Optoma HD81-LV Home Theater Projector Review: Overview

Optoma offers one of the best warranties in the industry on the HD81-LV. Their 3 year parts/labor warranty offers their Express Replacement service option. Only a few of other sub-$10,000 projectors offer three years, and, if I recall correctly, only Epson, on their Pro Cinema 1080p, offers three years of replacement program.

It would seem the replacement aspect covers the projector itself, and if I am reading things correctly, the processor box has a separate 3 year warranty, but no mention of an overnight (or express) replacement.

According to the Optoma website, the lamp comes with a 1 year warranty, which is far longer than the usual 90 days most manufacturers provide, (although there a few projectors with 120 day, and even 6 months coverage). The site does not mention any limit on the number of hours on the lamp.

Let me summarize! It looks like this is the best warranty in the industry, at least in the sub-$10,000 range, with perhaps one, or two other projectors offering similar coverage, but most have either 1 year or 2 year coverage, and most don’t offer replacement programs.

Tough to beat!

Home Theater Projector Reviews: Optoma HD81-LV DLP Projector: Summary, Pros, Cons

The HD81-LV is simply an awesome home theater projector!

I have yet to stumble on a “perfect” home theater projector, as even the “best of the best” have some limitations, or their manufacturers just haven’t gone the extra mile to produce the best product they can for the money.

The Optoma HD81-LV is certainly one of the best of the best out there, in the $10K and under, front projector home theater market. It has some outstanding strengths, and a few things that could be improved upon. But overall, it has got to be a serious contender for almost anyone’s home theater, if the budget allows.

Although the primary pitch for the HD81-LV is for dedicated home theaters, the HD81-LV also has to be about the best candidate around, for those trying to put a home theater projector in a family room type environment that can’t be fully darkened. I say that, because there is no other 1080p resolution projector that can touch it when it comes to producing a bright image that can handle more than the usual minimal ambient lighting.

Let’s start there, with brightness. Outputting almost 1500 lumens in “best” mode (zoom in full wide angle setting), after a grayscale calibration, it is roughly twice as bright as most of the other bright home theater projectors. Even Panasonic’s lower resolution (720p), and low cost PT-AX100U can’t match the HD81-LV. And, in best mode, the HD81-LV is about three times as bright as the average 1080p projector.

In addition to outstanding brightness, the Optoma HD81-LV is capable of a beautiful image, with accurate, rich colors, excellent black levels, and very good shadow detail. If that isn’t enough to interest you, there is also the outboard processor box, which provides superior processing electronics (from Gennum – who also provides the processing for JVC’s RS1 and HD1, and also the Marantz 12 series projectors). And let’s not forget, the HD81-LV has perhaps the best (tie) warranty package of any sub-$10,000 home theater projector.

The Optoma, though, is not without limitations. My biggest beef is the out of the box color handling. It’s anything but great, with a shift to green, that, without proper adjustment, makes the projector barely watchable. Fortunately, a professional calibrator, can turn disaster into spectacular. And, even if your budget is so tight that you can’t afford the roughly $400 – $1000 to bring in a calibrator (highly recommended), you can end up with a really fine picture, with just the basic brightness, contrast and grayscale balance, that can be accomplished with a $40 calibration disk. One way or another, though, you will have to deal with fixing the out of the box color issues.

There are three other issues with the HD81-LV projector: Audible noise levels, the dynamic iris, and the limited placement flexibility. I’ve covered all three elsewhere, but this is a good place to summarize:

Audible noise: the HD81-LV is fairly loud, or rather not quiet, in full power mode. This isn’t a big issue, because, if you give up less than 30% of the projector’s brightness (which still makes it the brightest game in town), the projector quiets down in low lamp mode, to levels that should be acceptable to almost all rational people.

The Dynamic Iris is the second issue, and there are two components to the dynamic iris, that are of concern. The first, and more critical, is that the iris when in auto, sometimes makes a somewhat loud ticking kind of sound, sort of a “da-da-da-da-da-da-da noise for a second or two when adjusting. Personally, I’m most disapointed that Optoma hasn’t dealt with this problem, which also exists on the HD81. They’ve been taking heat from reviewers for almost a year now, so I would have thought that they could have come up with a quiet motor. I recommend not using the dynamic iris, which means you are sacrificing some black level performance. In reviewing the projector, though, I spent at least 90% of the time without using the dynamic iris, so my overall comments on image quality are with the iris fully open. Plan B, since you have so many lumens, is to improve contrast (and black levels) by using the iris in manual, and closing it down part way.

The dynamic iris itself, is slow, should you use it. That is, you can see (and hear) it lightening or darkening the overall image at scene changes. Enough said, as the HD81-LV does a great job without it.

The third issue is room placement. Entry level DLP projectors lack lens shift, but most of the HD81-LV’s competition offer at least vertical lens shift. This projector has no adjustable lens shift. In addition, the lens offset has the projector being mounted well above the top of the screen (about 17 inches for a 100″ screen). This is going to make life very difficult for those with 110″ and larger screens, and rooms without high ceilings. In other words, I sure hope you have a 9, or better, a 10 foot or higher ceiling. The other aspect, in terms of room positioning, is the 1.2:1 zoom lens (20%). That means you only have a couple+ feet of placement flexibility front to back. This is typical of DLP projectors – LCD and LCOS projectors usually have zoom lenses with three to five times the range. If you are ceiling mounting, this probably isn’t a big issue, but if you, like me, prefer to shelf mount, you may well be out of luck, you’ll need just the right shaped room, although, if you are close, you might decide to increase or decrease the screen size a bit to make it work, if that is practical.

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