The latest projector from Optoma, the HD66, is a compact, inexpensive 720p DLP home theater projector. Its 2500 lumens of brightness are perfect for games or sports, and its 4000:1 contrast ratio gives high-contrast images plenty of pop. Moreover, it is 3D Ready, which provides you with some insurance against the gathering storm of 3D that's just over the horizon. If you are not into 3D, don't worry--the HD66 is a great 2D home theater projector as well. The best part? This little powerhouse costs only $699, making it affordable to just about everyone.
Resolution. The HD66 is a bright little package, rated at 2500 lumens maximum. Now, the HD66 is marketed as a 720p projector, since that is the maximum resolution at which it can display 3D content. However, it has a 1280x800 DLP chip, so not only can it display native HD 720p, but it can also display computer signals in 1024x768 and 1280x800 without compression as well. It will display HD 1920x1080p/60 in compressed form. It cannot display 24p natively, but it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between 60p and 24p even on native 1080p projectors.
Lumen output. Bright mode is the projector's brightest setting, as the name implies. As is typical of high lumen output modes, it is biased towards green, and color accuracy is not as good as in other modes. It is suitable for HD sports and video gaming in a room where you'd like to keep the lighting turned up. Using 720p content, the projector measured 1979 lumens. When using a 1280x800 signal from a laptop or other 16:10 source, it measured 2199 lumens, due to the use of the entire DLP chip.
If you want to watch film or video content in a light-controlled environment, you can use one of the HD66's other image modes. These modes can improve color fidelity and contrast while cutting lumen output, which will help to reduce the incidence of headaches in your audience due to a too-bright picture. Movie mode measured 1410 lumens with the lamp on high, which is still awfully bright for movies in a dark room. Low lamp mode reduces this and all other image modes by 13%, which brings Movie mode to 1227 lumens.
For best results, though, you will want to change the default settings of the HD66 rather significantly. On our test unit, we lowered brightness from the default of 50 to 33, raised contrast from 50 to 67, increased color saturation to 68 and fine-tuned the color temperature settings. We also disabled BrilliantColor completely. The result is a higher-contrast picture with deeper color saturation that looks better than any of the factory default modes. With these adjustments, the HD66 delivered around 670 lumens of brightness, which is still brighter than the average video-optimized home theater projector. Low lamp drops this operating mode to 582 lumens.
Contrast. The HD66's 4000:1 contrast ratio doesn't sound like much. When we first began watching a movie in its factory preset modes, it was still disappointing. Blacks were not deep enough, appearing more gray than black, though shadow detail was good. But after calibration, the picture improved by leaps and bounds. You can lower brightness on the HD66 significantly from factory presets without losing shadow detail, and the result is a deeper black level, well-defined shadow detail, and a more three-dimensional image.
Color. In its preset calibrations, color on the HD66 is only fair. In the brighter modes, such as Presentation and Bright, colors lack proper saturation and accuracy is as normal for these modes. Movie mode is better, since the greenish bias is not present, but saturation still needs a boost. However, after some adjustments by the user, the HD66 has bright, vibrant, well-balanced color that is perfectly suitable for home theater use.
3D. The big story about the HD66 is not that it is another inexpensive 720p projector, but that it is a 720p 3D projector. The HD66 is capable of displaying 1280x720 content at 120 frames per second, which equates to 60 frames per second per eye. You will need a 3D signal source, such as a computer with a powerful graphics card, and one pair of active shutter glasses compatible with DLP Link for each viewer. Keep in mind that the fact that a projector is capable of showing 3D does not mean that it will be compatible with all 3D signal sources in the future. But if you are in the market for an inexpensive home theater projector and want to have the 3D experience, the HD66 will give you just that.
3D Brightness. No matter what projector you use, there is always a dramatic drop in lumen output when using 3D content. For example, the HD66 produces 1979 lumens in Bright mode. Once you turn on 3D mode, lumen output drops to 660. This is the maximum lumen output possible in 3D mode, since no matter what mode you are using, the HD66 ignores your settings after making the switch.
