Optoma HD7100 720P DLP Projector
Projector Central Highly Recommended Award

Highly Recommended Award

Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.

  • Performance
  • 4.5
  • Features
  • Ease of Use
  • Value
Price
$3,299 MSRP Discontinued

In March of last year Optoma released the impressive H79 at a retail price of $10,000. That was a 1280x720 DLP DarkChip3 projector. At its release it was selling on the street for about $6500, and it was truly an exceptional, leading edge product which we gave a full 5-star rating. Then in September of last year came the dramatic release of the high contrast LCD products, also at 1280x720 resolution, which hit the market at street prices of $2,000 to $2,300. At the time we said this competitive development would rapidly erode DLP pricing in this resolution class. And it has done so in spades. Exhibit A is the new Optoma HD7100, the latest DarkChip3 product from this vendor. The story in a nutshell: The HD7100 outperforms the H79 in image quality, and it is available for street prices under $3,000. Now that's progress.

With the release of the HD7100, price/performance levels between 720p DLP and 720p LCD products have reached a more realistic balance. You will pay a premium for the HD7100 over the LCD alternatives. That is as it should be since the image quality is, in some important respects, superior. But the fascinating question now posed by the HD7100 is this: how much longer will the high-end boutique vendors be able to market DarkChip3 single-chip 720p models in the price range of $10,000 to $15,000? The price gap between the HD7100 at $2,999 and the high-end models is enormous, while the image quality gap is, practically speaking, marginal at best.

Specifications

Light engine. 1280x720 resolution, 16:9 format DLP DarkChip3 with 4x speed, six segment color wheel, 250W UHP lamp.

Brightness. 1000 ANSI lumens

Contrast. 5000:1 full on/off

Video Compatibility. NTSC: M (3.5MHz), B/G, D/K (4.43MHz) PAL: B, D, G, K, I, M, N SECAM: B, D, G, K, L HDTV: 480i, 480p, 576i, 576p, 720p, 1080i

Computer Compatibility. WXGA, UXGA Compression, XGA, SXGA, SVGA, VGA Compression, VESA standard, PC & Macintosh Compatible

Lens and Throw Distance. 1.25:1 manual zoom/focus lens. Throws a 100" diagonal image from 9.5' to 11.9'.

Lamp Life. 3,000 hours.

Connection Panel. DVI w/HDCP, component video, composite video (RCA), S-Video, RGB, RS-232

Warranty. Three years.

The first thing we did with the HD7100 was to set it up against its esteemed predecessor, the H79, and see what sort of differences we could detect. Both are 720p DarkChip3 machines driven by 250W UHP lamps, so we were not expecting to see much difference between the two. But to our surprise the HD7100 looked a bit sharper and more three-dimensional. The difference was not enough that you'd notice it if the images were not side by side, but clearly the HD7100 has a modest edge over the H79 in image quality, primarily in contrast, shadow detail, and sharpness. We suspect the incremental image quality is due to a newer, shorter, and optically superior lens.

The light meter informed us that the HD7100 was delivering 552 ANSI lumens in optimized video mode with the lamp in full power mode, and 408 ANSI lumens in low power mode-that is a 35% boost from low power to full power, which is quite a bit more than the typical 20% we see on most units. In general, this means that the HD7100 is on the brighter end of the spectrum for projectors that have been built for dedicated home theater use.

The ideal installation scenario for this projector would be to use it in low power mode on a screen that is in the range of 100" to 120" diagonal. If the room is a dedicated theater room that has been darkened to reduce reflective light (dark walls, carpets, ceilings, etc), then a low-gain white screen will be the best choice. If the room is multi-purpose, and you have the more typical white ceilings and light colored carpets, wall treatments and furnishings, then a low-gain high contrast gray screen will be the better choice. In any case, for best results in video and film projection, you should always eliminate all other light sources in the room that you have control over-keep the viewing space as dark as possible.

With regard to the lens, the throw distance has been shortened considerably on the HD7100 as compared to the H79. A 100" diagonal image is obtained from between 9.5' and 11.9', and the optimum throw distance using the center of the lens would be about 10.7'. By comparison, the H79 throws the same 100" image from a minimum distance of 11.6' to a maximum of 15.6', with an optimum placement at about 13.6' That is a three-foot difference that could be crucial in your installation plan.

