the shades all down (on a sunny day), still isn’t bright enough to not lose significant shadow detail in the dark areas, but it did demonstrate that it could do a decent job. The scenes from House of the Flying Daggers, and The Fifth Element were very watchable, except for the very darkest scenes.

Bottom line: The HD81-LV has the horsepower for serious watching of TV, and even a movie (for those less critical) in family rooms with significant lights on, or even some daylight sneaking in. In a properly darkened room, the Optoma should handle screens 10 or even 12 feet across with no difficulty for normal movie watching.

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