Black Level Performance
Above, a few general darker images to give you an idea of what things will look like on your screen. Also our usual "starship" image, and the Casino Royale Bond night train scene. Note that those images are intentionally overexposed so you can "see" the blacks. The more blown out that pause bar in the lower left, the more overexposed. The Optoma performs especially well.
The first of the train images is this Optoma. That is followed by Epson's Pro Cinema 4030 (sorry, slightly blurry image). Then comes a split screen image with the Epson 3500 on the left, and the BenQ HT1075 on the right (not near as good). Although the HC3500 sells for a few hundred more with a lot more features, they offer the HC3000 with a feature set similar to the Optoma but at the low end of the Optoma's street price range. The BenQ is also price competitive. Note that neither of the two come close to the Optoma in terms of deep blacks. The Epsons do have a dynamic irises, the BenQ none.
The next image, is the $5000 JVC, which has the blackest blacks of any projector we've ever reviewed. Even being more overexposed than any image, the letter boxing still measures virtually 0, far below the others. Then the last image is a lower cost Optoma (less than half the price). It has the worst black levels of the batch.
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Now here's the issue with the HD161X. Thanks to the lamp dimming, the Optoma can offer up darker blacks than the competition, even those using dynamic irises.
But, you can't dim a lamp as fast as you can close or open an iris. Thus, it seems the Optoma has take that into consideration. Thus I believe it tries to moderate, and then finds itself trailing the desired brightness. The result is perhaps a second after a scene changes, or even within a scene when there is a steady change in brightness, the Optoma, trailing in adjustment, is forced to catch up, so then there's a snap as the lamp dims over a fraction of a second as fast as it can to catch up. The result is a visible jump up or down in brightness of the scene.
For myself, and many enthusiasts, this will be a source of annoyance when it happens. Optoma has minimized this over the last few years (I've been complaining about this for a long time), but their lamp dimming solution is still no where near a smooth as a well implemented dynamic iris. Once again, I have to say, that this is noticeable occasionally enough that I prefer the watching with the Dynamic Black off, despite the worse (brighter) black levels on dark scenes. Of course, the final decision is yours, but let's say that the HD161X with Dynamic Black engaged probably has some of the best blacks I've seen for an under $2000 projector (only the Epson Pro Cinema 4030 and their new Home Cinema 5025UB under $2000, can match or beat it).
Overall Picture Quality
Keep in mind, again, that this is a home THEATER projector with a street price under $1500 in the US. Sharpness is very good, and that's always a plus. While on paper the calibration looks excellent, skin tones do seem to have that slightly orange-ish cast I've mentioned already.
It's not just the skin tones, I think you can detect that same shift, say in a blue sky, giving it a very slightly unnatural look there as well (a slight shift toward cyan). In fairness, re-calibrating with some changes could improve upon that, but Mike, our calibrator, uses pretty respectable gear, and the system is essentially automated, as is the case for most professional calibrators. I thought that adjusting the Brilliant Color setting might help, but it really didn't have any noteworthy affect on the color balance. I've found by adjusting some of the green settings downward a bit, but starting with Mike's settings, provides a part way solution.
When it comes to black level performance, if you don't mind or notice, that only very occasional slight blip of change to brightness in some scenes, the blacks are exceptionally good. (The last chapter of Hunt For Red October is a good example where you can see the subtle "flicker" a few times.) Your friends and kids won't care, but it's not about them is it? If you don't mind this "artifact", then this projector is about as good as it gets black levels wise, under $2000.
If you do mind, turn off Dynamic Black, but then the back level performance goes from great to merely really very good for a DLP projector at it's price, still easily surpassing, for example the BenQ competition! I'm trying to think of an under $1500 street price projector with better blacks than the HD161X running without Dynamic Black, and I can't think of any. So with or without, consider black levels to be a particular strength.
Shadow detail is excellent.
When I think of the whole package, in terms of picture quality, I'd have to say the slight color issues with skin tones, and in general, to be the biggest weakness, compared to the competition. Tweaking that a bit further (the best calibration settings don't always yield the most faithful color), and the projector becomes particularly excellent at picture quality. The question is how to intelligently accomplish that. If you are a hobbyist and are willing to play around, and have the gear, go for it!