This year, it seems like each week we see a new low-cost, 3D-capable 1080p projector -- and the year isn't even close to over. The Optoma HD25, at less than $1,000, is a full HD 3D 1080p projector with a crisp, clear, reference-quality image in both 2D and 3D. For those who want a great picture and don't have a lot of money to spend, it is one of the most attractive projectors to surface this year.
The HD25 has features usually reserved for higher-tier products. It uses radio frequency 3D glasses that don't require line-of-sight or light pulses in the image to maintain synchronization. It has a full color management system and excellent default color, making it a great projector for people who like to tweak as well as people who want their equipment to "just work." Add a ten-watt onboard stereo sound system and over 1100 calibrated lumens and the end result is a powerful, portable home theater projector at a knock-out price.
Editor's Note June 7 2013: The original text of this article stated that the BenQ W1070 had a three-year warranty. Our source at the company was mistaken and the projector in fact has a one-year warranty. We apologize for the error, and the relevant text has been corrected. Bill Livolsi
The HD25 is a small projector in a sleek white case shared with several other models in the Optoma line, all the way back to the HD20 from 2009. It has a 1.2:1 manual zoom lens with no shift capability, mounted off-center in the projector's case, that can throw a 120" diagonal 16:9 image from a throw distance of 13' 1" to 15' 8". It has a fixed upward throw offset of 15%, so the bottom edge of the image will appear about nine inches above the centerline of the lens for that same 120" diagonal picture.
These factors make the HD25 an easy projector to ceiling mount. The projector's white case blends into a white ceiling very well, while the throw offset puts the image at just about the right height for comfortable viewing. Alternately, you could set up the HD25 on a table and watch it from your couch; the projector's fan is quiet enough that you should not know it's there, most of the time, unless DynamicBlack is enabled. The projector has three adjustable rubber feet to help you level it, though they can be difficult to get started. If you do plan to use the HD25 on a coffee table, spend a minute to loosen up the feet before you start up the projector.
Once you have the HD25 set up properly, getting a great picture out of it is just a matter of turning it on. The default grayscale and gamma in Cinema mode are already very close to the reference standard, which is no small accomplishment on such an inexpensive projector. Our test sample measured 6400K across the board with no adjustment at all and an average gamma of 2.2. At over 1100 calibrated lumens, the picture is bright enough for living room use, if desired. In a darkened theater environment, the Eco lamp setting's roughly 850 lumens is still quite bright and extends lamp life to 6,000 hours. On a 120" diagonal 1.3 gain screen, the HD25 produces an on-screen brightness of 26 foot-Lamberts in this mode.
This can be a concern for some people with small theaters or small screens -- the HD25 is quite bright. If you require less light output than Eco mode provides, you can reduce BrilliantColor, purchase a neutral-density (ND) filter, or purchase a lower-gain screen. For smaller screens, say 80" to 100" diagonal, the ND filter is a good option, though it is not the simplest option. An ND2 filter reduces light by half, cutting Cinema Eco's output to 425 lumens. In doing this it also deepens black levels. Most neutral density filters are built for cameras, and as such there is no easy way to mount one to a projector lens that is not threaded to accept a filter. Some folks attach their filters with tape or other adhesive while others build brackets or mounts to hold the filter in place in front of the projector. This seems like a lot of work, but it does have a payoff: once your projector's lamp begins to dim, you can move the ND filter out of the light path and continue watching at your preferred brightness.
2D image quality. The HD25 puts an image on screen that, for lack of a better term, "looks expensive." It has excellent, natural, well-saturated color, even without any adjustment. The color gamut has some minor errors, but the HD25 has a full color management system for those with the time and inclination to fix them. Grayscale tracking is quite good, measuring a consistent 6400K straight out of the box; a simple -3 to green produced near-perfect 6500K. Dynamic range is somewhat hindered by the projector's middling black levels, but this is a common flaw in inexpensive DLP 1080p projectors and not unique to the HD25. We did not see any loss of shadow detail, in any case.
3D. The HD25 is a Full HD 3D projector, capable of displaying 3D content in any of the formats listed in the HDMI 1.4 specification. The projector is compatible with both DLP Link and radio frequency (RF) sync systems. The DLP Link system requires no emitter, while the RF system uses an outboard emitter that connects to the standard VESA port on the projector's connection panel. Since RF synchronization does not require line of sight, you can place the emitter anywhere.
When watching 3D content, the picture is artifact-free. There's no sign of crosstalk or jitter of any kind, and images are detailed and true to the source material. On the other hand, displaying 3D on anything larger than a 100" diagonal screen makes for a relatively dim picture, since 3D viewing takes away so much of the projector's high light output.
