1080p Home Theater Projector
June 22, 2011
The Acer H7531D is a unique offering in the sub-$1000 1080p projector market. It boasts 50,000:1 contrast due to its use of an auto-iris, a rare feature for a home theater projector in this price range. With a bright picture even after calibration, the H7531D has something to offer for both the theater and the living room. It has its flaws, among them a menu system that often frustrates when it should assist. Color accuracy out of the box is not great either, but overall the H7531D is a strong contender for home entertainment at less than $1000.
Applications / Best Uses
The Acer H7531D is designed for the budget-conscious consumer looking for his first home theater projector, or perhaps the guy looking to pick up a spare projector for television, video games, or backyard theater--an ever-present thought with projector buffs as summer comes into swing.
So how does it look? The picture is certainly bright, even in its video-optimized mode, putting out over 1,000 lumens with the lamp on high. Black level can be quite deep when the auto iris comes into play, especially compared to the competition in this price range. Color needs some adjustment, as each image preset has a distinct yellow-green cast that can be difficult to remove. As a result, you'll need to calibrate the projector yourself or hire someone to do it for you. Post-calibration, color is accurate to within 200 kelvin across the grayscale, while the color gamut is improved somewhat if still not ideal. Still, HD image quality is in line with other projectors in this price range.
There are at least two different ways to use the H7531D. The first is to put the projector in a dedicated theater room with no ambient light, where the projector's high contrast will be of the most benefit. In this situation, its bright picture and deep black levels will make a dazzling, high-contrast picture. The second possibility is to use the projector in a room with poor light control, whether that be a living room or simply a theater that is not quite black. In this case, the iris can be disabled and the H7531D will still produce a bright, high quality image.
Since the H7531D has a fixed 15% throw angle offset and a short 1.2:1 zoom lens, one must take care when mounting the projector to ensure that it hits your screen correctly and (preferably) without requiring keystone correction. The throw angle is mild when compared to other projectors in this class, and those with high ceilings might require a drop tube if using a ceiling mount.
Light output. The H7531D produces a bright picture even in its video-optimized mode. There are two image presets that are suitable for video, called Movie and Dark Cinema. Movie is ever so slightly brighter, while Dark Cinema has incrementally deeper blacks and better contrast, but the difference in lumen output is not large enough to matter in practical use. As such, we would recommend the use of Dark Cinema for anyone using the H7531D in a darkened theater environment. With the lamp set to full power, both modes measured roughly 1100 lumens.
The use of the lamp's Eco mode reduces lumen output by 16% but also increases lamp life from 2500 to 4000 hours. As the H7531D has lumens to spare for those seeking a 120" diagonal picture, and considering that 16% is not a lot of light to sacrifice, many users will want to take advantage of the additional lamp life. Light output in Eco mode is roughly 950 lumens for Movie and Dark Cinema modes.
One further consideration is the use of BrilliantColor, which is enabled by default in both Movie and Dark Cinema modes. BrilliantColor boosts highlights while leaving the remainder of the image unaffected, which is excellent if you need the additional brightness and don't mind the slightly artificial character it lends to the image. It is less useful for those seeking a pure cinema picture, as it unbalances the image somewhat. In any case, disabling BrilliantColor causes a 28% reduction in lumen output, bringing light output to about 800 lumens. If you also reduce lamp power to Eco, final lumen output is 660 lumens for Movie or Dark Cinema.
In the living room, contrast takes a backseat to lumens as the most important consideration. When you are trying to combat ambient light, the best solution is often to throw as much light at the problem as you can. For these situations, the H7531D has the appropriately named Bright mode, which with the lamp in its high power setting produces 1925 lumens--more than enough for a 60" to 80" screen even in a fairly bright room. Even low lamp mode produces 1609 lumens in this mode, so high output and long lamp life are not mutually exclusive. Standard mode, at 1209 lumens, has better contrast and a more balanced image at the cost of some light, so it will be a good choice for those with poor ambient light control by theater standards that is still better than uncovered windows and bright lights.
Contrast. The H7531D is equipped with an auto iris. Auto irises help to lower black level in scenes which have few or no bright highlights, which are the scenes where black level is most noticeable. In a field of stars or a night-time shot, the auto iris stops down until black is much, much darker than it would be without the iris' help. The result can be dramatic. This is why the H7531D's specifications list a 50,000:1 contrast ratio while every other projector in this price range lists something on the order of 4,000:1 or 5,000:1.
The good news is that it works very well in those dark scenes. The iris does stop down very effectively in dark scenes, which creates a much deeper black level than would otherwise be possible. One nitpick is that the H7531's idea of what constitutes "dark" is a little more strict than ours is, so scenes where one might expect the iris to kick in are sometimes not dark enough to trigger it. Given a shot like the star field in the opening sequence of The Fifth Element, though, the H7531D has a deeper black level than any of its competitors.
The bad news is that the iris does nothing for the vast majority of scenes--i.e. bright scenes, or those with mixed highlights and shadows, or typical scenes with moderate illumination but no extremes in either direction. Dark scenes make up a comparatively tiny portion of all viewing material, so most of the time the auto iris will have little to do. In these instances, contrast on the H7531D is not consistently better than any of its competitors, and in some cases it is actually worse.