For example, let's say you want to set the viewing area at a distance of 1.7 times the screen width (not an atypical choice). That means you'd want to place seating about 12 feet from a 100" screen. Now, if you want to put the projector on a shelf on a rear wall behind the seats, you can do it with the H79, but you can't with the HD7100. Conversely, the HD7100's shorter throw distance may accommodate a coffee table placement more easily than would the H79. Both of them can, of course, be ceiling mounted. Though ceiling mounting adds to the cost of installation, it largely eliminates limitations related to throw distance of the lens.

The HD7100 offers both vertical and horizontal lens shift. The range is not extensive, but it is certainly better than not having it at all. Vertical shift travels the equivalent of two full screen heights. In the neutral position, the centerline of the lens intersects the projected image about 10% of the picture height below the center of the image. At its highest position, the bottom edge of the image is about 10% of the picture height above the centerline of the lens.

This configuration allows for easy vertical placement of the image when the projector is mounted on a rear shelf. But as noted above, the short throw of the lens creates some limitations for rear shelf use. In many cases the image thrown from a rear shelf may be too large for the user's taste. On the other hand, those who like to sit closer to a large image will have less of a problem, or no problem at all.

As the short throw distance may create difficulties for rear shelf mounting, the vertical lens shift range creates some limitations for ceiling mounting. When inverted and on the ceiling, the image will be projected such that the top edge is 10% of the picture height below the lens centerline. In many cases that means the top edge of the picture will be less than a foot from the ceiling-too high on the wall. You can always use an extension tube on the ceiling mount to lower the placement of the projector, or you can tilt the projector downward and correct the resulting trapezoid with keystone. But some users may view these alternatives as less than ideal.

The combination of a short throw distance, a limited 1.25 zoom range, and a maximum of 2.0 picture heights of vertical lens shift, cause us not to be overly enthused about the lens configuration on this projector. While the lens itself is beautifully sharp, and an improvement over the H79, the limitations just noted reduce the overall versatility of the projector.

Optoma has done an excellent job controlling fan noise on many of its home theater projectors. The H79 in particular was super-quiet. However, the HD7100 is not so quiet. In low power mode, fan noise is rather low and unobtrusive, but not as quiet as many of its competitors. Yet few users would find it objectionable. In full power mode, the fan noise becomes more apparent and it could be considered by some to be distracting. We would not describe it as loud, and it certainly is not as loud as most business projectors. But it is on the louder end of the range that we find in products designed for dedicated home theater use.

We've seen a lot of projectors lately with limited range on the remote controls, and this is another one. Depending on the throw distance and screen type you are using, you may find it necessary to point the remote at the projector in order to get a reliable response.

One more thing to be aware of ... the HD7100 uses separate non-volatile memory to store the calibrations of different signal types like 480i, 480p, 720p, etc. If you have calibrated one signal type then switch to another that has never been calibrated, it will default to factory presets. This will make it appear as though the original settings were lost. When the signal format is changed from say, 480i to 480p, even from the same DVD player, this causes whatever calibrations you may have dedicated to 480p to be automatically called up. If the signal is then changed back to 480i the original calibration setup for 480i is restored. But each separate signal type needs to be calibrated separately to avoid the 8000K factory default to be loaded.

We actually tested two HD7100s for this review. The first one we received was a pre-production unit that manifested some flakiness in synching with DVI sources. However, the second unit, a production sample, checked out well with no hint of difficulty in recognizing and synching on various sources.

Conclusion

Judged purely in terms of image quality, in a side-by-side comparison the HD7100 beats the H79. That means it delivers a world class image. And with a street price of $2,999 there is no question that it is a leading-edge product in price/performance. It is amazing to think that just twelve months ago this level of performance cost $6,500.

Though the optical quality of the new lens is first rate, the throw distance and lens shift will create challenges for some in fitting the geometry of the projector to the fixed dimensions of the viewing space. In this regard the HD7100 is not as versatile as many of its competitors. We've reduced the "Features" and "Ease of Use" ratings to reflect this. And performance was docked half a star for a limited range remote and for having somewhat above-average fan noise for this class of product.

However, if you happen to have a desired screen size, viewing distance, and room configuration that can be accommodated by the HD7100, then the ease-of-use limitations become moot. At that point it is all about the picture, and there are few competing home theater projectors anywhere near the price of the HD7100 that can deliver comparable color saturation, contrast, black level, and image sharpness. For the money, the HD7100 is simply tough to beat, and we have rarely seen a projector that has earned a more solid 5-star rating for value.

For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma HD7100 projector page.