Great for gaming. The HD25 has all of the hallmarks of a great gaming projector. It has high light output, allowing it to be used even when some lights are on. It has accurate color and good dynamic range, so color and shadow detail is never lost. 1080p resolution makes the picture sharp and crisp. A long-life lamp allows for long gaming sessions without concern for bulb blowouts. Last but not least, the HD25's low input lag of 17ms (1 frame at 60 fps) means that even the most demanding fast-action gamers will be able to play without concern.
Long life. The HD25 has an estimated lamp life of 3,500 hours at full power and a whopping 6,000 hours in Eco mode, putting it right on par with its low-cost 1080p competitors. In real-world terms, that's one two-hour movie per day, every day, for almost five years at full power or over eight years in Eco mode.
Onboard audio. With 10W stereo speakers (5W per speaker), the HD25 offers an onboard audio system that is actually worth using. While it is no match for dedicated speakers, the onboard audio allows the projector to be used as a portable entertainment device whenever the situation requires it. Whether you want to set up a game console for the kids or watch the game in the living room instead of the theater, the HD25's speakers are loud enough to be a viable audio option in the absence of a dedicated system. The speakers do start to break up if volume is raised to maximum, but anything up to about 8 (on a scale of 0-10) is usable.
Light output. The HD25 is certainly a bright projector by home theater standards. Calibrated output in the projector's Cinema mode was 1146 lumens on our test sample, which is more than enough for home video or living room use on a 100" screen. At home theater levels of ambient light, 1146 lumens can light a 140" diagonal 1.3 gain screen at 26 fL. In other words, this projector can create a compelling home theater image on a very large screen.
The HD25 does not have too many image modes, but those it does have are all useful in one way or another. After Cinema comes Reference mode, which at 982 lumens on our test unit had slightly more accurate color and better shadow detail than Cinema mode at the cost of a few lumens. Photo mode, at 975 lumens, has a stronger blue character and measures around 6700K, making it roughly equivalent to many other projectors' Standard or Living Room modes. Finally there is Bright mode, which at 1185 lumens is not too much brighter than Cinema, but strongly pushes green and is appropriate for high ambient light viewing.
Eco lamp mode, in addition to decreasing light output by 25%, also extends lamp life from 3500 to 6000 hours. In Eco mode, Cinema on our test sample clocked in at 865 lumens, Reference at 736, Photo at 731, and Bright at 889. Eco mode is most useful for decreasing light output in darkened theater rooms, where all of the HD25's extra light is not required and can actually be detrimental.
While the HD25 has the light output required to power a large screen even in ambient light, it does not reach its 2,000 lumen specified output in any image mode. In point of fact, it never reaches even 60% of that specification. There are home theater projectors in the market that are rated at 2,000 lumens and actually produce it, and if you are working in high ambient light the extra lumens could make those projectors better options than the HD25.
BrilliantColor is a feature that boosts white light output but does not affect color light output. As a result, it can make the image look brighter overall, but can also throw an image out of balance if taken too far. It is enabled by default in all of the HD25's image modes. In Cinema mode, total color light output measured 84% of white light output, which is quite good for this class of projector. The image does not appear unbalanced or unnatural even with BrilliantColor enabled. If, on the other hand, you want to obtain perfect parity between white light output and color light output, you can reduce the BrilliantColor control to its minimum. This will reduce lumen output by 16%.
Folks using the HD25 in a home theater setting likely have light output to spare, and will be able to turn BrilliantColor off since they don't need the extra light output. If, on the other hand, you are using the HD25 in a living room or game room, BrilliantColor's additional output can be beneficial.
Contrast and black level. Like many other inexpensive DLP projectors, the HD25 cannot produce the same inky-deep black levels you'll find on more expensive home theater projectors, which typically come equipped with higher contrast light engines and automatic iris systems. However, unless you plan to watch on a very small screen (80" diagonal and smaller), the higher black level does not really become a cause for concern. Spread out onto a 100" diagonal screen or larger, the slightly high black levels are easy enough to ignore.
The HD25's gamma performance is already very good, even straight out of the box. Stock gamma matched the 2.2 reference curve with only a few slight deviations. Our test unit did not show any crushing of shadow detail or blown-out highlights or colors. The combined effect is a picture that pops with three-dimensionality and detail.
Color. In Cinema mode using the factory default settings, the HD25 measures 6400K across the entire grayscale. While this isn't the ideal 6500K, it's also better than most projectors' performance without adjustment. In order to bring the projector in line with the 6500K standard, you need to decrease green by several points (green is overemphasized by default) and red by one or two points. On our test sample, those changes resulted in a flat 6500K across the grayscale.
The HD25's white balance controls consist of a single unified slider for each color, rather than separate gain/bias controls. This limitation can make it more difficult to fine-tune the projector's color, but our test sample did not need extensive adjustment and so there was no real harm done.
As far as the color gamut is concerned, the HD25 is accurate enough that many potential buyers will not see the need to adjust color gamut, especially since those adjustments require a color meter and calibration software. If you already have the meter and the software, though, the HD25's color management system is easy to use.
