Optoma H30 0 1 SVGA DLP Projector
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Highly Recommended Award

Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.

Price
$1,499 MSRP Discontinued

The new Optoma H30 is currently one of the strongest competitors in the economy class home theater projector market. It is one of the lowest priced DLP-based video projectors, and certainly the first one under $1500, to feature a six-segment color wheel with a 4x rotation speed. It has received a lot of attention for this feature alone. After putting it through its paces in the lab, we find this unit to be a superb value for the money. It will be the right choice for many first time home theater enthusiasts.

Product Overview

Specifications. 800 ANSI lumens, 2000:1 contrast, 800x600 native resolution, native 4:3 aspect ratio, single-chip DLP with 6-segment, 4x wheel rotation speed.

Compatibility. HDTV 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i, and computer resolutions up to SXGA (1280x1024). NTSC, PAL, SECAM.

Lens and throw distance. Manual zoom and focus with a moderate 1.2x zoom range. A 100" diagonal 4:3 image is obtained in the range of about 12 to 14 feet. If you opt for a 16:9 screen format, a 100" 16:9 screen can be filled from a distance of about 13 to 15 feet.

Lamp. 180W P-VIP lamp with 2000-hour lamp life. Replacement lamp is $399 retail, which is typical for this class of product.

Connection panel. Located on the rear of the unit. Compared to projectors specifically designed for home theater, connectivity on this unit is limited. There is one 15-pin VGA port through which all component and HDTV signals are fed, one S-video port, and one composite video jack. An adapter is included with the unit that lets you interface a standard 3 RCA component video cable to the VGA port.

Warranty. Two years.

Performance

The Optoma H30 is a compact, 4.6 lb. video projector that is a variation on the design of Optoma's EzPro 731 portable data projector. It uses the same basic chassis and connector panel as the 731. And like the 731, the H30 is limited to one VGA port for component/HDTV/data input. Meanwhile it duplicates the 731's VGA output for monitor loop through--a great feature for the education market, but not relevant for home theater. We would have preferred to see a component or DVI input instead of the VGA output. However this would no doubt have driven the price of the product up as well. Such are the trade-offs in using common design and parts for both commercial and home theater markets. The good news is that by using some of the same components, the unit cost to manufacture is lowered. Thus the consumer wins by getting a very low-priced DLP projector with a 6-segment, 4x color wheel.

By going to a 6-segment (RGB-RGB) color wheel, brightness is reduced (compared to the commercial design) since there is no white segment in the wheel. As is true with most digital video projectors, the 800 ANSI lumen rating is a best case scenario, and not relevant for optimum video use. After selecting the most advantageous settings for video, the real lumen output is closer to 450--not an unusual drop, percentagewise, from the theoretical rating.

The H30 is an SVGA, 800x600 resolution projector, which is native 4:3 aspect ratio. However you have the option to run the H30 as a native 16:9 projector in 800x450 as well, and set it up to fill a 16:9 screen. Set up this way, a 4:3 image can be centered in the middle of the 16:9 screen frame with black bars on either side. On the other hand, if you are using a 4:3 screen, you can opt to view 4:3 material in full 800x600 resolution. Accordingly, 16:9 material will be viewed with black bars at top and bottom. It should be noted that the first H30s to be shipped did not have all of this functionality. However, it is all available with the latest firmware upgrade. If you own an H30 with the early firmware release, you can get it upgraded at no charge (other than one-way shipping) by calling Optoma Customer Service at 1-888-289-6786.

Therefore you have more viewing format flexibility with this projector than you do with the so-called "cross-over" projectors in this price class that are used for both business and home entertainment. Optoma has for the most part designed this particular projector to address the needs of the home theater market exclusively.

SVGA resolution means you will have more visible pixelation than you would on a comparable XGA model. Pixelation on digital projectors, which is mostly visible in white text and subtitles, disappears as you move away from the screen. On the H30 it disappears at a viewing distance of about 1.9 times the screen width. If you are bothered by visible pixel structure in text, subtitles, and credits, and you plan to sit closer than 1.9 times the screen width, you may want to consider an XGA projector instead.

Out of the box, the color balance on our test unit was poor. Factory presets on red, green, and blue contrast and brightness, when defaulted to zero, yield an image heavily biased toward the green. However this can be corrected easily. In the advanced settings there are independent controls over brightness and contrast for red, green, and blue. On our test unit, we boosted red and blue contrast to +15, reduced green contrast to -8, raised red and blue brightness to +11 and reduced green brightness to -11. With these adjustments, the color balance on our H30 was beautiful. (These settings are quoted to give an indication of the direction and magnitude of correction required for our test unit; they are not meant to suggest that they are the optimum for every individual unit.)

Brightness uniformity is not a strong suit of the H30. We found brightness to fall off by as much as 40% from center to the corners. Viewing a 100 IRE white screen, the unevenness of the illumination is apparent without a meter. However once video subject matter is in play, the unevenness of illumination is not noticeable unless you intentionally look for it. In typical viewing one is not aware of the issue.

For DVD play, progressive scan input is preferred to interlace. Not only is a progressive scan image sharper, but it is also about 17% brighter which is an important factor on this unit.

Overall, after calibration adjustments the picture quality on the H30 is stunning, and certainly one of the best (if not THE best) you can find in this price range. Blacks are solid black, shadow detail is very good, color saturation is excellent. Furthermore, the 4x color wheel will substantially reduce or eliminate DLP rainbow artifacts for those sensitive to them (more on this below).

The Optoma H30 is a perfect solution for those who want optimum picture quality and who have a completely light controlled environment. If you go for a 90" diagonal picture (still much larger than big-screen TVs), the H30 will deliver extraordinary results. And at this size, pixelation becomes much less of an issue as well. Under these conditions, the H30 can produce outstanding picture quality. You can go larger if you wish, but we encourage users not to go too large. Overextending the image size will make pixelation more apparent and reduce contrast and color saturation.

