Optoma ML1080ST 1080P DLP Laser Projector
  • Performance
  • 3.5
  • Features
  • Ease of Use
  • Value
Pros
  • RGB triple-laser light engine
  • Super-compact, portable size
  • Sharp 1080p image, accepts 4K content
  • Surpisingly good sound in Movie audio mode
  • Works well with Mac and PC
Cons
  • Misleading 1,200 lumen claim is for "HK lumens," measures 550 ANSI
  • Requires separately purchased Wi-Fi dongle for key features
  • Poor Bluetooth performance to external speaker
Our Take

The Optoma ML1080ST short throw and its longer throw sibling break new ground by being the smallest portable projector we've seen with a triple-laser RGB light engine. Its wide BT.2020 color gamut and decent out-of-box color accuracy makes it a good choice for road warriors making presentations or those seeking an unobtrusive installation for exhibit spaces or digital signage.

Optoma ML1080ST LeftFacing

The compact, 1,200 lumen-rated 1080p Optoma ML1080ST (550 ANSI) is a short throw laser projector priced at $1,149. This lamp-free DLP is super compact and lightweight—the smallest we've seen boasting an RGB triple-laser light engine. Complete with its own travel case, the projector can easily be traded between conference rooms, boardrooms, classrooms, or used as a travel projector for presentations. Its small footprint also means it more easily disappears in permanent installations. With its 1080p resolution, one could even use it at home, especially given the expanded BT.2020 color space, HDR/HLG support, and an excellent audio mode optimized for movie viewing. With its light engine lifespan of up to 30,000 hours, you wouldn't have to worry about it pulling double duty at home and the office.

While the ML1080ST is tiny, its size isn't indicative of its prowess. It can project a 100-inch image from less than 6 feet away, and it is bright enough to be used during the day with the shades drawn (semi-darkened room). In addition to the environments mentioned above, it may be useful for retail and museum applications. It features 360-degree projection, portrait projection, auto focus and auto keystone for installation flexibility. Optoma has even built in some basic digital signage capabilities. And if a short throw lens won't do the trick for your needs, the company offers the ML1080, which is the same projector with a standard throw lens, priced at $999.

As for competition, with the projector being so small and portable, there's nothing quite like it this at this size with an RGB light source. But, even just pricing- and lumens-wise, the pickings are slim. The Viewsonic LS740HD, a commercial projector I evaluated for an upcoming review, can be considered competition by virtue of price point. It's $1,099, making it just a tad less expensive than the Optoma ML1080ST, and it has some similar features, like 24/7 operation, 360-degree orientation, and a portrait mode. It is a 1080p single-laser projector that accepts 4K content and adds Wi-Fi features via a wireless dongle. Trade offs? It is larger by quite a bit, as it is an installation projector rather than a portable, with dimensions at 11.25 x 5.07 x 8.5 x inches (WHD), doesn't have the ML1080ST's wide color gamut, and it has a traditional 1.3X long throw zoom lens rather than being a short throw. But it is far brighter, coming in at a measured 4,783 ANSI lumens (on a 5,000-lumen claim).

Optoma ML1080ST Lifestyle1 hand

A more competitive option might be the uniquely-shaped JMGO N1. Priced at $999, it is also a 1080p, RGB triple laser projector, rated at 800 CVIA lumens. It offers similarly wide color gamut to the ML1080 series with a 110% BT.2020 rating, handles HDR, and it is good for gaming. It is fairly loaded with features, with an integrated gimbal stand and a Dynaudio audio experience. The projector also boasts integrated wireless networking, full HD 3D, auto focus/keystone, an Android OS, streaming apps, Google Assistant, and, like the ML1080ST, comes in a soft carrying case. But while it is relatively compact at 7.36 x 6.49 x 7.51 inches (WHD) and weighing 4.4 pounds, it is still considerably larger and about twice the weight of the Optoma ML1080ST.

Features

The Optoma ML1080ST is a compact, low-cost laser projector that, when paired with its separate Wi-Fi dongle, has features that work for many types of business and education applications. It's also got an edge to it that makes it suitable for home use. To begin, it's a native 1080p-resolution (1920x1080) DLP projector with a 0.23-inch DMD chip. Its sealed light engine offers IP5X dust resistance and a lifespan of up to 30,000 hours in Eco Mode.

