With the roll out of Optoma’s HD20 DLP home projector last year, the reality of a 1080p projector lower than $1000 was finally realized. As Blu-ray is rapidly growing in popularity, there’s no reason that home theater gurus with growing collections of stunning 1080p transfers need to hold off on replacing that old 720p projector. The Optoma HD20 attempts to meet that need with 1080p output, 4000:1 contrast, and 1700 ANSI lumens. The retail MSRP of the unit is $999.99 and can be found slightly cheaper around the web.
The design of the HD20 has a very small footprint, which makes it useful as a somewhat mobile projector. The white body has a sleek finish with silver trim. It can get dusty if positioned on a coffee table and the white finish obviously makes that more visible. The front grill of the projector is sloped forwards and the lens stands out in the silver housing. Frankly, it’s not a bad projector to look at especially when paired with white accents.
The rear of the unit contains the following inputs: power cord, 12 volt screen trigger, VGA computer connection, Component video, composite video and two HDMI inputs. You won’t find an S-Video connection, but the majority of the home theater population has moved on to the superior component or HDMI connections for recent electronics purchases. In addition, the unit can be paired with a A/V Receiver with tons of HDMI inputs if you required more. On the top of the projector, you will find the standard set of button controls for switching sources and navigating on-screen menus.
If you have used an Optoma projector before, the menu system is unchanged from previous models. There are five preset picture modes including User controlled, Reference, Bright, Photo and Cinema. Switching between them requires a bit of lag time to reset the screen, but it’s not overly annoying. For more advanced video calibration, you can dive in to noise reduction, gamma controls and color temperature selection. Within the menu system, you can also utilize overscan, edge mask, image AI and a variety of other modifications. Image AI, while useful, cranks the fan noise into high gear, so beware if the projector is mounted near your audience.
The remote control for the unit has a similar form design to the projector, compact and white. The remote control sensor is mounted on the front of the unit, so you need a fairly direct line of site to modify settings. Pointing it at the back of the unit doesn’t work at all, especially in a seated position. I’ve heard people complain about how bright the remote LED is, but I found that to be more useful than not. It is stunningly bright. In fact, I’ve used it several times to navigate out of my pitch black theater after a movie is over. Two features I really utilize the most on the remote are the direct input buttons and the aspect ratio modification buttons. If someone in the house was watching a 4:3 DVD on the composite input, I can switch over to HDMI and / or 16:9 in a flash to watch the Lakers game in HD.
Placement of the HD20 is somewhat simplified over previous Optoma models, but positioning may seem limited. The 1.2:1 manual zoom lens has no lens shift and the throw angle is fixed. It works well as a ceiling mounted unit or a coffee table placement. I was using an 80” screen and had about two feet of leeway in where I could place the coffee table. By the way, the lamp inside the unit is rated at 3000 hours in high lamp mode and 4000 hours in low lamp mode, a solid rating for such an inexpensive unit. Replacement blubs hover in the $300 range, but I have seen them as low as $250 on some sites.
I had a stack of 1080p Blu-ray discs to test out from The Dark Knight to Pixar’s Up as well as DVD performance, cable box performance (HD and SD) and an Xbox 360 to review gaming performance. One aspect of the unit that really impressed me right off the bat was the lighting performance. I was in the middle of transitioning a family room into the pitch back theater and the HD20 really cranked out a visible picture with ambient and direct lighting hitting the room. Utilizing this unit during March Madness was quite spectacular, ideal for anyone into HD sports. (I was using the Bright mode on the projector for the day games)
The vibrant colors produced by the HD20 also grabbed me, specifically on a few Pixar movies that I was testing out. Sully and Mike in Monster’s Inc. really popped off the screen with this projector, more so than other units I’ve testing in the past. On the opposite end, black level performance really isn’t up to snuff compared to other DLP projectors. Scenes with the deepest blacks often look too gray. This was evident in the majority of The Dark Knight as well as the night scenes of the Season 1 of Lost. That being said, this is a position of price versus performance. Those looking for a sub $1000 1080p projector likely won’t care as much about below average black levels.
In my testing, I tried out a few of the preset image modes, but found myself wandering back to Cinema all the time. Optoma’s preset modes are spot on for the most part. I only found Reference to be lacking in quality, ironically. Also, SD performance (480i) was decent, but wasn’t as good as similar projectors around the same price point (likely due to the use of composite connection). It’s obvious that the main focus of this projector is to be used with HD feeds, which it performs admirably. In regards to switching between feeds, the Optoma HD20 is very fast when switching between inputs and different resolutions.
In regards to gaming performance with the Xbox 360 via HDMI, I was really blown away. I’ve recently been testing Rockstar’s Western themed title, Red Dead Redemption, and the old West looks quite fantastic in full blown HD. I even fooled a couple friends walking by during a demonstration who through it was Costner & Duvall’s Open Range. The Xbox 360 GUI looks great as well along with Netflix HD Streaming content.
One final note on performance; the HD20 does have the oh-so-dreaded rainbow effect due to a 4x color wheel inside the single chip unit. I’ve never been able to see the rainbows on any DLP projector, but I did get a couple comments from those who were sensitive to it.
The Optoma HD20 isn’t without fault. If you are a stickler on black levels and have a hyper sensitivity to color rainbows, the HD20 may not be the projector you are looking for. That being said, the Optoma HD20 packs a serious punch! You are going to be hard pressed finding a 1080p projector with picture quality as good as this for less than $1000. It’s really the perfect projector for those first timers looking to build a home theater.