Portability. One perk of the H7531D is that it comes with a soft carrying case. It also weighs less than eight pounds, even with a remote and power and HDMI cables included. This makes it an attractive option for portable theater. While the onboard two-watt speaker sounds anemic and does not offer stereo, it is better than nothing. Consider hauling the H7531D out to the backyard one summer evening and setting up a simple bed sheet screen. With the addition of some barbecue and a comfortable lawn chair or two, the H7531D could provide some serious entertainment.
Connectivity. The H7531D's connection panel is stuffed to the gills with useful ports. For video, there are two HDMI ports, one set of YPbPr component inputs, a VGA port for a laptop or other computer (or an additional component connection with the addition of an adapter), and the standard s-video and composite video ports. For audio, the projector has a 1/8" input. For data, there's a USB port for connection to a computer, an RS232C port for external control, and even a 12V trigger, not typically found on inexpensive projectors. The great part about having all of these connections is that, no matter what device you want to use, you probably will not need to find an adapter before you can use it.
Color. The first and most immediately evident problem with the H7531D is its default color calibration, which lends a yellow-green cast to the picture. Changing the color temperature through the menu yields one preset with more blue and another with more red, but all have the same yellow-green tinge. We managed to get the H7531D calibrated using our CalMAN calibration rig and an hour or two of fine-tuning. Once calibrated, color accuracy is on par with other projectors in this price range. However, few people are going to go out and spend the money on a professional calibration or the equipment to do so on their own when the projector in question costs less than a thousand bucks. With an inexpensive projector like the H7531D, the projector's default calibration is more important than the final, calibrated image, and it is here that the projector falls short.
Adjustability. In the sub-$1000 price range, often what separates a good 1080p projector from a mediocre one is the degree to which it is adjustable. Very few projectors offer great performance without at least some fine-tuning, and almost none of them cost less than $1,000. All projectors can be calibrated, though, and a good calibration can make your projector look amazing in ways you might not have thought possible.
Unfortunately, the H7531D makes the user jump through hoops in order to wring a good picture out of it. The default color calibration of the H7531D has a strong yellow-green bias, as mentioned previously. The image also has an artificial quality to it when using BrilliantColor, since BC boosts highlights without changing the rest of the picture. This makes the image look unbalanced. Neither of these would be a problem but for the fact that the H7531D's color temperature control has no effect on the picture unless BrilliantColor is enabled. You can still move the slider back and forth, but our meter confirms what our eyes told us immediately--it's not doing anything. As a result, you can either fix the too-bright highlights or you can fix the yellow-green color, but not both.
The H7531D has one User preset in addition to its pre-calibrated modes (Bright, Presentation, Standard, Movie, Dark Cinema). Again, this would not be a problem, except the pre-calibrated modes cannot be altered in any way without making use of the User preset. In other words, if you go into Movie mode and disable BrilliantColor, you are now using User, not Movie. If you like Bright mode for living room use but want to decrease Brightness a few notches, you are now using User mode. Since there is only one space available for your own calibration, you have to either write down your calibrations or calibrate for the environment you use the most and sacrifice in all the others.
Sharpness. The H7531D has two different kinds of sharpness problems. First, the image when in perfect focus lacks the razor-sharp definition found on some other 1080p projectors, leaving edges looking indistinct at times. When compared to other projectors in this price range, the H7531D's image looks, if not soft, then not very sharp, either.
Secondly, the actual sharpness control behaves strangely. The adjustment range goes from 0 to 15, with 0 being the minimum and 15 being the maximum. However, several stops along the way do not have any effect on the picture. Starting at 0, you can increase sharpness to 3 without seeing any change, but pushing to 4 gives a sudden jump. Then 5 does nothing, while 6 increases vertical edge enhancement. 7 does nothing, while 8 increases horizontal enhancement. This continues along the whole scale. All in all, 10 of the 15 stops have no visible effect on the picture when using either a sharpness pattern or an actual video image. Since this is the case, one wonders why Acer did not just make a five-stop scale where each stop had some tangible effect on the picture.
3x-speed color wheel. The H7531D has a 3x-speed color wheel. This means people sensitive to the rainbow effect will see it incrementally more often on the H7531D than on a projector with a 4x-speed wheel, several of which are available in the same price range. To those not sensitive to rainbows, this means very little. The issue does not affect everyone, but it can be a make-or-break factor in the decision for those it does affect.
The Acer H7531D is the only 1080p projector we've seen recently under $1000 to feature an auto iris, and black level in dark scenes is excellent as a result. It is also a very bright projector, lending itself well to non-traditional applications such as living room or backyard use. However, the projector falls short in several key areas, such as default color calibration and the ease with which it can be adjusted. At less than $1000 retail, the H7531D appeals to first-time projector buyers, and user-friendliness is especially important when the primary consumer is someone who has never owned a projector before. Old hands will have no trouble bringing the H7531D to rein, but the neophyte might find himself frustrated and ultimately dissatisfied.