Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
At $999 street, the Optoma HD37 is a step up in price from the least expensive 1080p competition. It offers some conveniences, most notably a modest vertical lens shift, to justify the cost. But its main appeal is image quality suitable for a traditional home theater combined with both a brightness level that makes it a good choice for home entertainment and a lag time that makes it suitable for gamers.
One of the HD37's extras is support for ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) Certified day and night viewing modes. To take advantage of them, however, you need an ISF-certified technician to calibrate the projector, which will typically cost $250 or more. Optoma readily agrees that few people who are buying this inexpensive a projector are likely to get it calibrated, but you can if you want to.
Even without calibration, the HD37 scores well on image quality. Colors don't pop in theater-dark lighting the way they would with a high contrast ratio, but they're in the range of good to near excellent. And keep in mind that a higher contrast ratio doesn't do much with lights on. Ambient light in a living room will swamp out dark shades on screen, effectively lowering the contrast ratio in any case.
More generally, the projector handles color well. Skin tones and memory colors, like grass and blue sky, were well within the range of acceptable with all predefined modes in my tests. Color balance is excellent, with impressively neutral grays at all levels in all predefined modes.
I saw a slight loss of shadow detail in the most demanding scenes, but it was so minor that if you don't know what the scene should look like, you won't notice it. I also saw some moderately obvious noise with movies on DVD even with noise reduction at its top setting. I didn't see the problem with movies on Blu-ray discs.
For 3D, the projector delivers all the same strengths as with 2D for those aspects of image quality that both share, and it does a good job with issues specific to 3D as well. I saw no crosstalk and only a slight hint of 3D-related motion artifacts on scenes that tend to cause these problems.
For both 2D and 3D, I saw rainbow artifacts rarely enough in most scenes that it's hard to believe anyone would be bothered by them. The one exception was a black-and-white clip, where they showed too often for comfortable viewing.
One other potential issue is that if you're sensitive to fan noise you won't want to sit too close to the HD37. Optoma rates the noise at 29 dB in Eco mode. I didn't notice any obvious difference between Eco and Bright lamp settings, but noise is noticeably louder and a higher pitch in High Altitude mode, which Optoma recommends using above 5000 feet. Even in Eco mode, the whooshing white noise is audible ten feet from the projector. On the other hand, with the speaker volume set to a comfortable level, I didn't notice fan noise even from three feet away when watching movies.
Good connectivity. The HD37 offers all the connectors you should need.
- 2 HDMI (both with MHL)
- 1 VGA IN (for RGB or component)
- 1 RCA composite
- 1 USB A (for power out only)
- 1 Stereo mini plug IN (paired with the VGA port)
- 1 RCA stereo IN (paired with composite video input)
- 1 Stereo mini plug OUT
- 1 RS-232 (for external control)
- 1 Mini-B USB (service port)
- 1 12V trigger
- 1 Vesa 3D Sync port (for $49 optional emitter)
If you don't have room to set up the HD37 permanently, it's small enough to store away when you're not using it and set up quickly when you need it, at 7.8 pounds and 4.9" x 11.3" x 10.4" (HWD). Optoma even ships it with a soft carrying case you can store it in.
Setup is simple. The 1.5x zoom offers significant flexibility for how far you can put the projector from the screen for a given size image. Manual zoom and focus rings both offer sure control, making it easy to adjust image size and get crisp focus. For most of my tests, I set the lens at maximum wide-angle, for a 90" diagonal image at a 111" throw distance.
Also welcome is the vertical lens shift, controlled by a convenient adjustment wheel. Depending on the lens-shift setting, the vertical offset puts the bottom of the image higher than the midline of the lens by 10% to 24% of the image height. If you have to adjust the position by more than 14%, you can use the screw-on feet at the front and back to tilt the projector and then square off the image with the keystone adjustment. However, that's best avoided since it will eliminate the one-to-one pixel match between the 1920x1080 display and the HD1080 signal, which may slightly soften the image.
1.5 Zoom lens. The longer than average zoom lens for a DLP projector in this price range allows for placement of the projector anywhere from 12 to 18 feet from a 120" diagonal screen.
Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL). Both HDMI ports support MHL, both for media sticks--like a Chromecast stick--to stream content to the projector and for easy connection to MHL-enabled phones and tablets.
Vertical lens shift. The vertical lens shift is a significant convenience, and one that has not appeared on many lower-priced DLP projectors. It does not have extensive range, but having some is a lot better than none.
