Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.
Two years ago, Optoma brought the price of 1080p projection under $1000 for the first time ever with the HD20. As it turns out, the HD20 is still one of the finest 1080p projectors under $1000, despite two years' worth of competition. Now, Optoma has released the HD33, a DLP 3D 1080p projector that sells for less than $1500. This is the first 1080p 3D projector to break the $3000 mark, let alone the $1500 mark, and that in itself is worth getting excited about. Add to that the HD33's solid 2D performance, great color, radio-frequency glasses, and virtual absence of crosstalk and you've got a projector that is a solid value at twice the price. At $1500, the HD33 is a steal.
Editor's Note 8/26/11: The original version of this article stated that the projector came with one pair of glasses. The glasses are actually purchased separately. We apologize for the error.
The Viewing Experience
While technical details can reveal a lot, the most important consideration for any home theater projector is how it looks--and the HD33, in a word, looks good. The default mode, Cinema, is also the best mode for movies and video, and we measured this mode at 847 lumens with the lamp at full power. This is a lot of light, so the first thing we did was switch to low power, called Standard on this projector. This brought light output to a more manageable 661 lumens, which is still plenty of light. We settled on a screen size of 120" diagonal--you can go bigger with a higher-gain screen or excellent light control--and fired up the Blu-ray player.
The Optoma HD33
Contrast on the HD33 is only 4000:1 full on/off, and it shows at times. The projector has no iris, auto or otherwise, and black level can suffer because of it. There is the ImageAI function, which varies lamp power in response to the content on screen, but this also causes fan noise to fluctuate and in our experience is not as fast as a good auto iris. Black level on the HD33 is very similar to black level on the older HD20, which we put up head-to-head with this new model. On the other hand, dynamic range shows a clear improvement, and the HD33 looks much more three-dimensional than the older model. The HD33's picture at times looks poised to pop off the screen. The image is vibrant, color is saturated without being overdone, and fine detail is razor sharp. It is a beautiful picture.
Next up is 3D. The HD33 is a full 1080p 3D projector with full HDMI 1.4 compatibility. It uses radio-frequency (RF) glasses, meaning line-of-sight is no longer required, as is the case with infrared (IR) emitters. Our preferred test disc these days is The Ultimate Wave: Tahiti, an IMAX film shot in 3D using live actors instead of CGI. The picture was plenty bright for our setup, perhaps even a touch too bright. A touch of ambient light in the room should not do the image much harm. The HD33 strikes a good balance between light transmission and crosstalk, which we saw very little of. The glasses never lost sync thanks to the RF transmitter--turn your head away or look down at the remote and the glasses keep on going. In the past, we have seen IR glasses lose sync at the slightest provocation. Color in 3D is about as accurate as we've seen, though the glasses do add a slight tint of green to the image. Since the HD33 has a separate 3D preset, this can be calibrated out if desired. All in all, it was one of the more enjoyable 3D experiences we've had in the home, regardless of price.
The HD33 is a simple projector in the best possible way. The HD33 has a tight, laser focus on what really matters--picture quality. It has this in spades.
Picture Quality in 2D. Like the HD20, the HD33 offers great picture quality for 2D theater in both standard and high definition. Dynamic range is solid, with sparkling highlights and black level comparable to the competition in this price range. Color is vibrant and saturated, and grayscale tracking is already close to the ideal 6500K straight out of the box. Some fine-tuning can coax additional performance out of the projector should you desire, and the end result is near perfect 6500K across the board. Detail clarity is superb, though the projector shows some signs of digital noise and DLP dithering that can detract from the otherwise natural feel of the image. This noise is especially evident in large swathes of solid color, such as a sky. That said, noise was no worse than other projectors in this price range; all of them show digital noise to some degree.
Picture Quality in 3D. Everything that is true of the HD33 in 2D is equally true in 3D. If anything, the 3D glasses help the projector's black level appear even deeper, which makes the picture look higher in contrast. Highlights, sometimes too bright in 2D, are brought down to a more manageable level due to the glasses. While the glasses reduce the brightness of black and white equally, your mind is fooled into seeing an image that looks higher in contrast due to the better black. The other noteworthy quality is the HD33's near absence of crosstalk. Even in the most difficult scenes, the HD33 did a remarkable job of keeping left-eye and right-eye images separate and distinct. This, more than anything, contributes to the high-quality, professional feel of 3D.
The Optoma HD33 Connection Panel
PureMotion. The HD33 also includes PureMotion, a frame interpolation system used to reduce judder. It has three settings, each more aggressive than the last. There is some digital video effect, more so on the higher settings. This is desirable for live performances and television and less desirable for film. What's more, PureMotion can be activated in 3D, making the 3D picture appear less jerky. This is especially helpful when watching fast action sequences, such as those in Avatar.
RF Glasses. To our knowledge, the HD33 is the first 3D projector to use an RF emitter to sync the glasses to the projector. Radio has several advantages over IR, not the least of which is that it does not require line of sight between emitter and glasses. This means your glasses will never lose sync because you looked too far to one side, or turned your head to talk to a friend, or looked down to find the remote. It is also much simpler to calculate range when using RF glasses, as one does not need to worry about bouncing the image off of the screen or mounting the emitter in an easily visible place. Simply place the emitter next to the projector and it should work just fine, provided the audience is within about 10 meters.
The downside is that the glasses won't turn themselves off unless the projector is no longer displaying 3D, so it can be easy to run down the batteries accidentally. The HD33 comes with the emitter. The glasses are purchased separately and additional pairs cost less than $100. The glasses fit well and have large lenses, so those who already wear glasses should be able to use them without issue.
