Optoma HD70 DLP Projector

HD projection on a budget.

Sure, 1080p is getting all the buzz, but even the cheapest 1080p displays are still really pricey. For example, the lowest-priced 1080p projector is 4.5 times the price of this little Optoma. The HD70, while "only" 720p, has a distinction all its own that makes it one of the coolest products to come out in months: It's the lowest-priced HD projector ever.

Sure, you can find cheap business projectors with resolutions like 1,024 by 768 and so on, but a dedicated home theater projector with 1,280-by-720 resolution (DarkChip2) at this price is impressive. But how cheap is cheap? Or should I say, how does it look?

From the Outside...
Aesthetically, the HD70 looks like a sleeker version of the company's previous budget projectors. There aren't a bunch of connections on the back, but it's certainly not lacking, either. Come to think of it, most $10,000 projectors have the same number of connections.

Continuing Optoma's trend of making some of the best remotes in the business, the HD70's remote is backlit, has direct input-access buttons, and is well labeled and iconed throughout. It has just about every button you'd want, without being cluttered. I wish every remote was like this.

Setup is a little tricky, only because this projector is meant to be mounted. The throw angle is such that it can only be a few inches off the ceiling, so forget about trying to put it on a table. This has been the case with every Optoma projector we've reviewed. Sure, a lens shift would be great, but come on—it's $1,000.

So Bright...
I was rather surprised how much light this little projector puts out. We maxed it out after calibration at 23.31 foot-lamberts. That's higher than many of the projectors we've reviewed at any price point. The black level, 0.008 ft-L, is quite decent but not amazing. Together, these combine to make for a 2,914:1 contrast ratio. This is closing in on the contrast ratios the high-end projectors are producing and, it's better than the contrast ratios of most others we've measured in the budget realm.

Disappointingly, the color points are pretty far off, farther off than just about anything we've measured in recent memory. On the screen, this isn't terribly noticeable. Mostly, the colors just don't pop or seem exactly right. For example, chapter 2 of The Fifth Element has a desert shot with a boy on a camel and a big blue sky. The sky was a shade of blue than I had seen from a projector before. It didn't look bad, just a little different. Then again, without a reference, this isn't something most people will dislike—or probably even notice. As I said, it's disappointing, but it's not a deal breaker.

The other main aspect of the HD70's performance that isn't great is the scaling. With DVDs, the image is a little soft compared with other 720p projectors, and there tend to be some odd motion artifacts. With the same chapter of The Fifth Element, there is a close-up of a professor's bearded face. This is a good test for scalers, and here the HD70's scaler didn't pull as much detail from the source as I've seen with other projectors. With the price of a decent scaling DVD player barely above the price of a good toaster—and given the price of this projector—this isn't really a deal breaker, either.

The HD70 does deinterlace 480i well, but not 1080i. Again, there's nothing too surprising here. HD DVD, though, looks great. It perhaps wasn't quite as detailed as with some other 720p projectors, but it was definitely detailed and had very little noise. 16 Blocks is a great HD DVD disc, with realistic colors, lots of close-ups, and very little noise. On the HD70, it looked far, far better than DVD and showed off why you would want an HD projector. Seeing as this price range was previously the realm of 480p projectors, one look at an HD DVD on this one will move you off ED projectors in 1/60 of a second.

As you've noticed, I've forgiven this projector for a lot of things that I normally consider to be major flaws. When you consider the price of this projector, though, you end up shrugging and saying to yourself, "Yeah, but it's only $1,000..." Sure, it's not perfect, but, for an entry-level projector, it's not bad. For an entry-level HD projector, well, it's kind of in a class by itself. After all, you'd have to increase the price by 50 percent to get to its next 720p competitor. It's bright, it has a decent black level and a great contrast ratio, and, with a scaling DVD player or an HD source, it looks great. It's like the little projector that could, and it does.

• Only $1,000!
• 2,914:1 contrast ratio