Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
The Acer H9500BD is one of the least expensive 1080p projectors available that is capable of handling full high-definition 3D content. As such, it has garnered a lot of attention. This DLP projector has the brightness and punch necessary to put up a compelling 3D image, the image clarity to display HD film and video at its sharpest and most detailed, and the price tag to make the whole endeavor worthwhile. The H9500BD costs $1699 with one pair of 3D glasses included.
The Viewing Experience
With inexpensive projectors like the H9500BD, how they look out of the box is especially important. At this price range, few users will go through the hassle of a full calibration, so having solid preset image modes, even if only as a starting point, is paramount.
After setting up the H9500BD and turning it on, we switched to Dark Cinema mode, which is the projector's least bright, most color-balanced preset. Initial readings put Dark Cinema at 6600K without any adjustment or calibration of any kind, which as far as factory presets go is about as good as it gets. We went with Dark Cinema due to the lack of ambient light in our viewing space and the size of our screen; Movie mode produces similarly accurate results with a brighter image.
With the H9500BD's manual zoom set at its widest angle, even Dark Cinema mode comes out to a hefty 909 lumens with Eco mode off and 763 lumens with Eco on. At the standard 16 foot-lamberts (fL) luminance target for theater dark lighting and a 1.0 screen gain, that makes Eco mode just right for a 120" diagonal screen. Users of smaller screens will want to either invest in a neutral density filter or place the projector farther from the screen to allow the zoom lens to cut some of the projector's light output.
The image itself looks superb for a projector in this class. Grayscale is well balanced, as we already mentioned. Color saturation is spot-on. Sharpness at defaults is a touch high, so we lowered it. Users will want to be careful, as the sharpness control when lowered too far will artificially soften the image. Contrast is strong, giving the image a good sense of three-dimensionality while black levels are in line with other home theater projectors in this price range, most notably the Optoma HD33. The projector's AcuMotion system, while effective for video, was a touch too strong for use with film, so we left it disabled for the bulk of our testing.
2D Image quality. With strong contrast, good dynamic range, vibrant colors and sharp detail, the H9500BD's primary draw is image quality, pure and simple. The projector isn't heavy on bells and whistles, but the core of the home theater experience is there in spades. The only flaw worth mentioning is that default gamma is a touch too strong in Movie mode, making shadows look exaggerated in some scenes. Dark Cinema did not have this problem.
3D. The H9500BD is a 3D projector, of course, using Texas Instruments' DLP Link technology for glasses sync. This allows the projector to sync with its glasses using only the image itself by inserting subtle pulses in the image, thereby eliminating the need for an outboard IR or RF emitter. This means there's no chance of interference with the remote control (a relatively common problem with projectors using IR), but the glasses will also turn themselves off if you aren't looking at the screen (a problem with RF glasses which only turn off when you turn off the projector). All in all, it's not a bad system.
The projector comes with one pair of glasses in the box. Acer's glasses are small and stylish, with lightweight frames that wear wide on the head. This keeps them from pinching if you have a large head, and it helps them fit over existing glasses rather well. The lenses are small, which can be distracting, and the frames are white, which is downright baffling. Whenever there is a bright image on the screen, I caught reflections from the frames of my glasses. On the upside, the glasses provide a nice picture, creating good contrast and allowing an impressive 30% overall transmission rate.
As for image quality? Everything that applies to the H9500BD's image in 2D goes double in 3D, which is the projector's strongest area. The H9500BD uses DLP Link, so there's no IR or RF emitter; instead the projector uses the image itself to synchronize its 3D glasses. The result is a deep, rich image with strong contrast and good color saturation. There was not even a hint of crosstalk to be seen, even in the most difficult scenes.
Placement flexibility. The combination of a 1.5:1 zoom and both vertical and horizontal lens shift adds some welcome flexibility for positioning the H9500BD. For a 110" screen, for example, you can place the projector at anywhere from 11'10" to 18'7" from the screen.
The projector is designed to sit with the midline of the lens at 5% to 30% of the screen height below the bottom of the image, or the same amount above the top if ceiling mounted. That translates to a total vertical lens shift of 25% of the screen height. The total horizontal shift is roughly 28 percent of the screen width from the extreme left to extreme right positions. This modest shift is primarily intended to help users perfect a ceiling mount or low table placement without moving the projector, but it is more flexibility than one will find in any of the H9500BD's direct competitors.
Connectivity. In addition to the H9500BD's two HDMI ports, the projector also features a DVI-I connector. This can be used as a third HDMI input by purchasing an adapter, and it will handle HDMI 1.4 3D signals just as well as the HDMI ports will. The connection panel also has YPbPr component video, composite video, S-video, and 2 VGA inputs. There's also a 12V trigger, a VGA monitor passthrough, a USB connector, and an RS-232 port. That's a lot of connections, and most of them can handle HD just fine.
