Home Theater Projector Review
August 28, 2009
A few years ago the idea of sub-$1,000 1080p projectors was absurd. Now it is a reality. Optoma's new HD20 is the first 1080p projector to sell for less than $1,000 at launch, and as such is a major milestone in home theater for the mass consumer market. It is a fairly basic projector, without a lot of bells and whistles -- 1700 ANSI lumens, 4,000:1 on/off contrast, a 1.2:1 zoom lens, and a one-year warranty. However, it produces a smooth, bright, vibrant picture that is as pleasant for us to review as it will be for you to watch. With a price tag of $999, it certainly sets a new standard for value.
High lumen output. The HD20 produces 633 lumens in Cinema mode, at least on our test sample. This is easily enough light for a 135" diagonal screen in a room with good light control, or a 100" diagonal screen in a room with some ambient light. Even more noteworthy, the HD20's Cinema mode still delivers a substantial 505 lumens, even in low lamp mode. So you get a very bright image and longer lamp life all at once.
For content where you would prefer higher brightness, but don't need the best possible color accuracy, "Bright" mode produces 954 ANSI lumens. This is ideal for HD sports, or any time you have the room lights turned up. Bright mode reduces color saturation, but it lets you bring the HD20 out of the dark theater and into the living room, whether for the big game or just your child's video game system.
ANSI Contrast. Despite the projector's 4000:1 full on/off contast rating, the HD20 measured 456:1 ANSI contrast in our tests. This puts it on a level with several of the more impressive 1080p LCD projectors released last year, but below the more advanced 1080p DLP projectors. ANSI contrast doesn't tell the whole story, but it is a good indicator of the dynamic range that can appear in any one image.
Natural color. Color on the HD20 is rich and vibrant. While it is not perfectly calibrated out of the box (few projectors are), the HD20 is very easy to adjust. Color adjustments are simple, with gain and bias controls for red, green, and blue. Adjustments have a quite noticeable effect on the image from step to step, so it is easy to get to where you want to be generally. But the adjustments lack subtle fine-tuning precision that is available on more expensive models.
Overall, the HD20 is great for the do-it-yourselfer looking for an engaging, solid image on a budget. It is easy to tweak, but if you just want something that looks plenty good enough for sports and video games, the HD20 will meet many people's less stringent criteria without any adjustment at all.
Low digital noise. When compared to a 1080p DLP projector that cost almost twice as much, the HD20 showed an impressively low amount of digital noise. Excessive digital noise makes a picture appear grainy or unstable, and these effects can sometimes distract the viewer and compromise the immersion in the experience. The HD20's low level of noise makes the image appear smoother, more natural, and less distracting than it might otherwise.
4,000-hour lamp. On many inexpensive projectors, replacement lamps can seem very costly, since their price is often 1/3 or more of the cost of the projector itself. A long-life lamp helps the consumer to feel that they're getting their money's worth. The lamp in the HD20 is rated to last 3,000 hours in high lamp mode or 4,000 hours in low lamp mode, which is much better than the standard 2000 hours we see on many models. In addition, replacement lamps on the HD20 are relatively inexpensive. They can be purchased from authorized Internet resellers for as little as $249. If you were to put a quarter in a jar every time you watched a movie, you would have more than enough money for a new lamp when the time came to purchase a replacement.
Portability. At only 6.5 lbs, the HD20 is a great option for portable projection. Its small size and light weight make it easy to tote with you to a friend's house, or even into the backyard for a summer movie night. While it does not come with a carrying case, it would not be hard to find a laptop bag that would securely hold the HD20 plus its accessories - just make sure that wherever you're going, there's an external sound system, because the HD20 lacks a speaker.
Reasonable fan noise. For such a small, powerful projector, the HD20 is relatively quiet. Fan noise in high lamp mode is certainly audible, especially if you are using the HD20 in a coffee table mount situation. Low lamp mode is quieter, but still easily noticeable. The only time audible noise is really distracting is when using the ImageAI function (more on this below). During normal use, the fan noise of the HD20 tends to fade into the background, and should not distract your audience. While it's not as quiet as most larger home theater projectors, it is also a lot smaller without giving up lumen output.
Logical menu system. The menu system is straightforward, with a logical, hierarchical layout. Using a little common sense, it's easy to find what you're looking for. Image adjustments are under the Image menu; aspect ratio and masking adjustments are found in the Display menu, lamp and positioning settings are found in the System menu.