Be advised, though, that the 1,200 lumen claim of brightness advertised on the projector's spec sheet, with no measurement technique specified, is not for ANSI lumens, but rather for "HK lumens" based on Optoma's claim of perceived brightness. The HK refers to the Helmholtz-Kohlrausch Effect, where the human eye perceives highly saturated colors to be brighter under some circumstances. This is basically the laser projector equivalent to "LED lumens," which some manufacturers have used to describe the brightness of LED projectors, often attributing a number that is double or more the ANSI reading. Optoma says the actual ANSI lumens spec for the ML1080ST and ML1080 is 550, and it measured on target for that number.

Optoma ML1080ST RtFacingwStand

The projector is tiny. It's extremely portable, and even comes with an attractive gray travel case that would fit perfectly in a carry-on, making it an excellent choice for those who present on the road. At just 2.2 lbs and measuring 6.18 x 2.68 x 5.3 inches (WHD), it takes up about as much space as a small toiletry kit. This compact size makes the Optoma easy to move around between classrooms, conference rooms, and boardrooms, or take on the road for presentations. If used as a mounted installation projector in a retail, restaurant, or museum environment, the ML1080ST takes up little space and is inconspicuous.

The ML1080ST is a short throw projector with a fixed lens of 0.78:1 throw ratio, so placement determines how large or small the image will be. You can use our ProjectorCentral Optoma ML1080ST Throw Distance Calculator to find out where you should place it in your specific environment. The projector is rated for 16:9 images from 60 to 100 inches diagonal. A 60-inch image is achieved with the lens 3 feet-5 inches from the screen, while a 100-inch image is achieved with a 5 feet-8 inch throw. The great benefit of a short throw projector is that its close proximity to the screen or projection surface reduces the potential for shadows caused by traffic in front of the projected image. The projector has an eye protection sensor on the front that can be set in the menu to turn off the laser momentarily when someone crosses in front of the projector. I found this incredibly annoying during the review process but there is definite value in it for a classroom or retail environment, or at home when children are around.

Though it has a fixed zoom, the ML1080ST has decent placement flexibility and features that aid in installation for a variety of applications. The bottom of the projector has a small kickstand to tilt it upward, and is good quality. There is also a thread on the bottom for mounting on a tripod. It has a digital zoom that can shrink the image size if needed. The Auto Focus feature is convenient, especially if you're carting the projector around. It quickly focuses the lens with next to no effort on your part. You can turn this off, or leave it on and then manually fine tune using the remote.

In the menu, the Auto Focus Adjustment tells you exactly how far the projector is from the projection surface, and that you need to place it within 80-150 cm (2.6 to 4.9 feet). I had it out of range to test this, and it told me the projector was at 271 cm (8.9 feet). It was still focused, though not as sharply as when it is placed within the specified range.

Auto Keystone aligns the image when the projector is off-axis, so the trapezoid shape becomes nicely rectangular once again, automatically. Keystone correction this projector is ±30 degrees horizontal and vertical for auto, and manual adds another 10 degrees for a total of ±40 degrees. The ML1080ST can project from the front or rear, and be ceiling or table mounted.

As with many laser projectors, the ML1080ST offers 360-degree orientation, a feature that is useful in unique installations such as art and museum installations, and may come in particularly handy given the potential creative applications for such a compact projector. It also has Portrait Projection, which is exactly as it sounds, allowing the projected image to be oriented in portrait (9:16, 1080x1920) rather than landscape (16:9, 1920x1080), a rather useful feature in digital signage, another application where the ML1080ST might find a home.

Optoma ML1080ST wBag

This projector supports both HDR10 and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) high dynamic range content, as well as BT.2020 wide color gamut. Optoma claims full coverage of the BT.2020 color space, and when we measured it on our end, we found the ML1080ST achieved 121.4% BT.2020 in its HDR picture mode. Impressive, and more on that later. The projector also has PureMotion, Optoma's proprietary term for their frame interpolation, giving smooth motion to fast-action visuals like sports.

In the menu, there's an option to turn on Digital Signage. This gives access to the different settings that you can use to control what is basically a slide show of your advertisements, infographics, media, or whatever you wish to display. It requires a USB-C drive with a folder called Signage, where all those files you want to use are stored. You then insert the USB drive and reboot the projector to make it work. There is an Image Interval setting that allows you to set the time between slides from 5 seconds to 60 seconds, in increments of 5, so you can get the right pacing for your signage. Image Display Effect has five settings: Fade In/Out, Slide Right, Slide Left, Zoom In/Out, Off.

The onboard File Manager supports Google Drive and OneDrive. It has cloud storage and internal storage with Collections for Images, Videos, Document, and Music. You can create new folders and upload files to be stored.

