Home Theater Projector Shootout:
Home Theater Projectors under $1,000

Evan Powell, November 13, 2015

Optoma HD28DSE

The Optoma HD28DSE is capable of producing what many might consider to be the best 2D picture in this group of five models, but it does not come that way out of the box. When you first fire it up, its factory default calibrations are disturbing. Saturation and sharpness are way overdriven, white is extremely out of balance, and the picture looks quite harsh. However it is remarkably easy to fix with a few simple adjustments. First, switch it from Vivid to Cinema mode. Second, reduce the Sharpness control from 12 to 8. Third, reduce color saturation from 10 to 0. Fourth, reduce Brilliant Color from 8 to 2. Fifth, reduce the DarbeeVision video processing from its factory 80% setting to 20%. And voila, you have a vastly improved 2D video image with solid black levels, sparkling contrast, impressive three-dimensionality, and reasonably well calibrated color that will compete well against any of the competition in this shootout.

Strengths / Advantages

Deepest blacks, best contrast. The HD28DSE carries a contrast rating of 30,000:1 compared to the 15,000:1 ratings on the BenQ models and 22,000:1 on the Viewsonic. In this instance the contrast ratings do translate to a visible competitive advantage. We see marginally deeper black levels, better shadow detail separation, higher overall contrast, and more image three-dimensionality on the HD28 than on any of the competing models. However, we would describe the differences as more subtle than dramatic.

Rainbows are scarce. We see a few more rainbows on the HD28 than we do on the BenQ models, but they are scarce enough that they don't rise to the level of a concern. By comparison there is more rainbow activity on the Viewsonic.

Very good 3D performance. The HD28 cannot match the Epson 2040 in 3D brightness or richness, but it occupies an impressive second place, surpassing the other DLP models handily in both image brightness and color vibrancy.

Sharp picture. The HD28DSE is unique in that it has the DarbeeVision video processing system which none of the other models have. ("DSE" in the model name stands for Darbee Special Edition). This can be enabled or not as the user wishes. In our experimenting, we find that using the DarbeeVision system in a modest setting of about 20% contributes beneficially to image sharpness and clarity without making it appear unnaturally processed. So it is a significant feature that places the HD28DSE in a tie with the Epson 2040 as the two sharpest projectors in the shootout.

Four corner correction. The HD28 has not only vertical and horizontal keystone correction, but independent four corner correction as well. So if you need to install this unit at oblique angles to the projection surface, it is easy to square up the image. Anyone setting up the projector for permanent use in a home theater should make every effort to position the projector square with the screen to begin with so no keystone adjustments of any kind are required, but if you need this feature it is available.


Variable fan noise. The fan noise oscillates somewhat and appears to be related to average picture level and internal operating temperature. There is an intermittent higher pitched tone that comes and goes, which does not exist on any of the other units. Moreover, overall loudness of the fan increases and decreases over time. The varying pitch and tone of the fan noise draws more attention than does any fan with a constant pitch and sound pressure.

Factory presets excessive. When first firing it up, the HD28 defaults to a rather bright, oversaturated, very harsh image. The good news is that it is easy to fix as described above.

1.1x zoom and fixed throw offset. With no lens shift and almost no zoom, the HD28 is the most restrictive of the five models in terms of the precision required to install the projector.

Lower than expected lumens. The HD28 has ample firepower for most home theater and home entertainment use and it is competitive with the other units in the group. But it falls noticeably short of its 3000 lumen rating.

Weak onboard speaker. If you listen carefully the speaker will give you an idea what a movie's audio track is all about, but despite its 10-watt rating it is not very loud even at max volume. Onboard sound is the worst of the five models here.

Input lag. The measured lag of 49.7 ms matches the BenQ HT3050 and Viewsonic PJD7835HD, but it is slower than the HT2050 and Epson 2040. If you're a serious gamer, this may be a consideration.

One-year warranty. Optoma's one-year warranty on the HD28DSE is an industry minimum, matching BenQ, but falling short of Epson's two-years or Viewsonic's three years.

Price and Replacement Lamp. The $799 price is attractive and the $179 replacement lamp price looks good compared to BenQ and Viewsonic, but it is quite a bit more than Epson's $79 lamp.

