Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
With the new Optoma HD50 home theater projector, Optoma continues a trend of delivering low-cost, high quality projectors to consumers. While other Optoma projectors seem to best be labelled as family room models, the HD50 steps up the image quality by delivering a Full HD 1920x1080 image with 3D support, and an RGBRGB color wheel that is sure to impress.
Coming in at a $1,599 street price, the HD50 offers more than any of their lower priced models, including a 50,000:1 contrast rating, 1.5x zoom range and vertical lens shift, and some system options like PureMotion (frame interpolation), and a full Color Management System that may make it perfect for your home theater setup.
When the projector first came on, it was clear that a bit of adjustment was going to be necessary. The image appeared artificial with over blown colors and brightness that was artificially high. Switching between the seven different color modes that include Cinema, Reference, Vivid, Bright, Game, 3D, and User, it was determined that Reference really did deliver the reference settings.
Some time was spent with the Blu-ray Disney WOW! calibration disc and only minimal changes were made to the reference setting to get a overall solid image on screen from the HD50. Colors appeared accurate and well saturated on the large 161" test screen that was being used. There wasn't a time when extra light output was desired, and the image didn't appear muddied when scenes got darker.
An early viewing experience of ice hockey really played to the strengths of DLP technology and the HD50 delivered the goods. A small black puck zipping around on a white background can be a nightmare for those who are sensitive to DLP rainbows. Not only were there no rainbows jumping across the screen, but the fast paced action of hockey was matched by the HD50 with sharp detail, with the white ice having good on-screen pop, and the black puck travelling cleanly across the screen. Even with a few lights turned on, the HD50 held up nicely and the game was still very watchable.
Sitting down to watch a few movies once it was calibrated, the Optoma was out to impress. The image delivered by the HD50 for movie viewing is perhaps the best on the market at its price range. It delivered excellent image quality with colors that were smooth and accurate. No hints of false contouring were present and movies such as The Avengers delivered smooth color gradations, without appearing to be over saturated or lacking. The skin tones were very good, avoiding a lean towards yellow or green bias.
Certainly, the black levels were not as impressive as the higher priced models out there, but the lack of inky blacks wasn't a distraction to the viewing experience in any way. The image allowed for true submersion into the movie. So, instead of watching a projector, and finding faults, it was easy to get lost in the story that was unfolding. The unparalleled sharpness of single chip DLP projectors rung true with this model as fine details in sharp scenes stood out with impeccable precision. The HD50 allowed for an enjoyable movie viewing experience from start to end.
3D, using the included Optoma 3D glasses and VESA emitter, was a breeze to use. The 3D glasses didn't come charged, but a USB cable was included and after a few hours of charging, the simple on-off switch, instead of a more typical push-button, allowed for the glasses to be utilized. A bit of menu surfing into the 3D setup allowed for a choice between VESA, DLP Link, or Off, as choices for 3D operation. After VESA 3D was enabled, the Blu-ray player immediately started playback and the glasses had no issues whatsoever with syncing up and working very well. To test the other options, DLP Link was enabled for 3D, and a set of very well regarded eStar 3D glasses were put to use and they seemed to actually look better than the Optoma glasses. The eStar glasses maintained better separation between the two halves of the image with better overall contrast and no visible color bias. For those who consider 3D an important part of their viewing experience, the HD50 did an impressive job overall.
When looking for a projector one of the first considerations is often whether it will work in the room they already have setup. The Optoma HD50 delivers a bit more than their lesser expensive models in this case. With a 1.5x zoom range, it delivers a 100" diagonal screen from between 10'1" and 15'3" lens to screen. This is a great throw distance for many typical rooms and the added range allows for both rear of room ceiling mounting as well as being placed between viewers on a low coffee table.
