It seems like every time you check, 1080p projector prices have dropped again. The latest instigator is Acer's H6500, a pint-sized 2100-lumen DLP projector boasting 10,000:1 contrast that costs only $899.
As you might expect from a 1080p projector under $1000, the H6500 doesn't have much in the way of features. It can't display 3D, there's no frame interpolation, the connection panel is pretty bare-bones, and the lens is a manual 1.2:1 zoom. But if you need a dirt-cheap 1080p projector that performs well in a living room or game room and is capable of putting up a decent image, the H6500 is a solid machine.
With a manual 1.2:1 zoom lens and no lens shift, the H6500 practically screams for a coffee table, so that's where we put it. A ceiling mount is also possible, and the projector's 16% upward throw angle offset makes such a mount easy, but many people will want to use the H6500 as a secondary portable or game projector and thus pack it away when it's not in use. The lack of lens shift makes the H6500 unsuitable for rear shelf mounting unless you apply keystone correction, which has enough downsides that we'd advise against it for most people.
We fired up the projector in a darkened theater at first, then turned up the lights later to test the brighter modes. In the dark, the H6500 is a solid performer with Blu-ray movies. The projector's 10,000:1 contrast comes from a lamp modulation system similar to Optoma's Image AI. In bright scenes, the projector kicks lamp power up to full, then lowers it again in darker scenes to preserve black levels. While this system is effective, it's also thankfully optional. In our preferred operating mode for Blu-ray movies (Movie mode, Eco lamp, BrilliantColor on), our test sample produced 978 lumens -- quite a bit of light, in other words. Movie mode has reasonably good color balance for such an inexpensive projector, and the picture overall appears well-balanced and natural compared to other inexpensive 1080p projectors.
But the H6500 isn't exactly built to be a home theater projector. Instead, this little powerhouse is meant to be used in places where a typical home theater projector would stumble -- living rooms, game rooms, and other places where ambient light is a regular occurrence. In these situations, the H6500's Bright mode becomes important. This mode actually produced more than the specified lumens on our test sample, albeit with a loss of contrast compared to Movie mode and a color bias towards green. However, it's a perfect mode for watching sports in the living room, or even for playing video games as a group with the lights on.
Image quality. The H6500 isn't a feature-rich projector by any stretch. In fact, it's pretty feature-poor, when you get right down to it. The only thing it has going for it is image quality, so it's a good thing that image quality is the most important aspect of a projector. The H6500 is bright and clear, while contrast is maintained thanks to its lamp modulation feature. Once you get the projector in focus, it is tack-sharp from edge to edge, with no sign of distortion or softness in the corners. Contrast is sufficient to give 2D content the three-dimensional pop it needs to look life-like. Color, while not perfect, is only slightly off-kilter in Movie mode, edging towards blue. All in all, the H6500 is a perfectly competent projector when it comes to film and video, even though its brightness makes it better suited to other applications.
Portability. While the H6500 doesn't include a carrying case, it weighs less than six pounds and has a small form factor. If you want to bring it with you, it is easy to do so. And while the projector has no onboard speaker system, it is still useful for photography display or slideshows without the addition of a sound system. If you're looking for a dedicated portable projector complete with sound, other options exist, but most don't have the combination of small size, light weight, and high resolution that the H6500 has.
Price. Not too long ago, any 1080p projector below $2,000 was enough to raise eyebrows. Nowadays, that's fairly common, and $1000 has become the new price to beat. The H6500 is not the first 1080p projector to cross the $1000 line, but it is still in a rather select group. By our count, there are six native 1080p projectors under $1000 currently in production, and of these the H6500 is the smallest and lightest (see portability, above).
Light output. With a rated maximum light output of 2100 lumens, the H6500 is a powerful little projector. The brightest image mode is appropriately named Bright, and on our test sample it measured 2163 lumens with the lamp at full power and BrilliantColor engaged. The image has a slight green cast in this mode, because Bright mode prioritizes brightness at the expense of contrast and color. Still, at 2163 lumens, you can run the H6500 more or less in full ambient light on a 60" - 80" screen without batting an eye. It's perfect for sports and games.
Low lamp mode, labeled "Eco," reduces brightness by 21% in all image modes. On our test unit, it brings Bright mode from 2163 to 1721 lumens. That's still a huge amount of light, and many folks in partially darkened rooms will be able to use Eco mode instead of full brightness without any adverse effects.
If you have a darkened room to work with, you want Movie or Dark Cinema mode. Movie mode clocks in at 1340 lumens with the lamp at full power, while Dark Cinema comes in around 1290 lumens. Both emphasize contrast and color as opposed to brightness, but they're still plenty bright. At 1340 lumens, you can power a 140" 1.0 gain screen at a whopping 23 foot Lamberts. People with good light control in their viewing rooms may find the H6500 too bright, in fact. If you have a small screen in a dark room, consider adding a neutral density filter.
Contrast. The H6500 boasts 10,000:1 on/off contrast while other, similarly-priced 1080p DLP projectors are specced around 5,000:1 contrast. This is due to the H6500's addition of a lamp modulation system, called Dynamic black. Dynamic black, once enabled, changes lamp power in sync with the picture on the screen. Brighter scenes cause the lamp to get brighter, while darker scenes cause a reduction in light output.
