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Optoma HD81 1080p Home Theater Projector Review

Best Home Theater Projectors
Performance
5
Features
Ease of Use
Value
Optoma HD81 Projector Optoma HD81
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10000:1 Contrast Ratio
1400 Lumens
Street Price: n/a
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Optoma HD81
Home Theater Projector

Bill Livolsi, November 15, 2006
ProjectorCentral.com

The new Optoma HD81 is one of several aggressively priced 1080p resolution home theater projectors to come to market this fall. It is the brightest of the new 1080p models and delivers a particularly sharp and detailed HD image. Other performance attributes include a solid black level, brilliant highlights, near flawless deinterlacing, and extensive connectivity via a separate video processor.

The HD81's most obvious limitations include a 1.2x zoom lens and no lens shift capability, which means placement options to illuminate any given screen size are limited. Fan noise is higher than average, so placing the projector as far from the seating area as possible is advised. Due to these installation restrictions, most users of the HD81 will be choosing to ceiling mounting it. But for those who can work within these limitations, the HD81 will deliver a magnificent high definition home theater experience.


Specifications

ANSI lumens: 1400

Contrast (full on/off): 10,000:1

Light Engine: 1920x1080, native 16:9, 1.0" single-chip DLP with a 7-segment, 6x rotation speed color wheel and a 300W UHP lamp.

Video Compatibility: 1080p/60/50/24, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i. NTSC/PAL/SECAM.

Connection Panel: Three HDMI, two YPbPr Component, two BNC component, one VGA port (front panel), three s-video, three composite, two 12V trigger, one wired remote port, one HDMI loop-through for A/V receiver.

Lens and Throw Distance: 1.2:1 manual zoom/focus lens. Throws a 100" diagonal 16:9 image from 13.5' to 16.1'

Lamp Life: 2000 hours.

Warranty: Three years.

General Impressions / Feature Set

The HD81 has a two-piece design, including the projector itself and a separate video processor. The projector comes in a relatively compact, sleek, cream-colored case that will blend in well with a light-colored ceiling. An HDMI cable and a serial control cable connect the projector to the video processor, which is a slim black box that houses video processing circuitry and the projector's extensive inputs.

The connection panel on the rear of the processor provides three HDMI inputs, two YPbPr component inputs, two BNC component inputs, two composite video ports, two s-video ports, two 12V triggers, one RS232C port, and an HDMI loop-through for an A/V receiver. On the flip-down front panel are one each of composite, s-video, and VGA. Practically speaking, no matter how many video source devices you have, you will be able to run signals from them directly into the projector rather than through an A/V receiver. The HD81's IR receiver is on the video processor rather than the projector itself, so remember to place the processor in such a way that you can still point the remote control at it from your preferred seat.

The Optoma HD81 features a manual 1.2:1 zoom lens which will throw a 100" diagonal 16:9 image from 13.5' to 16.1'. There is no lens shift. Instead, there is a built-in fixed throw angle that places the top edge of the projected image about 35% of the image height below the centerline of the lens when ceiling mounted. This translates to a 17" drop on a 100" diagonal image. Most users will want to install the HD81 on the ceiling behind the seating area, as it requires at least 13.5' of throw distance to produce a 100" diagonal image. If the desired viewing distance is 1.5x the screen width, then for a 100" screen the seats will be 10.8' from the screen, and the projector several feet further back.

The built-in throw angle will allow for the placement of the projector on a coffee table, but that will require the viewer to sit at a distance of at least 2.0x the screen width, which is farther back than many people want to sit. In addition, louder than normal fan noise could be distracting during quiet interludes in a film's sound track if the unit is placed directly in front of the viewers.

Rear shelf mounts are nearly unworkable with the HD81 due to the built-in throw angle. If installed upright it would require tilting the projector and use of keystone correction which introduces a touch of softness to the high definition image. This should be avoided if one wishes to take full advantage of the projector's high-definition capabilities. In theory one could invert the projector and attach it to the underside of a high rear shelf with a ceiling mount kit, but this could inhibit heat dissipation and is not recommended.

Three cables run to the projector itself - the HDMI and serial cables from the video processor, and a power cable. All signal sources and other home theater components connect directly to the video processor, which can be rack mounted with your other equipment.

The projector has a variable iris which can be operated manually or automatically. The automatic setting is nearly useless, as updating is painfully slow and the iris motor is clearly audible. However, using a manual iris setting to increase contrast is perfectly workable. The iris can be closed incrementally via the menu from settings 1 to 16, where 16 is minumum aperture. The iris control allows the user to select the right trade-off between lumen output and black level for the given screen size and room environment.

The published lamp life spec is 2000 hours. The price of the replacement lamp is currently $385, which is typical for this class of product. Note also that this is a 300-watt lamp, which is brighter and hotter than the lamps used in most other home theater projectors. The advantage is the bright image that it delivers. But it will also throw off more heat than competing products with lower wattage lamps. Thus it is more capable of warming up a small room that is not adequately ventilated or air conditioned. This needs to be considered as part of the planning for the installation.

Another bit of good news is that the HD81 has no air filter to clean or replace, so the only routine maintenance required on the projector is lamp replacement. When the projector is mounted on the ceiling, this means less time spent on a ladder and more time spent watching your favorite films.

Performance

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.

Conclusion

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

(04/19/19 - 11:25 AM PST)
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