Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.
Optoma is recognized for their outstanding budget-priced projectors, such as the HD20, which was the first 1080p projector to cross the $1000 mark. Now, they've released the HD8600, which is a high-performance 1080p DLP projector sold through specialty dealers. It is built to offer the pinnacle of 1080p performance, and it performs as advertised. It is extensively customizable, with great calibration controls. The HD8600 has some of the best color we have ever seen, coupled with great contrast and a smooth, film-like picture. It sells for $7499 with the standard lens.
Light output. The HD8600 has a very bright cinema mode. In fact, it has one of the brightest Cinema modes we've seen thus far; the only thing that even comes close is the LG CF181D at 1219 lumens. The HD8600 is a great choice for large-format cinema.
The HD8600 defaults to Cinema 2 mode, which entails a few things. First of all, the lamp defaults to Eco-mode (called "Standard" on this projector, as opposed to "Bright"). Second, there is a manual iris, and it defaults to position 6 of 8, which is mostly open. Third, these measurements were taken with the projector's "Standard" lens, which is a 1.25:1 manual zoom model, in the widest position.
With our changes to color balance, which were fairly subtle, Cinema 2 mode measured 735 ANSI lumens on our test sample. Remember, this is with a partially-closed iris and low lamp mode, so it represents real performance, not a theoretical maximum. If you do need more light output, you can switch to high lamp mode, labeled "Bright." Bright mode does not cause any loss of image quality and raises lumen output by 29%, to 945 lumens on our test unit. If this still isn't bright enough, opening the iris the rest of the way boosts lumen output to 1200. Even if you do have a 150" diagonal screen, 1200 lumens is probably too bright. But since you can customize the lumen output of the HD8600 through iris settings, this is a benefit rather than an inconvenience.
The standard zoom lens causes an 18% drop in lumen output, which is slightly higher than average for a 1.25:1 lens. Using the maximum telephoto end of the lens, our standard calibration (which measured 735 lumens at the lens's widest angle) drops to 600 lumens. The manual iris has eight stops, and can decrease lumen output by 71% or increase it by 27%, with approximately equally-sized stops in between. Using the same standard 735-lumen calibration, the iris can increase output to 933 lumens or decrease it to 213 lumens.
Contrast. The HD8600 has a dynamic image, with plenty of pop and sparkle. Given a picture with a high inherent dynamic range, the HD8600 will render every detail cleanly and clearly, and brilliant white happily coexists with deep black. Brightness and Contrast need to be adjusted carefully, though; a step or two in the wrong direction will leave you with blown-out highlights and clipped shadows.
As far as on/off contrast is concerned, it is actually quite good, but it is not without flaws. Highlights are bright thanks to the HD8600's impressive lumen output. Shadow detail is excellent, in part due to the HD8600's perfect 2.2 gamma. Using the "Film" gamma setting, we changed "Curve Type" to -1 and "Offset" to 1, which yielded an average gamma of 2.196 with no serious deviation from the standard curve. Black level, on the other hand, can look a little anemic, especially compared to the competition. The HD8600's black level is high enough that the deficiency can be seen with the naked eye, even without side-by-side comparison.
There are a few ways you can improve black level: you can enable DynamicBlack, which is an auto-iris function. This works especially well in scenes with lower than average light levels, such as a street at night or a star field. DynamicBlack has two numbered settings, and the second is more aggressive than the first. It can also be turned off if you dislike the effect. If you are still unsatisfied with black level and have some lumen output to spare, you can always close down the manual iris a few extra stops. This will reduce lumen output, but it will also make your blacks more solid. For those in a light-controlled room with 120" diagonal and smaller screens, this is a good option.
Color. Where the HD8600 really shines, though, is color performance. Out of the box, Cinema 2 measured 6290K on average, with a very slight green push across the board. After adjustment, which took only a few minutes with our CalMAN calibration rig from the folks at SpectraCal, our test sample was reading 6500K across the board, with almost no deviation between 20 IRE and 100 IRE. The chart shows too much red in the 0-10 IRE range, but this is due to trace amounts of ambient light in the testing area and the sensitivity of our equipment, not a fault of the projector.
The settings used for our test unit were:
- Red Gain 1
- Green Gain -1
- Blue Gain 1
- Red Bias 0
- Green Bias -1
- Blue Bias -1
Saturation, at its default of 50, is slightly too high. Lowering this by a point or two makes for a more balanced picture, while still retaining the richness and vibrancy of fully-saturated color.