The Optoma HD50 has vertical lens shift that allows the image to be shifted up and down about 14% of the total image height. The manual isn't very specific on where this starts or ends, so measuring ahead of time will help, and having plenty of adjustment in your projector mount will be a big plus. In testing, with an image that is 50" tall (just over 100" diagonal), the bottom of the projected image started about 5" above the center of the lens (10% of image height), and could then be shifted upward 7.5" to about 12" (24% of image height) above the center of the lens. This equates to just about a 14% total lens shift range. So, if ceiling mounting a projector and the lens of the projector is 8" from the ceiling, with a 120" diagonal image the top of the image may be shifted down between about 6" to 15" from the center of the lens. This would be 14" to 23" from the top of the ceiling. Shooting for the center of that range is ideal and should be excellent for most rooms with 8' ceilings.
The projector itself offers a full set of standard inputs including: two HDMI ports, component video, composite video, and a 15-pin VGA connection. It has a VESA 3D port for external 3D synchronization and a 12 volt trigger port which can be used to control lights, drop a projection screen, or run a sled for an anamorphic lens. It has a USB port which was listed as providing power only. A standard 9-pin serial port is provided for RS-232 control from advanced home automation systems.
The projector supports external 3D glasses through a VESA port on the projector and the included VESA sync emitter, and 2 pairs of Optoma 3D glasses. It also offers 3D using DLP Link. The two may not be used at the same time, but if you already have a large collection of DLP Link glasses, you will be happy to know you have options.
The remote control is a backlit model. It features a bright blue backlit design which I found to be far brighter than necessary for use. The backlight goes out in a few seconds which can cause issues when trying to find a button in the dark, but while lit, the remote produces enough light to fall onto the screen with a blue tint, which can be troublesome when working near the screen. On the plus side it offers direct input access, power control, aspect ratio control, and one touch access to calibration settings for brightness, contrast, image presets, and other functions.
Excellent color, no rainbows. The Optoma HD50 light engine features a six-segment RGBRGB color wheel. Vendors no longer publish color wheel configurations or speeds, leaving buyers in the dark about how big of a problem DLP rainbow artifacts might be for them. The HD50 does a better job than other popular single chip DLP models in this regard. The use of the RGBRGB wheel does an excellent job of reducing the rainbow effect and allows for a more immersive home theater experience to those who are sensitive to rainbows. And the RGBRGB color wheel allows for optimum color saturation and accuracy.
The inclusion of a lens with a 1.5x zoom range covers the distance to allow for the use of a 2.35 aspect ratio screen if desired, and the projector allows for the image to be shifted digitally up/down to place a 2.35 image where it needs to go without adjusting the projector's height when changing between 2.35 and 1.78 aspect ratios. There are a lot of people who are determined to get a 2.35 screen, and want to be able to zoom in instead of purchasing a several thousand dollar anamorphic lens, so the ability to cover this in the zoom range and not have to buy an expensive lens is a nice bonus. It will still take some time and manual effort to switch between the two aspect ratios, but it can be done due to the longer zoom lens range and the inclusion of digital image shift.
Image Optimization. The Optoma HD50's has a PureEngine section in the menu that offers three option to enhance image quality from the source -- Ultra Detail to enhance sharpness, PureColor to enhance colors, and PureMotion to smooth motion. All three enhancements can be previewed using a preview window, and each has various settings, including turning the feature off.
Of the three PureEngine settings, Ultra Detail made one of the most significant improvements with the HD+ setting adding a nice sharpness to the image without introducing artifacts. PureColor did not enhance the viewing experience at all, and pushed colors away from their calibrated settings which took away from the viewing experience. PureMotion, often called creative frame interpolation, or CFI, was average on this projector. It did not produce as much of the soap opera, or digital video, effect as other projectors commonly have. If your preference is for the very crisp hyper-real digital video effect, then the Pure Motion engine won't deliver on that. Unfortunately, in low settings, fast action sequences would tend to be difficult for Pure Motion to handle cleanly. For slow pans of motion, the lowest setting did a very good job of cleaning up judder and smoothing the image. This was a nice plus in some movies, but faster action movies showed more unwanted artifacts. For most viewing, a pleasant experience was found using the low Pure Motion option.