Competition: Optoma H30 vs. BenQ PB6100

The most popular competitor to the Optoma H30 in the "under $1500" category at this time is the BenQ PB6100 (see review).

These are both native 800x600 resolution projectors. The PB6100 is almost double the brightness and it sells for several hundred dollars less. However the PB6100 does not have a native 16:9 operating mode that allows a 4:3 image to be centered in the middle of a 16:9 screen like the H30 does. Nor does it have the H30's ability to independently adjust red, green and blue contrast and brightness. And the PB6100 has a longer throw distance, which means that the H30 will deliver a larger image in a smaller room. The H30 has a 4x speed color wheel compared to the PB6100's 3x speed wheel.

[Correction: On 12/8/04 BenQ informed us that their previously quoted specifications pertaining to 3x wheel speeds on the PB6100 and other models are incorrect. The actual rotation speed on these models is 2x. Thus the BenQ 6100 has no advantage in reducing rainbow artifacts over competitive units with 2x color wheels. The Optoma H30, with its 4x rotation speed, has a significant advantage over the 6100 in this regard. EP]

Budding videophiles will prefer the H30 for several reasons. First and foremost, color accuracy and saturation are notably better on the H30 than they are on the PB6100. Second, those sensitive to DLP rainbow artifacts will see less of them on the H30 due to its faster refresh rate. Third, the H30 offers more flexibility in how you set up the display of 16:9 and 4:3 material. Fourth, fan noise on the H30 is slightly quieter and more stable than it is on the PB6100. Fifth, the lower lumen output of the H30 will not be a problem for the videophile since viewing in a dark room is ideal for maximum image quality no matter what projector you use. The videophile will usually take steps to ensure that the viewing space is dark. For all of these reasons, the videophile's incremental investment in the H30 is well worth the money. If you want a projector that delivers maximum image quality for the money, the H30 is it.

On the other hand, there are many who will prefer the PB6100. First, if you have a hard limit of no more than $1000 that you want to spend on a projector, the PB6100 delivers the best image we've seen so far in that budget range. Second, if you have more of a home/family entertainment orientation and prefer to view with some limited ambient light in the room, you will want the PB6100 for its additional brightness. The presence of ambient light will largely eliminate the H30's advantage in color saturation. Furthermore the PB6100's extra lumen output will make the image somewhat more resistant to wash out in low ambient light. Of course both of them will wash out in full room light. So we are talking only about a modest amount of indirect ambient light that the PB6100 will tolerate better than the H30.

DLP Rainbow Artifacts

For readers unfamiliar with the issue, let's focus a bit on DLP rainbow problems and how these two units compare. First, every single chip DLP projector uses a spinning color wheel with red, green, blue, and sometimes white (clear) segments. Color information on the screen is updated sequentially as the wheel spins. Because of this some people can see the colors separate in what is often described as a rainbow effect. Most can't see it. But for those who can, the visual distraction is enough to eliminate any enjoyment of the material being displayed. And even for some who cannot see the rainbows, the sequential refreshing can produce eyestrain, visual fatigue and headaches.

One thing is known for certain--the faster the sequential color refresh rate, the less it is a problem. The percentage of the population that experiences any sort of adverse reaction to a DLP image decreases rapidly as the refresh rate increases. Thus the BenQ PB6100 has become the projector of choice under $1,000 due in part to the fact that its 3x wheel is a full 50% faster than the standard 2x wheels of other DLP products in that price range. [Correction: As of this date, BenQ has informed us that the original spec on this unit quoting a 3x rotation speed was in error. The actual rotation speed is 2x. EP 12/8/04]

The earliest DLP projectors had wheels rotating 60 times per second. The wheel had a single panel of red, green, blue, and white. So all pixels had color information updated once every 1/60 second. Many people found the rainbow artifacts intolerable at this speed. So on next generation units the wheel speed was increased to 120 cps, which is two rotations per 1/60 second or "2x" rotation speed. This significantly reduced the degree to which people were bothered by rainbow artifacts. Most DLP projectors built for presentation use today use 2x speed wheels.

Nevertheless, many people still remain sensitive to rainbows even at 2x speed. So BenQ increased the rotation speed to 3x in the PB6100 and other models, thereby taking another significant step in reducing the problem. This contributed to making the low cost PB6100 extremely popular for home entertainment. But it is not a benefit for just home entertainment. The last thing anyone using a projector for business presentation needs is their prospects being distracted from the sales pitch by irritating artifacts on the screen. Teachers do not want to lose the attention of their kids to disturbances on the screen, and they don't want them getting headaches either. So the faster rotation speed has good application across all uses of video and data projectors. We look forward to the day, coming soon no doubt, that the standard rotation speed on all DLP projectors is 3x or greater. At that refresh rate very few folks will be bothered by this artifact and the issue will be put to rest.

Optoma has incorporated a "4x" wheel into the H30. This wheel still rotates at 120 cps, just as a 2x wheel does. However, the color wheel itself has six segments consisting of two sets of red, green, and blue. So for each rotation of the wheel, the system delivers two full refreshes of red, green, and blue information instead of one. Since the refresh rate is double that of the standard 2x wheel, it is known as a 4x wheel.

The Optoma H30 is the lowest price DLP projector on the market today that features a 4x wheel. As far as video projectors go, this is a highly desirable feature. Since the H30's wheel has no white segment, lumen output is restricted. But for the videophile looking for the best possible picture for the money, we'd say the H30 is currently in a class by itself. (see Optoma H30 specs and dealers).

For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma H30 projector page.