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Optoma HD161X Home Theater Projector - Summary

Posted on January 21, 2015 by Art Feierman
OPTOMA HD161X HOME THEATER PROJECTOR - SUMMARY:  A serious choice for those looking to spend under $1500. Summary of Brightness, Picture Quality, Feature Set

Brightness Summary

Brightness is a good place to start summarizing the Optoma HD161X home theater projector.  I must first repeat:  Home THEATER projector.  I see this projector destined for your home theater, or at least a room that can be well darkened, and ideally not have white walls, ceilings etc.  The HD161X has plenty of lumens for the right environment, one that can take advantage of the projectors superior (for the money) black levels.  If you want a projector for a brighter room, there are much brighter home "entertainment" projectors out there, including some Optomas.

Optoma claims 2000 lumens, but we could not find all of them.  Some manufacturers we find exceed their claims (not very common) others get close, and a significant number of them measure less than 90% of claim.

The most we found in this Optoma, was a handful of lumens less than 1600.  To get that much we used Bright mode, zoom lens at full wide angle (places it closest to the screen), and with the color temp set to native lamp mode (not pretty, but that's the case with most projectors' very brightest mode).   Consider watching in native to be an "break glass in case of emergency" mode.  In fact, we offer up a few settings changes that will improve that picture's color a good bit, while still delivering almost 1400 lumens.  That will do the trick very nicely for sports viewing with some ambient light present.

In addition to the product shots above, note two photos for our theater.  This shows the ambient light levels in the room while shooting the football images in this review.  The top 25% of the shuttered window to the right of the screen is open as is a second identical window, same side, about 10 feet toward the back of the room.  The second image shows that the rear window's shutters are mostly open.  Also additional light is coming in through the only slightly opened door (the room beyond is lit by a bright, large skylight).  The last image is one of the football photos taken with this lighting.  All other screen images in this review were taken with the shutters either entirely or mostly closed.  Movies were shot with no light coming in, and no lights on in the room.

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For lights down movie viewing, mid on the zoom lens, there's a healthy 1000 lumens (that's right out of the box, or post calibration, which had no significant effect on brightness - a bit unusual).  Officially by movie theater standards, you need only around 450 lumens for a theater bright 100" screen, so there's extra muscle there in calibrated Reference mode (it's best).  For 3D viewing, where 3D glasses etc. gobble up over 50% of brightness, a 100" image is watchable but I personally prefer a bit brighter.

When you want to switch to the kind of content that is more lights on - such as sports or maybe a sitcom, the 1000 lumens should serve well, but won't be able to handle a whole lot of ambient light.  Note that some home "theater" competitors may be 20-50% brighter.  The HD161X comes up short of our "light canon" designation.  Good, not exceptional brightness, but you can definitely go larger than a 100" diagonal typical screen for movie viewing.

Picture Quality

When it comes to picture quality, overall, this Optoma is very good, but a couple of rough edges, discussed within the review are worth considering.  The first is color.  Despite post calibration good looking "measurements" the projector seems slightly off in color with a slightly orange cast to faces).  This same shift can make a blue sky look a touch wrong.

Update:  March 2015.  As noted on the first page of this review, and the calibration pages.  Different settings submitted by a reader, improved the color quite a bit.  Our complaint above, and elsewhere in this review about the color is withdrawn.  While still not exceptionally accurate color, the different settings provided a quite visible improvement, elevating my opinion of the projector significantly.  The Optoma HD161X has been upgraded to a Hot Product Award.  (Congrats Optoma!)  Note that other than this "update" the original commentary about color (above and below) remains unchanged, and is therefore obsolete.

As I stated, from a color accuracy standpoint, the Optoma looks as good (mostly better) than most any of my friends' LCDTVs (unless I've adjusted them).  Thus, this isn't a major problem, but I personally, would not be happy as is.   A little tweaking further likely would improve the picture as well, which should be good news for  those that like to play with their toys.  So it comes down to if you demand great skin tones, etc., and you don't want to play around, you may want to be looking elsewhere.  At this price point, remember there are a lot of trade offs.

The other issue is the Dynamic Black - Optoma's lamp dimming which is their alternative to having a dynamic iris.  It occasionally "jumps" or flickers.  It's far better than many previous Optoma's though.  Most won't mind, it's infrequently noticeable.

Here's the great news: With Dynamic Black engaged the HD161X has excellent black level performance compared to anything near its price or below.  Even if you turn off Dynamic Black, its nice to know that the black level performance still is better than almost all of the competition, at least until you start spending $400 - $500 more.

A sharp image, plus the availability of smooth motion (aka Pure Motion), and some other processing are additional strengths.  Smooth motion is definitely found on a less than half of the competing projectors. If you like smooth motion, count that as a real plus.  Less than ideal color is the only downside, and it certainly is "tweak able."

Feature Set

This projector certainly has plenty of features to mention, but you'll find many of them on the next (and final page) on the Pros side of our Pros and Cons section.  Here I want to comment briefly on just a couple of important things.

Preset "Display" modes.  The Optoma as noted has five preset 2D modes, a User mode and a 3D mode.  While I favor lots of User modes, this Optoma also has a pair of ISF (Day and Night) modes, that become available to an ISF certified calibrator.  They can set them up, and edit them, you can't.  But most importantly Optoma now let's you pretty much customize all the modes the way you like.  That is because there are multiple Color Gamuts - such as HDTV, Native, HDTV, SMPTE-C.  Each of those is customizable.  That way you can essentially match up different RGB, and CMS settings in different modes and not have to worry about changing settings in one place and having everything change in all the mode.  This is a nice improvement.  That also leaves you User mode to pick and choose almost everything.  Nicely done.  There are timers, image shifting, digital zoom, and more goodies.  Many don't affect the picture, but might come in handy.

Missing is MHL, which makes sense - it's normally found in home entertainment projectors, and those have speakers.  MHL devices normally need audio in the devices they plug into.  Would have been a nice extra, but Optoma has plenty of home entertainment projectors that offer that.

Update:  6/11/2015.  Optoma advises although they haven't mentioned MHL on brochures or even the manual, it does support it.  Once hearing that, I was excited.  Sure enough I plugged in my Roku stick, and voila' it works fine.

But that's not the end of the conversation.  Few will find MHL useful, because as I had previously rationalized, everyone expects sound.  Since the HD161X has no speaker, and has no audio output, sound is "dead in the water."  You can watch your favorite show or movie, you just can't listen to it.  No wonder they didn't publicize it.  No doubt MHL was part of the HDMI chipset being used... If only Optoma had thought to put an audio out on the projector.  Alas!

On the back you'll even find a standard USB connector labeled 5V 1.5amp.  You can plug in rechargeable 3D glasses, or for that matter, most iPhones and Android phones for recharging.  There's a 12 volt trigger for controlling a properly equipped motorized screen.  That's a taste.  Time for the last page, including those lists and some thoughts about where the HD161X sits in terms of its value proposition.

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