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Optoma HD80 DLP Home Theater Projector Preview

By Art Feierman
Check out how the Optoma HD80 fared in our comparison report. Optoma started shipping their entry level 1080p projector, the HD80, last month. We are expecting our review HD80 to arrive right after the CEDIA show next week, so look for a full, in-depth review around mid-September.

Click to enlarge. SO close

When it comes to new 1080p home theater projectors, the HD80 is significant for several reasons, and, because of that, it seems logical to provide our readers with a preview, in advance of the full review.

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Optoma HD80 Basic Specifications

Pricing: $2699 MAP
Optional Motorized Anamorphic Lens Price: $3999
Technology: Single Chip DLP, 6X, 7 segment color wheel
Native Resolution: 1080p (1920x1080)
Brightness: 1300 lumens
Contrast: 10,000:1
Zoom Lens ratio: 1.2:1
Lens shift: None
Lamp life: 3000 lumens (eco-mode?)
Weight: 10.0 lbs.
Warranty: 2 years Parts and Labor, 1 year on the lamp

So, what makes the HD80 an important home theater projector? There are several reasons:

Optoma Projectors - a respected pedigree of value

Over last 3+ years, I have reviewed most of Optoma's home theater projectors, and, quite honestly, they consistantly are solid, and often exceptional performers, and well priced. Optoma tends to focus on basic features, and except on top of the line models, they tend to be free of lots of frills.

Optoma originally launched thei HD81 after CEDIA last fall, at $7999, but within 6 months cut the price in half to $4299 and a $300 rebate, as more 1080p competitors hit the market. (Falling prices, are hardly a surprise!)

In the case of the HD80, it is the lowest priced of three Optoma 1080p projectors. The HD80 shares the same cabinet as the HD81 and HD81-LV (although the "LV" is finished in black. It also has the same 10,000:1 contrast ratio, and 6X speed, 7 segment color wheel.

The primary difference, between the HD80, and it's more expensive sibling, the HD81, is the HD80's use of internal image processing, instead of using an external processing box, as the HD81, and the new ultra-bright HD81-LV have. For the two more expensive Optoma projectors, the processor box comes from Gennum, a highly respected provider of image processing systems. These outboard processors typically have lots of inputs, and raise the cost of a complete system. The HD80, as is typical of the vast majority of home theater projectors, has processing internal (and it is apparently provided by a different company), and comes with significantly fewer inputs. Note: There are a number of companies (Gennum, Faroudja, Silicon Optics, etc.) providing image processing, and most do a very good to excellent job.

Optoma HD80 - the lowest cost 1080p projector

Optoma's HD80, for the moment, is officially the least expensive 1080p projector shipping in the US. Its price of $2699 is $300 less than any other 1080p projector, however, from a selling price standpoint, it may not be the least expensive, as there is some real competition at the $3000 price point. When I'm talking pricing, I'm referring to MAP - minimum advertised price as it tends to be the maximum online price. MSRP prices are all over the map (no pun intended), and sometimes are double the typical selling price, so, basically useless.

In addition to the HD80, Epson has their $2995 Home Cinema 1080 (click for review), with a cash rebate currently running. Mitsubishi is shipping their $2995 HC4900 (recently reviewed), and the industry best seller (according to Panasonic, and almost certainly true), is the Panasonic PT-AE1000U (click for review), which technically is $3995, but has had a $1000 rebate running for several months, and there's no sign that the rebate will end, before that projector is discontinued. That makes four projectors who's online "starting prices" are under $3000.

OK, so the HD80 is hardly the only affordable 1080p projector around. What else does it have going for it? Well, first of all, the HD80 is the only DLP projector in the low cost group of 1080p projectors. Among the "hard core" home theater projector afficianados, DLP technology in generally preferred to LCD for overall picture quality, even though LCD projectors have their own advantages. Notably, the LCD projectors are far more flexible in terms of placing it in your room, thanks to zoom lenses with lots of range, and lens shift, which makes them easy to shelf mount, instead of ceiling mounting.

DLP projectors, though, are known, in general, for being more "film-like", so the HD80 will have a strong following. Also, DLP projectors inherently produce blacker blacks, and more shadow detail, although LCD projectors are closing the gap, thanks to fancy electronic's and dynamic irises that modify the image, frame by frame, to improve black levels.

The HD80 is physically compact

OK, time to take a look at what the HD80 specifically offers. For starters, it is a smaller projector than the LCD competition, The Epson is close in size, but the other two, the Mitsubishi HC4900 and the Panasonic PT-AE1000U are a size larger.

Optoma's HD80 should be moderately bright

Rated 1300 lumens, that is only 100 lumens less than the HD81, which is officially about 50% more expensive. More to the point, though is that the HD80 should prove to be a bright projector - we'll have to wait until it arrives and I can test it. The HD81, though, in best mode, produced 674 lumens. If the HD80 is close, that's impressive. By comparison, the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, the least bright (but most featured) of the group, measured 295 lumens. The HD80 should be similar to the other two. I can't wait to measure, and stop guessing.

HD80 interfacing

Although it can't match its siblings, the HD80 is no slouch, in fact, it still has as many inputs as the other, competing 1080p projectors. It sports 2 HDMI inputs, and a DVI-I, plus a 12 volt trigger for motorized screen control, along with the usual other interfaces; component video, S-video, and composite. In fact, I believe the HD80 is as versatile as just about any of the 1080p projectors, except for Optoma's more expensive projectors, with outboard processors.

HD80's 6X, 7 segment, color wheel

For the few of us (probably less than 5% of the population), who occasionally, or frequently spot the rainbow effect (mostly on fast moving bright objects on a dark background, or the other way around), its nice that Optoma has started using a faster color wheel. The HD80 like its more expensive siblings sports a 6X speed wheel, instead of 5X. Based on my recent experience with the HD81-LV, this is a very good thing. I still spotted a rare rainbow or two, but definitely less than with the traditional 5X wheel projectors.

HD80 Color, Black Levels and Shadow Detail

This will be a great area of interest. Almost every Optoma I have tested is capable of gorgeous color and very good black levels and shadow detail.

On the downside, Optoma projectors tend to have less than great "out of the box" image quality, with the color temperature usually well off from ideal, and too much green.

I'm not particularly hopeful that the HD80 will be any different, but, there is a bright side. Optoma offers very good color management tools, and while a professional ISF calibrator tuning your system would be great, a $40 calibration disk like the Avia Guide, will get you close enough to a great image.

HD80 Projector - The Bottom Line

The HD80 is likely to slug it out with the not as bright, but more full featured Panasonic PT-AE1000U, for the title of best selling 1080p projector. We expect excellent image quality to be it's key strength, and on the downside, it is likely to be a bit noisy (typical of most DLP projectors), and less flexible in terms of room placement. Stay tuned for the review.

In the meantime...

You can visit our projector specs database for the HD80, and download the PDF file of the HD80's brochure.

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