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Optoma UHD51A 4K Home Theater Projector Review: Picture Quality

Posted on July 29, 2018 by Art Feierman

UHD51A Picture Quality – Right Out of the Box

This Optoma projector offers half a dozen or so picture modes, including one for HDR and one for HDR Simulation. Overall, Cinema and Reference are the two modes with the best picture before any adjustment. That said, Eric, our ISF calibrator was less than thrilled with the default settings, complaining about crushed whites, and crushed dark shadow detail, reduced brightness, and more. All is covered in his calibration pages later in this review. I too immediately noticed the crushing of dark shadow detail, and some near whites too. Fortunately, just about anyone can follow simple instructions to adjust brightness and contrast settings to solve much of these problems, without having any calibration talent, or even test equipment.

Editor’s Tip: If dark detail is being crushed, put on your projector a very very dark image, such as the Bond night train scene I use from Casino Royale (the Daniel Craig version not the Woody Allen one): Once you have a really dark image on the screen, pause it. Now adjust the Brightness to the lowest possible setting that does not make some of that dark detail disappear. Go back and forth between that setting and one number higher, and you can decide to have slightly lower blacks with minor crushing of detail, or no crushing and a slightly higher brightness black. Its that easy. Adjusting Contrast is the exact opposite – mostly very bright image, adjust until you when you adjust the number up by one, that you don’t lose any near white detail (turning to white).

I took more photos – of out of the box quality - than usual, so here they are in this player. All considered, some respectable colors, but in some cases too warm – shifted more toward red than a cooler Blue. Eric’s calibration took care of most of that. I wouldn’t recommend, therefore, using the default Reference mode (even after adjusting black and white levels) for things like sports because most folks prefer cooler for that type of viewing. That becomes even more true if there’s ambient light to deal with.

Olympics - good colors
This is out of the box, but I did make one change, it was crushing whites a bit so I lowered Contrast a couple of numbers. Problem solved.

Back to the business at hand. The HD51A does provide a good picture, but it can easily be improved a good bit.

Now let’s see how good it does on skin tones. Primarily you should be concerned with the skin tones on the calibrated modes we selected for “Brightest” and ‘Best (1080p) modes and a third mode, for 4K, with expanded color.

All considered, the HD51A is respectable, but it becomes a projector with noticeably improved picture, and a more accurate one, with our calibration settings. You might consider, if you buy an HD51A or HD50, trying our settings (the full set, will, at this time, set you back a massive $3.99. (If you can afford the projector...). Our settings aren’t perfect – lamps vary, and even then, lamps change color balance (and lose brightness) over time. Still it’s rare that anyone has reported back that they found the default settings better than ours, and we’ve been doing and publishing that info as far back as 2009.

UHD51A Color Performance – Handling of Skin Tones

The player above has several usual sequences. First we have multiple modes photographed using HDTV and one of the Victoria Secret swimsuit models. The various modes are labeled, in the captions. In addition, we have an assortment of other Skin tones images from HDTV, 4K streaming (Netflix – BlackList), 1080p Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray UHD as well (including Ghostbusters, Passengers, Journey To Space).  Finally, you’ll find the usual 1080p sequence of four images of Daniel Craig as Bond. Note his skin colors are very different in each image. That’s because of the lighting, and the director’s intent. So here we have the director attempting to create the correct skin tones under direct sunlight, filtered sunlight, fluorescents (airport scene with yellow sign) and night.

Post Calibration skin tones were really very good, although not exceptional. They are not as on the money as say the $1999 Sony HW45 (best of the projectors in this regard, under $2K), but then the Sony doesn’t support 4K at all, it’s a straight 1080p projector.

Let me put it this way, they do look better when watching the projector in action, than one might conclude from the post Calibration charts would indicate.  (Eric provides them in the calibration pages.)  Its not that unusual. But less then dead on the money color means some skin tones at some brightness levels may look outstanding, but less at other levels beause the greyscale calibration results just aren’t as smooth as on a lot of other projectors.

