Light output. The H9500BD delivers lots of light. Using an HDMI source, Bright mode measured 1513 lumens on our test sample with the lamp at full power and the lens at its widest angle setting. Bright mode's high light output makes it the best choice for standing up to ambient light, but it compromises color fidelity and contrast to get those extra lumens.
The next modes down the brightness ladder are Movie mode at 949 lumens and Presentation at 947 lumens. The two modes emphasize different aspects of the picture; Presentation boosts legibility of text documents by manipulating gamma, while Movie mode tries to provide a more balanced, film-like appearance.
Dark Cinema is the starting point for our preferred calibration, and it measured 909 lumens on our test sample. Dark Cinema has the most natural appearance of all of the H9500BD's modes, with the most realistic shadow detail and best color performance. If your goal is to watch movies, Dark Cinema is the mode you want.
Standard and Sports modes both come in at 880 lumens. Game mode is the least bright, at 789 lumens, while giving no appreciable improvement in input lag times.
Most of the H9500BD's image modes, you will no doubt notice, are quite bright. If you have a dark room or a smaller screen, Eco mode will help -- it drops brightness by about 16% in all modes while increasing estimated lamp life from 2000 to 2500 hours.
If you need to reduce light output further, your options are to use a neutral-density (ND) filter or move the projector and adjust the zoom. If you don't own a neutral density filter, you can reduce light output by moving the projector further from the screen and adjusting the zoom. The H9500BD's 1.5:1 zoom lens loses 36% of total light output at full telephoto, bringing Dark Cinema to 488 lumens with the lamp in Eco mode. That's above average for a 1.5:1 zoom, but in this case it can be an advantage, giving you 16 fL luminance with a 95" 1.0 gain screen and the projector about 15.5 feet from the screen.
Color. The H9500BD has only the most rudimentary of color controls, allowing a single axis of adjustment for RGBCMY. This makes it very difficult to make any kind of meaningful adjustment to color. Luckily, the H9500BD's default color is some of the best in its price class.
We tested the H9500BD with BrilliantColor disabled, since that tends to improve color accuracy on many other DLP projectors. In this case, it had the opposite effect, causing the picture to appear more blue. Switching BrilliantColor back on brought the picture more in line with established standards, so we left it that way.
Color came in right around 6450K in the low end (0-50% illumination) and around 6600K in the high end. Again, this is at defaults, with no adjustment on our part -- mostly because the color controls don't lend themselves to a lot of fine tuning. Lucky for us, then, that the H9500BD doesn't need any fine tuning to make it watchable.
Sharpness and clarity. By default, sharpness is set too high, which makes the picture look a touch artificial. Lowering sharpness too far will soften the image, which is no good either. Our sweet spot was right around 10 or 11 on a sharpness scale from 0 to 15, with 13 being the default. Still, this is one control that it's easy enough to adjust on your own, so decide for yourself where you want it.
Contrast. In its price class, the H9500BD is quite the performer. Black level is equal to the best we've seen in this price range, as far as 3D projectors are concerned. Sure, it can't match the performance of projectors that cost twice as much, but no one is realistically expecting it to, either. Dynamic range is high, creating smooth, detailed shadows and sparkling highlights. While the projector's gamma in Dark Cinema is not the ideal 2.2, it comes close at 2.17, and most users probably won't notice the difference. Movie mode uses a more aggressive 2.27 gamma, and some users may prefer the more exaggerated contrast present in that mode.