720p DLP Home Theater Projector
February 3, 2010
3D Brightness. No matter what projector you use, there is always a dramatic drop in lumen output when using 3D content. For example, the HD66 produces 1979 lumens in Bright mode. Once you turn on 3D mode, lumen output drops to 660. This is the maximum lumen output possible in 3D mode, since no matter what mode you are using, the HD66 ignores your settings after making the switch.
Then, one must factor in the glasses, which can reduce perceived brightness by 60% or more. That makes for a perceived brightness of well under 300 lumens. Things are not as grim as they sound, however, due to the way the glasses operate. Yes, the glasses do cut perceived light output significantly, but they don't solely affect the projected image. The combination of 3D mode and shutter glasses reduces black levels more so than than highlights, making for a higher-contrast picture. It also means that ambient light is reduced by 60%. So, while the picture does appear dimmer, it maintains the same relative brightness when compared to the room environment.
Pre-calibrated modes. The HD66 is a great home theater projector once it has been tuned up, but the picture controls absolutely need to be tweaked to get the best video image out of it. Since the projector is only $699, it won't make sense for most users to lay out an additional $300 for a professional calibration. But the simple adjustments noted previously will produce a dramatically better image than you get from the preset modes, which are optimized for brightness. That is fine for lights-on living room viewing, but not so much for ideal home theater.
Also note that in Movie mode, BrilliantColor defaults to full blast. BrilliantColor on this projector boosts highlights without affecting the rest of the image, which is a great feature for presentations and data display but less than ideal for home cinema. BrilliantColor should be turned off when trying to achieve the best video image for dark room viewing.
Image noise. The HD66 shows a level of image noise comparable to that of other low-cost home theater projectors such as the Optoma HD20 and Vivitek H1080FD. Noise is most visible in solid-colored areas of medium saturation, such as a cloudy sky. It shows up primarily in video or film content, while data images appear more stable.
Placement flexibility. The HD66 has a 1.1x manual zoom lens and no lens shift, which is typical of inexpensive DLP home theater projectors. For example, you can fill a 120" screen with a 16:9 image from 13' 6" to 14' 10", depending on the position of the zoom lens. The fixed throw angle means that the bottom edge of this same image will appear almost 11" above the lens' centerline, which is an offset of about 22%. As a result, the HD66 needs to be positioned carefully to fill a given screen size, either on a low table or using a ceiling mount. Placing it on a low table is less labor-intensive and less costly since you don't incur the cost of a ceiling mount and longer run cables.
Signal loss with long cables. We have a set of long HDMI cables which we use to test signal transmission and reception. When using a 50' long cable, the HD66 occasionally "sputtered" as it lost and reacquired the video signal. This happened very quickly, so it appeared to be nothing more than a flash of static, but it was distracting and completely unpredictable. With 25' cables we had no problem. So if you plan on installing the HD66 using a very long run of cable, test it first before running that long cable through walls and ceiling. You may want to use two shorter cables with a signal repeater between the two. This will mitigate signal loss over distance and ensure that the image does not drop out.
Remote. The HD66's remote seems like it came straight from a business projector. It is small and crowded, with most of the clutter coming from the two directional pads. One of these pads is for mouse control, which most home theater users will find useless. The second directional pad is for menu navigation, and it is not immediately obvious which one is which. Below that are buttons for keystone correction, volume control of the onboard two-watt speaker, and then a whole mess of buttons in no particular order, numbered one through nine. These buttons control Brightness (though there is no corresponding button for Contrast), bring up the Menu, control the digital zoom, select HDMI as a source, freeze the image on screen, enable A/V mute, select S-Video, VGA, or composite. As you can probably tell, the layout of the remote is a little confusing. A number of times, we found ourselves accidentally switching sources or muting the picture when we meant to bring up the menu. While the HD66 is an inexpensive projector, the remote was still a disappointment.
The Optoma HD66 is a small, powerful, versatile home theater projector that's great for movies, video games, or HD sports. Its pre-calibrated picture modes optimize brightness, which is great for use in high ambient light but not ideal for cinema. A little fine-tuning of the picture controls gets you a dynamic, vibrant picture that's perfect for movies. 720p 3D support adds a bit of future-proofing and allows for the use of 3D PC games, if you have a computer powerful enough to handle them. All in all, the HD66 offers an outstanding value for those on a budget who want a bright home theater projector that is great for movies, video games, and for additional types of computer-based projection as well.