The projector supports Wi-Fi, but requires purchase of a Wi-Fi dongle that is not included. The dongle is the EZC-USB and it's not an easy one to track down. Web searches resulted in a lot of "out of stock" or "call for stock," messages at various retailers, and some results on Google that seem like the right dongle were actually for an earlier model. So be conscious of that when seeking it out. Eventually, Optoma sent me a dongle, which was important because there are a fair amount of features that do not work without it. For example, you can't access the Marketplace app to download streaming apps, or use the Browser feature, or the screen-mirroring functions. Also, oddly enough, the Bluetooth audio functions are disabled without the WiFi dongle.

Optoma ML1080ST dongle2
The EZC-USB Wi-Fi dongle is required for several features but must be purchased separately.

Once you have the dongle in hand, it connects easily via the USB Type-A port on the side of the projector. In the Settings menu, which can be accessed by pressing the Home button on the remote control, you can select the Wi-Fi network to connect to. That went off without a hitch. There are a host of streaming apps available via the Marketplace, including the major players like Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, and Max. Some additional apps include Crunchyroll, Plex, BBC News, TED, SpotifyTV, SPV TV, a few Chinese and Russian apps, Twitter (now X), The Wall Street Journal, TuneIn Radio, and others. I initially didn't see a YouTube app in the Marketplace, but Optoma reported afterward that it's there in the guise of a 4K-compatible YouTube client for Android TV called Smart Tube Next. Upon launching the app, there are plenty of full length videos and YouTube shorts to browse. I also tried accessing YouTube through the Browser app, which works well.

The Browser app is under Additional Apps on the Home screen. Using the remote to navigate the browser with the directional arrow keys is a bit touchy, but nothing you can't get used to. The cursor can be nudged in a grid-like pattern across the screen, and that's good for selecting the search bars on the Browser and Google search, as well as selecting specific search queries. Scrolling up and down can be a bit intense, so that nudging will come in handy.

Screen mirroring is achieved by using the Creative Cast app, which you will need to have downloaded on your phone. Selecting Creative Cast on the Home screen brings up a code that you enter in the app once you connect to the projector. It's easy, and the casting works. When using the projector's speakers, you can watch videos that have audio, but music is dicey unless used in Audio Only mode (accessible by hitting the Power button on the remote). It worked with Spotify for me, but not Apple Music.

I found the Bluetooth function for connecting a Bluetooth speaker was unusable. It paired easily with the speaker but the connection was spotty when playing YouTube or Spotify from my phone; the sound was extremely stuttered. This was remedied while watching Netflix from an HDMI source, with no stuttering and good sound quality from the Bluetooth speaker, but the dialogue was severely out of sync, as can happen with Bluetooth due to the latency. I found no option in the menu to adjust the sync, so any attempt to use an outboard Bluetooth speaker was basically a bust.

On the other hand, the projector's Audio Only mode was great. It allows you to stream from your phone to the onboard speaker. It requires you to connect your phone via Bluetooth, and for that Wi-Fi dongle to be plugged in and connected to a network. Music from Spotify sounded amazing, no issues, and videos from Instagram and YouTube were synced. Apple Music still can't be played, so know that Apple Music seems to be incompatible with this projector.

There are four modes for the 3-watt mono speaker: Auto, Standard, Movie, and Game. Movie mode sounds so much better than I expected for a projector this size. Powerful, with decent bass—quite honestly the best on-board speaker I've heard on a compact projector of this size, and certainly one of the better ones for business and education applications. The sound is robust enough to fill a medium to medium-large room, but I'd have the volume at full blast. If the room isn't quiet, however, I would choose this for a more medium-sized room. The Standard and Game audio modes are decent as well, though Movie has my vote as the best mode for movie and video viewing, as well as gaming. Consider me impressed.

There's a USB Type-A port that powers dongles, such as a Google Chromecast, as well as a Type-C for image display. Both of those can handle 4K at 60Hz. The single HDMI 2.1 port can handle a 4K signal up to 120Hz. There's also a separate USB Type-A for the Wi-Fi dongle. The projector is powered by USB Type-C, and has a 3.5mm jack for hooking up external speakers or headphones, as well as a Mini USB for RS232 command and control. The projector also has HDMI-CEC capability.

Optoma ML1080 remote

The remote control is compact and lightweight. It has a simple button configuration. The top section has the Power, Source, Home, Menu, and Return buttons. The navigational arrows surrounding the Enter button separate the top section from the bottom. The bottom section has the Volume +/- and Mute buttons, as well as buttons for Display Mode and the App Menu.