Light output. While the HD33 is rated at 1800 lumens, none of its preset modes are that bright. Cinema, our preferred setting for film and video, measures 847 lumens in Bright lamp mode and 661 in standard, a reduction of 22%. Standard is the default lamp setting for most image modes, though we took all of the following measurements using Bright. Reference, another neutral setting with accurate color, measures 929 lumens. Reference has a different gamma curve than Cinema does, so shadows look much different than they do in that mode. Photo, with its slightly warmer grayscale, measures 1024 lumens. Bright, true to its name, measures 1049 lumens and is the brightest mode available on the HD33. As stated previously, 3D mode gets its own setting, though this is not mandatory--the projector allows you to switch back to another preset if you would prefer.
Color. It's unusual for inexpensive projectors to have accurate color out of the box, but the HD33 is already an unusual projector. Grayscale tracking in Cinema mode averages around 6650K by default, with a slightly warmer high end and cooler shadows. To bring the projector closer to 6500K, we made the following adjustments:
For those who are new to this, "gain" is the adjustment for the bright end of the grayscale, while "bias" is the control for the low end. Just remember that Bias and Black both start with B, and you'll be fine.
By the time we were done, color temperature was within 100 degrees of 6500K across the board. This is outstanding performance for such an inexpensive projector.
Connectivity. The HD33 features a pair of HDMI 1.4 inputs, a set of YPbPr component inputs, a VGA port, composite video, USB, RS232C, a VESA sync port for the RF emitter, and a 12V trigger. S-Video is missing, though I doubt it will be missed. The other thing that is missing is a hardwired control panel; the HD33 relies entirely on its remote control. The only button on the case is to turn the power on and off.
Color wheel. With a 3x-speed, 6-segment RGBRGB color wheel, the HD33 waves a fond farewell to the rainbow effect. Here's where it gets tricky: the HD33 has a refresh rate of 120Hz and the color wheel goes through three full cycles per frame, for a 3x refresh rate. If this projector were running at 60Hz, the same wheel speed would be referred to as 6x. If you see both numbers around the Internet, this is why. This wheel configuration should eliminate color separation artifacts for all but the most hypersensitive viewers. In fact, this paragraph was almost omitted from the review because, after not seeing any rainbows over several days of testing, I forgot that they were even a concern.
Lamp life. The HD33's lamp is rated to last up to 3,000 hours in Bright mode and 4,000 hours in Standard. This is fairly typical of home theater projectors. However, replacements cost only $249, making it less painful when the lamp does finally burn out.
The HD33 is a stellar product for the money, but it's not perfect. The notable limitations of the projector are as follows:
Placement flexibility. The HD33 only has a 1.2:1 lens and no lens shift. The lens has a fixed upward throw offset of 7%, so the bottom edge of the image will appear 7% of the image's height above the lens centerline. This mild angle is ideal for table mounting, while those with high ceilings might require a drop tube before the projector can be ceiling mounted properly (i.e. without using keystone adjustments). While there is nothing inherently wrong about a fixed lens or a short zoom range, many inexpensive projectors now offer longer zooms, and some even feature lens shift. This makes placement more difficult than it would otherwise be.
No gamut adjustments. Grayscale adjustment on the HD33 is a snap. Gamut, on the other hand, cannot be adjusted. To its credit, the HD33's default gamut is not completely off in left field, but there is some room for improvement. What color gamut tells us is how well the projector can interpret color data; when a signal calls for 100% red, the color it feeds back is defined in what is called a lookup table, or LUT. These LUTs can be adjusted to provide more accurate color, giving you the exact experience that the director had in mind. An inaccurate gamut does not mean that the projector necessarily looks bad, merely that it does not adhere to the standard.
Remote Control. The HD33 has no hardwired control panel, so all adjustments must be made through the remote. The remote is small and feels good in the hand, but everything goes to pot when you try to use it in a dark room. The backlight, a strong blue, is so bright that it wipes out the viewer's dark vision almost instantaneously. What's more, the buttons themselves are labeled with pictograms with printed words underneath. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to read the printed words and the symbols don't make a lot of sense. Once you learn the layout, the remote becomes less of a concern, but it is annoying at first.
Light output. Cinema mode on the HD33 does not suffer for lack of light; in fact, it's one of the brightest Cinema modes we've seen in quite some time. However, when a projector claims to produce 1800 lumens and we then measure all of the preset modes at less than 1200, it is disappointing--especially when other projectors in this price range make the same claim but actually deliver.
The Optoma HD33 is a projector of firsts. It is Optoma's first 1080p 3D projector. Previously, the company has made a number of 720p DLP Link 3D projectors meant to be used with PCs, but this is their first foray into HDMI 1.4 compatible 3D. It is also the first 1080p 3D projector under $3000. Other 1080p 3D projectors start at $3499 and go up from there. Finally, it is the first 3D projector to our knowledge to use RF glasses technology, eliminating concerns about line of sight and screen bounce.
The HD33 shares a lot in common with the older HD20. Both significantly altered the market upon release. Before the HD20, no one had ever seen 1080p under $1000. Before the HD33, no one had ever seen 3D 1080p under $3000. Beyond that, though, the two projectors share the same smooth, natural picture that videophiles enjoy so much. Perhaps most importantly, both projectors offer performance disproportionate with the price. When you are looking for a high-quality 3D projector and want the absolute best value for your money, the HD33 is exactly what you've been looking for.
While we have assigned star ratings to the HD33, these are preliminary and based on our opinion of the projector at this time. As competing models come out, we may revise these ratings to better reflect the projector's position in the current market. However, we suspect the HD33 will remain a strong contender in this year's home theater projector lineup. Its combination of performance and low price is simply too attractive to be ignored.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma HD33 projector page.