Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/12/03/review_projector_optoma_hd20/

Optoma HD20 budget full HD projector

Light fantastic

By Paul Monckton

Posted in Hardware, 3rd December 2009 13:02 GMT

Review Billed as the first 1080p projector available for under £900, Optoma has taken a no-frills approach to cram maximum HD goodness into its HD20 home cinema projector. Compact at 324 x 234 x 97mm, it houses a full HD 1080p DLP device to satisfy film buffs and big screen HD gamers.

Optoma HD20

Back to basics: Optoma's HD20

The HD20 comes with a standard set of inputs suitable for a budget home cinema projector. A pair of HDMI 1.3 ports is complemented with a standard VGA connector as well as composite and component video. There’s also a standard 12V output for triggering your motorised screen, should you have one.

The lens throw ratio of 1.5 – 1.8 allows for a picture ranging from 0.96m to 7.64m in diagonal at a distance ranging from 1.5m to 12.5m. A replacement lamp will cost you around £180. Brightness output is specified at 1700 ANSI lumens, which actually makes it Optoma’s brightest home entertainment projector.

Optoma’s quoted contrast ratio of 500:1 may appear bafflingly low at first glance. Yet, for many years, projector manufacturers have told downright lies about their performance characteristics. Brightness, quoted in lumens, was often based on theoretical lamp performance unachievable in any real-world situation. Similarly, overblown and rather useless contrast ratio specifications abound.

More recently, some sort of order has been brought about by using ANSI standard brightness measurements which ensure that all vendors use the same method of measuring brightness, so fair comparisons can be made. Optoma has now taken the bold step of specifying an ANSI contrast ratio, hoping to bring the same order to the measurement of contrast.

Optoma HD20

Video-only: No audio gimmicks here

We say bold, because ANSI measurements are always lower than those previously quoted. In this case the HD20’s contrast ratio looks pitifully small, however one look at the on-screen image will allay any fears that this projector is unable to deliver.

Dynamic contrast control is available in the form using the Image AI mode, but rather than using this mode to bamboozle you with an enormously inflated contrast ratio figure, Optoma has chosen not to mention it at all in their online specification. Nevertheless, the function is there and it works rather well. We’re not the biggest fans of dynamic contrast, which can often cause distracting shifts in brightness, but the HD20 seems to get away with it more often than not.

Optoma HD20

Dynamic contrast hits the spot if you're willing to try it

The supplied remote control is compact, chunky and contoured to the shape of your hand. Its gel buttons are brightly illuminated by blue LEDs and therefore very easy to read in the darkened environment of your home cinema. Small projectors such as the HD20 can often turn out somewhat noisier than those installed in larger cases where there’s more space to deal with acoustics when managing air flow. However, the HD20 operates at a reasonably quiet 29dB.

When watching Batman: The Dark Knight on Blu-ray. Contrast was pleasantly high and we certainly had no complaints about sharpness. We were however quite distracted by that bugbear of DLP projection, 'rainbow effect'. We found the distracting red and green flashes rather more apparent on the HD20 than we would have liked. Your mileage may vary here, as the appearance of rainbow effect is a highly personal one, with different viewers perceiving the effect to a greater or lesser degree. You may not see it at all.

There’s no getting around it: Creating a full HD projector at this price is bound to involve compromise. Perhaps most importantly it’s missing the kind of video processing you’ll need to get really good quality scaling from SD or silky smooth motion from HD. While the picture quality is quite exceptional for the price, there can be some very minor jerkiness apparent.

For instance, watching BBC Planet Earth in HD is typically jaw-dropping, but some of those slow pans across the forest canopy weren’t quite as smooth as they would have been after some decent processing. It’s a barely-noticeable effect, but it’s just enough to remind you you’re still sitting in your living room not really there.

Optoma HD20

Besides device controls, a remote with illuminating keys is also provided

If you have a Blu-ray player which supports it, this effect can be reduced by using the player’s 1080p/24 mode, which is fully supported by the HD20, enabling smoother motion when displaying content originating from film. Budget DLP projectors can often produce rather unrealistic colours and we have to admit to being a little worried that a 1080p projector at such a low cost would have to cut corners in this regard. However, the HD20 DarkChip2 DLP with 6-segment colour wheel delivered very impressive colour, with human-looking skin tones and a natural overall colour balance.

While it may lack the sumptuous subtlety of a high-end model, it delivers a thoroughly convincing image regardless of what you throw at it. Our calibration tests revealed an extremely accurate colour response even before calibration adjustments were applied. You can just plug it in and start enjoying a great picture right away. The range of displayable colours proved to be a little wider than those of a typical PC monitor, but not so wide as to require manual adjustment to keep them in check.

Optoma HD20

Keeping it simple delivers on image quality

With the possible exception of the aforementioned rainbow effect, it’s top marks to Optoma for exceeding our image quality expectations in every regard. Optoma also provides a full five-year warranty on your projector’s colour reproduction. The HD20’s on-screen menu system is simple, readable and un-cluttered. It’s not crammed full of jargon or engineer-level calibration options, but it does offer you all the features you need to ensure you get the best output from various sources, including aspect ratio and overscan control.

You also get a good selection of image presets: We favoured Reference mode for its accurate colour reproduction, but you can sacrifice a little subtlety in favour of brightness by selecting the Bright mode if you’re unable to dim the room sufficiently. This is separate from the Standard and Bright lamp modes, which can be selected via a dedicated button on the remote control along with direct access to the various video inputs.

Verdict

As a budget projector, the HD20 is not without compromises. Setup options are a little limited: There’s no optical lens shift or keystone correction and certainly no motorised zoom or focus. Most of these features can be had on competing projectors – if you’re willing to step down to 720p resolution. Taking this and the lack of advanced video processing into account, it’s easy to see what’s missing compared to a high-end model, but what this projector does do, it does so well that Optoma is onto a sure-fire winner with the HD20. ®

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