Vivitek's new H1080FD is their latest 1080p projector, and one of the first 1080p projectors to be priced at $999. This small, bright DLP projector has a wonderful high-definition picture, solid contrast, and accurate color after some calibration. Performance does not match more expensive 1080p projectors, nor does it have the feature set to compete with higher-priced models. But as an entry point to high-definition big-screen theater, it is a good product and a great price performer.
The H1080FD has several potential uses. High maximum lumen output make it good for HD sports or video games in ambient light. Accurate, well-saturated color (post-calibration) could be useful for those wishing to display high resolution photography on a budget. And strong contrast performance is always useful in home theater. The H1080FD has its weaknesses - a 3x-speed color wheel and some user interface quirks - but for $999, it is an attractive value proposition that should appeal to first-time buyers looking to get into 1080p projection.
High lumen output. The H1080FD is rated at 1800 ANSI lumens in its brightest mode. The projector's bright mode is helpfully named "Bright," and our test sample produced 1607 lumens when using the high lamp setting. This is 89% of the stated specification, and more than enough light for a 100" screen in ambient light conditions. Color performance in this mode is not well-balanced, and you lose some contrast in favor of more lumens, but ambient light typically throws off color accuracy and contrast anyway.
Movie mode, which has superior contrast and color accuracy that is more appropriate for home theater, measured 712 lumens on our test unit. It also had much higher color saturation than Bright mode did, along with better visible contrast and deeper black levels. For home theater in a light-controlled room, this is enough to power a 150" diagonal screen. Alternatively, you could use Movie mode on a 100"-120" screen in mild to moderate ambient light, such as for more 'serious' video games that benefit from a more cinematic presentation.
Low lamp mode, which on this projector is called "Standard" (as opposed to "Boost"), reduces lumen output by 15%. This brings Bright mode to 1360 lumens and Movie mode to 605 lumens. Be aware that the specified lamp life of 3,000 hours is in Standard mode, not Boost, so using Boost mode may in fact shorten lamp life.
Contrast. Contrast specs have undergone some inflation in the last two or three years. In days past, it was not unusual to see a projector like the Panasonic AE-700, rated at 2000:1, become the hot product of the year. These days, there are several projectors rated at or above 100,000:1. I'm here to tell you that a projector rated at 5,000:1, like the H1080FD, can indeed produce a picture with excellent snap and sparkle that is perfectly suitable for use in an entry level home theater. Will it have a black level approaching that of deep space? No. Will you be clearly able to see the borders of the projected image, even when projecting a black screen? Yes. You may have to adjust the picture settings to avoid losing some detail in the low end, but the picture looks very good, and dynamic range is impressive for a product at this price.
Color. After spending some time with the color adjustment controls, the H1080FD is capable of well-saturated, accurate color. Some adjustment is absolutely necessary, because the factory default settings in Movie mode are noticeably unbalanced. If you are just getting into home theater projection for the first time, you probably don't have a calibration disc or any familiarity with optimizing the picture adjustments. No matter. The adjustments needed to get a good picture from the H1080FD are easy enough.
Using the default settings on out test sample, colors were oversaturated to the point of looking artificial. Thus, reduce the Color control to the point where colors and skin tones look natural and not overdriven. Next, you'll want to move the Tint control towards the magenta, which on this projector means moving it to the right. You will also want to adjust the gamma setting--the default is 12 in Movie mode; we preferred 7. After these adjustments have been made, the H1080FD has a very nicely balanced picture for a projector in this price range.
If you are interested in displaying photography, the H1080FD's solid contrast and vibrant color make it an affordable choice for the high-resolution display of photographs. 1080p projectors offer some of the highest resolution available - a 4:3 image displayed on a 1080p projector is higher in resolution than an SXGA+ projector. The H1080FD offers you access to this ideal photography display format at an affordable price.
Quiet operation. The H1080FD is quieter than many other small DLP projectors. While it weighs less than six pounds and produces more than 1500 lumens, it only uses a 230-watt lamp and is it is very quiet during operation. This helps if you want to use your projector on a coffee table, since less fan noise equates to less distraction and less heat exhaust getting blown around near your audience.
1080p/24. On our test sample, the H1080FD could not properly display 1080p content at 24 frames per second. It would lock on to the signal as normal, but then the image will begin to shift in color and gamma, constantly, so the picture is unstable.
Vivitek is aware of the problem, and a fix is in the works. In the meantime, all Blu-Ray players can output 1080p/60, which the H1080FD can display just fine. So until the firmware is updated, set your Blu-Ray player to output at 1080p/60. Actually, many people prefer 1080p/60 anyway.
Color adjustments. As mentioned earlier, some simple calibrations can make the H1080FD look fine with regards to color. But if you wish to adjust one specific color (say, to reduce the amount of green in the image), you will need to use the projector's individual color controls, which are difficult to operate. The controls can be adjusted over a range of over a hundred stops, and single stops seem to have little or no effect on the image, so it can be frustrating to find the right balance.
Color temperature. The H1080FD has four color temperature presets - Warm, Normal, Cool, and Lamp Native. Lamp Native is meant to be used in ambient light, where brightness is paramount; it has a decidedly greenish cast. The other three presets look identical. Switching between them seems to do nothing at all.
