Optoma HD81 Summary
If you are putting together a serious home theater, the HD81 is a major league contender. I find no fault with overall image quality, and with a full professional calibration, the HD81 should be about as good as a single chip 1080p home theater projector can get.
Although black levels are not the very best, they are certainly extremely good. Not once in many hours of viewing including dark movies like Sin City, and (much of) Phantom of the Opera, did I ever feel that the black levels and supporting shadow detail, left the image flat in dark areas. Of course perfect black levels would be great - but who wants to deal with CRT projectors in this day and age (although CRT projectors can do true black).
I definitely loved the input flexibility of the HD81, combined with the advantage of not having to run lots of cabling to the projector, instead plugging in all sources into the outboard processor. With some of the competition, like the BenQ W10000 with its very limited input selection, I fear people will have to run out and buy a new AV receiver with 3 HDMI inputs. Afterall, you'll want one for HDTV, one for your HD-DVD player, and since the format war will probably not be won, one for a Blu-Ray player. With the HD81, there are not only 3 HDMI inputs, but also, lots of component video inputs, computer inputs, etc. The HD81 is a dream, in that regard.
With a minimum advertised price (MAP) set at $6999, the HD81 is $1000 more than the BenQ W10000, $3000 more than the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, $2500 more than the Mitsubishi HC5000, $2000 more than the Sony VW50. So, it's not the low priced spread. On the other hand, it is $3000 less than SIM2's new Model 80, which we will review in January, or very early February.
Another key capability I really like about the HD81 is the brightness. I, like most, prefer to have a nice bright image, and the HD81 definitely can put out a brighter image in "best" mode, than any of the competition, although the BenQ comes close. The key point here, is that the Optoma HD81 had no problem filling my 128" Firehawk screen for serious movie watching. It had plenty of horsepower on HDTV, making those beautiful scenes on various Discovery-HD, and other hi-def channels look rich and vibrant. I only watched one football game on the HD81, and my only complaint was that I was rooting for the losing team.
If your budget doesn't limit you to the slightly lower performance LCD 1080p projectors, the HD81 will deliver a truly stunning image - whether movie or TV.