Supports both DLP-Link and RF 3D glasses. The HD37 works with both DLP-Link and Vesa RF 3D glasses, although it won't work with both at the same time, it doesn't come with any, and you need the optional RF emitter for the RF glasses. For my tests Optoma supplied its 144Hz DLP-Link model ($59 each). The glasses are unusually light, making them more comfortable than most, and they fit over standard glasses easily.
Capable audio. The 10-watt mono speaker suffers from some bottom-of-the-barrel echo effect, but the sound quality is good enough to make out almost every word of quietly spoken dialog in a particularly demanding test clip. The speaker also delivers enough volume to fill a small living room. If you need better quality, stereo, or higher volume, you can connect an external sound system to the stereo output.
Brightness. Optoma rates the HD37 at 2600 lumens, but all of its predefined settings, including Bright mode, come in at far lower levels, because Optoma rightly tweaks the settings for image quality rather than brightness.
With the lens at full zoom (wide angle) I measured the brightness in lumens at 1340 for the Bright predefined mode; an essentially identical 1336 for Cinema, which gives the best color quality; and 1082 for the lowest brightness predefined mode, called Reference. Setting the lamp to Eco mode drops the brightness by 23%, to a measured 1023 lumens with Cinema mode. With no zoom (full telephoto) and the lamp set to Bright, the brightest mode also drops by about 23%, to 1037 lumens.
The Brilliant Color option offers settings ranging from 1 to 10 with no 0 or Off. It's set to 10 by default for all modes except Reference, which is set to 1. However, changing the setting has very little effect. With Bright mode and a 100 IRE white test pattern, the difference in brightness between a setting of 1 and 10 is noticeable, but not dramatic, dropping the measurement from 1340 to 1084 lumens.
With a full color image, there's no noticeable difference in either brightness or color quality regardless of the setting. Much more important for color quality is that Optoma has tweaked the HD37 to make the color brightness close enough to white brightness with default settings in each mode so the difference doesn't have any noticeable effect on color.
Based on SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) recommendations, and assuming a 1.0-gain screen, even 1023 lumens is bright enough for a 125" to 169" diagonal image in theater dark lighting. In moderate ambient light, it's bright enough for a roughly 85" image. At 1340 lumens, the range jumps to 143" to 193" in theater dark lighting and about 95" with moderate ambient light.
Why does Optoma rate this product at 2600 lumens? Well, if you start with the Bright preset, go two levels down into the Advanced menu, and change the Color Temp setting from the default D65 to Native, the brightness jumps up to just under 2300 lumens, or very close to spec. This setting is similar to the Dynamic mode on competing products, and also the default setting for Bright mode if you connect by VGA rather than HDMI. You might find this useful if you need to boost brightness on an occasional basis in a bright room. However, colors are noticeably off with that setting. You wouldn't want to rely on it for regular home theater or home entertainment use.
Acceptable brightness uniformity. The measured brightness uniformity was 69%. That's enough variation that with a solid white image I could easily see that the bottom and left side were brighter than the top right. However the difference isn't noticeable when the image is broken up by any detail at all.
Input lag. The HD37's measured input lag was 33 milliseconds, or 2 frames at 60 fps. Although serious gamers may consider that too slow, it is fine for most casual gaming and typical of many DLP-based HT and gaming projectors in this price range.
Rear shelf mounting is a challenge. The upward throw angle will make rear shelf mounting difficult, since it will often require a significant tilt of the projector downward and correction with keystone. It is important to avoid placing the screen too high on a wall such that you are required to look up at it, as this will put a chronic strain on the neck. This can be avoided by choosing either a ceiling mount, or placing the projector on a low coffee table.
Fan noise higher than average. You probably will not want to place this unit between the seats, close to the audience. Fan noise is much louder yet in High Altitude mode, which is recommended for activation above 5000 feet.
Rainbow artifacts in black and white. The tendency to show rainbow artifacts easily with black-and-white material will likely be annoying to anyone who sees these artifacts easily and finds them bothersome.
Although the Optoma HD37 doesn't produce 2600 lumens in its best video modes, it's plenty bright enough to throw a large image in either a traditional home theater setting or a living room. Its tendency to show frequent rainbow artifacts with black-and-white content makes it best avoided if you see these artifacts easily and have a penchant for black-and-white movies. If that's not an issue, however, it has a lot to recommend it.
The vertical lens shift and 1.5x zoom help make setup easy; the MHL support promises to become increasingly useful for showing material from mobile devices and for connecting streaming media sticks; and the short lag time will help in any game where reaction time matters. Most important is that the HD37 does the basics well. The impressively good image quality for the price is enough by itself to make it a solid choice for entry level home theater. You can get current prices on the Optoma HD37 here.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma HD37 projector page.