Home Theater Projector Review
Black level. Black level on the HD20 is only middling, as the projector lacks an auto-iris and has a fairly bright lamp. As a result, black areas of an image can sometimes appear very dark grayish. This is especially evident in a dark room, as the total absence of ambient light makes the lightened black levels of the HD20 a bit more apparent. On/off contrast on our test sample measured 1179:1. An auto iris would boost this ratio significantly. However, for 1080p under $1,000, some compromises have to be made. The bottom line is that this projector probably will not satisfy the true videophile looking for the best possible performance. But for the large majority of consumers who just want a great picture for the money, the HD20 is a great solution.
ImageAI. Instead of an iris, the HD20 has ImageAI. This feature cycles the lamp power in response to the content on screen, making it brighter when showing a bright scene and darker when showing a shadowy scene. The problem is that ImageAI is very slow when compared to an auto-iris, which limits its usefulness for any sort of fast-moving content like HD movies. Where auto iris response time is measured in milliseconds, ImageAI on the HD20 can take seconds to adjust, which can be distracting. Picture this: you are watching a movie, and the characters are inside a dimly-lit warehouse. The characters go outside. After a few seconds, ImageAI adjusts to the new light level, and the picture suddenly gets brighter and the projector gets louder. Sometimes, by the time this cycle happens, the content is vastly different from the scene that prompted the adjustment. This is especially evident in scenes which switch rapidly back and forth from light to darkness, such as a police interrogation with bright spotlights opposed to dark shadows. Since we found ImageAI to be a distraction, we preferred to operate the HD20 with this feature disabled.
Placement flexibility. The HD20 has a 1.2:1 manual zoom lens with a fixed throw angle. This makes it convenient for ceiling mounting, although many users who want to spend only $999 on a projector will not want to spend extra dollars on a ceiling mount and long run video cables. A coffee table mount would also work well, if you live in a house where no one will fiddle with the projector in-between showings. The 1.2:1 zoom lens can display a 100" diagonal image from 10' 11" to 13' 1", which gives you a little bit of leeway in mounting, but still requires that you do some preliminary planning before making a purchase.
Since the projector has a fixed throw angle, you will also need to plan for the offset built into the lensing; this offset will dictate your screen's position relative to the projector. The HD20 has a throw angle offset of 15%, meaning that the bottom edge of the projected image will appear 15% of the image's height above the centerline of the lens (or 15% below the centerline if ceiling mounted). For example, with a 100" diagonal image, the bottom edge will appear 7.3" above the lens's centerline.
Rainbow Effect. The HD20 has a 6-segment, 4x-speed color wheel, with RGBRGB segments. The 4x refresh rate is a sufficient speed to minimize or even eliminate rainbow artifacts for most viewers. However, the more expensive DLP home theater products use 5x and 6x wheels to reduce the occurrence of rainbows even further. For the price of $999, one can be happy that the projector has a 4x wheel instead of the standard 2x found in most inexpensive DLP projectors. Nevertheless, some users will notice rainbows on occasion. The only way for you to know whether the level of rainbow artifacting on a 4x wheel will be a distraction for you is to audition a model with this wheel configuration and see for yourself.
Image sharpness. The HD20's image sharpness is very good, but it does not quite match the sharpness of higher priced 1080p models. Viewing it standing alone, the picture looks natural, impressive, and quite acceptably sharp. Few casual observers would complain of any deficiency in image resolution. However, when the HD20 is set up side-by-side with higher performance 1080p projectors, a difference becomes apparent. It is not quite as sharp in comparison.
Remote control. The remote control has a strong blue LED backlight, which can make it difficult to look at once your eyes have adjusted to darkness. The buttons have small pictograms on them to represent their functions, with text labels across the top. The problem is, these text labels don't light up, making it impossible to read them in the dark - and sometimes the pictograms are less than helpful. Once you get used to where the buttons are, the remote is functional. But we've seen a lot of remotes we like better.
One-year warranty. The HD20 has a one-year warranty which also extends 90 days of coverage to the lamp. This is not surprising for a 1080p model at this price. But many of the more expensive 1080p models come with two-year or three-year warranties.
The HD20 brings 1080p projection to its lowest price point yet, while maintaining great image quality that's ideal for home entertainment. While it does not have the inky black levels and extreme placement flexibility of more costly projectors, it does have a clear, bright, noise-free image with vibrant color and good dynamic range. For some viewers, its 4x-speed color wheel is more likely to induce an occasional rainbow than DLP projectors with faster wheels, but it is head and shoulders above the standard 2x wheel designs, and quite acceptable for the money.
We are thrilled with the HD20's picture quality for the price, and have no problem awarding it 5 stars for Value in this review. As you'd expect, a few corners have been cut to get the price down under $1000. But the Optoma HD20 gives the entry level home theater buyer a bright, high resolution 1080p picture without much impact on the wallet. If you are in this budget range, the HD20 is a solid choice.