The Vivitek H1186-WT is another new home entertainment projector that takes full HD 1080p resolution below $700. That by itself is enough to attract attention, but this 7.5 lb portable projector is loaded with features, including a very unusual 2.35 native Cinemascope mode, a longer than average 1.5x zoom lens, vertical lens shift, a 10-watt onboard speaker, an RGBRGB color wheel, HDMI with MHL, full HD 3D, and ratings of 2000 lumens and 50,000:1 contrast. That is a lot of exciting stuff packaged into a $700 projector.
Once you fire it up, you discover that the Vivitek H1186 gives you six preset color modes, and one User mode. (There are also two ISF calibration modes (Day and Night), that can be unlocked via the menu if you need them). None of the preset modes are ideally calibrated for optimal video quality, so to get a true sense of what this projector is capable of, you will want to get into User mode and make a number of color, brightness, and contrast adjustments, or have a professional with a meter give the projector a tune-up. The projector provides extensive color management controls, so any calibrator will have the tools necessary to dial in a very solid, natural image with sparkling contrast and rich, well-saturated accurate color. In short, you can get it looking great, but it does not come this way out of the box.
"Bright" is the brightest of the preset modes. It is heavily biased toward green, so much so that it is hard to imagine anyone would want to use this particular mode for anything. "Presentation" is the second brightest mode; it still has a noticeable green bias although not as extreme as Bright. The remaining presets, Movie, Game, TV and sRGB, have much less obvious color bias compared to Bright and Presentation. All of them are quite a bit more watchable out of the box, in the sense that they are not obviously green. But they all tend to push blue a bit more than is ideal. This makes blue water and skies look rich, but among other things tends to compromise the warmth of flesh tones. So taking the time to have the unit tweaked up will pay off in spades with a much richer, more balanced, higher performance image.
Once the projector is calibrated for best video it will put out about 1200 lumens, with the lamp on full power and the zoom lens at wide angle. Dropping it into Eco mode will bring it down to about 900 lumens which is more than ample for a 120" diagonal 16:9, 1.0 gain screen in a dark room. You can cut the lumens by another 18% by backing the unit up to use the longer end of the zoom range.
Black levels are reasonably solid as you would expect from DLP, and in this respect the H1186 is certainly quite competitive. This has always been one of the key advantages of DLP, and it remains so here.
The picture is also sharp from edge to edge--there is no noticeable softening around the corners. Some projectors may be slightly sharper, but the H1186 is, again, perfectly competitive in its price range.
All preset color modes on the H1186 default to a sharpness setting of 20 on a scale from 0 to 30. You might normally expect to see some sharpening artifacts at this setting. But the sharpening control has a modest effect on the picture (thankfully), so the slider can be driven quite high without the picture looking artificially processed. Even with Sharpness set at 20 the picture is clean and natural.
The preset picture modes cannot be calibrated--most of the controls are fixed. However, in either the User mode or one of the two ISF modes, you have full color management controls that will let you do the fine tuning needed to get the projector spun up to its best possible picture. And once that is done, the picture is balanced, rich, and thoroughly engaging.
The H1186 has a relatively long 1.5x zoom range for an inexpensive DLP projector. It has some vertical lens shift as well. Both of these features are unusual for a 1080p projector at $700, and they will help make ceiling mounting an easier task.
Most users will want to either deploy the H1186 as a portable unit for occasional coffee table use, or ceiling mount it in a more permanent installation. Since the zoom range will let you fill a 120" screen from as far back as 18 feet, you might be tempted to put it on a rear shelf. In most cases this will be difficult because the H1186 has an upward throw angle that, at its lowest position, puts the bottom edge of the image level with the centerline of the lens. So when projecting over the heads of the audience the projector would normally need to be tilted downward about 20 degrees to position the image in ideal viewing position. But you can't do this -- tilting the projector more than 15 degrees will seriously interfere with its cooling system, so the manual prohibits it. And even if you could tilt it, you'd have to use keystone adjustments to correct the trapezoid, which is not ideal for a 1080p projector. In addition to these issues, the User Manual stipulates 20 inches of clearance between the rear of the projector and the wall behind it. So you'd need a shelf about 2.5 feet deep to accommodate that restriction -- not exactly your typical bookcase situation.