Bottom Line, - is the inaccuracies a problem? Not really. Most of us are happy with very good looking skin tones, and don’t demand perfection. And that’s fair, considering that every scene, let alone every movie, or show can be different in handling those skin tones.

You’ll be very happy with the skin tones for HDTV or for 1080p / movies, etc. I was a touch less happy with the 4K content, but it really would prove to be less about the color balance and more about other aspects.

HDTV and Sports Viewing: UHD51A Projector

Sports rocks on the UHD51A, as long as you aren’t fighting a lot of ambient light. As one expects with single chip DLP projectors, great color is usually 40-50% below manufacturer’s claim for their highest measuring mode.

In this case, Eric chose to use the User mode, instead of modifying the noticeably greener Bright mode. End result is better color, but a less lumens to cut through ambient light.

All my sports images were taken daytime, with shutters open just a little, most ambient light coming in from all my eigh, rear, down facing ceiling lights, dimmed to about 10% I took a couple of the non-sports HDTV images using our calibrated Reference, but mostly stuck to the User mode. That’s because the post calibration Reference mode is abou 850 lumens vs. the about 40% brighter – 1200 measured lumens – for the post calibration User mode!

Now since most folks don’t want to watch sports in a fully darkened room I’d definitely recommend Eric’s User mode for all but the most color accuracy critical HDTV content. Save the Bright mode for ambient light emergencies!

Using Reference mode I was very impressed with the color and the textures, the richness when watching the Amy Winehouse video clip, and even the opening scene in the studio of The Late Show – with Colbert. The Optoma does very well with rich dark colors – a trait shared by many DLP projectors when properly set up.

UHD51A tackling 4K Streaming – From Netflix

Overall very impressive! I mostly like to own my movies, I have a huge collection of Blu-ray discs and now about 40+ 4K movies, but there’s something positive to say about streaming, once you get past the higher compression levels and the occasional related noise, (which at worst, pixelizes large very dark areas (from the massive compression). That said, watching Blacklist, which is well produced, the pilot, and recent episodes truly impress, far more spectacular (if a little dark in the mid and lower ranges), than watching Blacklist off of my saved DirecTV 1080i content. And that’s not even counting that the image is much sharper with the 4K content, from normal or close sitting distances.

The 4K streamed images in the player truly pop on the screen. Red’s (skin colors are brighter on 1080i than 4K with HDR. No surprise there. But despite that, I found that in this case, 4K with HDR blows away 1080i (which has no HDR). In other words, I’m pretty happy with the UHD51A’s – and therefore also the UHD50’s 4K w/HDR streaming.

A possible issue: Don’t panic! While watching about an hour of 4K streaming from Netfix, I lost picture half a dozen times. Now there are two most likely causes:

My WiFi connection – between my Sony 4K Blu-ray UHD player and my router. This could be simply that my Wifi dips below the throughput needed for continuous streaming. Believe me, I’m used to that – hardly uncommon when I’m streaming, no matter the projector, I get occasional issues even with 1080 resolution content. It just seemed to do that more this time, but it could be any of a number of factors.

I will assume that the streaming issue is my connection because I get drop out with other projectors too.  It's just that I've only started streaming 4K content regularly in the past couple of months, and providing images of that content in just the last couple of reviews.

The bottom line on 4K streaming with the Optoma UHD51A – and UHD50 – It sure works! The picture, unless compression artifacts are enough to annoy, is far superior to 1080 content on this projector. 1080i compressed is usually pretty bad (in terms of artifacts) by comparison, which is why I favor owning discs.

Again, in all likelihood, the issue I raised above, is more about Wifi throughput than streaming, but, even if it is UHD51A related, then Optoma would likely feel the need to offer a firmware upgrade that supports HLG. (Don’t count on it, unless Optoma believes they have a real problem, with streaming dropout.)

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