Something cool about this particular model of projector and its long-throw version is that they are built with sustainability in mind. They are crafted from 50% post-consumer recycled (PCR) material, and the packaging is up to 99% recyclable. These models have been recognized by the Red Dot Design, Green Good Design and IF Design award programs. In a world where many of us are looking to reduce our carbon footprint, considerations like this go a long way.

Optoma supplies the ML1080ST projector in its attractive grey travel case, with the power brick and cable, a remote with a battery, a USB-C to RS232 adapter, and a quick start guide. A digital manual can be downloaded from Optoma or ProjectorCentral's ML1080ST database page. Optoma offers a 1-year limited warranty on the projector, and 1-year or 20,000 hour (whichever comes first) warranty on the light source.

Performance

Color Modes. The Optoma ML1080ST has eight color modes: Vivid, HDR/HLG, Cinema, Game, Bright, WCG, AI-PQ, and Presentation. Though we don't typically measure the color for a small portable projector like this, given its unusual RGB design we used Calman calibration software from Portrait Displays to measure the color gamut and check out the out-of-box color accuracy for the various picture modes. Those findings are below for the techies, along with my on-screen observations.

Optoma ML1080ST front top

Vivid Mode. True to its name, Vivid mode is high in saturation and brightness, and measured at 547 ANSI lumens, which is just a few lumens shy of the brightest mode. It uses the Cool color temperature and Graphics gamma setting as its defaults and showed an unusually even balance between the red-green-blue elements that make up its white. The out-of-box gamma measured 1.4, so it's obviously geared for a brighter room environment.

Setting gamma to "Standard (2.2)" caused the Vivid mode to track the traditional dim-room 2.2 gamma perfectly, and the white balance errors were lower here. The color temperature measurement came in at 6,297K, relatively close to the industry-standard D65 (6500K) neutral gray. However, the gamut color points in Vivid go well beyond Rec.709 boundaries.

Setting gamma to 2.2 and the color temperature to Cold actually brings correlated color temperature to 6,510K with a 2.2 gamma reading, but it pushes the white into red-blue territory. Vivid with color temperature Cold and 2.4 gamma yields same results for white balance and the color points, but does track a 2.4 gamma target perfectly.

What does this translate to on screen? With Vivid mode in its default settings the reds, oranges and pinks on the color wheel were vibrant, almost too much so, especially when it comes to the purest red. You can really see this when projecting something like a Coke can or a stop sign.

In some images of a Coke can, the can looks flat due to an oversaturation of the reds. If the image has some good reflections in the can where you can really see the metal, it should look perfectly fine. But that's entirely up to the photography, the graphic design, and must be taken into account when it comes to your specific application and if you wish to use this mode.

Yellows are a bit bright, too, in Vivid, but in general, this mode does well on yellows. Images of sunflowers look great, and lemons, which did lose definition in some images, fared well in most of all the photos I projected. Skin tones looked decent enough when using this mode, with a favoring toward yellow. The other colors on the color wheel (blues, purples, greens) all looked as I would expect them to on a mode like this, which is to say, vivid.

Optoma ML1080ST Lifestyle2 gamer slider2

Cinema Mode. Cinema mode measured 495 lumens. Out of the box default for Cinema mode uses the Standard color temperature, but resulted in a low (reddish) measured color temperature, around 5500K. Cold color temp actually came closest to D65 at around 6350K, and visually, you can see that it looks better on both modes if you toggle through the color temperature options. Whites and the overall picture are much less excessively red with the Cold color temp.

The best option for viewing 1080p movie content in a dark environment ended up being Cinema with the Cold color temperature setting and 2.4 gamma. You could also choose Film or 2.2 for gamma, as some dark shadow detail does get lost at 2.4 gamma. Film gamma option tracked a 2.2 gamma curve very nicely, but the 2.4 gamma setting also nicely tracked the 2.4 Calman target.

The same photos of lemons I used as references for yellow in the Vivid were much more muted in Cinema mode. Not true-to-life yellow, but it is attractive. The intensity of the red that oversaturates the Coke cans and makes them look flat in Vivid doesn't occur as much in this mode. Their dimensionality is better preserved and they're recognizable as round.

On the color wheel, the colors look pleasantly desaturated from Vivid mode, but not so desaturated that they don't look natural. The only color that I take any issue with in this mode are the shades of orange, which all look like orange sherbet rather than the deeper orange on the control color wheel.

This mode does beautifully on skin tones. I'll speak more on that in the video viewing quality section, but skin tones looked natural, soft, and favored a subtle pinker/red tone in Cinema mode, which can be toned down with the color Saturation control if need be.