Then, one must factor in the glasses, which can reduce perceived brightness by 60% or more. That makes for a perceived brightness of well under 300 lumens. Things are not as grim as they sound, however, due to the way the glasses operate. Yes, the glasses do cut perceived light output significantly, but they don't solely affect the projected image. The combination of 3D mode and shutter glasses reduces black levels more so than than highlights, making for a higher-contrast picture. It also means that ambient light is reduced by 60%. So, while the picture does appear dimmer, it maintains the same relative brightness when compared to the room environment.
Pre-calibrated modes. The HD66 is a great home theater projector once it has been tuned up, but the picture controls absolutely need to be tweaked to get the best video image out of it. Since the projector is only $699, it won't make sense for most users to lay out an additional $300 for a professional calibration. But the simple adjustments noted previously will produce a dramatically better image than you get from the preset modes, which are optimized for brightness. That is fine for lights-on living room viewing, but not so much for ideal home theater.
Also note that in Movie mode, BrilliantColor defaults to full blast. BrilliantColor on this projector boosts highlights without affecting the rest of the image, which is a great feature for presentations and data display but less than ideal for home cinema. BrilliantColor should be turned off when trying to achieve the best video image for dark room viewing.
Image noise. The HD66 shows a level of image noise comparable to that of other low-cost home theater projectors such as the Optoma HD20 and Vivitek H1080FD. Noise is most visible in solid-colored areas of medium saturation, such as a cloudy sky. It shows up primarily in video or film content, while data images appear more stable.
Placement flexibility. The HD66 has a 1.1x manual zoom lens and no lens shift, which is typical of inexpensive DLP home theater projectors. For example, you can fill a 120" screen with a 16:9 image from 13' 6" to 14' 10", depending on the position of the zoom lens. The fixed throw angle means that the bottom edge of this same image will appear almost 11" above the lens' centerline, which is an offset of about 22%. As a result, the HD66 needs to be positioned carefully to fill a given screen size, either on a low table or using a ceiling mount. Placing it on a low table is less labor-intensive and less costly since you don't incur the cost of a ceiling mount and longer run cables.
Signal loss with long cables. We have a set of long HDMI cables which we use to test signal transmission and reception. When using a 50' long cable, the HD66 occasionally "sputtered" as it lost and reacquired the video signal. This happened very quickly, so it appeared to be nothing more than a flash of static, but it was distracting and completely unpredictable. With 25' cables we had no problem. So if you plan on installing the HD66 using a very long run of cable, test it first before running that long cable through walls and ceiling. You may want to use two shorter cables with a signal repeater between the two. This will mitigate signal loss over distance and ensure that the image does not drop out.
Remote. The HD66's remote seems like it came straight from a business projector. It is small and crowded, with most of the clutter coming from the two directional pads. One of these pads is for mouse control, which most home theater users will find useless. The second directional pad is for menu navigation, and it is not immediately obvious which one is which. Below that are buttons for keystone correction, volume control of the onboard two-watt speaker, and then a whole mess of buttons in no particular order, numbered one through nine. These buttons control Brightness (though there is no corresponding button for Contrast), bring up the Menu, control the digital zoom, select HDMI as a source, freeze the image on screen, enable A/V mute, select S-Video, VGA, or composite. As you can probably tell, the layout of the remote is a little confusing. A number of times, we found ourselves accidentally switching sources or muting the picture when we meant to bring up the menu. While the HD66 is an inexpensive projector, the remote was still a disappointment.
The Optoma HD66 is a small, powerful, versatile home theater projector that's great for movies, video games, or HD sports. Its pre-calibrated picture modes optimize brightness, which is great for use in high ambient light but not ideal for cinema. A little fine-tuning of the picture controls gets you a dynamic, vibrant picture that's perfect for movies. 720p 3D support adds a bit of future-proofing and allows for the use of 3D PC games, if you have a computer powerful enough to handle them. All in all, the HD66 offers an outstanding value for those on a budget who want a bright home theater projector that is great for movies, video games, and for additional types of computer-based projection as well.