Dynamic iris. The H9500BD's dynamic iris automatically adjusts to the content on screen to make blacks look blacker in dark scenes while boosting the brightness of highlights in brighter scenes. To this end, it is an effective addition to the projector. The action of the iris is occasionally visible, but most of the time it posed no significant distraction. If it bothers you, you can always turn it off in the menu system -- it's called Dynamic Black.
AcuMotion. The H9500BD has a frame interpolation system, called AcuMotion. FI systems are becoming more and more common these days, and in 2D the H9500BD's system is nothing special; it shows more than the average amount of digital video effect and its operation is not always subtle. However, frame interpolation is also available in 3D, and that is still a noteworthy feature in today's market. In 3D, the digital video effect disappears almost entirely, while motion is smoothed in a way that makes fast action easier to watch without appearing artificial -- well, no more artificial than 3D already looks, anyway.
Light output. The H9500BD delivers lots of light. Using an HDMI source, Bright mode measured 1513 lumens on our test sample with the lamp at full power and the lens at its widest angle setting. Bright mode's high light output makes it the best choice for standing up to ambient light, but it compromises color fidelity and contrast to get those extra lumens.
The next modes down the brightness ladder are Movie mode at 949 lumens and Presentation at 947 lumens. The two modes emphasize different aspects of the picture; Presentation boosts legibility of text documents by manipulating gamma, while Movie mode tries to provide a more balanced, film-like appearance.
Dark Cinema is the starting point for our preferred calibration, and it measured 909 lumens on our test sample. Dark Cinema has the most natural appearance of all of the H9500BD's modes, with the most realistic shadow detail and best color performance. If your goal is to watch movies, Dark Cinema is the mode you want.
Standard and Sports modes both come in at 880 lumens. Game mode is the least bright, at 789 lumens, while giving no appreciable improvement in input lag times.
Most of the H9500BD's image modes, you will no doubt notice, are quite bright. If you have a dark room or a smaller screen, Eco mode will help -- it drops brightness by about 16% in all modes while increasing estimated lamp life from 2000 to 2500 hours.
If you need to reduce light output further, your options are to use a neutral-density (ND) filter or move the projector and adjust the zoom. If you don't own a neutral density filter, you can reduce light output by moving the projector further from the screen and adjusting the zoom. The H9500BD's 1.5:1 zoom lens loses 36% of total light output at full telephoto, bringing Dark Cinema to 488 lumens with the lamp in Eco mode. That's above average for a 1.5:1 zoom, but in this case it can be an advantage, giving you 16 fL luminance with a 95" 1.0 gain screen and the projector about 15.5 feet from the screen.
Color. The H9500BD has only the most rudimentary of color controls, allowing a single axis of adjustment for RGBCMY. This makes it very difficult to make any kind of meaningful adjustment to color. Luckily, the H9500BD's default color is some of the best in its price class.
We tested the H9500BD with BrilliantColor disabled, since that tends to improve color accuracy on many other DLP projectors. In this case, it had the opposite effect, causing the picture to appear more blue. Switching BrilliantColor back on brought the picture more in line with established standards, so we left it that way.
Color came in right around 6450K in the low end (0-50% illumination) and around 6600K in the high end. Again, this is at defaults, with no adjustment on our part -- mostly because the color controls don't lend themselves to a lot of fine tuning. Lucky for us, then, that the H9500BD doesn't need any fine tuning to make it watchable.
Sharpness and clarity. By default, sharpness is set too high, which makes the picture look a touch artificial. Lowering sharpness too far will soften the image, which is no good either. Our sweet spot was right around 10 or 11 on a sharpness scale from 0 to 15, with 13 being the default. Still, this is one control that it's easy enough to adjust on your own, so decide for yourself where you want it.
Contrast. In its price class, the H9500BD is quite the performer. Black level is equal to the best we've seen in this price range, as far as 3D projectors are concerned. Sure, it can't match the performance of projectors that cost twice as much, but no one is realistically expecting it to, either. Dynamic range is high, creating smooth, detailed shadows and sparkling highlights. While the projector's gamma in Dark Cinema is not the ideal 2.2, it comes close at 2.17, and most users probably won't notice the difference. Movie mode uses a more aggressive 2.27 gamma, and some users may prefer the more exaggerated contrast present in that mode.
Single User mode. Perhaps the most frustrating part of using the H9500BD is its single solitary User setting. The projector's preset modes are all locked, meaning you can't make any adjustments to them. Instead, what happens when you adjust a preset is that the projector dumps you to User mode, where you can adjust to your heart's content. This is fine and dandy until you realize that it's often desirable to have more than one calibrated preset. For example, you could have a Dark Cinema-based preset for movies, and a Movie-based preset for television. As a precaution, make sure to write down all of your settings once you get the projector adjusted to your liking, because you might accidentally adjust something and lose them.
3D limitations. While image quality in 3D is quite good, one side effect of DLP Link is that the projector has a dedicated 3D image mode, and that's the only one you're allowed to use while watching 3D. In fact, the projector only allows access to a special 3D menu while 3D content is being displayed, perhaps to remove even the temptation of switching image modes. In any case, it's a minor inconvenience.
