A few years ago the idea of sub-$1,000 1080p projectors was absurd. Now it is a reality. Optoma's new HD20 is the first 1080p projector to sell for less than $1,000 at launch, and as such is a major milestone in home theater for the mass consumer market. It is a fairly basic projector, without a lot of bells and whistles -- 1700 ANSI lumens, 4,000:1 on/off contrast, a 1.2:1 zoom lens, and a one-year warranty. However, it produces a smooth, bright, vibrant picture that is as pleasant for us to review as it will be for you to watch. With a price tag of $999, it certainly sets a new standard for value.
High lumen output. The HD20 produces 633 lumens in Cinema mode, at least on our test sample. This is easily enough light for a 135" diagonal screen in a room with good light control, or a 100" diagonal screen in a room with some ambient light. Even more noteworthy, the HD20's Cinema mode still delivers a substantial 505 lumens, even in low lamp mode. So you get a very bright image and longer lamp life all at once.
For content where you would prefer higher brightness, but don't need the best possible color accuracy, "Bright" mode produces 954 ANSI lumens. This is ideal for HD sports, or any time you have the room lights turned up. Bright mode reduces color saturation, but it lets you bring the HD20 out of the dark theater and into the living room, whether for the big game or just your child's video game system.
ANSI Contrast. Despite the projector's 4000:1 full on/off contast rating, the HD20 measured 456:1 ANSI contrast in our tests. This puts it on a level with several of the more impressive 1080p LCD projectors released last year, but below the more advanced 1080p DLP projectors. ANSI contrast doesn't tell the whole story, but it is a good indicator of the dynamic range that can appear in any one image.
Natural color. Color on the HD20 is rich and vibrant. While it is not perfectly calibrated out of the box (few projectors are), the HD20 is very easy to adjust. Color adjustments are simple, with gain and bias controls for red, green, and blue. Adjustments have a quite noticeable effect on the image from step to step, so it is easy to get to where you want to be generally. But the adjustments lack subtle fine-tuning precision that is available on more expensive models.
Overall, the HD20 is great for the do-it-yourselfer looking for an engaging, solid image on a budget. It is easy to tweak, but if you just want something that looks plenty good enough for sports and video games, the HD20 will meet many people's less stringent criteria without any adjustment at all.
Low digital noise. When compared to a 1080p DLP projector that cost almost twice as much, the HD20 showed an impressively low amount of digital noise. Excessive digital noise makes a picture appear grainy or unstable, and these effects can sometimes distract the viewer and compromise the immersion in the experience. The HD20's low level of noise makes the image appear smoother, more natural, and less distracting than it might otherwise.
4,000-hour lamp. On many inexpensive projectors, replacement lamps can seem very costly, since their price is often 1/3 or more of the cost of the projector itself. A long-life lamp helps the consumer to feel that they're getting their money's worth. The lamp in the HD20 is rated to last 3,000 hours in high lamp mode or 4,000 hours in low lamp mode, which is much better than the standard 2000 hours we see on many models. In addition, replacement lamps on the HD20 are relatively inexpensive. They can be purchased from authorized Internet resellers for as little as $249. If you were to put a quarter in a jar every time you watched a movie, you would have more than enough money for a new lamp when the time came to purchase a replacement.
Portability. At only 6.5 lbs, the HD20 is a great option for portable projection. Its small size and light weight make it easy to tote with you to a friend's house, or even into the backyard for a summer movie night. While it does not come with a carrying case, it would not be hard to find a laptop bag that would securely hold the HD20 plus its accessories - just make sure that wherever you're going, there's an external sound system, because the HD20 lacks a speaker.
Reasonable fan noise. For such a small, powerful projector, the HD20 is relatively quiet. Fan noise in high lamp mode is certainly audible, especially if you are using the HD20 in a coffee table mount situation. Low lamp mode is quieter, but still easily noticeable. The only time audible noise is really distracting is when using the ImageAI function (more on this below). During normal use, the fan noise of the HD20 tends to fade into the background, and should not distract your audience. While it's not as quiet as most larger home theater projectors, it is also a lot smaller without giving up lumen output.
Logical menu system. The menu system is straightforward, with a logical, hierarchical layout. Using a little common sense, it's easy to find what you're looking for. Image adjustments are under the Image menu; aspect ratio and masking adjustments are found in the Display menu, lamp and positioning settings are found in the System menu.
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.