Optoma HD81 1080p DLP Front Projector

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One of the most eye-opening demos I've ever observed was of a 1080p-rez front projector in the Texas Instruments booth at last year's CEDIA show. Taking in the big, ultra-crisp, strikingly filmlike picture, I was amazed to hear that TI's newest spin on DLP (Digital Light Processing) was less than a year away from showing up in home theater products. Well, a year has passed, and the 1080p front pros have arrived. Last month I took Sim2's exotic $16,000 HT-3000 for a spin. This month I'm checking out the Optoma HD81 1080p DLP front projector, a model that sells for less than half the Sim2's price!

Given its $7,000 street price, you'd expect the Optoma to be stripped down, and in some ways it is. A two-piece system with a separate video switcher/processor that connects to the projector via HDMI and RS-232 cables (2-meter strands are included; 25-footers are optional), the HD81 has only manual zoom and focus rings for its lens, which has a throw ratio of 1.85 to 2.2. There are no vertical or horizontal lens-shift functions to aid in positioning the image, and a 136° lens offset means that you'll need a fairly high ceiling: In my setup, the projector's lens needed to hover more than 1.5 feet above the screen's top edge to avoid keystone distortion. And the HD81 required a minimum 14-foot throw distance to fill up my 93-inch wide Da-Lite high-contrast Da-Mat screen.

But while the HD81's install features lean toward the rudimentary, its video features are anything but. The outboard processor boasts three HDMI inputs. There's a pair of RCA component-video inputs, another pair of inputs that willtake RGB+H/V or component signals via BNC connectors, and front-panel VGA and composite-/S-video jacks. An HDMI "loop" output routes audio signals carried on HDMI to an A/V receiver or processor.

Standard- and high-def signals get upconverted to 1080p resolution by a Gennum VXP - a high-performance video deinterlacing/scaling chip that's also in Anthem's excellent AVM-50 preamp we reviewed (October 2006, available at soundandvisionmag.com). Along with extensive controls for carefully fine-tuning color, gamma, noise reduction, and detail enhancement on each video input, the HD81 also provides an Auto Iris function to deepen picture contrast on a scene-by-scene basis - a feature found on some LCD and LCoS projectors that's showing up for the first time here in a DLP model.