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Optoma UHZ50 4K laser projector review: Bright, colorful and detail-oriented

The sharpness of 4K DLP and the brightness of a laser light engine make a potent big-screen combination.

At first glance, the Optoma UHZ50 looks like any other compact DLP projector. Inside, though, is a different story. Instead of the UHP lamps typical of most home theater projectors, the UHZ50 uses a laser to generate light. The result is a bright, colorful image from a relatively small, quiet box. And unlike traditional UHP lamp-based projectors, it's fast to turn on and off. 

Like

  • Bright colors
  • Excellent detail
  • Quick to turn on
  • Quiet

Don't Like

  • Slight banding in HDR gradations
  • Needs more zoom and lens shift for the price

Some minor issues came up in my side-by-side comparisons. There's some banding in colors with HDR TV shows and movies. The smaller zoom and lens shift range mean your placement options are more limited. While the contrast ratio is good for a DLP projector, it's not as good as some projectors based on LCD or LCOS, like the Epson 5050UB or the Sony VPL-VW325ES

Overall, though, the UHZ50 is a great projector. The image is bright enough to watch with some lights on if you have to, the colors really pop, and it doesn't sound like a vacuum a few feet from your head. It's also very easy to live with, presuming it fits in your theater and your budget. I still consider the Epson the best 4K projector in this price range, but the Optoma gets closer than ever.

The basics

  • Resolution: 3,840x2,160 pixels
  • HDR-compatible: Yes
  • 4K-compatible: Yes
  • 3D-compatible: Yes
  • Lumens spec: 3,000
  • Zoom: Manual (1.3)
  • Lens shift: Manual
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): 30,000 hours

The UHZ50 sports 4K resolution, and is HDR- and even 3D-compatible. There seems to be less cooling required with a laser than with a UHP lamp, so it's quieter than other DLP projectors of a similar size. It's as quiet as some larger projectors, however, since those have more room to minimize the fan noise. 

You may have noticed I've said laser, singular, to describe Optoma's DuraCore light engine. It's similar to how many other laser projectors work. There's one blue laser that's split to create the blue light you see on screen and to energize a yellow phosphor. This yellow is further split into red and green, getting you RGB from a single laser.

"Lamp" life is one of the most obvious ways using lasers is better than UHP lamps. Optoma says the laser light source gets 30,000 hours, which at 4 hours a night is about 20 years.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

One of the less obvious benefits of a laser is it's much faster to turn on. There's an image onscreen within a few seconds, which is quite a change if you're used to the leisurely pace UHP projectors take to warm up to full brightness.

Like all small-box DLP projectors I've tested, the Optoma has a limited zoom range. The manual 1.3x range is typical, but LCD-based projectors like the similarly priced Epson 5050UB offer a fully motorized 3x zoom. This is especially handy if you have a 2.35:1 aspect ratio screen, since you can zoom out to fill it for movies, or zoom in to just use the center for 16x9 TV content, all with just the push of a few buttons. That's harder, if not impossible, to do with the limited-range, manual zoom of the UHZ50.

There is lens shift, which is rare for DLP projectors. It's not a lot though, only 10% vertically. For comparison, the aforementioned Epson offers nearly 100% vertical and 50% horizontal. The result is you're more limited in terms of projector placement relative to the screen, which may or may not be an issue depending on your setup.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

Connect 4 (well, 3)

  • HDMI inputs: 3
  • PC input: No
  • USB port: 3 (1.5A power)
  • Audio input and output: 3.5mm analog output
  • Digital audio output: eARC and optical
  • Internet: Ethernet and Wi-FI via included dongle
  • 12v trigger: Yes
  • RS-232 remote port: Yes
  • Remote: Backlit

All three HDMI inputs accept 4K, and one is eARC to send audio in the projector back down to your receiver or soundbar. Technically you can access some streaming apps within the projector -- Optoma bills it as "smart" -- but with a projector this expensive it's worth investing another $50 or so in a real 4K streaming stick for access to more services and a better user experience. This is true of all projectors, not specifically a knock against the UHZ50. 

To that end, there are plenty of USB connections to power said streaming stick. If you really want to use Optoma's built-in streaming, you can connect the projector to your network via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable. 

If you have a more elaborate home theater, there are also 12v triggers and an RS-232 port. 

The remote is small enough that it doesn't take up much space on an end table, but large enough that it's not easy to lose.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

Compare and contrast

The Epson Home Cinema 5050UB is a logical choice to compare with the UHZ50. It's slightly more expensive, fair, but at these prices $300 extra shouldn't bother anyone too much. It's our current pick for best 4K projector overall. I connected both projectors via a Monoprice 1x4 distribution amplifier, and viewed them side by side on a 1.0-gain screen.

One of the most obvious differences was the UHZ50's razor-sharp detail without any of the motion blur that plagues all other modern display technologies. Even beyond DLP's inherent sharpness, there are simply more pixels onscreen. Both the Epson and the UHZ50 use a technique called pixel shifting to create more pixels onscreen than what's physically on their image-creating chips. The Optoma does this 4x, aka 3,840x2,160, while the Epson only 2x, or what they call "double Full HD resolution." While the Epson does look sharper than a 1080p projector, it doesn't look nearly as sharp as the Optoma. 

The detail, therefore, is fantastic. You have to spend a lot more money to get a "true" 4K projector, but with DLP you're not losing as much as it might seem on paper given the pixel shifting. On my 100-inch screen close-ups of faces, individual hairs on animals and textures in fabrics all reveal what 4K has always promised. 