Sharpness and clarity. The HD8600's image is crisp and detailed, with no sign of fuzziness or loss of fine detail. The default sharpness setting of 1 is correct, as it does not add any edge enhancement but it also does not unnecessarily soften the picture.
The picture from the HD8600 is smooth and three-dimensional in a way that makes it "pop" more than other products. With the clarity of detail this projector provides combined with its high contrast, the picture just jumps off the screen. It has a beautiful picture.
Connectivity. The HD8600 is one of the few projectors to feature three HDMI ports. This allows you to connect three high-definition digital sources simultaneously, without the use of an A/V receiver or switcher. There are also VGA and component video inputs, allowing you to connect two more high-definition analog sources. In addition, there are two 12V triggers, a 9-pin RS-232 port, and a USB port. Also on the back panel is a bracket used to store the HD8600's "convenience remote," a smaller remote control that can be used to access the projector's menu system but lacks the direct-access buttons of the full remote.
Menu and Remote. The menu system is more complex than it appears. On the right are the four main categories: Image, Display, System, and Setup. Seems simple enough, right? But Image has a submenu, Advanced, which holds the controls for noise reduction, gamma, PureEngine, DynamicBlack, the lens iris, and Color Setting. Both PureEngine and Color Setting take you to further submenus. PureEngine contains PureDetail (a sharpening system), PureMotion (frame interpolation), and PureColor (boosts "vividness"). The Color Setting system has the controls you'll want to familiarize yourself with if you plan to calibrate the projector on your own - you can set the Color Temperature, use the Color Management System, or change RGB Gain and Bias.
The HD8600 actually comes with two remotes. The larger one has a bright blue backlight and plenty of direct-access controls. The buttons are a little squishy, and the directionals in particular tend to get stuck if you're not careful, but overall it is pretty easy to use. The second remote clips on to the back of the projector itself, and has only basic controls, like a directional pad, Power, Menu, and Enter. The projector does not have a hardwired control panel, so the only thing you can do without the remote is turn the power on or off. If your remotes run out of batteries and you need to change a setting, you're out of luck.
Superwide. The HD8600 is compatible with an anamorphic lens, but that is not what we're talking about. "Superwide" mode is Optoma's new way to handle both 1.78:1 and 2.35:1 content on the same screen without black bars. In this mode, both 1.78:1 and 2.35:1 movies are stretched and cropped to fill a 2.0:1 screen (which the manual tells you to purchase). The idea is that the spatial distortion is not so great as to break your immersion in a film, and it's a nice enough solution for those people who absolutely cannot live with black bars. It is the first projector we have seen with this feature, and this unique feature will appeal to those who cannot abide by black bars but also cannot afford an anamorphic lens and a masking system. Personally, I would not use such a system in my own theater, because a projector like the HD8600 looks its best when the image on screen is presented without any scaling, cropping, or other alteration - just the native 1920x1080 image, displayed as such. But for people who don't mind a little distortion in exchange for a larger image with no bars, it's a nice feature.
Interchangeable lenses. The HD8600 is one of the least expensive home theater projectors to feature interchangeable lenses. The base price of the projector is $6,999, with no lens. The standard lens ($500), which is what you'll get unless you specify otherwise, is a 1.25:1 manual zoom/focus lens that will throw a 120" diagonal image from 13' 1" to 16' 5". There is also a long-throw lens ($1,999), which will display the same 120" diagonal image from 16' 5" to 24' 8". Finally, there is a short-throw fixed focal length lens ($1,499), which is to say there's no zoom, which will project a 120" diagonal image at 6' 7".
Lens shift. With both horizontal and vertical lens shift, the HD8600 is very versatile compared to most DLP 1080p projectors. The manual lens shift allows the image to be moved 50% of the image's height up or down, or 25% of the image's width to either side. This makes a rear shelf mount the most attractive option, though a ceiling mount is possible with careful mounting and, more than likely, a drop tube.
Warranty. Part of the upside of buying a premium projector like the HD8600 is the premium warranty it includes. The projector is guaranteed for three full years, complete with Optoma's "express replacement" service through the full length of the warranty. If something goes wrong, they will get you a working projector as soon as possible. The lamp is also guaranteed for one year, which is a vast improvement over the usual 90-day guarantee found on other models.