Optoma ML1080ST Lifestyle3 kid

Game Mode. Game mode measured 485 lumens. Its defaults are the Standard color temperature and 1.8 gamma. It tracked gamma okay, but the color temperature and gamut color points looked pretty awful, leaning excessively red. Not surprisingly, the color temperature measured a low 5,000K. Changing the color temperature to Cold and gamma to 2.4 looked very good. The color temperature measured 6,590K, though the white point showed a deficiency of green. The gamma tracked a perfect 2.4 in the measurements.

In its defaults, the Game mode visually mode is pretty desaturated. It does give a nice, natural look to some skin tones, while others can look washed out. It's a higher contrast mode than Cinema due to the low gamma setting, which I would expect on a game mode that is intended pull out shadow detail. This higher contrast does bring back the issue with the reds on the Coke can, though not as bad as Vivid mode. Lemons look good enough to eat when projected by this mode, exceptionally natural.

On the color wheel, purples and blues are quite desaturated in Game mode, and the brightest shades of either red or yellow don't have much differentiation among them. Greens look okay, not anything crazy.

Bright Mode. Bright mode, the brightest offered, measured at 550 lumens. The brightest mode for any projector always sacrifices color for brightness, usually being intensely green, yellow, or a combination of both. Greens and blue-greens on the color wheel are vibrant in Bright mode. Green looked more of a lime green than the natural sort of grass green it had been in other modes. Blue greens also went from nicely teal to brightly aqua. Yellows were a bit muddy. Reds are intensely bright and shifted toward pink.

Luckily, the muddy yellow doesn't make the lemons look bad at all. The red of the Coke cans looks the worst of all the modes, flatter than Vivid makes them look. They're also kind of pink.

I checked out some images of grass and foliage to see about those greens. Most grass looked way vibrant and not natural at all, but some images, images of grass that were desaturated or of grass that isn't as healthy, looked natural. So, it really just depends. Same goes for trees, though most photos didn't have the same gasp factor as the grass.

Skin tones looked fine in Bright mode. That's saying something. Most of the time, bright modes don't do any favors for skin. You could easily use this mode in a pinch where you need to extract the maximum possible light from the projector, even if you're projecting content with people. The ML1080ST even has some basic color controls for tint and color saturation, so you may even be able to achieve better color from this mode. Still, I'd probably opt for Vivid over this one, since the measurements are so close.

WCG Mode. WCG stands for Wide Color Gamut, and this mode provides a wider range of colors. As such, the ability of this mode to handle every color, and every shade of that color, is higher than the others. It measured 495 lumens.

The only color spectrum I had an issue with are the blue-greens. They look good, but they're meant to be a bit closer to blue, and when projected by this mode, they are more of a minty green. Still pretty, and it shouldn't make too much of a difference in most applications. This is the best mode if you're going for color and pop.

That said, some images of Coke cans still showed over saturation, but most look great. I'd say this mode does as well as Cinema on that, if not degrees better. The lemons look pretty much like they would if you cut one open in your kitchen or plucked one off a tree. The great thing about this mode is that you can see more details of the lemons, like the porous nature of the skin.

Speaking of skin, skin tones look fantastic. Like Cinema mode, WCG makes skin tones of all types look natural, glowing, and soft. Trees, other foliage, and grass looks natural, too, not oversaturated, so this may be a mode for you if projecting such things.

Presentation Mode. Presentation mode is designed for presentations in business and education environments and measured 516 lumens. Immediately, it was obvious that this mode is the most desaturated. In some cases, this just won't do for presenting.

If color is of great importance, this won't be your first choice. You'll notice that most colors are soft, kind of a pastel color. Red is the only vibrant color of the lot. That-blue green color is mint again, though absolutely a pastel mint.

The Coke cans look pretty good, not much oversaturation to speak of. Lemons are a soft, pastel yellow, with some desaturation. They still look nice, but not as they should. I think it's a matter of preference and need for brightness when it comes to choosing between some of these modes, especially since they're so close in brightness.

Nature looks incredible. There's something about desaturation that does that for images of nature. Skin tones look good with desaturation as well, though, in some cases, skin tones are a little dull. It's good enough for presenting images and presentations with people in the slides, or plain documents.

Optoma ML1080ST front

HDR/HLG Mode. This color mode is available when HDR/HLG content is being sent to the projector, as is the case when playing a 4K UHD Blu-ray, playing 1080p or 4K UHD HDR/HLG games, or streaming 4K UHD video. The computer I use only outputs 1080p, so I was not able to observe for color in the same way as the other modes (with the color wheel, coke cans, lemons, etc.), but I discuss this mode extensively in the Video Viewing section of this review. It didn't track the standard HDR PQ EOTF (gamma curve) well in the HDR measurements, and color points were well outside the BT2020 marks.

