Last month we published our review of the Optoma HD25, a sub-$1000 1080p DLP home theater projector with full 3D compatibility. The HD25 turned out to be a great value, but its limited light output constrained its use to darkened theaters and other low-light areas.
These days, a lot of folks are looking for a projector that can perform in areas with mild to moderate ambient light. The Optoma HD25-LV is a higher brightness version of their popular HD25 built for living room use. The HD25-LV costs a little bit more; it sells for $1299 while the HD25 currently retails for $949. However, that extra $350 gets you over double the light output of the smaller model, making the HD25-LV an excellent choice for dedicated 3D theater, living room use, video gaming, and exceptionally large screens.
The HD25-LV is mostly the same as the HD25. The two projectors use the same body design, and it can be difficult to tell them apart at a glance. Once the projector starts up, though, the difference becomes obvious. The HD25-LV is much, much brighter.
When we tested the HD25, Bright mode on our test unit maxed out at 1185 lumens. That's plenty of light for a home theater projector, but not enough for living room use during the day. Bright mode on the HD25-LV measured 2420 lumens, or more than double the measured maximum of the HD25. This doubling of output continues across all of the projector's image modes, including Cinema which measured over 2300 lumens.
With that much light output, an 80" diagonal image in the living room looks brilliant, well-saturated, and high in contrast despite the presence of ambient light. As with any projector, black level suffers whenever there is ambient light in the room, but high light output preserves dynamic range and keeps the projected image from looking flat or dull.
Like the HD25, the HD25-LV has a manual 1.2:1 zoom lens with no lens shift and a fixed upward throw offset of 15%. As such, the simplest placement option is on a table. This is a good choice if you plan to make use of the HD25-LV's portability, since it is much more difficult to mount and dismount a projector from the ceiling.
The HD25 and HD25-LV are more alike than different, and most of our Optoma HD25 projector review applies to the HD25-LV as well. Both projectors have excellent color balance, especially after calibration, and both feature a full color management system for fine-tuning the gamut. Both are native 1920x1080 with excellent sharpness and clarity, and full support of HD 3D is present in each. Both projectors have low 17ms input lag, making them ideal for video games. The projectors also have identical menu systems and take the same replacement lamp, which has an estimated life of 3,500 hours at full power and 6,000 hours in Eco-mode. Replacement lamps cost $399. And despite the large brightness difference between them, the two projectors have the same level of fan noise.
Both projectors also have some shared weaknesses. White balance is limited to a single axis of adjustment per color instead of the full gain/bias controls found on other home theater projectors. The preset image modes are all locked, forcing you to use the single User memory setting for your own calibrations. Both projectors have a 1.2:1 manual zoom lens and no lens shift, which limits the projector to table placement or ceiling mounts. Neither projector reaches the maximum light output listed in its specifications, either.
Higher light output. The HD25-LV produces just over twice as many lumens as the HD25. Bright mode measured 2420 lumens on the HD25-LV to the HD25's 1185 lumens. Cinema mode measured 2328 lumens to the HD25's 1146. Reference mode measured 2000 lumens (vs 982), while Photo mode measured 1993 lumens. Color balance in these image modes is roughly equal to their equivalents on the HD25, so you are not sacrificing color fidelity in order to gain the extra brightness.
Those who plan to set up the HD25-LV in a darkened room should be prepared for a very bright picture, even at screen sizes of 140" diagonal and larger. If the projector is too bright for your tastes, you can lower light output by engaging Eco mode, which reduces light output by 25%, or reducing BrilliantColor, which can reduce light output by up to 20%.
The HD25-LV's high brightness is especially helpful in 3D, where every lumen counts. 3D lowers image brightness significantly on both the HD25 and the HD25-LV, but the HD25-LV still has a significant advantage in light output. Whereas the HD25's 3D preset measured 682 lumens at default settings, the HD25-LV measured 1124 lumens under the same conditions. This does not account for the dimming effect of the 3D glasses, which we intentionally omit since neither projector includes 3D glasses. There are many different options available for 3D eyewear, using either DLP Link or an external emitter; just make sure the glasses you purchase are capable of running at 144Hz.
Black level. The downside of the HD25-LV's increased light output is poorer black level. While the difference is not especially large, the HD25-LV has a noticeably higher black level on a 0 IRE test pattern than the HD25, and the difference is maintained when viewing film and video content as well. The HD25-LV is a living room projector, however, and black levels in the living room are entirely dependent on the amount of ambient light in the room. With even a little bit of light in the room, the black level of both projectors are instantly equalized.
Sound system. The HD25-LV has a 16W stereo system (8W per speaker) while the HD25 has a 10W system. In larger rooms, the HD25-LV is capable of greater volume without causing audible distortion, making it particularly useful for portable use where no alternative sound system is available. The HD25's 10W system is perfectly suited to smaller rooms or video game use, and is in itself better than most other projectors offer in this price range.
The HD25 and HD25-LV are both excellent projectors, but they are built for very different applications. Luckily, the two applications are clearly distinct from one another, so it is not hard to decide which projector is right for you.
The HD25 is a home theater projector, with lower light output and better black levels than the HD25-LV. As such, it is a great choice for those interested in dedicated darkened-room home theater, photography viewing, and video games. Its onboard sound system is more powerful than most of its competitors' speakers, but not suited to larger spaces.
The HD25-LV is a living room projector, also called a home video projector or a home entertainment projector. It will be the projector of choice for sports viewing, casual movie watching, and TV replacement. It is also ideal for gamers who prefer to have light in the room. It has its own dark-room uses, namely very large screens of 140" diagonal and higher and dedicated 3D use.
The HD25 and HD25-LV are an excellent case study in the differences between home theater and home video projectors. While outwardly very similar to the HD25, the HD25-LV is ill-suited to the HD25's intended applications. Meanwhile, the HD25 cannot muster the power required to put up a compelling image in ambient light. Whichever application you choose, one of these projectors will fit your needs.