Brightness. Our test sample delivered a measured 1,390 lumens in Bright mode with the lens at its widest angle position. Light levels dropped about 21% when the zoom was moved to its most telephoto position. In practical use, this drop is not very noticeable.
After calibration, and dropping the projector into low lamp mode, the calibrated brightness achieved was 860 lumens. This was plenty to light up a 160" diagonal image on a 1.3 gain screen in a darkened room with very good color, contrast, and shadow detail. On a neutral gain screen an image size of about 133" should be attainable with very good results.
Brightness uniformity. The HD50 has about 21% falloff in light output towards the corners of the image. In a white field viewing test, it was visibly darker towards all corners, with the most falloff in the upper right corner while the projector was table mounted. But this is apparent only on the white field test pattern. When viewing video, the light fall off was not visibly noticeable.
Contrast/black level. The HD50 delivers good blacks which were free of noise and renders nice detail separation in dark scenes in movies. The black levels leave a bit to be desired compared to more expensive home theater projectors, but they don't look gray or muddy, and performance is solid within this price class. Dynamic black (variable lamp output based on average light level in a scene) is an option on this projector. We did not use it for most viewing as it could occasionally produce a sudden darkening or lightening in the mid-point of viewing a scene. The black levels were certainly acceptable for watching movies or just enjoying cable television.
Image sharpness. The image was visibly sharp across the entire screen with solid pixel structure. A very slight softening appeared to the left side of the screen, but this was only visible when standing a couple of feet from the screen. While seated, the image appeared sharp across the entire screen.
Input lag. Input lag measured a very disappointing 129ms. Unfortunately, the HD50 does not offer any gaming modes that improve the lag time.
Input lag. The 129 ms lag is too slow for serious gaming. This equates to nearly 8 frames of delay and is is not acceptable for serious gamers, but the casual gamer may find it acceptable. There are many inexpensive projectors on the market that measure down around 33 ms or less and those would be better options if you take gaming results seriously.
Fan noise. The HD50 has an audible noise rating of 29 dB, which is higher than many home theater projectors. In general, when high pressure lamps are involved, the smaller the projector the louder it is, since there is less real estate in the casework to baffle the cooling fan. So there tends to be a trade off between fan noise and portability. And the relatively small form factor of the HD50 means that it can be heard, even in low lamp mode.
No onboard audio. Very few purpose-built home theater projectors have onboard audio because people are expected to use them with surround sound systems. But sometimes the smaller portable units have speakers. This one doesn't. This is not a limitation unless you intend to use it in a portable application.
Factory calibration. Out of the box calibration certainly could be a bit better from a projector of this class. The immediate need to go through some tweaking leaves a bit to be desired. While it can deliver an excellent image, it does take a bit of tweaking, and the competition, both more expensive, and less, is putting out projectors which often look excellent right out of the box.
The Optoma HD50 may come out of the box needing a few tweaks for best performance, but after those changes are made, the image quality is hard to match. The black levels appear a bit better than the lower priced competitors, and the lens quality makes for a sharper on-screen image as well. The projector has the brightness for some larger screen sizes, or can handle 3D nicely at more traditional screen sizes.
The lens is a real talking point since it not only offers good zoom range, but includes some lens shift to help deal with differences in ceiling heights and installations. The RGBRGB color wheel delivers the goods that every projector owner should expect. The high speed color wheel works to suppress rainbow artifacts and deliver a smooth gradient free image that you can get lost in.
The Optoma HD50 is a smart choice for those who want to get a bit more out of their home theater setup and want the speed and sharpness which DLP delivers better than most. It is a nice upgrade on the cheapest models on the market, and has the versatility to fit in many different sized rooms where other projectors won't fit. It has some room for growth and improvements, but if a step up from entry level is the goal, then the Optoma HD50 is a great place to look.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma HD50 projector page.