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Best Home Theater Projectors
Ease of Use
Optoma HD81 Projector Optoma HD81
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10000:1 Contrast Ratio
1400 Lumens
Street Price: n/a

Optoma HD81
Home Theater Projector

Bill Livolsi, November 15, 2006


Two of the most noteworthy competitive advantages of the Optoma HD81 are image sharpness and lumen output. It renders 1080p source material with excellent precision, delivering the fine detail that the user is looking for in a 1080p projector. With standard definition material, the image is softer due to the limitations of the source, but it still produces a reasonably filmlike image with no hint of pixelation.

As far as brightness is concerned, the HD81 can pump out a lot of light for a home theater projector. When calibrated for optimal cinema use and with the lamp on full power, our test unit measured 655 ANSI lumens. Dropping the projector into low lamp mode netted 491 ANSI lumens, or a 25% reduction. So with the ability to deliver almost 500 lumens in low lamp mode, it has the muscle to fill a very large screen without having to worry about the full power mode with its more significant fan noise. In low power mode, the HD81 is not quite as quiet as the competition, but all of the new 1080p models are remarkably quiet compared to prior generations of home theater projectors.

Contrast is another area of competitive strength, even without the use of the auto iris, and with the manual iris setting wide open. Whites sparkle while black levels are pleasantly deep. Closing the iris down will incrementally reduce lumen output and black level. Closing the iris to its maximum setting (16) cut brightness down to 245 ANSI lumens, but that may be just the right setting in a dark room with not too large a screen size.

The HD81 is capable of being calibrated to exacting color standards. It has three user programmable memories for color, plus two additional memories that can be accessed and calibrated by professional installers through the Imaging Science Foundation. Considering the sizable investment in the projector itself, users should get quotes on having it professionally calibrated to ISF standards. The incremental expense will most likely be worth the investment if you want it tuned up to perfection.

The HD81 uses a Gennum VXP video processing chipset that delivers comprehensive deinterlacing that is competitive with the other projectors in the 1080p class. So with respect to deinterlacing there is nothing to complain about at all. However, the upscaling of standard definition DVD produced a slightly softer image than would be ideal. Switching the source DVD player to upscale and output 1080i caused the HD81 to render an incrementally sharper picture from DVD.


The Optoma HD81 offers 1080p resolution in a package ideal for a traditional dedicated theater. With exceptionally high video-optimized lumen output, solid blacks and brilliant highlights, the HD81 can deliver brilliant and very sharp images to the screen. For those who need or want the extra lumen output, the HD81 stands out as a clear winner.

Due to the limited zoom range and lack of lens shift, the installation options are highly restricted for any given screen size. So our "ease of use" rating is lowered accordingly. The vast majority of users will be ceiling mounting the HD81 in order to get just the right size and placement of the projected image. However, if you are planning to ceiling mount your projector no matter which one you buy, this becomes much less of a competitive issue. Fan noise in full lamp mode is too loud for our taste, but it is quite acceptable in low lamp mode. And since the HD81 delivers a brighter picture in low lamp mode than the competing units can produce with full lamp power, this is a trade-off we would gladly accept for larger screen theaters. If we were setting up a 150" diagonal screen for dark theater use, we would be looking very strongly at the HD81 simply due to its unique ability to deliver a lot of lumen power and high contrast at the same time.

As an important practical matter, the HD81 costs more than some of the other new 1080p models. At this writing, street prices are about $2,000 higher than the least expensive 1080p alternatives. That is a big premium considering the quality of the competition. However, for those who need or want the extra lumen muscle that the HD81 provides, it is absolutely worth every penny. UPDATE 4/18/07: Street prices on the Optoma HD81 are much more competitive as of this update than they were when this review was first posted. There is no longer a $2,000 price gap. As of this update, the Value ranking has been increased from 4 to 5 stars, and we now regard the HD81 has a highly competitive option from a price perspective. EP

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