Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
When the new crop of high contrast LCD 720p projectors appeared last fall we knew it would not take long for makers of DLP products to show an aggressive response. Out on the leading edge of this movement is the Optoma HD72, a newly released 1280x768 resolution DLP home theater projector that is rated at up to 5000:1 contrast and sells for low street prices near the magic $2,000 mark. Optoma has been building a brand in home theater that connotes high quality at consumer friendly prices. With the H31 at the low end, and the newly announced HD81 1080p at the high end, the HD72 fits into the middle range of a family of aggressively priced models that deliver a lot of home theater for the money.
Contrast: 3500:1 without Image AI, and up to 5000:1 with Image AI activated.
ANSI lumens: 1300
Light engine: DLP DarkChip 2, 1280x768 native resolution, 7-segment color wheel (GRBWGRB), 4x rotation speed.
Connection panel: One HDMI port, one DVI-I (HDCP), one 3-RCA component video, one composite video, one S-video, one RS-232, one service port, one 12V relay. There is also a Kensington Microsaver lock port to provide added security if used in a public environment.
Compatibility: HDTV 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i; 480i NTSC/NTSC 4.43, 576i PAL/PAL-N/PAL-M/SECAM; computer SXGA+, SXGA, XGA, SVGA, VGA; dual resolution support for computer 1280x768 and native 1280x720 HDTV.
Zoom lens and throw distance: 1.2x manual zoom, 100" 16:9 image between 11.5 and 13.8 feet throw distance
Warranty: Two years.
The HD72 is a relatively small, lightweight home theater projector that comes in an attractive, high gloss white case. Its small size and white color make it particularly suitable for ceiling mounting on a white ceiling, because it renders it virtually invisible in the room's environment. One of the great advantages of front projection systems as compared to big box rear-projection TVs is that, with a little planning ahead of time, the entire video system can be made to disappear when not in use. That way the room you use for home theater does not need to be dominated by an imposing altar to the video gods. Since big-screen TVs are now rumored to be a leading cause of divorce in America, the front projection alternative is the happy solution to marital harmony.
While on the subject of installation, we may as well point out some limitations posed by the HD72: It has relatively limited throw distance flexibility and no physical lens shift. For whatever reasons, DLP projectors in general lag behind LCD projectors in delivering extended zoom range and lens shift capability, making them less user-friendly when it comes to installation. LCD projectors have made great headway in home theater market share in no small part because they simply fit into a wider array of room configurations than do most DLP projectors.
The HD72 is no different in this regard. The 1.2x zoom lens will throw a 100" diagonal image from a distance of at least 11.5 feet, and no more than 13.8 feet. Since a 100" diagonal image is 87" wide, this means that the projector will be at a distance of 1.6x to 1.9x the screen width. That is a viewing distance many people find comfortable for watching large screen movies. If you are among them, you will find that the projector is situated very close to you. You might place it on a low table between two seats, or you might ceiling mount it directly above the seating area.
A less practical solution would be to place the projector on a shelf or stand behind the seating area. That is because the HD72 has a built in throw angle offset that equals about 1.5 inches of vertical rise per foot of throw distance. So if you set up the projector at a distance of 12 feet from the screen for a 100" diagonal image, the bottom edge of the projected image will be about 18" above the centerline of the lens. In other words, if you set the projector on a rear shelf behind the seats that is, say, four feet off the floor in order to clear the heads of viewers, the bottom edge of the image will be 5.5 feet off the floor. That is too high for most typical home theater situations. You could correct the problem by tilting the projector downward and correcting the resulting trapezoidal image with keystone correction, but that is a solution you should try to avoid if you can.
You might also think about putting it on a very high shelf and inverting it. That may solve your particular problem geometrically, but you must not place a projector upside down with the top casework in direct contact with a shelf. Projectors are built to dissipate heat in part through the casework, and if heat dissipation is inhibited, overheating will result.
So the simple fact is that many users of the HD72 will find that ceiling mounting provides the happiest solution-it gets the projector away from the viewers, and you can put it virtually anywhere on the ceiling to achieve precisely the right image size you desire. And as noted above, because it is small and white, it will virtually disappear against a white ceiling when not in use. If you use the projector with an electric or manually retractable screen, or a fixed, wall-mounted screen with curtains, the system can be made to disappear when not in use. That gives you the option to define the space as something completely different than a dedicated video room.
16:9 or 15:9?
Several of the latest widescreen projectors to come to market feature the classic WXGA computer resolution format, 1280x768. The HD72 is one of them. The aspect ratio of this format is 15:9. The advantage to this format is that it will display both 1280x768 and standard XGA (1024x768) computer outputs in full frame native resolution without cropping or compression. For those using these signals this is a significant advantage. If you view a lot of 768-line material you may want to have your screen cut to a 15:9 aspect ratio so you can view it full frame. With that set up, your HDTV material will be displayed in 1280x720, and there will be small black bars at the top and bottom of the image.
