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

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