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Optoma HD81 Projector Review: Summary, Pros, Cons

Posted on October 16, 2013 by Art Feierman

It's hard to imagine that anyone who purchases the HD81 won't be completely thrilled with the image on their screen. Despite the higher price than competing projectors, the HD81 has a lot going for it, to make it worth the difference.

As stated earlier, out of the box color is very good but not exceptional, sharpness is about as good as one could hope for, and black levels and shadow detail are certainly comparable to the best of the competition. In my opinion, this is one projector that you seriously want to consider spending the extra dollars on a professional calibration. Not because it is flawed, and needs fixing, but rather: Why not take the projector from extremely good performance, to greatness?

Click to enlarge. SO close

Another key advantage of the HD81, is brightness. It is significantly brighter than the Panasonic PT-AE1000U or the Mitsubishi HC5000, the two 1080p LCD projectors I have reviewed. It's a much closer contest compared to the W10000. In best mode, the Optoma has a slight edge, but Optoma hasn't set up a really bright mode for watching TV/HDTV/Sports. In playing with the various settings I was able to get a jump in lumens, but, without really spending some time on it, it looks like the W10000 has a slight advantage.

I haven't mentioned the Mitsubishi HC5000 yet, so a few comparative comments. In terms of sharpness, the very sharp Mitsubishi, at first exhibits a feeling of a slightly sharper image. However, the Mitsubishi is the only one of the 4 1080p's reviewed that has slight pixel visibility at some normal seating distances. This tends to give the initial feeling of a sharper image. However, when looking at specfic fine details, close up, the Optoma (and BenQ), both equal or very slightly exceed the detail in the HC5000, or perhap I should say, the HC5000's pixels get in the way of more detail. If you like to sit fairly close the HC5000 is definitely at a disadvantage. The Panasonic (2nd unit - full production) was definitely sharper than the pre-production projector, but still visibly softer than the HD81.

Click Image to Enlarge

This takes us to ergonomics, and that is the HD81's weakest area. Of all the 1080p projectors reviewed, this is the only one that lacks lens shift, which pretty much limits you to celing mounting the projector. Combine that with the short range of the zoom lens (1.2:1) and back wall mounting is extremely unlikely. That may cause a significant number of potential buyers to favor the BenQ W10000 or one of the LCD models. The LCD models have both vertical, and horizontal lens shift and lots of range in their zoom lenses (Panasonic PT-AE1000U 2:1, Mitsubishi HC5000 1.6:1). Then there is the minor annoyance that the HD81's lamp door for changing out the lamp, is on the bottom, so that if you are using a ceiling mount, you'll need to unmount the projector to change the lamp. Although this is pretty standard, on low cost projectors, the BenQ W10000, Panasonic and several other similarly priced projectors do not require umounting to change the lamp. While I'm picking on the HD81, I better mention again, the noise levels. At best, the HD81 is not a very quiet projector. It's noise level in low power mode is definitely acceptable, but noisier than the competition. In full power, however, it is noisy enough, that some people will be unhappy. This is one area where the BenQ W10000 has a big advantage, and the LCD projector competition - well, by comparison, they are dead silent!

While placing the projector in your room may be a challenge, interfacing it with the rest of your equipment is not. No other 1080p projector under $10,000 comes close to the input flexibility of the HD81 home theater projector, thanks to the extensive capabilities of the outboard Gennum processor box. First, of course, the box sits with the rest of your equipment, so only two cables get run to the projector (plus power). With 3 HDMI inputs (four counting the AV receiver option), 2 standard Component, and two more (BNC) inputs that can be used for component video or computer inputs, the HD81 is a class of one in input capability.

If you like to "play" with your projector, you'll simply love the HD81. It has extensive controls to adjust the image. The Panasonic is similar in that regard, (and has that slick waveform generator), but the Mitsubishi and BenQ just can't match the extensiveness of the HD81's image controls. (The BenQ has more controls available to an ISF calibrator than users can access, so from a pro calibration standpoint, it isn't really an issue. Again, however, if you like to tweak, adjust, tune - whatever you call it, the HD81 is a dream projector.

As I have mentioned, the HD81 is supposed to have an Anamorphic lens available for it, for those who want full Cinemascope (2.35:1) movie watching without the upper and lower letter box. For most people, that means a Cinemascope (extremely wide) screen, and probably a masking solution to reduce the width for HDTV, TV, etc. With that in mind, Optoma included fully programmable 12 volt triggers, so that you can control a masking screen. That's a feature not found on other competitors. (There are workarounds - a serious programmable remote, or room control system, can control an IR or RF equipped masking screen.

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