Posted on July 29, 2018 By Art Feierman
UHD51A Projector Review – Picture Quality 2: Black Level Performance, Dark Shadow Detail, 1080p Movies, 4K HDR Movies and Content, Overall Picture Quality
I’ll start by saying I’m always on a hunt for home theater projectors, with very good black levels. For those of us who are “into it,” want the best possible picture quality, for viewing in a dark room, great black levels are very important. Sadly, such projectors tend not to exist under $2000, and you can spend far more and still not get what I call ultra high contrast performance. (Ignore manufacturer’s contrast claims, they don’t help sort the good from the not so good.)
The photos in the UHD51A’s image player below consist of the usual Bond night train scene, converted to grey scale and massively overexposed. You’ll see the Optoma’s first, followed by a lot of competitors for a quick comparison.
The UHD51A does a respectable, but not great job on black levels with its Dynamic Black engaged.
The TK800 is a brighter projector DLP with an RGBW wheel. It's black levels are similar but a touch less dark.
Similar to the BenQ TK800 (but this Viewsonic has an RGBRGB wheel). The PX727 is the direct equivalent of the BenQ HT2550.
The exposure is different, but this BenQ HT2550 performs on black levels, as mentioned, similarly to the Viewsonic PX727-4K, but not quite as good as the Optoma.
The Epson 5040UB is the lowest cost projector with next level black performance. It shows in the much higher contrast, more range between bright and dark.
The Optoma UHD60 and UHD65 (RGBRGB). These are the two higher resolution equivalents.
Sony's least expensive ($4999) true 4K projector - no iris but better black levels than the Optoma.
The Acer VL7860, after the firmware upgrade produces the best black levels of any of the under $6000 4K UHD projectors we've worked with (about a dozen so far).
Step up performance over the Sony 285, and much better than the Optoma, but this image is on the dark side.
This Viewsonic is a classic entry level 1080p projector (no 4K capabilities at all) - street price under $600. Very basic, pure "entry level" black level performance.
If you want to know what the best black levels look like, look at the one JVC’s image in the set. What you don’t want is flat and dull.
When it comes to the UHD51A: Not bad, but not good enough to make me (the home theater enthusiast) happy, which is to say I want deeper blacks to rival or come really close to the Epson 5040UB – the least expensive projector with “step up black level performance”. Hey, that’s fair enough, the Epson’s about $600 or so more.
Simply stated: Dynamic Black uses lamp dimming to overall darken the image when here are no significant really bright areas.
For those less “enthusiast” though, the Optoma does a pretty good job compared to most of its competition, which are mostly other 4K UHD DLP projectors. Optoma’s execution of Dynamic Black is smooth, but as mentioned elsewhere, it doesn’t lower the blacks anywhere near as much as a really good dynamic iris. For the vast majority, these black levels will more than suffice, as it is one of those “you don’t know what you are missing, until you’ve seen it” things.
In order to help you decide the importance of black levels in your decision, here’s one way to look at it: If you never expect to view in a fully darkened room, know that the importance of the differences is minimalized by even fairly low levels of ambient light.
And, on the other hand, those that choose to create home theaters, normally use very dark surfaces, and full lighting control, because that’s what delivers the really Big, Immersive Experience! screen with “ok” black levels than a 65” with great ones – even I have to draw a line somewhere.
Bottom line: The UHD51A’s overall black level performance (a subjective thing, of course), is one of the better ones under $2000. The only 4K UHD I’ve had in here that was significantly better, was the Acer VL7860, which uses a laser light engine (which can dim much faster, of course). But that projector sells for almost twice as much.
The UHD51A does a very good job on dark shadow details. Just make sure that the brightness is set correctly so as to not crush them. I was surprised that I found one of Eric’s calibrations was crushing blacks a touch. A quick increase of brightness of 2 steps, and problem solved.
