Optoma HD81 Home Theater Projector – Overview

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

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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