Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.
The biggest story of the past two years in the projector industry has been the rapid collapse of 1080p pricing. Three years ago you had to ante up $30,000 for 1080p resolution; today you can get 1080p projectors for as little as $3,000. As expected, the price collapse has been led by manufacturers using LCD technology. But with the release of the Optoma HD80, DLP suddenly takes the price lead, and it does so in dramatic fashion. At an official street price of just $2,699, the HD80 sets a new price/performance standard in the world of 1080p projection.
As is typical of DLP projectors, the short 1.2x zoom lens range and lack of physical lens shift means that the HD80 does not offer the variety of installation options that are available with its LCD competitors. Most users will need to ceiling mount it. However, those who can live with its installation restrictions will be rewarded with outstanding image quality that is currently unbeatable for the money.
ANSI lumens: 1300
Contrast (full on/off): 10,000:1
Light Engine: 1920x1080, native 16:9, single chip DLP with a 300W UHP lamp and a 6x speed, 7-segment color wheel.
Video Compatibility: HDTV 1080p/60, 1080p/50, 1080p/24, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i. NTSC/PAL/SECAM.
Connection Panel: Two HDMI inputs, one VGA input, one component YPbPr input, one S-Video input, one composite input, one RS-232C port.
Lens and Throw Distance: 1.2:1 manual zoom/focus lens. Throws a 100" diagonal 16:9 image from 13.5' to 16.2'
Lamp Life: 2000 hours standard, 3000 in low lamp mode.
Warranty: Two years.
The Optoma HD80 is a small, elegant looking video projector in a sleek, cream colored case. It will look unimposing when installed in a ceiling mount, which is the most likely deployment for most users. The light engine consists of a single 1920x1080 resolution DLP chip with a rapid 6x color wheel rotation speed. A 6x wheel speed, the fastest we've yet seen on a consumer home theater projector, is enough to make DLP rainbow artifacts impossible to detect by almost everyone. Rainbow artifacts, when they are present, are most obvious in black and white films since any momentary flash of color is quite obviously not supposed to be there. In watching Casablanca on HD-DVD, we saw no hint of rainbow effects on this projector.
As noted above there is a limited 1.2x zoom lens and no physical lens shift. This means that extra care must be taken in planning the installation. There is relatively little leeway for the placement of the projector to fill any given screen size. The projector has a comparatively long throw distance for any given screen size. To fill a 100" diagonal screen the projector must be set back to a distance of at least 13.5 and not more than 16 feet. The good news is that this means the projector will usually be behind and away from the viewing audience. Also, the longer throw distance provides for a narrower cone of projected light and a more even illumination of the screen than does a very short throw. The downside is that it will be a bit more difficult to fit into smaller viewing rooms while still having a large image, should that be desired.
In lieu of physical lens shift, the Optoma HD80 has a fixed throw angle which causes the bottom edge of the image to appear about 37% of the image height above the centerline of the lens. This is a somewhat greater throw angle than we see on most projectors, and is good for ceiling mounting since it will frequently eliminate the need for a drop extension tube.
For example, let's assume you want a 120" diagonal image, and you have a nine foot ceiling. When inverted for ceiling mounting, the HD80 will throw the image downward such that the top edge of the image is about 22" below the centerline of the lens (Image height of 59" x .37 = 22". With an additional three inches clearance between the lens and the ceiling, this centers the projected image vertically on the wall, with roughly two feet clearance between the top edge of the image and the ceiling, and another two feet between the bottom edge and the floor. So in short, the fixed throw angle is designed to facilitate a ceiling mount installation in typical consumer homes with ceilings of 8.0 to 9.5 feet in height without the need for either vertical lens shift or a drop tube.
The light engine is sealed, and no air filter is required. This is great news for those who ceiling-mount the unit, as there is no monthly chore of climbing the ladder to clean or replace the filter. Once the HD80 is installed, the only maintenance access required will be to replace the lamp on occasion.
Lamp life in full power mode is the typical 2000 hours, and 3000 hours is estimated for low lamp mode. Low lamp mode reduces lumen output by 23%. Since this is a fairly bright projector, we anticipate that many users will opt for this operating mode to take advantage of a longer lamp life, especially considering that the price of the replacement lamp is $480 as of this writing. Many folks new to the world of projectors are surprised at the cost of replacement lamps. But the cost is a simple fact of life with today's current high pressure lamp technologies. No matter which projector you buy, it is prudent to set aside $15 a month for the replacement lamp, so that when the time comes, the cash is there to do it.