AI-PQ Mode. AI-PQ is extremely vibrant, more so than any other mode. This mode is said to use AI to process face and scene recognition in real time to optimize image quality. This mode is the only other mode besides HDR/HLG available for HDR/HLG signals and measured 526 lumens. In the measurements, AI-PQ mode showed an even wider spread for the color points than HDR/HLG mode and had similar PQ gamma tracking. In keeping with this finding, AI-PQ was the biggest culprit for displaying oversaturated reds. Almost all the Coke cans I viewed, even ones that hadn't been affected by other modes, were oversaturated and rendered spatially flat in this one. The greens of the trees, grass, and other types of foliage were intense and not natural at all.

Even so, most skin tones look good, though there were a few cases where skin looked too pink, like a magenta sunburn, or entirely too orange. Those were the fault of the photo editor; i.e., the issue was in the source, not the display. If done right, a color corrected photo or video will not look like that in this mode. But it is something to be aware of.

Presentation Viewing. The ML1080ST worked well with both PC and Mac computers, which is a major plus since I often have trouble with projectors playing nice with my Mac. I used my Mac Mini to project presentation slides, infographics, documents, and websites at 1080p in multiple modes. While Bright mode is the brightest mode, you can get much better color in Vivid mode with just a few lumens less. It's capable of cutting through some ambient light during the day, but not direct ambient light. During the day, it looks best when the shades are drawn and lights are out. It doesn't have to be a fully darkened room to work well for these kinds of business and education applications, but I wouldn't recommend a bright room.

You'd think Presentation would be the best mode for presentation viewing, but I can't get behind the desaturated tones for presentation slides and infographics. Not when there are other modes to choose from to get more accurate colors. It is muted and lackluster. It is also 516 lumens to Vivid's 547. That's not a huge difference exactly, but with these numbers, you should take all the lumens you can get for daytime viewing. Vivid gives the kind of pop and wow you want to see on your presentations, and even documents have a beautiful look, though there may be no color in the content to speak of. This mode, however, does have those vibrant reds and yellows with less contrast between the colors at the brighter end of the spectrum.

There may be some cases where you simply can't use Vivid mode, like if your content has a yellow background and white text. It may depend on the font, but in general, I found it to be a bit much. The same goes for red backgrounds with white text, but it's not as bad. The WCG mode improves upon this drastically, and is truly a gorgeous mode, so if your presentations require a more true-to-color experience, this may be the mode to choose.

Text, whether in small, thin fonts, or larger, bold fonts, is all readable. The only real trouble I had was with those color combinations, and yellow font on white. In all those cases, the font was highly thin. There is also a bit of laser speckle that can be seen on those oversaturated reds, but more on that later. Suffice it to say I didn't find it particularly horrendous, just something to note. Presentations were projected at 60 inches, which provided good brightness given the lumen count.

Video Viewing. Along with adjustments for color temperature and gamma, there are the usual modest picture controls to tweak the image. You can work with Brightness, Contrast, and Sharpness, as expected, along with Tint and color Saturation. The projector has a Dynamic Contrast setting, which can be on or off, and I kept it off most of the time.

This projector could easily be used as a home entertainment projector as well as for business and education applications, as 1080p, downscaled 4K UHD, and gaming content are all satisfactory. The Movie audio mode in the audio settings also makes it so the ML1080ST doesn't absolutely need an external speaker.

1080p Content. The best mode when it comes to dark room movie viewing is Cinema, though you'll want to turn off PureMotion (motion smoothing that's good for sports viewing) to get rid of the soap opera effect. Skin tones are very warm in this mode, and this can be fixed by changing the color temperature to Cold and bringing the color Saturation down to around the minus 10 mark or thereabouts depending on the content. The movie Uncharted looked good in both bright scenes and dark. Scenes with a lot of sunlight, where there is potential for the projector to blow out the whites, were handled well. Dark scenes were reproduced well. In a dark room at night, the projector really shines.

With Blade Runner 2049, there are many dark scenes and neon highlights, which looked great in Cinema mode. I really enjoyed the contrast, and am impressed that this little laser projector is capable of the color it reproduces, as well as the detail and sharpness of the image. Netflix content, like Peaky Blinders, The Witcher, Squid Game, and other shows also look best in Cinema mode.