Placing the H1186 between the seats is a possibility; the zoom and lens shift will let you position the image properly. However, you must be mindful of a clearance restriction of 20" on either side for heat dissipation. Also, with the projector this close to the seats, fan noise and heat dissipation may be objectionable.
Therefore, portable applications, occasional coffee table use, or a ceiling mount are the choices most users will opt for. When inverted, the combination of the 1.5x zoom range, the downward throw angle, and the 14% vertical lens shift variance will allow a ceiling mounted H1186 to easily target a wide range of screen sizes from different throw distances--anywhere from 12 to 18 feet throw for a 120" diagonal screen, or 10 to 15 feet for a 100" screen.
Once the projector is calibrated it will put out about 1200 lumens in User mode, with the lamp on full power and the zoom at wide angle. This is too much light for a 120" screen in a dark room. Dropping it into Eco mode reduces it to a more practical 900 lumens and substantially reduces fan noise to boot. Even that is a bit bright on a 1.0 gain screen, but keep in mind that lumen output on high pressure lamps drops noticeably during the early part of their life cycle--we typically plan on about 25% over the first 500 hours. After that they will degrade much more slowly over the rest of their life. So setting it up such that it is a bit too bright initially will allow for a burn in, and it will settle down to right where it is ideal. So overall, the Vivitek H1186 is constructed for ideal performance in a dark room, using its Eco mode on a 120" diagonal, 16:9, 1.0 gain screen.
One final note on ceiling mounting: The manual also stipulates a 12" clearance between the projector and the ceiling for heat dissipation, so plan on acquiring an extension tube of at least 12" when you place your ceiling mount order.
2.35 Native mode. The H1186 has a 2.35 native mode that will project Cinemascope 2.35 films onto a 2.35 format screen, and automatically display 16:9 content centered on that screen. So it essentially produces the same visual effect as an anamorphic lens. The trade-off for operating in this mode is that 16:9 material is displayed in a compressed format, since you are not using a screen that will accommodate the full height of a native 1920x1080 picture. If that is a trade-off you are willing to make, the H1186 gives you the option while typical competing units do not.
Rainbows are rare. With the RGBRGB wheels like the one on the H1186, rainbow artifacts are much less of a problem that they are on many inexpensive DLP projectors. Rainbows pop up on occasion if you are sensitive to them, but it is relatively infrequent occurrence and (in our view) nothing to worry about.
Color Management is robust. The color controls on the H1186 are as extensive as they get on projectors at this price. Not only do you get Gain and Bias adjustments on Red, Green, and Blue, but you also have Hue, Saturation and Brightness adjustments on Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and White. You many not want to mess with this stuff without the requisite knowledge and meters, but the tools exist for a professional calibration, should it be desired.
Perfectly portable. At 7.5 lbs the H1186 is lighter and more compact than many home entertainment projectors. It is ideal for occasional coffee table use, or transporting to a friend's house for gaming, a football party, etc. It even comes with a soft fabric carrying case to make transport safe and easy.
Longer than average zoom.Smaller portable projectors usually have short zoom ranges, typically 1.2x. The H1186 has a 1.5x zoom, allowing you to fill a 120" screen from a throw distance of anywhere from about 12 to 18 feet (as always, measured from screen to front of the lens, not the middle of the projector).
Vertical Lens Shift. Rarely do portable DLP projectors have lens shift. This one does. The range is not extensive -- about 14% of the picture height. But that can make things MUCH easier when targeting the projected image onto a preinstalled screen.