The HD80's lamp is a bit more costly than the average $350 to $400 because it is brighter than average. At 300 watts, it is almost double the wattage of lamps used in competing LCD projectors. That means that the projector will generate a reasonable amount of heat in the room when operated for hours at a time. Therefore, the room you install should be adequately ventilated or air conditioned, especially if the room is small.
With the hotter and brighter lamp comes more fan noise than usual as well. In Brite mode, the audible noise is low to moderate in volume, and more noticeable than it is on many competing home theater products. It isn't loud enough to be objectionable in our view-we spent hours viewing the HD80 with it mounted just two feet behind our seats. Even with the unit that close, the only time we became conscious of the fan is during quiet interludes in a sound track. Once it is ceiling mounted, the projector will be far enough from the seating that fan noise in Brite mode will be of little practical consequence for most users. In Low lamp mode, the fan noise drops considerably to a very quiet level.
The connection panel is straightforward and connection options are ample for an aggressively priced 1080p projector. As you can see below, there are two HDMI inputs on the right. To the left of them is an all-purpose DVI-I port that takes either DVI, VGA analog, or SCART. There are also the conventional S-Video, component video, composite video, and a 12-volt trigger.
The HD80 has two features on board that can cause image brightness and contrast to vary. One is Image AI, which evaluates the content of each scene as it is being projected and adjusts the lamp's light output on the fly. The user can turn Image AI on or off, but the projector must be operating in Brite, or full lamp power mode, for Image AI to function. Once Image AI is selected, the projector will automatically put itself into Brite mode, and fan noise increases to the louder of the two operating levels. With Image AI selected, the user's ability to put the lamp into low power mode is disabled since the system needs the lamp's full range of power to operate.
The other feature that influences brightness and contrast is a manual iris that is controlled by the user. The iris can be set to "off," or wide open. This is the preferred choice with ambient light in the room, or if you are illuminating a very large screen and you want to maximize lumen output. Conversely, in a dark room or with a smaller screen, you may want to close down the iris to curtail lumen output and increase image contrast and black level. The iris can be set to any one of sixteen incrementally smaller fixed apertures depending on your particular needs and preferences. When it is set to its minimum aperture, the iris reduces lumen output by 60%.
The remote control is easy to use and has good range. The projector responded immediately to a bounce off the screen from at least eighteen feet. The remote feels good in one's right hand. The menu button is about as small as they get, and initially you find yourself staring at the remote to find it. But once you get the feel of it, it is easy to access. There are four aspect ratio control buttons, one for each format. It might be easier to have a single button that would enable the user to toggle through the options, but I suspect many people will like it just the way it is.
The remote also has controls for overscan and edge masking, which is unusual on a home theater remote. Overscan behaves in the typical fashion. When set to zero, one gets 100% of the signal image. When stepped through successive increments the overscan control digitally zooms the picture a few percentage points without changing the size of the projected image. On the other hand, edge masking will cause a black frame to encroach on the projected image, and reduce the active picture area by up to about 2%. This is a great feature to have for eliminating edge noise when you happen to be viewing a signal that has some. The fact that this feature is easily accessed via the remote is a definite plus.
The Anamorphic Lens Option. Many people these days are excited about the concept of the super widescreen 2.35:1 format, which is wider still than HDTV 16:9. The HD80 is configured with the necessary scaling to accommodate an anamorphic lens for a 2.35 constant image height set up. Optoma offers as an optional accessory a completely independent anamorphic lens with automated track to deploy or retract it depending on when it is needed. This option is priced at an additional $3,999, so it takes the entire projection system into an entirely different price class. If you are unfamiliar with the 2.35 option, we recently posted an article entitled 2.35 Super Widescreen Home Theater. This article reviews the advantages and limitations of a 2.35 CIH set up for home theater, and it includes reference to the Panamorph U380 lens and track that is available from Optoma for use with the HD80. You may or may not be interested in this option today. If not, it is good to know that the HD80 is configured to accommodate a 2.35 set up in the future should you want to move in this direction.