Sharpness and clarity. Detail from high-definition sources came through crisply and cleanly on the HD25 without the aid of any smart-sharpening or detail enhancing features. For home theater use, our preferred Sharpness setting was 8 (on a 1-15 scale), which did not artificially soften the picture but also did not result in any edge enhancement artifacts or ringing.
Color adjustments. While the HD25 includes a full color management system, it does not have separate gain/bias adjustments for red, green, and blue. These adjustments, used to tweak grayscale color temperature, are arguably more useful than gamut adjustments -- especially since it is exceptionally difficult to adjust color gamut without the use of a meter. Most home theater projectors, including the cheap ones, include the ability to adjust both gain and bias for red, green, and blue. The HD25's single-slider solution is better than nothing, but not up to par with most of its competition. It doesn't help that these controls are tucked away in a submenu with the color management system, on a completely different page from the actual color temperature control.
DynamicBlack. The HD25's DynamicBlack system is supposed to adjust the image to intelligently increase contrast. What it actually seemed to do was occasionally increase fan noise for several seconds at a time without much of a tangible effect on the image itself. The change in fan noise is much more distracting than if the fan had just been loud from the start, and it can pull you away from the content you're viewing. DynamicBlack is not recommended for home theater users.
Locked image presets. The HD25's four preset image modes are useful, but they are not adjustable. If you change any of the projector's controls, the HD25 shunts you over to User mode. There is only one User memory setting, so be careful not to overwrite your own settings.
The HD25's nearest competitor in terms of both price and features is the BenQ W1070, a $1000 DLP 1080p projector with full HD 3D capabilities. Our BenQ W1070 review revealed its brilliant, sharp, well-balanced home theater image, making it an excellent match for the HD25.
The problem in comparing these two projectors is how similar they are. Given a sufficiently darkened room and good source material, the HD25 and W1070 appear to be mostly the same when it comes to picture quality. Both projectors produce natural, well-balanced images with plenty of color saturation and shadow detail. Given this similarity, most people will have to decide between the projectors based on feature set, not image quality.
Light output. In Cinema mode, the two projectors produce the same amount of light. The HD25 at 1146 lumens is roughly equal to the W1070 at 1220 lumens, as the human eye cannot detect minor brightness differences without a head to head comparison. The W1070 does have Dynamic mode, which at 1554 lumens is brighter than any of the HD25's image modes and particularly useful for living room use. However, even that lumen difference is fairly minor.
Contrast. The two projectors are exceptionally similar when it comes to contrast. Both have so-so black levels and very accurate default gamma curves, so shadow detail is maintained without any loss. The HD25 has DynamicBlack, but the contrast improvement granted by this feature is minimal when it is present at all. It is impossible to select between the two projectors on this basis alone.
Color. The HD25 has more accurate color out of the box; it measures 6400K across the grayscale to the W1070's 6800K. Both projectors can be calibrated to 6500K with very little effort on the part of the user, so final calibrated color is excellent on both models. However, the W1070 has full RGB gain/bias controls, something the HD25 lacks. Both projectors have full color management systems.
Sharpness. Both the HD25 and the W1070 are single-chip 1080p projectors without detail enhancement systems. Once sharpness is set correctly (which can be done easily without any special equipment), they appear identical.
Input lag. At 17ms of input lag, the HD25 is half a frame faster than the W1070 at 24ms.
3D. While both projectors offer full HD 3D, the HD25 has the option to use either DLP Link or RF-sync 3D glasses.
Placement flexibility. With a 1.3:1 zoom lens and a small amount of vertical lens shift, the W1070 is easier to install for most people than the HD25 (which has a 1.2:1 lens and no shift).
Lamp life. Both projectors' lamps are rated for 3,500 hours at full power or 6,000 hours in Eco mode.
Warranty. Both projectors have one-year limited warranties.
Sound. The HD25's speakers are 10W stereo (5W+5W, not 10W per channel) to the W1070's 10W mono. While the presence of sound at all is a bonus, stereo sound is useful for people who plan to make extensive use of the feature.
The Optoma HD25 is a great little projector. Its bright, sparkling HD image is perfect for home theater, and its bargain price of $949 makes it an exceptional value. While the HD25 has some flaws, those flaws are all related to usability, not image quality. The menu system can be complicated at times, and the lack of multiple User modes limits the HD25's calibration potential. Overall, though, the HD25 is a strong projector for entry-level home theater with potential for portable use as well.
Competition in the HD25's market segment is particularly fierce this year, with projectors like the BenQ W1070 providing stiff competition. The two projectors are more alike than they are different; however, the HD25 is a better projector for those users primarily concerned with 3D viewing (thanks to RF glasses), portable use (due to the HD25's better onboard speakers), or gaming (thanks to less input lag). On the other hand, the W1070's better placement flexibility will appeal to many potential buyers. Whichever projector you choose, the end result is a beautiful home theater image at a bargain price.