1080p Home Theater Projector
July 8, 2011
When Vivitek released the H1080FD back in 2009, it was one of the first 1080p projectors available for less than $1000. Today sub-$1,000 1080p projectors are more common, but with the release of their new H1081, Vivitek retains their competitive position in the niche.
The H1081 does not have a lot of bells and whistles, but it delivers the core theater experience - a bright picture, vibrant color, deep black levels and good contrast. A nearly silent fan makes the projector a joy to use in small rooms. While a 3x-speed color wheel and shorter than average lamp life are less than ideal, the H1081 is nonetheless a strong performer for home theater.
Applications / Best Uses
With the H1081, the focus is on image quality rather than convenience features. So how does it look? Well, the picture is certainly bright enough, as Cinema mode pumps out close to 800 lumens after calibration, easily enough for a 150" diagonal screen in a dark theater environment or even an 80" screen in a living room. Black level is solid, while shadow detail is clear and well defined. The factory default color temperature is slightly green, but some fine-tuning can knock that out without too much trouble. After calibration, gray-scale tracking on the H1081 is very close to 6500 degrees and easily matches that of many other sub-$1000 1080p projectors. The H1081 has very little digital noise compared to its competition, and the smooth, clean image has the effect of making the picture appear three-dimensional and exceptionally clear.
As for the character of the picture as a whole, we would describe it as vivid, with a hint of artificiality as opposed to the more film-like picture of some other projectors. This is not necessarily a negative, as some will no doubt enjoy the bright, punchy picture of the H1081 over its competitors. With some content, especially video games and animation, the H1081's vivid image makes it more appealing than its competition.
The Vivitek H1081 is built for home theater, but its bright, vibrant picture makes it a good choice for use in rooms with a lot of ambient light. The high contrast and saturated colors of the H1081 add visual appeal to video games in particular. Broadcast HD such as sports or news is helped by the H1081's bright picture and low noise.
It has a short 1.2:1 zoom lens and a fixed 33% upward throw offset, so you'll have to plan out your installation carefully. The high offset makes the H1081 perfect for a low-profile ceiling mount, and even those with high ceilings should not require a drop tube. A table mount (or under-the-table mount) is also a possibility, and the H1081's high throw angle will help you place your screen at a reasonable height off the floor without resorting to tilting the projector or applying keystone correction. Since the projector has an aggressive fixed throw offset, rear shelf mounting will not be practical in most cases.
Contrast. The H1081 displays shadow detail clearly and cleanly, with smooth gradation between shades and beautiful open mid-tones. The default calibration tends to crush very deep shadows, but a few additional points to Brightness rectified this. Black is quite black. Even in a darkened theater, black never seems too light, though it does not approach the midnight-black levels provided by other projectors using an auto-iris. The picture has a strong three-dimensional character, and scenes seem to pop off of the screen when using high-contrast viewing material.
Audible noise. A big perk of the H1081 is its nearly silent fan. Even sitting less than two feet from the H1081's exhaust vent, it was still hard to hear the projector during operation. High lamp mode sounds like an insistent whisper, while low lamp mode is close to dead silent. The quiet fan is especially valuable if you need to place the projector near the seats.
Light output. Don't let the quiet fan fool you-the H1081 packs a punch. Cinema mode is our preferred mode for movies and television, as it offers the best balance of contrast and color of all included modes. In Boost lamp mode, Cinema measures 795 lumens on our test sample. While this is not the brightest video-optimized mode available in a sub-$1000 1080p projector, it strikes a good balance between pure lumen output and image quality. 795 lumens is more than enough to power a 150" diagonal screen in a dark theater.
For those times when you need even more light, Bright mode with the lamp set to Boost produces a whopping 1877 lumens. Color accuracy takes a hit, as the image gains a blue-green cast not seen in Cinema mode, but in a room with sunlight or bright artificial lights, the extra output can make the picture a lot easier to see.
Now, 800 lumens can be too much light in a dark viewing room if you have a smaller screen. If this is the case, you can switch the lamp to low power. This reduces light output by 16%, and gives you 665 lumens Cinema mode instead of 795, which is more reasonable for a smaller screen.
Connectivity. The connection panel on the H1081 has twin HDMI 1.3 ports, a VGA port, and a set of YPbPr component inputs which can all carry a 1080p signal. There's also a 12V trigger, which is a feature not often found on low-cost projectors. This is typically used to activate a powered retractable screen when the projector is powered on. There are also the ever-present composite and s-video ports, useful when connecting low-resolution devices but never preferred when other options exist. There's also a USB port for connection to a computer, which is of limited usefulness on a home theater projector. Two audio inputs feed the H1081's five-watt mono speaker, and one audio output provides loop-through capability.
Color. While color on the H1081 requires calibration, the projector does its best to make that process painless. Color controls are available for both primary and secondary colors and the controls are responsive--there's no more moving 20 pegs to one side just to see if anything is actually happening. With the aid of an inexpensive color meter and a good eye, calibration is a breeze. The results are so far removed from the factory defaults that it really is worth your time and money to have it adjusted.
Color wheel. The H1081 uses a 3x-speed color wheel with RGBCMY segments. This configuration is more likely to induce rainbow artifacts than a 4x-speed wheel, which is more common in the lower end 1080p DLP home theater projectors. If you are sensitive to the rainbow effect, this is something to keep in mind.
Default color. The Vivitek H1081 calibrates very well, and color looks wonderful after spending a few minutes with a color meter and the appropriate software. The factory calibration, on the other hand, is nothing to brag about. The image has a green tint to it and color is over-saturated. These problems are not particularly difficult to solve, but when it comes to inexpensive projectors, the ability to "plug and play" is always best.
Lamp life. Not too long ago, a 2,000-hour lamp life was standard. That is changing. Most inexpensive home theater projectors have a rated lamp life of 2500 hours or more. So the H1081's anticipated 2000 hours is below average.
The Vivitek H1081 has a bright, punchy picture, good contrast, and almost no fan noise. While it is a solid choice for home theater, it is especially great for video games and animation where a more dynamic image is desirable.
In our comparison shoot-out with other inexpensive 1080p models, it generally did not come out # 1 on any given performance criterion. The H1081 cannot match the iris-assisted black level of the Acer H7531D, nor can it top the calibrated color performance of the BenQ W1200 or the out-of-the-box color perfection of the Optoma HD20. Lumen output cannot quite match the Viewsonic Pro8200. But what these rankings fail to adequately capture is the overall package--not just how the projector measures, but how it feels and looks and responds. The Vivitek H1081 does one thing--it produces a vibrant, appealing video image--and it does this one thing very well. It is a balanced projector, combining all of the different performance criteria into a package that is greater than the sum of its parts. And at less than $1000, it does it all at a consumer-friendly price that makes it a common sense choice for all kinds of home entertainment, from movies to gaming and television. Consider giving this one a closer look when it's time to make your purchase.