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Optoma UHD51A 4K Home Theater Projector Review: Special Features

Posted on July 29, 2018 by Art Feierman

Voice Control with Alexa and Google Assistant

Alexa and Google Assistant support is the highlight feature of Optoma’s UHD51A. Along with Wifi, (also a black cabinet instead of white), and a price difference,  that’s what distinguishes the UHD51A from its little brother, the UHD50. Getting the UHD51A configured, with Alexa proved initially to be a nightmare, because I could not get the projector to configure its wifi, with the included module.

No Wifi, no Alexa, etc. So I called Optoma. The problem was quickly diagnosed, my review unit was an early release and had an older version of firmware. From there I had Optoma support walk me through updating the firmware. Updating was a bit time consuming, but we got it done, and that does bring up a good point: This is a projector can have its firmware updated by owners, should a new firmware release come out. Part of the firmware upgrade was done by USB (to get the Wifi working - which was the real problem) and the rest over the Wifi.  With Wifi working any future upgrades should be doable "OTA" - Over the air (aka wireless), so therefore one upgrade, not two.

Home Screen - Wifi is configured in Settings, Alexa in Applications

Once the firmware was upgraded (so the Wifi worked), I started with the Optoma’s Network settings (found in Settings tab on the Home screen), configured for my home wifi. All easy enough. That includes creating a MyDevices account with Optoma, registering, and then registering it with Alexa’s site. From the Applications menu (also off the Home screen), you can configure to Alexa. It will ultimately do the usual log on. Then from the site, add the Optoma UHD51A Skill. That’s about it.

So far the Skill has a relatively limited feature set, but Optoma, I’m sure will grow that. Right now I can power the projector on or off, change sources, and control the volume. Also, you can voice control a slideshow when using the onboard media player (USB input).

With Skills you can tell it to do all the usual player settings: Play, Previous, Next, Stop, Rewind, Fast Forward. There’s no reason though why the Skill couldn’t be expanded to change color modes, or go from full power to Eco mode. Here’s hoping that Optoma delivers additional capabilities.

Configuration menu for configuring Alexa, etc.  Wireless is setup, but menu continues to show "fail" (needs a fix).
Configuration menu for configuring Alexa, etc. Wireless is setup, but menu continues to show "fail" (needs a fix).

I did not yet setup my Google Home to see how easily the projector configures with it, but I would expect it to set up about the same. I’m not sure if Google’s Actions support more functions that Alexa’s Skills but I’d be surprised.) Personally I’d like to see Siri support as well. I use Alexa extensively at home (since I also publish a home automation review site), and like using it, but Alexa often thinks its turned something on, or off, or dimmed something, but it hasn’t. It’s mostly a one way system. Siri normally knows if it tries to do something and it doesn’t work, and tells you.

Bottom line: I like having Alexa control. Or Google Assistant, or Siri, etc. I can also now control my motorized shades with Alexa. That sounds perfect in my home theater. Unfortunately, the motorized shades are in the bedroom, not my theater. The theater’s shutters are old school: Manual. Oh well!

Still to be determined, can I load Netflix and other Apps? Optoma does have a nice document that lists the Skills commands with comments. It’s one of many downloads for this projector, including the main manual, quick start guides, a setting up Alexa guide (excellent – if you have the right firmware), etc.

CFI – Creative Frame Interpolation

The main point is that this Optoma has Creative Frame Interpolation – smooth motion. Interestingly roughly about half of the 4K UHD projectors offer it, and half do not. Optoma’s CFI works well, the lowest setting is fine for my sports viewing, the more the processing with anyone’s CFI, the more faint artifacts around the fast moving objects. I would recommend CFI for sports viewing. Some will like it (the lowest setting) for general HDTV viewing. I always recommend not using it on traditional 24fps movies because it significantly changes the look and feel of the movie.

4K UHD - 1920x1080 x 4 Pixel Shifting

Here’s just my usual attempt to explain 4K UHD and the different 4K capable resolutions.

Optoma starts out with the same native resolution as their lower cost 1080p projectors, but adds pixel shifting, to movie the pixels and fire each pixel 4 times. That gets them the “magical” 8.3 million total pixels to qualify as a 4K UHD projector. Optoma also makes three higher resolution 4K UHD projectors, using their 2716x1528 x 2 pixel shifting chips. Those are smaller pixels for finer best resolution, and only have to hit the screen twice, not 4 times to achieve the 8.3 megapixels.

With pixel shifting, additional detail can be projected, but pixel shifting doesn’t come into its own until you have a higher resolution source, which is why all the pixel shifters support 4K content. Now, all else being equal, there are 4K content capable projectors (that use 1920x1080x2), then projectors like the UHD51A, then other DLPs with the higher res chip, such as the Optoma UHD65 ($2499). Then of course come the true 4K projectors with the smallest pixels and no needed pixel shifting.

Ghostbusters 4K photo
Aldridge Mansion Scene from Ghostbusters 2016 - from 4K Blu-ray UHD

Truth is, there is little sharpness difference between even these lower res 4K UHDs and the entry level true 4K projectors ($4999). And that’s fine. Some folks argue that therefore there’s no need to spend for “true 4K”
It just depends, it’s like spending for a very expensive car, if you can afford it, and $100K Mercedes might get you somewhere a bit quicker and in a little more comfort than a $30K Camry, but they both get you there. To set the record straight, I’ve had many true 4K projectors here (all Sonys) and the sharpness improves as you move into their mid priced ($15K+) and high end (up to $60K), as the lenses get better and more expensive, among other refinements.

sharpness closeup of Aldridge Mansion
Closeup of the Aldridge Mansion. Nicely sharp!

So, unless you are feeling rich, this $1699 projector will get you to very sharp on a budget, and you can take comfort that unless you throw many times the money at your projector, those will at most be only slightly sharper, at best, and likely, also, they might be a bit more even in brightness from center to corners, and other things that better optics bring to the party.

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