Optoma HD20 Projector "First Look" – 1080p for under $1000!

UPDATE: The Optoma HD20 Review has been posted.

The Optoma HD20 home theater projector is one of three announced 1080p projectors with a price tag under $1000!

That alone is cause for some celebration, however, the big question is, how good a projector will your $999 buy, and should you spend more?  Another question might be: Do I buy a more feature laden 720p projector, which may be superior in several ways to projectors like the HD20, yet a little lower resolution (still HD)?

I won’t attempt to answer those questions here, but I’ve been working with the HD20 for over a week now, and it’s time to share some thoughts.  I should also note that the full HD20 review should be posted on Monday, 8/31.

OK, the HD20 itself, might be described as a 1080p version of the Optoma HD65, a low cost 720p projector we liked a lot when we reviewed it.   Like the HD65, it is one of the smallest home theater projectors out there.  The HD20 has a different layout, including the control panel, and slightly different inputs. Both, however, were designed to be serious low cost competitors in their respective markets.

Let’s start with some basics.  Forget the specs.  The HD20 claims 1600 lumens which is an impressive amount of brightness.  That said, we looked everywhere and couldn’t find a significant number of those lumens.  In our “brightest” mode measurements, the HD20 still came up a few lumens shy of 1000 lumens.  Keep in mind that 1000 lumens is about average for a “brightest mode” lower cost 1080p projector.

Really good news can be found in that in the HD20’s “best mode” it still measured over 700 lumens, making it one of the brightest low cost projectors when doing its best.

That said, the HD20 is an entry level projector.  That becomes obvious for those familiar with the black level performance of different projectors.  The HD20’s black levels are definitely very entry level.  I probably should say: “Definitely, Very Very, entry level.”  Not impressive at all.  Off the top, I think just about everything out there 1080p does better.  Still, it’s black level performance is comparable to some 720p projectors and probably not much different, than, say, Mitsubishi’s older HC4900 1080p projector.  It’s just that others have been getting better, and better…  The blacks are definitely more medium dark gray, on dark scenes, like the sci-fi movies I so enjoy.  That makes those scenes seem very flat – undynamic looking!

Sharpness isn’t a problem, it’s a DLP, so no convergence issues.  Is it the sharpest around?  No, but it is sharper than a number of competitors.

Color accuracy isn’t a problem, after calibration, it looked very good.

OK, hold it right there.  Before I make any other remarks challenging the Optoma HD20 projector’s performance, let’s put it in perspective:

It’s $999!

It works!

Actually, it works really well.  The picture is very good, and…

It’s $999.

Sure, I’d rather have an Epson 6100, or any of several other under $2000 selling price 1080p projectors, but ultimately, fire up the HD20 on your screen, and it has a good picture.  Football looked darn good, (more lumens would have been nice).  Movies looked good too, most notably, the HD20 does very nicely on typical daylight and well lit scenes.

If your budget is $999 or less, this is one very respectable first projector, and, assuming you don’t get the “bug” and become a hard core enthusiast, one you can live with for quite some time.  Friends dropping by were pretty impressed with the picture, especially after I said – “lowest cost hi-resolution projector out there”.  (No offense to Vivitek or BenQ, but I just haven’t seen their $999 competition.)

So, it really comes down to the fact that the HD20 for $999, is actually better in many, if not most ways, than a good $3000 – $4000 projector of, say 4 years ago.  And those projectors sure brought a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people (and they were 720p projectors back then, I should note.)

You’ll have to make the call, based on budget, your room, the type of content you watch, and your personal enthusiasm for the whole “home theater” thing.

Ok, back to the HD20.

Where was I?  Oh, that’s right:  It works!

I have two issues with the HD20, other than black level performance:

One is ImageAI, a feature that’s been around on Optoma projectors for several years.  It is designed to improve black levels, in a manner not dissimilar to a dynamic iris, but more coarse.  Here’s the problem.  when a scene change takes you from a dark scene to a bright one, the Image AI, should brighten the whole image.  The reverse should be true going from brighter scene to darker one.  Well, that’s what it does, BUT, not well.  Typically it takes several seconds – maybe even 6 or 8, and “boom” the image snaps, instantly changing brightness.   I see it do that EVERY TIME, and it drives me crazy!  By comparison a fast dynamic iris should do this quickly enough that you don’t notice.

There’s a simple cure:  I recommend you leave it turned off!  ImageAI may help the HD20’s black levels slightly, but in this case the cure, is worse than the disease.

The other item of note, is the fan noise. By today’s standards this is one of the loudest home theater projectors around (if not the loudest).  Hey, in your family room watching Penn State whoop Ohio State, later this year at football, you won’t care about fan noise, but it’s very noticeable during a quiet scene in a movie.  Some care, more than others.  Still, it is noisy!