The images above show some good dark scenes from various sources. The Bond train image above in black levels should be your go to image, and again, you can compare to other projectors. When viewing the Casino Royale/Bond night train this as good as any – for example look for details in the tracks in the lower right, and inside that large dark area of the forest on the right. I usually also provide a greyscaled image of Katnis and Rue sleeping outside. I did watch it, but never took the picture. So rely on the greyscale Bond, as well as the other images. Look for details instead of flat dark areas. No complaints, other than I found Eric’s Brightness setting to be a little low so I raised it one or two, and that ended dark detail crushing.
Truth is, most of us still are forced to watch mostly 1080p or lower resolution content. Sure there’s some streaming 4K on Netflix, and new movies are mostly coming out in 4K Blu-ray, but other than some action and sci-fi, not much that isn’t almost brand new. (I find that depressing!) There are significant number of movies that I would replace my Blu-ray with the 4K if they were offered.
No problem with the UHD51A on the lower resolutions. Well, first of all, remember it uses a 1080p resolution DLP chip, just one enhanced with pixel shifting for extra benefit, but benefit mostly reserved for 4K content. You’ll find some of the usual images from Casino Royale, The Hunger Games, etc…
Consider: When it comes to 1080p movies (Blu-ray), and most HDTV, this projector really won’t perform very differently than other Optoma projectors at half the price, that simply aren’t 4K capable, and have no pixel shifting. You are paying for the 4K abilities (and the smarts.) It’s important that the UHD51A does a good job on 1080 content, and it does, with no special resolution related issues to the picture.
As too often mentioned, Only the more expensive really bright LCD TVs are technically bright enough to properly handle HDR at this time. The average TV at Costco, and pretty much every home theater projector, just isn’t bright enough to meet the standard. As such, each manufacturer figures out their best compromise or compromises when handling HDR content.
The UHD51A’s implementation is particularly good. It avoids most of the dimness tendency without sacrificing too much of that extra wow that that High Dynamic Range promises. And there are options. Eric talks about different combinations on his pages, something you will want to read if you buy one of these. I tried different recommended variations and found one I really liked, balancing the mid and lower range brightness without sacrificing too much pop to the scene.
The movie Passengers did not disappoint on the Optoma. Darker scenes such as in the bedroom, which can easily, on many projectors, get that “dim” feel, were handled well.
For most of the movie I preferred the UHD51A to the Epson 5040UB, but when it came to the darker, and especially the very dark scenes the Epson had a big advantage. – and I’m not just talking space walks, I’m talking the kind of dark scenes you will find in most movies. Skin tones looked better than the Epson, not by virtue of more color accuracy, but because, by comparison the Epson often made Jennifer Lawrence’s face seem under lit.
Bottom Line 4K Movie Content with HDR: Although the UHD51A isn’t particularly bright, with only about1250 lumens in the calibrated HDR mode, it made the most of it. It allows a number of good looking combinations of gammas and other settings, so you can compare and choose yourself. It’s easy.
As competent as any of the other 4K UHD projectors using the smaller chip overall. Black levels, of course, could be a lot better, but the UHD51A serves up one really nice picture. Now for myself and some others who see the RainBow Effect, the slow color wheel has me seeing more than most competitors. If you aren’t one of the relatively few who see rainbows on slow DLP color wheels, then you are getting a picture that is about as good as it gets (give or take a little color accuracy), for this price point. Then consider, that the UHD51’s not so smart twin, the UHD50, offers the identical picture, and therefore an even better value proposition for those who don’t care about Alexa control Take your pick. Serious contenders for your cave or home theater. A well thought out media room or other room you have good lighting control of, will also work well, but do not consider this a bright room projector, it isn’t built to conquer a lot of ambient light. Of course when dealing with ambient light, having just the right light absorbing screen can improve the equation.
This Optoma UHD51A is definitely a short list projector if your budget is sub $2000. Let’s hope for more Skills to be added to make better advantage of Alexa and Google, for that will further improve the value proposition!
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