The $1,799 Optoma UHD51ALV isn't a step up from the $1,699 Optoma UHD51A that we've reviewed separately so much as a step sideways. These two 4K UHD projectors are physically identical in every way but one. Instead of the six-segment RGBRGB color wheel in the UHD51A, the UHD51ALV substitutes an eight-segment RGBWRGBW color wheel.
That one change is responsible for virtually all the other differences between the two, including brightness—the only other difference that shows in the specs. They're both built around the same 0.47" DLP chip, use the same lamp, and have the same power consumption for each power mode. But white panels in the color wheel let more light reach the screen, and Optoma rates the UHD51ALV at 3,000 ANSI lumens compared with 2,400 for the UHD51A. We measured it at a little more than 2,800 lumens.
The choice of color wheel also affects color accuracy, giving the UHD51A a small edge on that score but nowhere near enough to rule out the UHD51ALV if you need its extra brightness. Using video optimized settings as the point of comparison, the UHD51A is bright enough to light up a 175" diagonal, 1.3-gain screen in a dark room or a 110" screen with moderate ambient light at the native 16:9 aspect ratio. Screen sizes for the UHD51ALV jump to 220" in a dark room and 135" in moderate ambient light.
With all they have in common, there's no reason other than the color wheel—and the differences it causes—to pick one projector over the other.
The only key features that differ between the UHD51ALV and the UHD51A are the first two on this list.
Limitations are also nearly identical for the UHD51ALV and UHD51A. The only difference between them in this list is the UHD51ALV's slightly slower input lag.
Brightness. With the test unit's zoom lens at the widest angle setting, we measured ANSI lumens for Bright and Eco power modes as follows:
Low Lamp Mode. Compared with Bright mode, Eco reduces brightness by about 34%.
Zoom Lens Light Loss. In the full telephoto setting, the 1.3x zoom lens drops brightness by only about 12%. In most cases, this is a small enough drop to ignore when considering how far to position the projector from the screen for a given size image.
Brightness Uniformity. The test unit's measured brightness uniformity ranges from 64% at the wide-angle end of the lens to 71% at the telephoto end. This is similar to the UHD51A's result and a little low for a home theater projector in this price range. The variation is visible using a 100% white test image as being brightest at the center bottom and dropping slowly going up and to each side. Those who are particularly aware of low uniformity may find it annoying. With photorealistic images, however, most people will never notice it.
Video Optimized Lumens (SDR). A slightly tweaked Cinema mode is our pick for optimum video. Cinema does the best job of retaining the subtle gradients of light and color which make close ups of faces, for example, look more dimensional. It also delivers the closest color match to a reference image other than the much lower brightness Reference mode. Contrast, shadow detail, and sense of three-dimensionality are excellent once you adjust brightness and contrast, and blacks are suitably dark.
Colors are within a realistic-looking range even with default settings, but you can improve color accuracy with an easy-to-use RGBCYM color management system that provides tuning for hue, saturation, and gain for each primary and secondary color. Adjustments for gamma and color temperature are also helpful. The Brilliant Color setting runs from the default 10 (maximum) to 1 (off), but is best left at the default. Lowering it improves accuracy for some colors but hurts it for others.
At 1756 lumens with optimized settings, the UHD51ALV can light up a 220" 1.3-gain screen in a dark room or a 135" screen in moderate ambient light. In Eco mode's 1,158 lumens, the sizes drop to a still substantial 200" in a dark room and 125" with lights on. Starting with Eco mode also lets you move to Bright power mode as the lamp loses brightness with age.
For comparison, the UHD51A test unit's measured brightness for optimum video settings in full power mode is 1153 lumens—virtually identical to the UHD51ALV's video optimized brightness in Eco mode.
Color Preset Mode Performance. Cinema is the UHD51ALV's second brightest mode. Game and HDR Sim deliver less saturated color along with lower brightness. HDR Sim also loses subtle gradations, especially in midtones, making rounded objects like faces look flat. Reference has the best color match to a reference image, but all the other modes offer better contrast.
The brightest mode shows a green bias, as with most projectors. However, it is minor enough even with default settings to show with only some images. Most people will find Bright useable at least occasionally in rooms that require higher brightness for daytime viewing. Adjusting settings will also deliver more neutral color. Note that changing the brilliant color setting—usually the easiest way to improve color in the brightest mode—has no effect. Optoma says this is intentional, to ensure that Bright mode is always bright.
Frame Interpolation. The UHD51ALV offers the same FI capability as the UHD51A, with settings of Off, Low, Medium, and High. Low smoothes motion enough to notice while still showing a bit of judder in pans and in objects moving across the field of view. But there's little-to-no digital video effect, so no good reason to turn it off. High doesn't smooth motion completely, but it adds only a minor digital video effect. You might prefer a more aggressive FI for live and recorded video, but film fares better with this more subtle version.