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

Detail is only one aspect of picture quality, however. On a projector screen it's certainly more noticeable than, say, on a 50-inch TV, but brightness, color and, most importantly, contrast are all vital too.

Here is where things get interesting. I measured an average native contrast ratio of the UHZ50 of 1,007:1. That's the second best result I've measured with a DLP projector after the aging BenQ HT2050, a 1080p projector. The LCD-based Epson 5050 blows the UHZ50 away, however, with over 5,200:1. Side by side, on the same screen, anything with black or near-black looks far deeper on the Epson. The Optoma is more a dark gray in comparison. 

However, the Optoma is bright enough, and its colors strong enough, that this isn't nearly as obvious if you're not watching their projections side by side. The UHZ50 is so bright, and its colors so vibrant, that in anything but a very dark scene, you don't really notice it. The contrast seems better than its numbers suggest. 

You can, technically, enable the DynamicBlack mode that varies the laser intensity to reduce black levels at the expense of light output. Which is to say, the whole image is dimmer with dark scenes. However, this adjustment is visually noticeable, as the overall color changes as the laser ramps up and down. I'm not a big fan of dynamic brightness adjustments to begin with, and this one is especially meh. It didn't add anything, and introduced issues of its own.

Color was excellent, and about a wash between the two. With some scenes, the Epson seemed more accurate, in others, the UHZ50. Perhaps it was a trick of the laser/phosphor, or the DLP-native BrilliantColor processing (which you can turn off), but the colors on the UHZ50 had the potential for more punch. With HDR content though, the Epson was capable of a wider gamut of color

Speaking of HDR, that's where I noticed the only real issue with the UHZ50. There was banding in gradations of brightness. Imagine a cloudless sky, there might be a noisy band or several instead of a smooth transition from bright to darker color. We've seen this before with other DLP projectors. It's not a deal-breaker, but it was noticeable and not something seen on the Epson. 

Lastly, I use a projector as my main "TV" and have for the last 20 years. I'm used to their quirks. As something to live with every day, the Optoma's fast on/off ends up being a far bigger perk than you might imagine. It makes using it far more like a TV than many projectors.

Lasers! (Well, laser)

I wasn't sure what to expect with the UHZ50. The most recent laser projector I reviewed didn't quite live up to the hype and my initial impressions weren't great when I saw its budget-size box. There's nothing to visually distinguish this nearly $3,000 projector from projectors that cost less than $1,000. It's a bit of a sleeper in that regard, since its picture absolutely looks its price once you turn it on. But this same or similar light engine in a larger case would let it be even quieter, perhaps allowing for a better zoom too, and that would really put it head-to-head, or maybe even ahead, of the Epson. 

I assume some market research somewhere found that most (many?) people want smaller projectors like the UHZ50, not larger ones like the Epson. That's too bad since the larger case would help in myriad ways. 

Which would I get? That's a tough question. They're good at different things. Both are extremely bright. The Epson has better contrast while the color on the Optoma really pops. The Epson has more options for placement, but the Optoma has better detail. I'd lean toward the Epson for most people, but if there are things about the Optoma that speak to you, I wouldn't talk you out of it. That is, if you can get it to work in your room. For what it's worth, I've had the both in my lab for over a month and I've yet to swap out the Optoma to watch the Epson.

Specs comparison

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.185 Poor
Peak white luminance (100%) 165 Average
Derived lumens 1486 Average
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 6,883 Poor
Dark gray error (20%) 6,795 Poor
Bright gray error (70%) 7177 Poor
Avg. color error 7.556 Poor
Red error 6.337 Average
Green error 10.141 Poor
Blue error 9.517 Poor
Cyan error 10.443 Poor
Magenta error 5.155 Average
Yellow error 3.743 Average
Avg. saturations error 4.83 Average
Avg. color checker error 6.1 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 17 Good

Measurement notes

The UHZ50's brightness modes are a bit confusing. DynamicBlack varies the intensity of the laser to vary the brightness depending on what's in the video. It lowers the power with darker scenes so the entire image is darker, giving what's technically a better black level, at the expense of overall light output. This is extremely noticeable. 

Eco mode dims the laser so the whole image is darker. On a UHP lamp-based projector, this extends lamp life. But the UHZ50's "lamp" lasts for 30,000 hours, aka about 20 years, so unless you have a really small screen, there's not much point to limiting the projector. 

Constant Power is the mode I used the most. This lets you set a certain brightness level, no video tracking. Set this for what looks best on your screen and forget about it. 

Constant Luminance "varies the strength of LD luminance such that the brightness maintains consistent with time." Presumably boosting power as the laser naturally dims as it ages. So if you don't plan on touching your projector for decades at a time, this will ensure that it tries to stay as bright as possible over its life. So, set it and really forget it I guess.

In the User mode, with the Standard color temperature, I measured approximately 1,486 lumens. This places it at the upper brightness end for DLP projectors, though below some flamethrower LCD projectors. Native contrast, across the different modes (not including dynamic modes like DynamicBlack), averaged 1,007:1. As far as DLP projectors go, only the BenQ HT2050 was better. 

Color temperature drifted slightly cool with brighter images. Color was fairly accurate with both primary and secondary colors. 

Input lag was 33.6ms, which dropped to 17ms with Enhanced Gaming mode active.