The good news is, it works. While the Dynamic black system is slower than a good automatic iris, it performs as advertised in reducing black levels in dark scenes. It sometimes takes a moment or two to adjust, which can be visible if you're looking hard enough. If you are the sort of person who is distracted by the action of an auto-iris, this system probably isn't for you.
On the other hand, dynamic range on the H6500 is what we've come to expect from a DLP projector. Highlights are bright and sparkling, and shadow detail is excellent. The only thing that suffers is maximum black, but that is typical for DLP projectors of any price, let alone the cheap ones. The H6500 performs to expectations.
Color. A sub-$1000 1080p projector is not going to have perfect color out of the box. It's impressive that the H6500 looks as good as it does. Color clocks in around 6800K in Movie mode, though there's variation from the highlights (colder) to the shadows (warmer) and a few weird spikes in-between -- at least on our test sample. The H6500 does not have the comprehensive color controls needed to really work over the color temperature and gamut, so you run with what you have, which in this case isn't bad. Color is, at least, well-saturated, and without a reference projector it can be hard to tell that the projector is off by a few hundred degrees, anyway.
Sharpness and clarity. Finding focus on the H6500 can be a little hard due to the projector's light focus ring, but once you have it dialed in there's nothing to complain about. Detail in Blu-ray movies is crisp and clear, and there's no sign of softness towards the corners of the image.
Input lag. Gamers rejoice! Our H6500 measured a scant one frame, or 16.67 ms, of input lag -- about as good as it gets, in other words. This means the time it takes for content to get from your game console to the actual screen in front of you is as short as it can be, which is critically important for certain types of video games like fighting and rhythm games. If you need a cheap gaming projector but don't want to compromise on resolution, the H6500 has what you need.
Intermittent signal stuttering. Our test unit would occasionally lose sync with our Blu-ray player over HDMI, leading to a burst of static or a re-sync operation. This happened most often on static menu screens, like our Blu-ray player's startup screen or a static laptop screen. Rarely, if ever, did it occur during the viewing of actual content. Still, in light of this, it would be wise to use the shortest cables possible when running HDMI from your source to the projector.
Placement flexibility. With a 1.2:1 zoom lens and no lens shift, the H6500 is somewhat limited in where it can be placed. The projector has an upward throw angle offset of about 16%, meaning that the bottom edge of the projected image will appear 16% of the image's height above lens centerline. This is great for ceiling and coffee table placement, but eliminates rear shelf mounting as an option unless you're willing to apply keystone correction. This sort of lens is not unusual for inexpensive DLP projectors, but we've seen better before in products at the same price point.
Flimsy lens adjustments. The H6500 has a 1.2:1 manual zoom lens, which is not in itself a bad thing. However, the zoom and focus rings feel cheap and plasticky, and we found it hard to obtain precise focus on occasion. As the H6500 is a projector that is highly portable and likely to get moved around, this can be a hassle.
Dynamic black is slower than an iris. The H6500's dynamic lamp system, while effective in its efforts to optimize brightness and black level, is slower than an automatic iris. This isn't just an Acer problem; Optoma has been working on a similar technology for years and their implementation still is not as fast as a good auto-iris. What's more, the fan noise rises and falls as lamp power changes, so unless you're seated well away from the projector, the cycling can become annoying quickly.
Lackluster color adjustments. No projector looks perfect out of the box, not even the really expensive ones. However, with a full suite of color controls it is easy to correct for any flaws you find and bring your projector in line with the HD video standards. While the H6500 doesn't look terrible at defaults, its color controls are rudimentary enough that it is difficult to effect any kind of meaningful adjustment to the picture. The H6500 has adjustments for Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow - a single slider for each color, with no distinction between hue and saturation and (more importantly) no distinction between color temperature and color gamut. Trying to calibrate this projector quickly becomes an exercise in frustration, so it is easier to find a factory calibration that doesn't look half bad and run with it.
The Acer H6500 is not fancy. It won't revolutionize your home theater. it doesn't have any of this year's popular features. What it does have is solid 1080p performance, good color, and plenty of lumens at a price tag that's difficult to believe. At $899, the H6500 is the perfect 1080p projector for games, sports, television, and other non-theater applications that nonetheless require better performance than one can get from a business 1080p machine.
In a perfect world, we'd be shooting out the H6500 against BenQ's W1200, or Optoma's venerable HD20, both of which are excellent 1080p machines around this price range. However, we don't have either of those units in house. Going from memory, the H6500 is the brightest of the three, while the HD20 has the best color out of the box and the W1200 appears more balanced and natural while also rivaling the high brightness of the H6500. The H6500 has the best black level of the bunch. The HD20 is available for about the same price as the H6500, which more or less consigns the H6500 to living room and video game use since the HD20 is a superior home theater projector. Likewise, if you have a little bit of extra money to spend, the W1200 offers superior color with the same brightness as the H6500. However, by combining high brightness and low cost, the H6500 carves a niche for itself in the low-cost 1080p market which no other current projector can match.