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How inexpensive can quality front projection get? We thought we had an idea until the Optoma HD72 ($2,000) DLP projector came in for review. It costs less than just about any HD-resolution DLP unit on the market, yet produced a picture that constantly surprised us with its accuracy and quality. We could go on, but suffice it to say that any quibbles we have with its performance are easily overshadowed by its rock-bottom price. The little Optoma HD72 rewrites the value quotient in the budget projector category.
As you might expect from a budget-priced DLP projector, the Optoma HD72's design is fairly basic. The outside sports a glossy white finish, a color many people would probably choose if they were putting it in a living room and wanted it to blend in with the decor, especially the ceiling. Silver accents lend the projector a touch of class.
The Optoma HD72 has a small rectangular chassis (13.6 by 3.7 by 9.7 inches) that weighs next to nothing (7 pounds). The lens assembly sits all the way on the right side of the chassis when floor-mounted or all the way to the left if flipped upside down for mounting on the ceiling.
Optoma's remote is small, and we find it exceedingly well laid out. It's all white with black lettering and, thankfully, fully backlit at the touch of a button. We appreciate the direct-access keys for contrast, brightness, image shift, and keystone, as well as for all inputs and aspect ratios.
The Optoma HD72's 1,280x768 native resolution goes slightly beyond the traditional 1,280x720 (720p) resolution of a one-chip DLP projector, which gives it a small amount of vertical position shift but doesn't perceptively increase the actual resolution. In other words, the HD72 should resolve every pixel of 720p HDTV sources, and like all fixed-pixel displays, it converts incoming standard-def, DVD, HDTV, and computer sources to fit its native resolution. The HD72 employs the Dark Chip 2 DMD chip from Texas Instruments, which means it will deliver good black-level performance, although not quite as good as you would get with the Dark Chip 3 (see Performance for more).
While the Optoma lacks lens shift, it's otherwise laden with picture-affecting features. However, as with most TVs that offer tons of adjustments, some of them are best left in their default positions. The highly touted Brilliant Color, a new Texas Instruments technology for this year, does nothing to improve the color gamut or range of red, green or blue, though it perceptibly brightens the image. TrueVivid, which the company claims sharpens the picture, does nothing of the kind. We left both of these features turned off for critical viewing. Horizontal and vertical keystone should also be avoided; as with all such circuits, they degrade the picture quality.
Conveniently, in addition to independent input memories, all five of the Optoma HD72's picture modes are customizable. There are three selectable color temperatures--called 0, 1, and 2--all of which result in different grayscales. Also, there are four Degamma (read: gamma) settings, with Film being the best choice for video. Full controls for grayscale calibration are located in the Advanced menu.