When it comes to high-quality inexpensive projectors, few companies can touch Acer. The PC giant has been releasing home theater and home entertainment projectors that strike a great price-performance balance, and their products have received a lot of attention from budget-conscious consumers.
Acer's latest projector, the H5380BD, is another winner. Built for home entertainment, the H5380BD's native 720p resolution makes it an inexpensive way to bring 3D into the home. With 3000 lumens of brightness, a small form factor and light weight, an estimated 5,000 hour lamp life, and a built-in two-watt speaker, the H5380BD is a powerful, portable projector for film, video, gaming, and more. And at only $549 MSRP, it's also quite the bargain.
With its tiny form factor and bargain-basement price, it's not surprising that the H5380BD does not have a lot of bells and whistles. What it does have, however, is a solid image. The default Standard mode is intensely bright, making it an obvious choice for living room use. On the other hand, the H5380BD's Movie mode is a better choice for home theater, where ambient light is controlled and light output requirements are less severe. Both Standard and Movie mode have smooth, consistent color; Standard mode is a touch bluer across the grayscale, but this can be useful in a room with yellowish ambient light.
The H5380BD has full HDMI 1.4 3D compatibility, so feel free to use it with any modern 3D sources you'd like, be they Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, or game consoles. 3D image quality is solid despite the downscaling (remember, the H5380BD is not native 1080p), and provides a great way to introduce 3D into the home without breaking the bank.
The H5380BD is ideal for tabletop placement. It has a mild upward throw offset of 13% (so the bottom edge of the image is 13% of the image heigh above the center of the lens), a short zoom range (1.1:1), a small footprint, and it weighs very little. It also includes a small 2W onboard speaker, for those times when you don't have a better sound system available.
Despite being an inexpensive machine, the projector includes some nice touches. When you open the menu without an input signal present, the H5380BD displays a 16:9 geometry test pattern in the background to assist with placement and aiming of the projector. A side-mounted connection panel helps to manage cables by keeping your coffee table clear. Since the audience is likely seated behind the projector, it makes sense not to send all of the cables back in that direction. While the H5380BD only has one HDMI port, that port is MHL-enabled.
Standard mode pushes out just under 1400 lumens on our test sample, so it can be used even in a room with significant ambient light. Using an 80" diagonal image, Standard mode produced a bright, high-contrast image despite significant ambient room lighting.
Since the projector has such a limited zoom range, placement is highly dependent on what size image you want. The 80" diagonal image discussed above can be projected from 9' to 9'10", for example.
Great picture. The H5380BD has a bright, sharp image with plenty of shadow detail and a solid black level. While the projector has a native 720p resolution, it looks great when fed native 1080p content from a Blu-ray player or game console. For the price, it's hard to argue with the level of performance we see from the H5380BD.
3D Capable. For those who desire 3D, the H5380BD can accept signals from any HDMI 1.4 compliant 3D device. The projector uses DLP Link synchronization at a 144 Hz refresh rate, so it can use many of the high-quality, inexpensive DLP Link glasses available from a number of brands and manufacturers. DLP Link is advantageous in that it does not require an emitter, has inexpensive brand-agnostic glasses (some as low as $20 per pair) for group viewing, and is not very susceptible to crosstalk or ghosting artifacts. It's a solid, inexpensive implementation of a technology that has a reputation for being both finicky and pricy.
Lamp life. The H5380BD has an expected lamp life of 5,000 hours at full power, 6,000 hours in Eco mode, and up to 10,000 hours in Extreme Eco mode. Extreme Eco is not a user-selectable mode, rather it is a special power-saving mode the projector switches into when no input signal is selected. It is useful if you frequently forget to turn off your projector, though the H5380BD also has an automatic shut-off feature. Replacement lamp pricing has yet to be announced.
HDMI with MHL. MHL, short for Mobile High-Definition Link, is a protocol that allows certain devices to connect directly to a projector or other display. In addition to connecting mobile devices like tablets or smartphones, this can also be used to connect video source devices like the Roku Streaming Stick. Using an MHL device as a signal source is a good way to reduce cable clutter, especially during portable use.
Onboard sound. A two-watt mono speaker isn't much, but it is better than nothing when you're on the road. If you want to bring the H5380BD over to a friend's house, having an onboard speaker allows you to use the projector without connecting an external audio system.
Light output. The H5380BD's brighest mode, called Bright, measured 2113 lumens on our test sample. Bright mode has a definite greenish tint, but it is useful when you need maximum light output and aren't too picky about color balance.
Standard mode is our go-to mode for film and video in ambient light. At 1397 lumens, Standard mode has a slight blue tint, but produces a respectable black level and does a good job rendering shadow detail even in the darkest areas of the image.