On the other hand, if your viewing material is HDTV, DVD, and television, you will want to use the 16:9 operating mode, which is 1280x720. In this mode, all signals that are not native 720-line are scaled to 720 format. As a side note, one additional advantage to this mode is that there are 24 lines of digital image shift up or down that provide a similar function to physical lens shift. If you choose to operate in 16:9 mode, you will want a conventional 16:9 screen. The 720-line image will fill the screen, and the extra few display lines at the top and bottom (the small black bars) will fall invisibly onto the screen masks or frame. Either operating mode works fine. But because the HD72 gives you a choice of two operating aspect ratios, you must think about how you want to use the projector before ordering the screen.
The HD72 uses TI's new BrilliantColor feature, and the implementation is impressive. The system gives you the option to set BrilliantColor in increasing levels of intensity from 0 to 10. At the lowest setting color looks weak, and the maximum setting color saturation is overdriven to the point that it is unnatural. But users will find it easy to locate a setting somewhere in the middle of the range of options that delivers rich, pleasing, natural color. There is also a separate color intensity control labeled "True Vivid" which ostensibly enables the picture's "vividness" to be enhanced. Selection options are in the range of 0 to 3. Though some users may like the effect, we found increasingly vivid to look increasingly unnatural.
In addition to the controls over color saturation, there are three preprogrammed options for color temperature-0, 1, and 2, which correspond to warm, neutral, and cool respectively. The 0 setting is better for classic black/white films, 1 is best for color film and video, and 2 may be preferred for computer display. For those who want to get into the adjustment of gain and bias on red, green, and blue, these controls are available as well.
In short, the HD72 gives the user a uniquely wide range of precalibrated, menu-driven options for adjusting the color characteristics of the image. It is exceptionally easy to use and fun to experiment with. The novice will find it easy to obtain great results without worrying about serious calibration, and the videophile will have the controls necessary to tweak as desired.
The HD72 delivers a sharp, high contrast image with abundant color saturation. The picture is highly competitive with the LCD 1280x720 products that sell in the same general range of street prices. As such it is the first DLP product in this resolution class to acknowledge competitive realities and price accordingly. As far as image quality itself is concerned, it sets a new benchmark in price/performance in 720p resolution.
The HD72 has two lamp operating modes-normal and "brite." When calibrated for cinema settings, normal mode on our test sample produced 385 ANSI lumens, and brite mode boosted light output to 500 lumens. Brightness uniformity measured a very good 90%, with light level almost uniform across the left and middle areas of the screen, and fading just slightly to the right side.
Fan noise is low in normal mode, and becomes more noticeable in brite mode. This is not the quietest projector we've ever heard, but audible noise is about typical of most home theater products these days. One quirk worth noting is that in Image AI mode, the lamp output varies with the scene content, and the fan's rotation speed will vary with the lamp output. So if the projector is located immediately behind and close to the audience, it is possible to become conscious of and distracted by the varying noise level of the fan. This is another good reason to consider ceiling mounting this particular model.
While the image is highly competitive, it is not flawless. Nobody should expect or demand perfection at such a low price. The most noticeable image flaw in the HD72 is that manifests more image noise than its LCD competition in scenes that are prone to noise. However, this is typical of DLP projectors in general, and is not a unique fault of the HD72. When placed side by side with 720p DLP projectors that are much higher in price, the HD72's noise attributes are similar. So in citing this flaw, it should not be taken out of context. Basically, we wish most DLP projectors had less visual noise. But on the other hand, we wish most LCD projectors had better shadow detail. There is always something for the reviewer to nitpick about.
One less significant but nonetheless irritating nuisance was that there was very little range on the HD72's remote. The projector would not respond to a bounce off the screen when the screen was only eight feet away. We had to point the remote at the projector to get it to respond, and the range for direct line-of-sight reliable response was about 12 feet. The good news is that the projector's IR sensors respond reliably to the remote when it is pointed directly at the top of the projector. So you can ceiling mount the unit directly above the seating area and simply point the remote upward with no worry that the IR sensors will not see it.
The Optoma HD72 is a formidable competitor in today's home theater projector market, delivering particularly outstanding image quality for the money. We have marked it down a bit in features and ease of use due to the limitations imposed by the 1.2x zoom lens, the lack of lens shift, and a limited range remote. The performance rating is docked 1/2 star due to occasional image noise. But we can enthusiastically give the HD72 a solid five stars for value. And if the HD72's throw distance and fixed throw angle fit the geometry requirements of your particular home theater, then the limitations we have cited in this regard are irrelevant to you. In that case, the HD72 will be a truly dynamite home theater solution, delivering one of the best images we've yet seen anywhere near the street price range of $2000.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma HD72 projector page.