This folks is why the HD20 is entry level, and low cost.  It’s not the best around, but it should make an excellent first projector for a lot of folks.  If you are into performance, and can scrape up an extra $500 or so, Optoma’s HD20 projector is probably not for you, but I know a lot of folks who would be impressed, none the less.  After all, it may have some definite weaknesses, compared to the more expensive competition, but it has one thing going for it, that is a cornerstone in terms of solid performance, and that is that it does a very good job when it comes to color, with very nice skin tones, and a generally natural look to the colors.  -art

News and Comments

  • Tim H

    Glad to see another reviewer’s opinion on this unit. Looks like it is good if you have only $1000 to spend, but let’s say you have an extra five hundred more…would you get the Infocus X10, the Viewsonic Pro8100, or another projector?

    • Greetings Tim,

      Hmm, with another $500 in the bank, yes, I’d spend it. the new Mitsubishi (HC3800) looks to be a step up, see my blog this weekend. The X10 is another good choice. I just haven’t rethought the Viewsonic Pro8100. When I reviewed it, it was almost 3 times its current price. Lots of frills, and also a great deal. I’d have to re-read my review, though to position it with the others. I also like the more expensive Sharp XV-Z15000, and there’s a new Epson coming (3LCD of course) for under $2K, probably late October, that I’ll also be blogging about this weekend. And there may be some other interesting closeout deals in the Oct – Nov timeframe, as new models start shipping. -a

  • Heinz

    Hi Art,
    I am toying with a new projector but enjoy right now the HD65 on a 75 inch screen for the past 2.5 years.
    Would there be a significat picture improvement to justify spending $600 (selling old one – buying new one) or better wait a bit to really improve picture?
    Your valued opinion is always appreciated.

    • Hmm, basically it sounds like you are looking to spend about $1000, (selling yours for about $400?)

      If a $1000 budget, maybe. It’s a timing thing. Certainly, the new HD20 is pretty much similar to your HD65, but you get 1080p resolution. What you won’t get, though, is any real improvement in black levels…

      But perhaps the BenQ W1000 or Vivitek H1080, will be even better. I hope to review both in the next 5 weeks.

      On the other hand, a spend of around $1400 – $1500 come November timeframe, will mean the Mitsubishi HC3800 (DLP) will be shipping. I’m working with that one right now, and it is definitely a step up from the HD20 (better black levels, quieter operation, etc.). (See my blog on the 3800 in the next 24 hours or so).

      Tough call. And there are other alternatives too, but figure $1800 – $2500 for something noticeably better than the Mitsubishi. -art

  • Slarity

    I know a lot of people were looking forward to your opinions on the HD20 here.

    I figured this wasnt the projector for me since I was looking to spend in the $1500-$2000 range, I just dont know much about that next step up yet.

    • Greetings Slarity,

      It’s home theater season. There are a number (but not as many as hoped for) of potentially excellent new home theater projectors in your price range. Of note, I’m currently reviewing the Mitsubishi HC3800 a $1500 1080p DLP projector. Most impressive, a step up from the HD20. Look also for a new Epson under $2K that is supposed to replace the Home Cinema 6100 but has a high contrast ratio that would put it into what I call the “ultra-high” contrast club, with superior black level performance. Then there’s BenQ’s W6000 which just arrived, and Mike is calibrating, but which I haven’t seen turned on yet. Not sure on the final pricing, but probably around $2K.

      Finally, check out the review of the Sharp XV-Z15000, which I reviewed a couple of months ago. It’s an excellent DLP projector for right about $2K, with impressive blacks and really extremely good overall color and skin tones.

      Look for blogs this weekend on the new epson line-up, the new BenQ, and the Mitsubishi HC3800. That should give you much to think about.

  • Gerg

    nice information, do you got a comparison to the new Acer H7530 999€ sports projector?

    kind regards


    • Hi, No info yet on the Acer.

      I’m hoping to see it at the CEDIA show which starts next Wednesday. No idea, though when I’ll be reviewing it. Always slammed this time of year, so if it looks impressive, I’ll try to work it in to the schedule soonest. If not so impressive, it may be November or so, before I can get to it. -art

  • daniel keeton

    How would the black level on the HD20 and X10 compare to the older IN72? Did you use the iris at all on the X10 during your viewing?

    • Greetings Daniel!

      Good question. I really can’t answer that, it’s just been way too long. I would suspect that the IN72 is probably comparable in blacks to the HD20, and the X10, would be slightly better. If you are looking at that sort of price range (don’t really know what X10’s are going for), then also check out the Mits HC3800, which I’m working with now, and am very impressed with for $1499 MAP. -art

  • Roderick

    Hello Art…

    About the HD20, I have a budget around $1000.
    currently I´ve the HD65 projecting on 150″ screen matte white 1.1 gain.

    Do you think that the HD20 would do a great job in that size of screen? I have a dedicated HT with total control of light (I can reach the total darkness).
    I want to jump to 1080p, HD20 is the right with my budget?

    Thank you very much