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HD65 Projector: Black Levels and Shadow Detail

Posted on May 22, 2008 by Art Feierman

Optoma HD65 Black Levels

Like the HD71, the HD65 claims 3000:1 contrast without AI engaged, and 4000:1 with AI being used. For almost all of my watching of the HD65, the AI was engaged (which also means the fan is on high).

When viewing the image above from Space Cowboys, the blacks are good, they are not the really deep "inky" blacks that many 1080p projectors can produce, and some of the better 720p models, (including most DLP projectors that use the better Darkchip3 DLP chip).

Black levels are respectable, actually pretty good. I think there are a couple other low cost projectors that can do a bit better, but we're considering a true entry level projector here. If its performance in terms of black levels, started looking more like that of a particularly $3000 1080p projector, that sure would be surprising, and beyond any reasonable expectation.

There is certainly room for improvement, but, overall the performance is typical of many current, and last year's, 720p home theater projectors.

For best black level performance, you'll want to engage the Optoma AI circuitry, which will make adjustments for dark scenes. It doesn't seem to have any real impact on a scene that is mostly dark, but has some really bright areas, but it does help slightly with very dark scenes that lack any really bright area. The downside to using AI is that the fan will run on high speed. Only with AI off, can you select the quieter low (power) lamp mode.

Note the slight green cast caused by my camera, as mentioned above.

This next image, also from Casino Royale, is a mixed brightness scene. The blacks look pretty good, not best in class, however:

I still love those space scenes, and again, while blacks could be blacker, the HD65 handles this overall, very dark scene, but with some pure white and bright reds, from Space Cowboys, rather nicely:

While the HD65 isn't as bright as, say the HD71, it is still, in "best mode" one of the brighter projectors around. After calibration, it still managed over 600 lumens (details on the General Performance page). Most home theater projectors tend to fall into the 350 to 500 lumen range, in best mode, after calibration, so this is definitely still pretty bright.

As a result, the HD65 can handle larger screens or more ambient light than most. As long as the screen size and type is appropriately larger (and similar gain), to a less powerful projector on a smaller screen, then the visible blacks (dark grays), should be about the same as most of the competition. Set up the HD65, though, with a small screen, say 92", and while the whole image will be very bright, the blacks will be lighter gray, than many would find ideal. I'd probably recommend about a 100" diagonal screen as a good starting place, for those wanting to keep the absolute black levels down pretty low.

Bottom line on Black Levels: The HD65 is pretty typical for 720p projectors and definitely not exceptional, but well within reason.

Optoma HD65 Shadow Details

Shadow levels a bit better (relatively) than black levels. Without getting into a lengthy discussion, let's just say that you can have superior black levels and only good shadow detail, or the other way around. In the case of the HD65, shadow detail, is very good, but not exceptional. While this would be considered, technically, a slight weakness, there is a trade-off worth mentioning.

I note frequently that Optoma projectors are particularly good at displaying very rich, dark colors, better than most projector brands overall.

Now that I have Mike Rollett doing the actual measurements and calibrations, he's doing a few extra measurements that I haven't done in the past. One of those is measuring gamma. That provides me with some measurements that can, at least in part, explain this tendency to rich dark colors.

Lo, and behold! The HD65's gamma curve (optimal for movies is 2.2), is not linear, in that dark and lower mid brightness areas, tend to come out darker than ideal (higher gamma). By the time you get to the brighter side of the mid-range - 70 IRE, however, the measured curve starts closing the gap with the ideal. By 80 IRE, and through white (100 IRE), it is about dead on.

The image above, from Aeon Flux, is also found on almost all reviews done in the last year. If you are comparing, note in particular, the stone walkway on the left and right, and details in the dark areas around the shrubs, and lower building.

I mention all this because, it means that a medium dark area is going to be darker than ideal, while fairly bright areas are pretty much dead on. It's a pretty good "compromise", as the projector has that rich look in dark areas, despite not having exceptional blacks.

And this explains not only the the rich dark colors, but also explains why there is some shadow detail loss in the darkest areas. As we consider the darkest areas, they are darker than they should be, and considering they aren't bright to begin with, it becomes harder for the eye to make out those darkest details.

Is this a problem? Not really. You will see a touch more dark shadow area detail on some other projectors, but the HD65 really does a very good job overall. As many readers of my reviews already know, one of my very favorite projectors, the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB - at almost three times the price, has best in class black levels, but, like this Optoma, its shadow detail could be improved.

But, we are spliting hairs, unless the loss of shadow detail is really significant (not the case), few scenes are fully dark enough for a typical home theater viewer to notice the loss. (Note: I said typical viewer, - not the hard core home theater enthusiast - so no hate mail please.)

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