Optoma HD81-LV Home Theater Projector Review: Overview

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-LV 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-LV 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-LV Home Theater Projector: 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). Considering how bright this projector is, I’d say Optoma did well in this regard.

Optoma HD81-LV Audible Noise Levels

Audible noise is definitely one of the HD81-LV’s weaknesses. Not that it’s terribly loud, but in full power mode, it is noisier than any other 1080p projector I have seen (except the equally loud HD81). It is noisy enough, I believe, to discourage some buyers, but not most. Remember too, the HD81-LV is amazingly bright, so in low power mode, for example, its still brighter than any 1080p competitor under $10,000. In other words, few will need to run the HD81-LV in full power mode. 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, it’s noisier than when the fan for the heater and air conditioner come on. Of course, it is a steady sound, so the mind tends to ignore it to some degree, just as you normally don’t notice when your refrigerator is running.

The HD81-LV may have lots of strengths, but it does deserve criticism here. It really is just a bit too noisy in full power mode! I’m not a fanatic for noise levels, but I really am impressed with the HD81-LV home theater projector, and it may well be my next projector when I replace my JVC. (I tend to replace about once a year, to stay “current”).

Fan noise isn’t the whole story, either. That auto iris system, as previously mentioned, makes an almost grinding sound for about a second as it adapts to different scenes. That noise is even louder than the fan, and is noticeable enough that I recommended that the Auto Iris not be used with the HD81, and have to repeat that recommendation with the HD81-LV. In my theater, I didn’t always notice the iris, but when it happens during relatively quiet scenes, you can’t miss it. Tsk, Tsk. Optimistic as I am, I had hoped Optoma would solve that deficiency in the 9 months between the first shipments of the HD81 and the HD81-LV.

Audible noise is definitely one of the HD81-LV’s weaknesses. Not that it’s terribly loud, but in full power mode, it is noisier than any other 1080p projector I have seen (except the equally loud HD81). It is noisy enough, I believe, to discourage some buyers, but not most. Remember too, the HD81-LV is amazingly bright, so in low power mode, for example, its still brighter than any 1080p competitor under $10,000. In other words, few will need to run the HD81-LV in full power mode. 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, it’s noisier than when the fan for the heater and air conditioner come on. Of course, it is a steady sound, so the mind tends to ignore it to some degree, just as you normally don’t notice when your refrigerator is running.

The HD81-LV may have lots of strengths, but it does deserve criticism here. It really is just a bit too noisy in full power mode! I’m not a fanatic for noise levels, but I really am impressed with the HD81-LV home theater projector, and it may well be my next projector when I replace my JVC. (I tend to replace about once a year, to stay “current”). Fan noise isn’t the whole story, either. That auto iris system, as previously mentioned, makes an almost grinding sound for about a second as it adapts to different scenes. That noise is even louder than the fan, and is noticeable enough that I recommended that the Auto Iris not be used with the HD81, and have to repeat that recommendation with the HD81-LV. In my theater, I didn’t always notice the iris, but when it happens during relatively quiet scenes, you can’t miss it. Tsk, Tsk. Optimistic as I am, I had hoped Optoma would solve that deficiency in the 9 months between the first shipments of the HD81 and the HD81-LV.

Optoma HD81-LV Brightness - Measured Lumens

The Optoma HD81-LV brightness performance is, quite literally, dazzling! In best mode, it is the brightest 1080p projector we have yet seen, and by quite a significant margin.

Here are the numbers:

In “Best” mode after I did a quick brightness and contrast adjust, and a gray scale balance, and with the Iiris set to fully open, lamp on Bright, the HD81-LV measured a best in class 1474 lumens – 800 more than the HD81!!! Nothing price competitive comes close.

For my mesurements with the HD81-LV, the way I had the projector set up, the lens was in full wide angle. Change the zoom to the opposite extreme, and the projector will produce less lumens. Since, however, the zoom ratio is a very narrow 1.2:1, the drop is not great (figure about 20%). If we assume the average user will have the zoom range about in the middle, then our measurements would be about 10% dimmer than the numbers posted here.

In low power the HD81-LV is roughly 28% dimmer than with the lamp on full power, which surprised me. The surprise comes from the fact that the HD81 only measures about 20% dimmer, in its low power mode. I’d like to think that Optoma realizes that even 20% less (about 1180 lumens) maybe too bright for some. The bottom line – lamp in low power, and it still produced 1061 lumens (full wide angle on the zoom), and therefore, probably just below 1000 lumens in low power, with zoom in the middle of its range.

Like the HD81, the HD81-LV doesn’t seem to have a user mode tricked out for maximum brightness where some color performance is sacrificed. Unlike my HD81 review, this time I invested some time to see how many lumens I could squeeze out of the HD81-LV with definitely some sacrifice of image quality, for when maximum brightness is really needed.

I really was surprised. The HD81-LV measured out at 2906 lumens!

With further tuning, I expect that settings designed for HDTV (rather than DVD), with a 7500K desired temperature, could produce at least 1700 – 2300 lumens and still deliver excellent picture quality. It is great, though to have 3000 lumens if you really need it.

I did not bother to measure the HD81-LV 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, for most people.

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