Full HD 3D. This projector will display full HD 3D from Blue-ray and other HD sources using standard DLPLink glasses (not included, but available on Amazon for about $25). It will also support an optional IR transmitter and IR-driven 3D glasses via the 3D Sync port.
Outstanding warranties. The H1186 comes with a three-year warranty on the projector, and an impressive one-year warranty on the lamp.
Connectivity. In a word, excellent. Connection options abound for an inexpensive model. It has a full array of video inputs including two HDMIs (one MHL enabled), one VGA, one 3-RCA component, one S-video, and one composite. It has a USB port, an RS-232, and a 3D sync port for an optional IR transmitter that supports IR-driven 3D glasses.
And, believe it or not, the H1186 has a 12-volt trigger--a feature that exists on many higher end home theater projectors, but rarely on the entry level models.
Anamorphic stretch. The H1186 has a vertical stretch mode to accommodate an A-lens if you happen to have one.
White casework. If you've got a white ceiling and the desire to ceiling mount your projector, the white casework will help it to blend in and not be as obvious as a black projector would be.
Remote control. The H1186 comes with an excellent, fully back-lit remote which is unusual in this price range. Buttons are relatively large and well-spaced, and the projector responds instantly from a distance of at least 30 feet. The remote is white, so it is much easier to locate in the dark compared to the black remotes made by some competing vendors. And it even has a laser pointer, in case you can think of a use for such a thing.
Security. If you need it, it has a Kensington lock, and security bar. It also has an optional password lock/access that is easy to set up and not much trouble to enter when turning it on (although forgetting your password will require you to have a discussion with Vivitek's technical support group).
Brightness. The H1186 has six preset color modes, one User programmable mode, and two more for ISF calibration. It also has a blackboard mode, which projects a black/white negative of the video image, which you are free to ignore. Against its 2000 lumen brightness rating, with the lamp on full power and the zoom lens set to wide angle, the preset modes on our test sample measured as follows:
Presentation -- 1560
Movie -- 1245
Game -- 1118
TV -- 1065
sRGB -- 952
As noted previously, these color presets are not ideally color balanced, but once you get the projector tweaked up in User mode the picture is solid and balanced. In User mode after calibration, our test unit was putting out 1223 lumens, or very close to the preset Movie mode.
Zoom lens effect. Light loss at the telephoto end of the the H1186's 1.5x zoom lens is a modest 18%. But if you are setting up a 100" screen in a dark viewing room, you'd probably want to move the unit back to its longest throw in order to take advantage of that 18% loss, as it may be too bright otherwise. On the other hand, if you are planning on some ambient light in the room, use the wide angle end of the zoom for maximum light output.
Eco Modes. The H1186 has two eco modes in addition to the Normal. Dynamic Eco measures essentially the same as Normal mode and has no effect on fan noise. The Eco mode setting reduces light output by 25%, which is more typical. Eco also significantly reduces fan noise to a very quiet level.
Color Light Output (CLO). Many inexpensive DLP projectors feature a white segment in the color wheel which boosts ANSI lumen specs at the expense of color saturation. Not so on the H1186. This unit has a six segment RGBRGB wheel, so CLO measurements are exceptionally good, measuring equal to white or close to it. In Presentation mode in particular, many DLP projectors pump out so much white light that the sum of the color components color can often measure 30% of white or less. On the H1186, the sum of the color components measures 82% of white, which is plenty to ensure solid, rich color definition. So there is none of the lack of color saturation that has been common in many DLP projectors.
Brightness Uniformity. Uniformity measured a below-average 68%, with the brightest part of the image in the lower center of the screen, and light falling off toward the upper left corner. This is not particularly obvious when viewing video, but it is visible on a 100 IRE white screen. Many of the expensive CRT projectors in the 1990's had no more than 50% uniformity and people thought they were outstanding home theater products. So in the grand scheme of things 68% uniformity is a relatively minor flaw as far as picture quality is concerned.
