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High-resolution DLP front projectors designed for home theater are becoming increasingly common, and more importantly they're reaching ever lower price points. Optoma's H78DC3 is one example; this projector utilizes Texas Instruments' DarkChip 3 (DC3) DLP chipset, which delivers those all-important darker blacks for home-theater viewing. Unlike less-expensive DLP projectors, the H78DC3 also has 1,280x720 resolution, which qualifies it as an HD-capable display. In our tests, the H78DC3 delivered impressive performance, and its relatively affordable price makes it an excellent value. The Optoma H78DC3 won't win any design awards, but we don't expect too much in the way of flair from a projector at this price point. Our review sample was a white, rectangular box with the lens assembly located all the way to the left when floor mounted or all the way to the right side of the chassis when mounted on the ceiling. It runs both quietly and fairly cool, and it weighs in at a mere 24 pounds.
Optoma's remote is small and oddly shaped, but it's also completely backlit, which is a big plus when trying to set up in a darkened home-theater environment. There are direct-access buttons for all picture controls (contrast, brightness, color, tint, and so on) as well as for zoom and focus functions and inputs. It is intuitively laid out, relatively comfortable, and easy to wield. We mentioned at the outset that the Optoma HD78DC3 has a native resolution of 720p, which means its 1,280x720-pixel DLP chip should be able to resolve all of the detail of 720p HDTV sources. All other sources, including 1080i HDTV as well as computers, DVD, and standard television, are scaled to fit the available pixels.
As with all front projectors, the Optoma's features are strictly related to setup and picture performance; there are no consumer features to speak of, such as CableCard or PIP.
The Optoma H78DC3 offers three picture modes (Normal, Cinema, and Vivid) with presets for contrast, brightness, and so forth. There are also three image modes called Film, TV, and Video. These names typically denote different video-processing modes, but in this case, all three have 2:3 pull-down in the video processing. A trio of color-temperature selections as well as three gamma settings are also on board. Of course, there are several aspect-ratio choices, which are accessed via the Format button on the remote.
The connectivity on the H78DC3 is adequate for most home theaters. HDTV-capable inputs include one DVI input (an inexpensive adapter is required to connect it to HDMI sources), one component-video input, and one RGBHV input that will double as a second component-video input. For standard-definition sources, there's also one S-Video and one composite-video input. Custom installers will appreciate the inclusion of an RS-232 control port for programming the projector's functionality into AMX and Crestron touch-panel remote systems. The H78DC3 is also PAL- and SECAM-capable for European users. Overall, the Optoma H78DC3 outperforms many projectors in its class, including the , in just about every regard. Black-level performance was excellent, coming very close to the reference of a properly set-up CRT projector, thanks in large part to the DarkChip 3 DMD chip.
Color decoding is perhaps this projector's weakest performance characteristic, but unlike most displays with color-decoding issues, the H78DC3 doesn't push red or green. Rather, it deaccentuates both relative to blue, an effect we certainly found preferable. As a result, we still got good color saturation and skin-tone rendition from all sources after adjustment. The projector's grayscale tracking was relatively close prior to calibration and very good afterward (see the Geek box for more).
During setup, we found that the gamma feature should be set to 1 for the slowest rise out of black and the best grayscale-tracking performance. We found that the color-temperature 1 setting came the closest to the standard and made grayscale calibration a snap. We also used the Cinema picture preset mode. The contrast control is on steroids and should be set carefully as it can severely clip whites, eliminating a lot of detail in bright areas if set too high. Our setting for DVDs was -25 and -41 for HD sources on a 72-inch-wide Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 screen. The H78DC3 has plenty of light output and is certainly capable of driving bigger screen sizes as large as approximately 84 inches wide.
The opening scenes of the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back DVD were rendered beautifully, with inky rich blacks in outer space and excellent shadow detail. The X-Men 2 DVD also looked awesome with decent color saturation and natural skin tones. Dark material on this disc revealed all the shadow detail we've seen in this film from the best DLP projectors.
HD material from our Time Warner Cable HD feed also looked impressive after a separate calibration. The Optoma H78DC3's DVI input falls just shy of fully displaying every pixel of a 720p HD source, but viewing program material did not reveal this. There was no lack of detail or softness to the picture, as we've seen with many rear-projection TVs with 720p resolution. A Yankees-Twins baseball game on YES-HD looked awesome, with the realistic color and overall crispness that we expect from HD.
|Before color temp (20/80)||5,400/6,400K||Average|
|After color temp||6,425/6,575K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 280K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 122K||Average|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|