Movie mode, at 1201 lumens, has a more neutral appearance than Standard mode, with higher color saturation and a grayscale that is closer to the cinema-ideal 6500K. If you can spare the additional lumens, Movie mode is a good choice for film and video. Dark Cinema, at 1108 lumens, is useful if you need to cut light output further.
The H5380BD also has a Game mode, but at 1420 lumens it is similar to Standard mode with a slightly higher black level.
Any of the H5380BD's image modes can be reduced in brightness by engaging Eco lamp mode. Eco mode cuts lamp power by 27%, bringing Standard mode to 1159 lumens and Movie mode to 997 lumens.
Contrast. The H5380BD has a number of preset gamma selections, and most of them are useful. The 1.8 and 2.0 settings raise black level and deep shadow detail into the dark gray range, but they can be useful when a lot of ambient light is washing out your viewing area and detail is being lost. The 2.2 setting is a good all-around setting for film and video, as it preserves shadow detail but also offers better black performance than 1.8 and 2.0. The "2.2 S-Curve" setting deepens black level and "punches up" the picture, but in doing so some shadow detail is lost. The same is true of the 2.4 setting.
The H5380BD has a "Dynamic Black" control, but it boosted highlights rather than deepening shadows. We left it turned off, as highlights are already quite bright.
Color. The H5380BD's color performance is already quite respectable as soon as you take it out of the box. In Standard and Movie modes, color is balanced and well-saturated, though highlights are a touch too bright at times.
The H5380BD has three preset color temperature settings: CT-1 is used in Movie mode and is the warmest preset. CT-2 is used in Standard and Game modes and gives the picture a slightly blue cast, putting it around 7000-7200K. CT-3 is very blue. There's also a User setting, which is the only one that can be adjusted.
Sharpness and Detail. Since the H5380BD is a 720p projector and the most common content available today is 1080p, chances are that you'll end up feeding the projector some higher-resolution content at some point. The H5380BD does an admirable job of compressing 1080p content to fit its native 720p pixel matrix without smudging away all of the image's fine detail, though some is necessarily lost.
Input lag. In all of the H5380BD's image modes, input lag measured 33 milliseconds, which works out to two frames of a 60 fps signal. While the projector does have a Game mode, it did not improve input lag.
Rainbows. The H5380BD has a 2x-speed color wheel, so folks who are sensitive to DLP color separation artifacts will see them in spades.
3D Brightness. When 3D on the H5380BD is turned on, several things happen. First, the projector switches to Standard mode and locks all image controls. Second, black level rises significantly, such that without glasses black can appear gray. Third, light output drops by up to 50%. This reduction in brightness occurs in the projector itself, and does not include the additional 50% loss (at minimum) due to active shutter glasses. In a best-case scenario, a 3D image from the H5380BD is starting at 25% of the projector's 2D brightness in Standard mode, or 350 lumens. Since image brightness is critical to comfortable 3D viewing, you should keep 3D viewing to images no larger than 100" diagonal, and then only if room lighting is well controlled.
3D On/Off. The H5380BD's 3D capabilities rely on a manual on/off switch accessed through the projector menu. Unfortunately, this means you'll need to remember to turn 3D on and off each time you want to use it. Leaving 3D turned on reduces both image brightness and black level, so it's a good idea to go in and turn it off unless you're actively using it.
Posterization. In images with subtle gradient effects, there was some posterization in the H5380BD's image. Posterization occurs when several shades of a color are combined into a single shade, resulting in abrupt transitions from one color to the next. This artifact is plainly visible on color gradient patterns, but can also show up in real-world situations, like a panoramic shot of the sky containing many subtle shades of blue.
Locked image modes. The H5380BD has a variety of pre-calibrated image modes, but they are locked -- you cannot change their default settings. Attempting to change a setting kicks the projector into User mode instead, and the projector has only one User mode. In other words, if you want to save more than one bank of adjustments, you'll have to write them down.
The Acer H5380BD is an intriguing projector: it is a lightweight, highly portable 720p projector that has a great home video image and a bargain-basement price. At its price point, you simply cannot beat its combination of picture quality and features. The projector is not without flaws, of course; a 2x-speed color wheel means a significant number of people will see rainbow effects, and locked image presets limit your ability to fine-tune the projector. And the projector's 2D brightness does not transfer over to 3D mode, so you will need to use a smaller screen size when watching 3D.
But looking at the big picture, it's hard to expect much more from a projector with an MSRP of $549. Whether you intend to use the H5380BD on the road or in your theater, you'll find a lot to love in this portable powerhouse.
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