Optoma ML1080ST aerial leftfacing

Other 1080p content, like YouTube videos and videos viewed in browser windows via a computer, looked good. You could use WCG, Cinema, or Vivid, depending on your preferences. If you need more lumens, use Vivid, and know that the reds will be highly saturated. Luckily, all the modes measure within a decent range of each other in terms of brightness, so you'll probably have your pick of the litter here.

It is necessary to mention that there definitely is a detectable laser speckle artifact over the image with the ML1080ST, which is common to different degrees with discrete RGB laser projectors. It is a subtle effect that looks a lot like a digital film grain, but appears layered over the content rather than within the content itself. It didn't bother me much personally, I was more focused on the content itself, and continually found myself immersed in the films, forgetting about the laser speckle altogether. But this artifact is there no matter what kind of content you're viewing, and some people may be more sensitive to it.

4K Content. Per our measurements, our Optoma ML1080ST sample delivered more than 120% of the full BT.2020 color gamut, which is unusual to see in a projector this portable and inexpensive, though full BT.2020 coverage is a typical claim for discrete RGB triple laser projectors. There are two modes available when projecting 4K HDR content from a Blu-ray player or media player: HDR and AI-PQ. There is no dedicated HDR brightness control to adjust the projector's tone-mapping for different HDR programs, though alternate Gamma settings are available along with other basic picture controls.

Based on my viewing, HDR/HLG is the one to go with for 4K HDR10 content. The ML1080ST works pretty well when gamma is set to 2.2 and Saturation is turned down in the range of minus 13 to 15. This brings the reds into the realm of reality while still giving some punch, though skin tones are still a little warm in some cases. In others, they look nice and soft; it depends on the content. In The Meg, an extremely bright HDR movie, I found skin tones to look more natural, if a little too similar among actors, than they did in Jurassic World Dominion, where they appeared warmer. That movie is, in general, a warmer-tinted film.

Optoma ML1080ST Lifestyle4 theater

The Meg is a film that challenges HDR tone mapping on any HDR projector, with the sunny open water scenes and shark cage drop scene typically looking blown out even on the darkest HDR brightness tone-map settings. The projector did decently, with those scenes being within an acceptable range for me. This projector gives a pretty even look to 4K HDR10 content, though I found Jurassic World Dominion to be too dark with gamma set to 2.2 and set it to 2.0 instead. Gamma set to 2.2 was fine for The Meg. So, play with the settings a bit, and see what works for your content.

Video Games (1080p/60 fps). Along with a Game picture mode, the ML1080ST has a Gaming Mode setting with two options: On, or ALLM for Auto Low Latency Mode, which should automatically detect game play from compatible sources and activate the projector's low-input lag capabilities. With Game Mode turned on, the input lag measured a respectable 23.6 milliseconds, which isn't as low as gaming projectors that can do 16 ms or less, but is still suitable for pretty serious gaming.

If your game has HDR available, and it's enabled on the gaming console, the HDR mode is the only color mode that will be available when you start your game. While it looked gorgeous projecting Hogwarts Legacy, I found it to be too dim and dark for playing in the daytime. Nighttime gaming is another story. Most games will likely have HDR, so be mindful of this, and turn it off if the room environment isn't right for the mode so you can access the others.

The best overall picture mode for gaming was the Game mode. The default for gamma is set to 1.8, which doesn't have the best black levels or dark shadow detail but does bring out shadow detail if you need that for game play or need help in the face of ambient light. In a dark room environment, you may want those black levels for a more engaging image, and settting the gamma to 2.0 or 2.2 deepens them. Game mode does give a slightly desaturated look, which bothered me at first.

I did tried using Vivid for gaming but it was ghastly. It looked good at first, until I had a closer look, checking out the menus, where the colors were really, really off. The skewed colors were too much for me to recommend using this mode, even with tweaking to Standard color temperature (default is Cool), which does help, but not enough, in my opinion. You'd also have to turn off PureMotion because that is terrible to play with. WCG mode looks almost identical to Game mode on gaming content.

Gameplay itself was pleasurable with Game Mode active. There were no issues to speak of. In Hogwarts Legacy, gameplay is fast paced when battling dark wizards and beasts, and you must be quick on the draw with spell casting and button hits. Exploring the world on your broom or Hippogriff, the open world renders rapidly. There was no noticeable lag within the game or with the projector.