More puzzling is that the projector's 3D mode is not as bright as any of its other modes. In fact, 3D mode is the dimmest preset available, at 689 lumens on our test sample. Since many people buy their 3D projectors based on brightness, this is an important point and worth mentioning.
Finally, and this is only tangentially related to actual 3D quality, but it's nearly impossible to locate more Acer 3D glasses for sale in the United States. While any DLP Link glasses ought to work with the H9500BD, if you wanted the Acer-branded ones, you're in for quite the adventure trying to track them down.
Quirky firmware. We noticed a few quirks in the H9500BD's menu system, but they're not the kind of thing you'd notice every day. For example, if you're using Bright mode with a source on HDMI, then switch sources, and then switch back to HDMI, Bright mode loses some of its light output -- about 22%, to be exact. If you switch away from Bright mode and then come back, the missing lumens reappear. This is almost certainly a firmware issue, so it is possible that Acer could issue a fix in the future.
Poor calibration controls. While the H9500BD doesn't require much calibration to look good, that's no excuse for having lackluster calibration controls. There's no way to adjust grayscale on this projector, and a little grayscale tweak could take the H9500BD from a very good projector to a great one without much work. It's a shame.
Lamp life. The H9500BD's lamp is specced to last up to 2,500 hours in Eco mode, which isn't much these days. On the other hand, replacements are cheap. New lamps cost only $229.
Light output. The H9500BD does not suffer for lack of light; far from it. However, when a projector claims to produce 2000 lumens and our test sample measures 1513 in its brightest mode, it's still a disappointment.
H9500BD versus Optoma HD33
Both the Acer H9500BD and the Optoma HD33 cost less than $2000, and both are full HD 3D compatible. Both use DLP imaging engines. Despite all these similarities, the two projectors do have some salient differences. Rather than spend a lot of time going through lists of features and functions, let's talk about image quality.
In 2D, the Optoma's main advantages are color and natural appearance. The HD33 has more accurate, more vibrant color than the H9500BD, which is no mean feat as the H9500BD has solid color to begin with. More important is the smooth, natural, film-like quality of the HD33's image, which makes the H9500BD look slightly artificial in comparison. The H9500BD is brighter than the HD33, though not by much. The H9500BD also appears higher in contrast, with slightly better dynamic range in most scenes.
In 3D, it's a different story. The HD33 has deeper black and better color than the H9500BD, though it is a subtle difference even under the best of circumstances. However, the HD33 also has visible crosstalk, while the H9500BD has none at all. That's saying a lot; when the HD33 came out we praised it for its lack of crosstalk and clean 3D image. None of that has changed, it's just that the H9500BD is incrementally better in these areas. Both the HD33 and the H9500BD outclass the similarly-priced Epson Home Cinema 3010 when it comes to 3D image quality, as well.
When it comes to 3D brightness, the issue is not settled until we do a little bit of math. The H9500BD is brighter than the HD33 in 2D, but both projectors have dedicated 3D image modes that you must use, so that brightness advantage doesn't necessarily translate. As mentioned previously, the H9500BD's 3D mode measures a measly 689 lumens as opposed to the 909 lumens it puts out in our preferred 2D viewing mode. Meanwhile, the HD33 does not lose any brightness at all, still cranking out over 800 lumens in 3D. The HD33's glasses also transmit 32% of the image's brightness compared to 30% for the H9500BD.
The end result (drumroll please) is this: at the end of the day, the HD33 is ever so slightly brighter in 3D than the H9500BD, at 260 lumens versus 210 lumens apparent brightness, as seen through 3D glasses. On a 100" diagonal 1.0 gain screen, that puts the HD33 at 9 fL versus the H9500BD's 7 fL. A small difference, to be sure, but an appreciable one nonetheless. Then again, the HD33 has crosstalk, and the H9500BD doesn't.
One other point: the HD33 has a six-segment, 6x-speed color wheel, while the H9500BD has a 4x-speed wheel. If you are one of the unlucky few who is hypersensitive to rainbows and still sees them on a 4x-speed wheel, you have my condolences.
The Acer H9500BD is quite the package. Its high lumen output makes it powerful enough for large screens or even use in the living room, while its good out of the box color means only minimal adjustment is necessary before you can enjoy your movie. Dynamic range is high, shadows are good, and black level is comparable to other projectors in its price range. While the projector has some quirks, most notably in the inclusion of only a single User preset and the choice of white glasses for 3D viewing, it is a strong value overall.
When trying to pick a projector in this price range, the other major contender is the Optoma HD33. Were it up to us, we'd probably take the HD33 for 2D viewing, if only due to its smoother, more natural appearance with high definition 2D content. When it comes to 3D, though, the H9500BD's complete lack of crosstalk would seal the deal. It's a good time to be a projector buyer right now, that's for sure -- whichever one of these great machines you decide to pick up, you really can't lose.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Acer H9500BD projector page.