Rainbow effect. The H1080FD has a 3x-speed wheel, with RGBCMY segments. This wheel configuration is more likely to induce rainbows than 4x-speed or faster color wheels, and indeed we saw more rainbows on the H1080FD than on a comparable projector with a 4x-speed wheel. If you don't know whether you are sensitive to rainbow artifacts, you will want to audition this model before taking the plunge.
Menu and remote. The projector's menu takes up a large portion of the center of the screen, is opaque, and cannot be moved. When making adjustments, the menu does not minimize into the common "one-line" format seen on many other products, so you have to close the menu to observe any changes you made. When you are doing adjustments to color or gamma, this can become annoying.
Placement flexibility. The H1080FD has a 1.2:1 zoom lens and a fixed throw angle. The 1.2:1 zoom will allow you some flexibility for a couple feet of leeway when mounting the projector. The throw angle, on the other hand, must be computed carefully. It has a fixed offset of 15%, meaning that a 100" diagonal image will appear almost eight inches above the centerline of the lens. The ideal mounting situation for the H1080FD is either a low table between the seats or a ceiling mount almost directly above the audience.
The remote control is laid out well, with most commonly used functions clustered around the directional pad. It also has a very strong bright blue backlight, which can make it difficult to read the labels on the buttons themselves and leave spots in your eyes. The backlight also turns itself off while you're pressing a button, then reengages once you release, leading to a strobe effect if you make many adjustments.
Vivitek's H1080FD and the Optoma HD20 are the first two 1080p projectors to retail for under $1000 at launch. These two projectors share some common features, as both are portable DLP projectors with very similar brightness and contrast specifications. Both have 1.2:1 zoom lenses with fixed throw angles. Both offset the projected image by 15%, and should be mounted on the ceiling or between the seats. But there are some key differences between the two.
Lumen output. The H1080FD is rated at 1800 lumens to the HD20's 1700. That's not much of a difference, but in actual use there is more of a spread. The H1080FD's 1607 lumens in Bright mode is much brighter than the HD20's 954 lumens, and makes the H1080FD more flexible for use in ambient light. In their respective theater modes, the two projectors are much more similar, with the H1080FD measuring 712 lumens to the HD20's 633. In practical terms, the two projectors are on equal footing when calibrated for home theater.
Contrast. The H1080FD and HD20 have similar contrast specifications - the HD20 is 4000:1 while the H1080FD is 5000:1. However, when placed side by side, the difference shows - the H1080FD has noticeably higher visible contrast than the HD20, making the images on that projector more dynamic and three-dimensional than those on its competitor. The HD20 had a deeper black level, but overall its contrast does not quite match that of the H1080FD.
Color. If you want a projector that you can simply plug in and start using, the HD20 is your best bet. Out-of-the-box color accuracy is far better on the HD20 than it is on the H1080FD, and the projector needs very little adjustment to reach its peak. However, if you don't mind a little fine-tuning, the H1080FD has brighter, richer, more vibrant color post-calibration than the HD20, so do-it-yourselfers who don't mind fiddling with the picture adjustments will prefer Vivitek's offering.
Portability. Since both projectors are so small, some people will want to travel with them. The HD20 is physically smaller, though not by much. The H1080FD is lighter by about a pound, and also has one feature that the HD20 lacks - an onboard speaker. The five-watt speaker is small and tinny when compared to even the most rudimentary outboard setups, but it can accept audio signals over an HDMI link and turn the H1080FD into a complete mobile theater solution. The HD20 lacks a speaker, and so any mobile use must incorporate an alternate speaker system, such as that on a laptop.
Fan noise. The Optoma HD20 is noticeably louder than the H1080FD, in both normal and eco lamp modes. Quiet operation is typically a feature of much more expensive projectors, and it is nice to see an inexpensive model like the H1080FD that has so little fan noise. Fan noise on the HD20 will be more of an issue if you want to set the unit between the seats right next to the viewer. Both projectors will fade into the background if ceiling mounted.
Rainbows. The Optoma HD20 has a 4x-speed color wheel with RGBRGB segments, while the H1080FD has a 3x-speed wheel with RGBCMY segments. All this gibberish means that we saw more rainbows on the H1080FD than we did on the HD20. If you are sensitive to rainbows, you will have to consider the trade-off: you can get better contrast and color on the H1080FD, but you will see more rainbows.
Vivitek's H1080FD is among the first 1080p projectors to launch at a retail price of $999. People still are not quite sure what to expect from projectors in this range. You might notice that all of the H1080FD's advantages have to do with image quality. This is for good reason; the projector looks fantastic for the price. Conversely, most of the H1080FD's quirks relate to user interface. The projector has some weaknesses, to be certain - navigating and using the menu system is annoying, color calibration takes some effort, and the color temperature presets do not seem to do anything at all. That said, these issues can be worked around, and once you have the projector set up and tuned to your liking, you won't have to deal with them during everyday use.
The H1080FD is a great choice for HD sports and video game display to large-screen home theater. If you have children who play video games and you already own a projector, the H1080FD would be a great second projector to preserve lamp hours on your higher-end primary unit. Photography display is bright and dynamic, with plenty of three-dimensionality; furthermore, rainbows artifacts are a non-issue for still images, and the H1080FD is clearly a great choice as a photography projector.
For $999, the H1080FD offers an excellent value proposition. If you can ignore or work around the projector's quirks, it offers a beautiful image for very little money, and can be a great first step into large-screen home theater.