Summary Assessment

After getting rid of the overdriven factory presets, the Optoma HD28DSE turns into a beautiful projector with best in class black levels and contrast. The DarbeeVision system is a unique feature that can enhance the picture if used modestly, but can destroy the picture if used at aggressive settings. The HD28DSE's Cinema and 3D modes in particular can be enjoyed without calibration, other than the initial adjustments needed to remove the excessive processing. Rainbows occur infrequently enough that they do not amount to an issue of consequence.

3D performance is above average in the group. It is more robust than the other DLP projectors, but falls short of the Epson. The only ongoing annoyance is the unpredictable fan noise. The HD28DSE is best suited for low table or ceiling mounting. Be careful where you put it, as the 1.1x zoom and zero lens shift severely limits placement options for any given screen size and location.

At $799, you get a projector that is capable of delivering a beautiful, relatively bright high contrast 2D image that is highly competitive with the BenQ models, but it needs a bit of tweaking to get it there. The DarbeeVision system gives it an edge in image sharpness/acuity when used modestly. Overall, a great value in an entry level projector.

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Review Contents: The Best Projector Performance Installation Notes Lamp Life and Price
  BenQ HT3050 BenQ HT2050 Epson HC 2040 Optoma HD28DSE
  Viewsonic PJD7835HD

Reader Comments(11 comments)

Posted Aug 14, 2016 10:41:22 AM

By Brandon

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So upgrading from a w1070, I purchased a BenqQ HT3050. I wasn't thrilled with it for a few reasons. Not any brighter than my 1070 with 2200 hours on it (I'm big into 3D); very slow signal switching (just an annoyance); and noticeably more image noise. So I purchased a 2045. Well the 3d is (imo) not anywhere near 4x as bright as the 3050 or 1070 for that matter. Noticeably brighter but not by much. And the blacks/shadow detail are crushed compared to the BenQ's. Not to mention ghosting, and reflective glasses (panny vieras). On a 100" screen, 3d is better on the benq's imo and the brightness difference is maybe 1.25 times more to my eyes anyway. Both these projectors have many positives I haven't mentioned, but after trying all three on a hdmi switch back and forth; taking pics and comparing; I beleive I'm sticking with the w1070 and selling the other two...

Posted Jul 18, 2016 6:45:00 PM

By Evan Powell, Editor

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Jim, most projectors with zoom lenses lose light output as you move them back from the screen and adjust the zoom to the longer throw end of the zoom range. The BenQ 2050 and 3050 lose 27% of their light output when moving from the most extreme wide angle position to the most telephoto position, which is not unusual. This is because the zoom effect is caused by increasing the distance between the front and rear lens elements. The light path in the lens through which the light needs to pass is lengthened, and therefore the amount of light that can make it out of the lens is constricted. So your assumption that the projector is just as bright for any given screen size regardless of the throw distance is not accurate. To get the brightest possible picture, place the 2050 as close to the screen as possible.

Posted Jul 18, 2016 6:11:18 PM

By Jim

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I've ordered an HT2050. I'm confused about the zoom range. I'm using a 100" silver ticket, white fixed frame screen. Your articles explains how zooming in and out affects light output, but I can't follow it. In order to place the projector as far back as possible over my living room, I planned on zooming the image "down" to fit inside the borders of the 100" screen. Is this increasing or reducing light output vs placing the projector closer and zooming "up"? I would think, given the same size screen (100" for example), moving the projector forward and backward, while simultaneously using the zoom lens to keep the image the same size, would net the same light output. Thanks!

Posted Apr 21, 2016 5:21:29 AM

By paul

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Hi, I just got from Amazon 2 projectors listed here to try out and kept Epson 2040. First of all - none of those projectors is perfect, it is true. One huge benefit 7835HD has is its zoom and throwing angle - it is an ideal device to hang your screen from a ceiling in a medium size room and have projector in front of your seating position, 100" screen gets filled from 7ft or so, it is very convenient. Now, a reason it goes back - i am not sure if i had a wrong unit or they all are like that, but quality of the focus ring was horrible. Lens shift and moves when you adjust focus ring and you never get that feel that you are in perfect focus. Quality of the lens is also so-so.

