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Optoma HD71 Review - A super bright 720p home theater projector - first thoughts

So far, so good! As many of you know, I'm a big fan of brighter is better when it comes to home theater projectors. Most of today's home cinema projectors can barely handle the larger screens - greater than 110" diagonal, when new. And then, the lamp dims over time.

I've really been looking forward to reviewing the Optoma HD71, and was thrilled to see it arrive on Wednesday (two days ago). Normally, I need at least a week to do a review, but, unfortunately, I'm leaving for three weeks of travel, starting with family vacation tomorrow, then a trade show, and finally Japan, on business.

As a result, I'm going to use this post to give you some initial impressions. My plan is to post a more comprehensive review on our website, late next week (4/10/08). I should note, however, that I will not get the opportunity to do as much viewing of the projector as I would like, and will not have time to do the usual set of screen photos. The review will be finished late April, when I return, but there should be plenty of substance for you all to consider, between now and then.

So far, I have watched an hour or two of the projector, before any calibration. Then, yesterday, I calibrated the HD71 and took all the usual measurements. Last evening I managed to log a few hours watching the calibrated HD71.

OK, here's what I've learned, so far:

Out of the box performance is not overly impressive, in terms of color accuracy. This seems to be typical of Optoma's home theater projectors. Calibrating made major improvements. Unlike many home theater projectors, though, pre-calibration measurements were a bit unusual. With most projectors, the various grayscale measurements - from white -100 IRE, to dark gray - 30 IRE, are fairly consistent, or there is a definite steady shift in color from light to dark. Typical might be a projector that has a color temp of 6900K for white, becoming warmer and shifting down to perhaps 6300K by 30 IRE. Not so, the Optoma HD81.

Instead, the HD71's color temperature, through the range is more of a roller coaster. This made it more difficult to get a great calibration, but, the end result was definitely pretty good.

The other issue, is that Cinema mode defaults to Warm color temperature, which produces a way too warm image. Initial measurements had measured from a high of just under 6000K (6500K is ideal), down to just under 5000K by 30 IRE.

I decided to change the basic color temp setting to Cool, and calibrate from there. The end result was a good, but not spectacular range from 6253K to 6831K. "Close enough for government work!".

I also adjusted the Bright mode. the range was a little wider, but again, not bad. Had I more time to spend, I'm sure I could have further improved the color balance for Bright mode.

That brings us to brightness! Are you sitting down? The HD71, with lamp on full power, and in the calibrated Cinema mode, produced a really brilliant 1040 lumens. Now most home theater projectors in their equivalent modes, tend to fall between 350 and 500 lumens. There are only a couple of projectors, including the roughly $8000 Optoma HD81-LV, that are brighter. That means this is truly an exceptionally bright projector, for home theater. For once, while watching on my 128" firehawk, I actually put the projector in low lamp mode, as I had the lumens to spare.

In the brightest measured mode, the HD71 measured just over 2000 lumens! Of all the 720p resolution projectors out there, only the Panasonic PT-AE2000U beat the HD71, (by a few hundred lumens). But, the Panasonic, in its best mode topped out at 672 lumens, no match for the Optoma. In the Panasonic's brighter Vivid Cinema mode, it did 1110 lumens, making the two about equal.

I haven't been able to spend enough time, so far, though to determine the overall picture quality differences between the HD71 in its cinema mode, and the Panasonic in its two cinema modes.

I can comment briefly on fan noise. DLP projectors are typically the noisiest, and the Optoma is no exception. Even in low lamp mode, its noise levels are not particularly quiet. Those who are noise adverse probably won't find this projector acceptable even in low power. In high power, the projector is definitely loud when compared to most non-DLP projectors. It is definitely noisier, for example than the Epson Home Cinema 720, which is probably the loudest of the 720p home theater projectors. Consider, though, that more fan noise is something we probably must expect on a DLP projector this bright. An interesting trade-off!

To finish up my viewing so far, I did get in a couple of hours of post calibration movie watching last night. I started with Casino Royale, and I was overall, very pleased with the color balance. I am not yet prepared to comment on black level and shadow detail.

In other words, stay tuned!

So far, though, I'm very pleased with the HD71. It's about time the Panasonic had some serious competition for those that need lots of lumens for large screens, more than a little ambient light, and general sports viewing.

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