Home Theater Projector Shootout:
Home Theater Projectors under $1,000
November 13, 2015
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.
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.