I want to restrain myself from using too many gushing superlatives. But it will be difficult, because the HD80 is simply a magnificent projector for the money. Excellent performance in contrast, black level, sharpness, and color combine to make it a riveting home theater experience. And it has ample brightness that can be varied and tailored to a variety of screen sizes and room environments.
As far as brightness is concerned, our test unit measured a substantial 687 lumens in it brightest video configuration. In optimal Cinema mode, with the iris open and lamp on low power, we measured 420 lumens. The short zoom lens has little effect on the lumen output-in its most extreme telephoto setting it reduces light output by 5%, so the position of the lens is of no practical consequence in installation planning.
Activating the manual iris will close down lumen output incrementally over sixteen steps, to a minimum of the low 200s. The right choice for the iris position will depend upon screen size and the darkness of the viewing room. There is incrementally better contrast and black level to be obtained with the closing of the iris, but these performance factors are already terrific even with the iris fully open.
The official contrast rating for the HD80 is 10,000:1. You would think that this projector would be comparable in contrast to competing LCD units rated 10,000:1 or higher. It is not. It is quite visibly higher in actual contrast than all LCD competitors carrying the same or higher contrast ratings. With the higher contrast performance comes more three dimensionality, incrementally better color saturation, and the impression of a sharper image.
In point of fact, the HD80 matches the sharpness of the Mitsubishi HC5000, which heretofore has been the benchmark 1080p projector for sharpness under $5,000. And when it was given a 1080p/24 signal from our Pioneer Blu-ray player, it delivered a spectacular razor sharp image that was unmatched by any other projector we've yet seen under $5,000.
This needs a side comment. In theory, 1080p/24 is the cleanest signal you can have for transmitting Blu-ray and HD DVD content from a player to the projector. That is because the movie material on Blu-ray and HD DVD discs is encoded in 1080p at the film capture rate of 24 frames per second. If the player is capable of outputting this native format, and the projector is capable of receiving and displaying it without converting to 30 or 60 hertz variants, the image should be maintained in its most pristine original form. Contrary to common myth, the 1080p/60 format is not better, faster, cleaner, or in any way superior to 1080p/24 when it comes to film source reproduction. We have seen several projectors that have very sharp and stable images with 1080p/60 that are not improved by switching to 1080p/24. However, in the case of the Optoma HD80, incremental image sharpness is the most obvious immediate benefit. A secondary benefit is a subtle smoothing of horizontal motion judder, but superior image sharpness is by far the most valuable improvement.
Therefore, to get the absolute maximum performance from the Optoma HD80, you must match it with a high resolution HD 1080p disc player that outputs 1080p/24. In the Blu-ray world, those would be the Pioneer BDP-HD1, the two Sony Blu-ray players along with the Sony PlayStation 3, and the Samsung BDP-1200. In HD DVD world, you should be able to get 1080p/24 on the Toshiba HD-XA2 and the HDA20 with an upcoming firmware update in early September. We hope that happens, because as impressive as Toshiba has been in delivering low cost HD DVD players, they have been slow to get their act together when it comes to delivering 1080p/24 capability. The need for them to do so is obvious when one hooks up the Pioneer Blu-ray player to the Optoma HD80, sets it to 1080p/24, then pops in something like the MPEG-4 encoded disc The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This is cutting edge home theater, pure and simple.
[UPDATE 8/6/07: Today, one week after the posting of this review, Toshiba has announced two new HD DVD players with 1080p/24 capability--the HD-A30 for $399.99, and the HD-A35 for $499.99. They are scheduled to commence shipments in September. EP]
On occasion we find projectors that represent a substantial leap forward in price performance, setting a new image quality standard for a given price range. The Optoma HD80 is one of these rare machines. At an official estimated street price of $2,699, it delivers a remarkable 1080p image that will undoubtedly affect the price structure of the competition in the months to come. It does not have anywhere near the installation flexibility of its competitors, so it takes more effort and planning to get it installed. But those who have the right viewing room to accommodate the HD80 will be rewarded with outstanding 1080p image quality for an amazingly low price. From the moment we lit it up, we had no doubt that we'd be giving the Optoma HD80 our Editor's Choice Award.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma HD80 projector page.