4K HDR Performance. The UHD51ALV handles HDR just as smoothly as its near twin. It switches to HDR color mode as the only choice when it sees an HDR flag in the input signal, and it switches back to whatever color mode it was previously set to when the input changes back to SDR.
HDR mode has the same four settings as the UHD51A's HDR mode. However, it adds a visible difference between the Film and Detail settings, so at each step from Bright to Standard to Film to Detail, the image gets darker overall and shows less shadow detail separation. All four deliver a compelling picture with excellent contrast, dark blacks, and a good sense of three-dimensionality.
3D Performance. Like the UHD51A, the UHD51ALV is one of the few 4K UHD projectors that offers 3D at 1080p. As with any projector, 3D isn't at bright as any of the 2D modes, but as we found with the UHD51A, the brightness drops far less in 3D than with most projectors. In a side-by-side comparison with the UHD51A, the UHD51ALV is also significantly brighter for 3D, which is particularly welcome in rooms with ambient light. Both projectors support DLP-Link glasses only.
Performance for 3D is otherwise identical between the two projectors. I saw no crosstalk in my tests, just the typical hint of 3D-related motion artifacts, and a highly watchable picture even with default settings. The test units for both models also had the same problem of not always recognizing 3D input from Verizon FiOS, although they worked without problems with Blu-ray discs. Optoma says that it will have a fix available for both models shortly after this is posted. The update will download automatically to projectors already connected to the Internet to take advantage of Alexa or Google Assistant voice control.
Rainbow artifacts. Although almost all DLP projectors can show rainbow artifacts, I didn't see any with UHD51ALV, even with a contrasty black-and-white clip. In comparison, I saw fewer with the UHD51A than with many DLP projectors, but still saw some. Even if you see these artifacts easily, you may not consider them an issue with the UHD51ALV. If you're unusually sensitive to them or don't know if you are, try to find a dealer that allows easy returns so you can test it out for yourself.
Onboard audio. The UHD51ALV offers built-in stereo with two 5-watt speakers. Should you need to use it instead of an external sound system, it delivers usable sound quality better than that built into in many other projectors and enough volume for a small to mid-size room.
Fan noise. The UHD51A is rated at 28 dB in full power mode and 25 dB in Eco. You can hear it in quiet moments in a small room, but even in full power mode it is a low pitched, steady sound that tends to fade into the background, particularly in a family room with ambient noise. Optoma recommends using High Altitude mode at 5,000 feet and above. With High Altitude activated, the Eco mode is only a little louder than the full power mode with High Altitude mode off. Full power in High Altitude mode is loud enough so you might want to apply some form of acoustic isolation.
Input lag. With FI on or off, the projector measures 71 to 74 ms lag depending on the color mode, close to the 68-70 ms we found on the UHD51A. Serious gamers will want a faster unit.
Optoma UHD51ALV Connection Panel Inputs:
Throw Distance. The UHD51ALV has the same 1.3x zoom lens, lens shift, and lack of keystone adjustment as the UHD51A, which makes setup identical. The throw distance for a 130" 16:9 image ranges from about 11.5 to 15 feet. You can use the Optoma UHD51A Projection Calculator to find the throw distance range for the image size you want.
Lens offset. The lens shift is designed for placement on a low table or upside down in a ceiling mount. With the UHD51A right side up, the bottom edge of the image can be anywhere from even with the lens centerline to about 15% of the image height above the centerline.
With no keystone adjustment to square off the image, you should avoid putting the projector on a high shelf behind the seats or other positioning that will force you to tilt it up or down to hit the screen.
The Optoma UHD51ALV is a solid value, as is the UHD51A. But the different color wheels gives each one some important advantages over the other.
In a side-by-side comparison in a dark room, using video optimized settings for both projectors, the UHD51ALV delivers a touch better contrast, while the UHD51A offers more vibrant color and a closer color match to a reference image. It also maintains subtle gradations better, so close ups of faces, for example, look more three-dimensional than with the UHD51ALV. However, the UHD51ALV delivers accurate enough color for film and video to be well within a realistic-looking range. And without a side-by-side comparison, few people would notice the difference in gradations.
With the lights on there's no obvious difference in contrast. However, the brighter the room, the more the advantage tilts towards the UHD51ALV. Its brighter image simply stands up better to ambient light.
For rooms that are bright enough to need either projector's brightest mode, the UHD51ALV has an even more decisive advantage. Not only is its Bright mode far brighter, but the color is much closer to neutral, which makes it far more watchable than the UHD51A's Bright mode (which has a much more obvious green bias). The extra brightness in 3D mode also makes the UHD51ALV notably more usable for watching 3D with ambient light.
Ultimately, the UHD51A's somewhat better color accuracy and ability to hold gradations makes it the better choice in most cases for traditional home theater. However the UHD51ALV delivers nearly as good color accuracy plus enough extra brightness to light up a larger-than-typical screen for home theater, or as much as a 135" 1.3-gain screen in moderate ambient light. That makes the Optoma UHD51ALV an obvious choice for a family room or living room, and an excellent value at $1,799.
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