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.
The Optoma's connectivity is fairly generous compared to that of many entry-level DLP projectors on the market. One HDMI and one DVI input give you two digital inputs, and you can use a HDMI-to-DVI adapter (not included) if you have two HDMI components. There is also one input each for component-, composite, and S-Video, as well as an odd four-pin mini-DIN connector that functions as RS-232 control port. A 12-volt trigger is on board for electric dropdown screen control.
In our tests, the Optoma HD72 turned in a good performance overall, especially when you consider its price. For example, we expected to discover a subpar lens and were surprised to find relatively few chromatic aberrations--it delivered crisp, sharp images. Video processing was also decent, and 2:3 pull-down was clearly evident from the pristinely rendered opening scene of the Star Trek: Insurrection DVD.
The biggest weakness is poor gamma, which creates a slightly bumpy grayscale that can result in minor discoloration in gray areas and adversely affects overall color reproduction. Poor gamma also causes the HD72 to lose shadow detail, obscuring dim areas a bit. However, these are fine points to be making about a sub-high-resolution front-projection system in this price range.
Overall color fidelity was accurate, with solid color decoding that lacked the dreaded red push. Though a bit uneven, the Optoma's grayscale, which affects all aspects of color reproduction, measured reasonably on target overall, both before and after calibration. The primary colors of red, green, and blue, while not perfect, were certainly not as far off as we are used to seeing with budget front projectors.
The black-level performance on the HD72 was pretty good, thanks to the Dark Chip 2 DMD chip, with blacks and very dark areas appearing rich and deep. During the opening scenes of the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back DVD, for example, the shots of outer space revealed relatively inky blacks without a hint of any other color, indicating a relatively accurate grayscale just above black.
For brighter material, we fired up the tried and true The Fifth Element DVD and watched chapters 8 and 9, which showed off the HD72's well-saturated colors and natural-looking skin tones. Chapter 3, where the professor is studying the hieroglyphics on the wall, was a great test of the projector's detail, and the HD72 handled it extremely well.
Both the HDMI and component-video inputs delivered full 1,280x720 resolution from our Sencore VP403 HD signal generator. HD material from our Time Warner cable system was crisp, sharp, and full of rich colors. Shadow detail in dark concert footage on HDNet was commendable for a projector in this price range, although not as good as it could have been with accurate gamma.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,625/7,825K||Average|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,850/6,450K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 1,117K||Poor|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 164K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.657/.0323||Average|
|Color of green||0.336/0.624||Average|
|Color of blue||0.148/0.091||Poor|
|DC restoration||Gray pattern stable||Average|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|