Huge operational plus of the Epson device is - when you adjust its legs it automatically adjusts keystones making screen perfectly square. For some reason most reviews kip that - but for a device that will be used from a cofee table it is a huge thing - i do not have to adjust screen manually every time, it does it itself using built in level. Very smart.

I am not a picky person, i know some folks avoid adjusting keystones but epson 2040 was way, way sharper and perfectly in focus compared to 7835HD.

Speaking of brightness and fan noise - 7835HD wins in full brightness mode hands down. If you need to use projector in the living room with windows - it is a better option. Fan is acceptable and image is bright with ambient light on. If you do such stunt with Epson 2040 it starts blowing its fan like a turbine and image is so-so, not much brighter than in ECO mode.

BUT! Eco mode is what matters for a room with not much light , as most people will use it in this mode. That was the final reason for me to return 7835HD. Eco fan mode on 2040 unit is LESS loud than ECO mode on 7835HD. Also, to my surprise, only color mode on 7835HD to be brighter then Epson`s was its brightest contrast mode that distorts all colors. Only natural color mode you can watch movies on Viewsonic is a 'standard' mode with 'warm' color balance, as was noted in the review. In this mode it produces great picture with vary nice colors.

With Epson i noticed that I like almost every mode it has, i see some differences but did not see anything drastically distorted. So, if you turn on Dynamic mode on 2040 and then go to menu and switch lamp power to ECO - you get NICE and BRIGHT image, and that image is brighter than standard ECO mode on a 3500 lumens 7835HD! It was odd to see, but i had both projectors fired up from same source via hdmi splitter and it was indeed so.

That was the point that made my decision.

Only downside of Epson is that it needs different kind of 3D glasses, but in 3D it is actually visibly brighter then viewsonic as well, noticeably brighter.

Posted Apr 12, 2016 3:15:29 PM

By Landis

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Just installed the 2040 last night and was amazed at how good it looked in full light on Eco mode. My wife sitting right next to it said she couldn't hear the fan. If left in normal mode it seems a waste. I wonder why people pay more unless you're able to spend a great deal more and I wonder how much the human eye can really tell as far as the difference. The 3D was as advertised and reviewed. So clear and easy to watch with the $20 Samsung 3D glasses I bought on Prime. My previous Viewsonic PJ1165 was not as good as this one. I whole heartedly recommend this product!

Posted Dec 30, 2015 2:42:20 PM

By Jon Busch

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I am surprised that the light level measurements (lumens) are so muh less than manufacturers claim. I'm a motion picture technician by trade and I want the kind of light (measured in Foot-lamberts that are considered ideal - that being 16 Footlamberts. How does that correlate to lumens? I've got an old Mitsubishi 1000, rated at 1500 lumen and it's much dimmer than what I want. The 2040 reviewed doesn't appear to have more light according to your tests yet you claim brilliant color. What do I need to get movie theater brightness?

Posted Dec 1, 2015 8:06:25 PM

By Mike

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how do these compare to say a Epson home cinema 3500 which can be had refurbished from Epson for ~ $1,000

Posted Nov 16, 2015 1:54:13 PM

By Joe Smith USA

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How would the Optoma HD28DSE compare to the Sony 55ES if you were watching on a 110 inch screen 15 feet away?

Since Optoma also has Darbee, it may even do some things better. Probably won't have as good a black as the Sony 55 but otherwise I have a feeling it is a much better buy for under 1K

Posted Nov 15, 2015 5:52:11 PM

By Zak

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3D is just amazing and much better than movie theaters.

Posted Nov 14, 2015 9:21:03 AM

By Noam Cohen

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The Epson 2045 replaces an aging Runco CL510 in my theater. I am loving it. On a DIY 'Black Widow' screen it is vibrant - and even black levels become quite good. 3D is a blast. $79 Lamp is a low end game changer.

Nice shoot-out. Thank you.

Posted Nov 14, 2015 7:53:47 AM

By Noam Cohen

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Thank you for this thorough examination.

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