PureDetail. There is a feature called "PureDetail" that is analogous to Panasonic's "Detail Clarity" or Epson's "Super Resolution." It is supposed to improve the appearance of fine detail without adding edge enhancement. However, PureDetail ends up adding quite a bit of edge enhancement, to the point where it is visible even on the lowest setting. While some people may be able to ignore the effect, we feel that it detracts from the image as a whole and makes movies look artificial. For serious cinema use, it is not recommended.
Frame Interpolation. The HD8600's frame interpolation system, called "PureMotion," still has a few bugs left to work out. When used with 24 frame per second content, it appears jerky and inconsistent, and as such is more distracting than the judder it is meant to reduce. When used with 30 frame per second content, such as 1080p video or DVD, the jerkiness is reduced but not completely absent. So while it is a step in the right direction, it still needs some work before it is ready for prime-time use.
Black level. No matter how you slice it, the black level on this projector just does not match the competition. The HD8600 still has decent black levels and great shadow detail, and it is a perfectly capable projector for any home theater. It is a testament to the overall quality of the projector that it has so few flaws, but the difference in blacks is real and should be noted. If you're looking for a projector with the deepest, inkiest blacks for your home theater with perfect light control, the HD8600 is not it.
Optoma HD8600 versus JVC RS25
How does the Optoma HD8600 measure up to the JVC RS25, their current $8,000 behemoth 1080p D-ILA projector? The answer is "very well indeed." Optoma's HD8600 should be all the proof one needs that there is still a fight to be had in this higher-priced market segment.
Light output. Despite the large discrepancy in published lumen specifications, with the HD8600 rated at 1600 lumens and the RS25 rated at 900, these two aren't so different in terms of light output in cinema mode. The RS25 measured 758 lumens, while the HD8600 measured 735. Of course, the HD8600's lumen output was far more customizable, and ultimately could be set anywhere between 200 and 1200 lumens while still using the same color calibration. So, while they are not too different in terms of ideal setting, the HD8600 takes this category on the basis of its flexibility.
Contrast. The RS25 clearly has higher contrast whenever a scene has a lower-than-average light level. Darkened rooms, fields of stars, street scenes at night, and other similar content looked incredible on the RS25, while the HD8600's weaker black level made it pale in comparison. But when a scene had a higher dynamic range, the HD8600 appeared to be much higher in contrast It appeared more three-dimensional, and shadow detail seemed better defined. In scenes with low dynamic range (no strong highlights or dark shadows), the two projectors looked about equal.
Color. It is impossible to make a decision in this category. Once calibrated, the two projectors are as close to identical as any two projectors can be in terms of color accuracy and saturation. The only downside to the RS25 is that its THX mode, which one would assume has perfect color, does not. You will need to calibrate either of these projectors to get the best possible performance out of them.
Placement flexibility. The RS25 has a 2.0:1 zoom lens, capable of displaying a 100" diagonal image from 9' 10" to 20'. It has extensive vertical and horizontal lens shift, and all adjustments are powered. The HD8600's optional lenses extend its range somewhat, but the adjustments are manual, as is the lens shift - which also does not have the sheer range of the RS25. The JVC RS25 wins for convenience and overall ability.
Frame interpolation. This is a tricky category; both projectors feature FI systems, but neither one is what we'd call flawless. The RS25's system is more usable with 30 frame per second content like HD video and DVD, but it is choppy and unreliable with 24 frame per second HD film. The HD8600's system is, to put it bluntly, not very good at anything. While the RS25's system is superior, neither system is usable with 24 frame per second film, so we would hesitate to recommend either one for such use.
Warranty. No matter who you are, $7500 or more represents a significant investment these days. The HD8600's warranty is more extensive than the RS25's - three years of express replacement plus a year of lamp warranty versus the RS25's two years. The extra year, plus the promise of a quick replacement, can equal peace of mind.
Optoma has really stepped up its game this year. The HD8600 is, without a doubt, the finest high-end projector from Optoma so far. It has very high lumen output in Cinema mode, enough to power just about any screen you'd care to use. Contrast is excellent, and the picture looks three-dimensional and life-like. Color is accurate, which is the highest praise we can give. It has interchangeable lenses, making it easy to fit into your theater, and lens shift helps with those last-minute fine-tuning adjustments that almost always need to be made. Some of the bells and whistles are not quite ready for the limelight; PureMotion is jerky and PureDetail is a little heavy-handed with the edge enhancement. But if all you care about is picture quality, the HD8600 has got it in spades. With an HD8600 and a good calibration, you are well on your way to some of the finest HD home theater money can buy.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Optoma HD8600 projector page.