Input Lag. The Leo Bodnar meter indicates a lag of 33 ms, which is common on inexpensive DLP projectors. This means gaming performance will be good, and you probably won't feel the need to activate an audio delay for lip synch.
Fan noise. In Normal (full power) mode, the fan noise is moderate and not out of the ordinary for a projector of this size; it is an unobtrusive low-pitched whirring sound that is easy to become unaware of unless you are seated within several feet of it. It is audible but not annoying. A surround sound system would cause the fan noise to go unnoticeable in all but very quiet scenes.
Though the Dynamic Eco mode has no effect on fan noise, the standard Eco mode behaves as expected. It substantially reduces fan noise to a quiet whisper. For traditional dark room home theater, Eco mode would be the ideal lamp setting unless you are pushing screen size to 135" diagonal or larger. Also, there is the pleasant side benefit of increasing lamp life expectancy from 3000 to 7000 hours.
In addition to the three lamp power settings, there is a High Altitude mode which is recommended for operation above 1500 meters (about 5000 feet). Fan noise is rather loud when this is engaged. We would not want to be using this unit for serious movie viewing with the fan in Altitude mode. If you're setting up a home theater in Denver or Albuquerque, check other options.
Poor onboard speaker. Despite the attractive 10-watt specification, the speaker is largely useless. Even at maximum volume it cannot be heard from more than a few feet away. We have heard 5-watt speakers that are far more robust. This projector requires external audio, period.
Limited picture control in preset modes. When you are in one of the preset color modes the system allows you to adjust color saturation and tint, but nothing else. If you attempt any other adjustment -- brightness, contrast, white balance, color management, sharpness, BrilliantColor, or gamma, -- it will automatically bounce the projector into User mode.
$249 replacement lamp. If you are spending only $700 on the projector, the prospect of shelling out another $249 for a replacement lamp may be daunting. But keep in mind that Eco mode puts out ample light for dark room home theater, and lamp life in Eco mode is 7000 hours. Do the math based on your anticipated viewing schedule to estimate how much of an issue this is for you-- how long will it take you to watch 3,500 2-hour movies? And keep in mind that since this is an entry level home theater projector, you will probably get hooked on the big screen experience and want to upgrade to a higher performance projector before ever needing to replace a lamp on this one.
Minimum clearance requirements. If rear-shelf mounted, the vendor recommends allow 20" from rear to wall, and 20" clearance on both sides of the unit. If ceiling mounted, you should allow 12" from bottom to ceiling, and a 20" clearance from the rear wall. This requires the use of an extension tube, which is no big deal. But the projector will be suspended somewhat in mid-air rather than attached flush to the ceiling, which may be an aesthetic concern if installed in a living room or other multipurpose room.
Calibration required. This projector can certainly be tuned up to deliver a solid, high contrast, well-balanced image. Experienced videophiles will be able to eyeball the color adjustments to improve the image and move it more into balance, but if you don't have the skill or desire to do it yourself you can engage a trained technician to help you with the tune-up. Unless this is done, the preset color modes (as well as the User Mode factory defaults) will deliver picture quality that is below the level of the projector's potential. (This is true of most projectors in this price range, and true videophiles will always want their projectors calibrated.)
The Vivitek H1186-WT offers a very attractive value proposition in today's market for those who need a transportable 1080p projector, or a home theater projector to ceiling mount, for under $700. Its 1.5x zoom range and vertical lens shift will make installation much easier than it would be for most competing projectors that don't have this lens flexibility. After calibration, the projector delivers a beautiful, accurate, and natural image with an ample 900 lumens in eco mode. That is perfect illumination for a dark theater room, using a 1.0 gain, 120" diagonal screen. And with that sort of set up, you get extremely quiet operation and up to 7000 hours on the lamp. For a mere $700, that's not a bad deal at all.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Vivitek H1186-WT projector page.