Conclusion

The $1,149 Optoma ML1080ST is an inexpensive, compact laser projector that is a great size to use as a travel projector, especially with its included carrying case. It does 120% of the BT.2020 expanded color space, has HDR, and decently accurate color in multiple modes. Though it doesn't visually reach the claim of 1,200 perceived lumens in my estimation, its 550 ANSI lumens does appear somewhat brighter than that number thanks to the Helmholtz-Kohlrausch Effect, and the image is nice and punchy if you don't overdo it on size or ambient light. The projector performs admirably well as a gaming projector thanks to its relatively low input lag, and the ML1080ST can absolutely double as a home theater/entertainment projector in its most accurate modes. Even its little built-in speaker proved surprisingly effective in its Movie audio mode. The ML1080ST's effective auto-focus and auto-keystone to speed temporary setups are more icing on the cake.

On the down side, the requirement to buy a separate Wi-Fi dongle to activate several key features is disappointing, especially since the device doesn't seem readily available for purchase online, even if you want to add it as an accessory when you buy the projector. Another negative was the stuttering and syncing issues when trying to Bluetooth out to a wireless speaker.

Nonetheless, assuming you add the dongle, this Optoma would work for business and education environments where ambient light isn't a huge concern, and where its highly portable form factor would be of value. Ditto for those situations where its ability to deliver intense, saturated colors from a small box would make a serious impression. If you're looking for a highly compact, highly affordable laser projector with respectable image quality and some unique capabilities, consider adding this little triple-laser Optoma to your short list.

Measurements

Brightness. Optoma claims the ML1080ST's brightness is 1,200 lumens, but they do not specify any measurement technique used in their published specification. It turns out these are "HK lumens," which refers to the Helmholtz-Kohlrausch Effect, the phenomenon where the human eye perceives colors with high saturation to be brighter than they measure. So 1,200 lumens is an estimate by Optoma based on how they think this projector compares against a lamp-based projector that measured 1,200 ANSI lumens. HK lumens is basically an equivalent to "LED lumens" that are sometimes applied to LED projectors.

Though this is not a totally uncommon practice, to make a lumen claim based on perceived rather than measured brightness, the estimates are rarely visually accurate, especially across different people who may perceive color differently. In this case, the ML1080ST did appear in some instances to be much brighter than its rated and measured 550 ANSI lumens would imply, and it was able at times to cut through moderate ambient light with bright content and presentation materials. But it was not in my estimation putting out the equivalent of 1,200 ANSI lumens when projecting dark movie scenes during the day. The projector is best suited for rooms where you can mostly darken or completely darken the space. If you're projecting a film with lots of dark scenes, definitely darken the room, or project at night.

Optoma ML1080ST ANSI Lumens

Color Mode Bright Eco Eco Plus
Bright 550 361 144
Vivid 547 371 113
Cinema 495 330 82
Game 485 309 113
WCG 495 309 82
AI-PQ 526 351 123
Presentation 516 340 123

Brightness Uniformity.The ML1080ST's brightness uniformity measured a very good 80%. There is noticeable laser speckle, however, which looks almost like fine digital film grain situated in a layer hovering over the content. It's most noticeable when up close, but not too bad when viewed from further back at normal viewing distance. I didn't find it to be distracting in this case.

Fan Noise. The rated fan noise for the Optoma ML1080ST is between 24 dBa and 28 dBa using the 6-point averaged industry-standard measurement in a soundproof booth. Our casual single-point measurement for the projector's fan noise in a quiet room, taken in the projector's most powerful Bright light mode, came in at at 30.9 dBa, while Eco came in at 28.7 dBa and Eco Plus measured 26.4 dBa. That's quiet, even the loudest mode is quieter than some home theater projectors. The fan noise should not be distracting from the content, even if there is no audio accompanying the images projected. The High Altitude mode measured 37.7 dBa whether the projector was in Bright, Eco, or Eco Plus.

Input Lag. As mentioned in the review, the ML1080 has a Gaming Mode option in the menu, not to be confused with the Game picture mode, that reduces input lag. With a 1080p/60Hz signal, lag measured an excellent 23.6 ms, which is suitable for all but the most competitive gaming, and retail and museum environments with controlled lighting could use it for gaming experiences. With Game Mode inactive, lag measured a horrendous 130.9 ms.

Connections

Optoma ML1080ST connections Optoma ML1080ST connections2
  • USB Type-A Power Out (For multi-media pen drive, 4K/60Hz)
  • HDMI 2.1 (4K/120Hz)
  • USB Type-C (Image Display, 4K/60Hz)
  • USB Type-C Power Input
  • Audio-Out (3.5mm)
  • USB Type-A Power Out (For WiFi dongle/multi-media pen drive)
  • Mini USB (For RS232)

For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma ML1080ST projector page.

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