Projector Reviews

Runner-Up: Best in Class ($1000 – $2000): Optoma HD161X / HD50

I like this HD161X / HD50 Optoma projector more than probably any I’ve reviewed in several years.  Both projectors are essentially the same, but sold through separate distribution channels, which is very common these days.  Sony, JVC and Epson are just some other “players” that do the same thing.

The last time I was enthused in this price range was the old HD25-LV which won’t go way, as it’s now approaching 4 years old?  I did find that older Optoma, though to be pretty “rough around the edges”.  This one is a good good bit more refined in terms of the picture.

What's so good about the HD161X?

Good question.  As a single chip DLP it’s got that “look and feel” of rich colors on dark scenes that many like (including me).  Black level performance isn’t great – not what I call “ultra high contrast”, but better than virtually all projectors costing less.  It’s definitely a step down, however, from our “Class” winner, that Epson 4030 projector.

Before I forget, these projectors do offer CFI – creative frame interpolation, aka smooth motion.  Definitely a plus for sports viewing, even regular HDTV, but it’s a feature that hard core enthusiasts don’t use when viewing movies.


Claiming 2000 white lumens, the HD161X is relatively bright, but definitely well below some of the brightest projectors in the price range, including some other DLP’s and Epson’s HC3xxx models.  It’s not built to be a wall melting family room projector, more for a home theater / cave environment, but with enough lumens to be respectably bright enough for 3D viewing.

As such, I see it as a less expensive alternative to the Winner in this class, the Epson 4030, but, I find it to be a better “cave” projector than those Epson HC3000/3500/3600 projectors.  That is, I favor those in brighter rooms, this Optoma in darker ones. That’s pretty easy.

OK this Optoma has respectable, but not really “ultra high contrast” black level performance (despite the 40,000:1 contrast claim), but they get there with lamp dimming (Dynamic Black as they call it) rather than a dynamic iris.  I’ve been complaining for years, that their lamp dimming isn’t fast enough, so it’s not hard to spot it in action. That’s not my cup of tea.

If Optoma had finally broken down and given us a good dynamic iris instead, this projector very well may have taken top honors.  While I’m “asking” for things, Optoma could also make more of an effort to start with really good color modes.  At least that can be adjusted.   Consider, awards aren’t normally give for “what if?”

While I’m “bitching”, the anty is one year.  Most projectors at this price point come with much better warranties – typically two years, some three.

Let’s talk color for a minute.  Mike originally calibrated this projector for my review.  Right out of the box color, wasn’t great, but watchable, so a calibration (or as I like to say – plug in our calibration recommendations) makes a real difference in performance.

Well, even after Mike’s calibration (he’s THX certified), color was not great, but better.  Because of that, no Hot Product Award for this projector.

But wait!  Not long after the review published, I was contacted by one guy who, in conjunction with at least one other enthusiast on the AV forums, who have their own calibration gear and came up with different results.  This can easily happen, especially with the almost infinite number of settings and modes.

They agreed that our calibration left the projector off on skin tones etc., but they had better results with different settings and shared them with me.  One of the basic differences is that they started with a completely different level of Brilliant Color, and that can skew all the results.

Voila’ post calibration color went from a good bit disappointing to really good!  We had published our own numbers, the usual way, but thanks to their permission, also have provided their results in the full review, which are the results I recommend you use, should you score one of these.

RBE, if you are rainbow sensitive, the HD161X doesn’t have the fastest color wheel around, so that could be a deal breaker for you, just remember, if you don’t know if you are rainbow sensitive, that most folks aren’t, and most “family members” don’t care as much about those artifacts as  you might.

As long as you, one way or another, manage to get good color out of this Optoma projector, it’s a very good choice – a lower cost alternative to that Epson 4030, and more theater oriented than the Epson 3000 series which position as a better choice in those less than ideal rooms where a lot of lumens (white and color) are called for.  All considered, definitely the best DLP projector we considered in the under $2000 range.  Typically it’s found selling under $1400, although it lists for hundreds more.

If you are willing to put in a little effort, this Optoma HD161X, aka HD50 is an excellent choice for the money.

[prsku sku=”HD161X”]