A 3D Projector for $1,499

For anyone into ultra-low-budget home theater, yesterday was one of the greatest days ever. That’s because Optoma announced the HD33, which cuts the minimum price for a 3D home theater projector by 67%.

 The HD33 is the real deal, with 1080p resolution and a native 16:9 aspect ratio, yet it retails for just $1,499 — way cheaper than the next least expensive 3D 1080p projector I’ve seen, JVC’s DLA-X3.

The HD33 works with Optoma’s 3D-RF rechargeable glasses. The glasses and the included 3D signal emitter use RF (radio frequency) technology instead of IR (infrared), and because RF isn’t susceptible to the line-of-sight requirement for IR, the glasses shouldn’t lose sync with the image when you turn your head. The glasses aren’t included with the projector, but at $99 list, at least they’re not too crazily priced. The HD33 also works with DLP Link-compatible 3D glasses.

But don’t get the idea the HD33 is a $4,500 projector for $1,500. Optoma rates the full-on/full-off contrast ratio at just 4,000:1, an extremely low number when you consider manufacturers’ tendency to overstate their projectors’ performance in this area. In comparison, the DLA-X3 is rated at 50,000:1 contrast, and our reviews have found that JVC tends toward only modest exaggeration in its contrast specs.

Given that you lose a lot of picture brightness when you use 3D, it’s likely the HD33 will require an almost totally darkened room to deliver a satisfying picture in 3D mode. But at least it won’t require a special screen, as do elite video projectors that use circular polarized passive 3D technology.

Optoma also offers two other options for home theater 3D projection: the $1,999 HD3300 and the $4,499 HD8300. The former looks like little more than a custom-install version of the HD33, but the latter looks like a serious performer.

While there have been even less expensive 3D projectors on the market for a while, those are relatively low resolution models with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Technically, you could use them for home theater, but only in the same sense you could use a $99 supermarket HTiB system for home theater.

Will the HD33 open the floodgates for 3D in the home? Will it be the turning point for this so-often-maligned technology? Of course not. But it’s significant nonetheless, and not just because it gives home theater cheapskates more money to spend on Old Milwaukee. Surely at the upcoming CEDIA Expo, we’ll see other low-priced 3D projectors from companies such as Mitsubishi and Vivitek, but with the HD33, Optoma has kicked away any other manufacturer’s excuse for not offering 3D. Video projection aficionados will now demand 3D be “thrown in” at essentially no cost to them, whether or not they ever intend to use it.