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Optoma HD8600 Home Theater Projector - A First Look Review

Greetings one and all, OK, it's been really busy.  But, I've got a most impressive projector to tell you about, and that's the Optoma HD8600.  First I want to say that at this point, I'm completely  overwhelmed between responding to emails and blog comments.  I'm falling further behind, with no end in sight.  You guys are burying me in well over 100 combined, every week these days.  At least through Christmas, I doubt I'll be able to respond to more than half, if that.  Ok, back to the Optoma HD8600 projector.Where to start - OK, the HD8600 is a premium priced projector in that it's $7999.  For the most part, you know I rarely get a chance to work with over $10K projectors, so around here $5K - $10K is premium.  It's finished in a shiny black finish. The HD8600 is being sold by authorized local installing dealers.  If you can find one online, you are better at searching than I could do in a few minutes. One of the interesting things about the HD8600 is that there are three available lenses.  The standard zoom comes with the projector at the $7999 price.  With the long or short throw lenses I do believe the price is $8999 but I'll confirm in the full review on the website.  The lenses use a bayonet mount and are simple to install. The HD8600 also has lens shift (controls hidden behind a door on the top of the HD8600, so it does offer excellent placement flexibility.  With decent lens shift range, and choice of three lenses, you can place closer to the screen than most projectors or further back! I'm going to keep this pretty short, so let's get right to the highlights: The projector has excellent color accuracy (post calibration of course), and a natural look and feel.  I like its skin tones at least as much as my own JVC RS20. And it's nice and bright, as well.  (Is this a dream come true?)  Well, it isn't all that bright, but with almost 700 lumens in best mode, and over 1150 in brightest, it stacks up as one of the overall brighter ones around.  (I'd love it if my RS20 had those extra couple hundred plus lumens in brightest mode. Picture wise, it most reminds me of the InFocus IN83, but with one major difference.  the HD8600 projector has a dynamic iris.  The dynamic iris provides for far blacker blacks than the IN83 could muster. On the downside, once again, another projector with a less than polite dynamic iris. Two settings, the one they call Cinema 2 would provide the blacker blacks but its iris action needs real work.  It almost casts a "moving shadow" across the image as it works. I gave up on that mode, and focused on Cinema 1.  Much better!  Still the iris is a little rough.  It's just a little jerky, noticeable mostly on those mostly dark scenes that are slow moving with a larger moderately light areas.  In that case, as the lighting changes slightly, you can see the iris action almost flicker.  In some cases, though there's also a bit of a yo-yo effect.  As if if overshoots its target slightly then opens back up (or closes back down) a little to compensate. I spoke at length with a team from Optoma yesterday.  Gave them some particular scenes from Casino Royale to look at.  I'm hoping to hear shortly, that they will be addressing the issues mentioned.  Let's face it, it seems most dynamic irises are a little rough around the edges, so to speak.  I'd say the iris action on the far less expensive Panasonic and the Epson UB projectors, is definitely smoother. Overall, the dynamic iris isn't that bad.  It's definitely a bit smoother than, for example than the original iris action on the BenQ W6000 before BenQ upgraded that.  As a result, if Optoma comes through with an improvement, life should be very good. If the iris action the HD8600 exhibited was on a $2000 or $3000 projector, I'd still point it out, but it would definitely be reasonably acceptable.  I just figure that on an $8000 projector, we deserve a little better.  On the other hand, forgetting that iris issue, this is one fine projector, with, as I said, excellent color, and  look and feel of the image. In addition, the iris gives it very good black level performance.  I can't say whether its black level performance matches or even beats the Planar PD8150 we reviewed last year, (and had the best blacks of any of the DLP's as of that time, but it is definitely in the same ballpark.  I ran the Optoma side by side with the Panasonic PT-AE4000 when comparing blacks, and the two were very close.  More often than not the Panasonic  had slightly better blacks but on some types of mid to dark scenes, the HD8600 can trump the Panasonic.  That certainly qualifies the HD8600 as what I call an "ultra-high contrast projector.  Not the absolute best blacks around - it's not quite a match for the Epson UB projectors, and definitely not a match for the JVC RS20 or the new RS25, but its in the same class as pretty much all the good ones short of the JVCs. That makes it formidable.  Slightly more brightness, and every bit as good a color compared to the JVC, for the same price as the JVC RS25.  True the RS25 not only has definitely blacker blacks, but because the JVC accomplishes its blacks without a dynamic iris, that means the JVC doesn't do any compression of the image that all the dynamic iris projectors must do, to get better blacks on most scenes. The HD8600 also has a good assortment of other dynamic controls for sharpness/detail, color/contrast, and for CFI (creative frame interpolation) which they call Pure Motion. I'll save most of that for the full review.  I will comment on the CFI though.  Three settings, the lowest gives you a slight "live digital video look" but otherwise no readily visible artifacts.  The amount of live digital video look is definitely more, than say the Panasonic, and a touch more than the Epson.  Most of us don't use CFI because of that effect, when watching movies (but my teenage daughter and her friends just love CFI.  They turn it on for all movies because it looks  "cool".   One thing of note, it doesn't add CFI with a 60 fps signal.  Watching football on HDTV, I stared for a long time, even with their Pure Demo mode where half the screen reacts to the dynamic settings and the other half doesn't for a "side-by-side" comparison.  I couldn't spot the benefits of CFI on those football games, because they are coming at 60fps.  Too bad, that's the content I like CFI for.  Other than that I'm still sorting out some of the Pure Motion abilities as well as the other "Pure's". A quick bottom line:  Really, Really Nice!  That said, I sure hope Optoma improves that iris.  As it is, I'm impressed, but with a really improved iris solution, the HD8600 definitely becomes a top tier contender.  I'll keep you posted, of course.  Look for the full HD8600 projector review probably this coming Monday.  -art

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