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High Definition on a Low Def Budget

Is the Optoma HD70 the new HD budget king?

By Daniel Canale-Parola

I just finished taking Optomaís highly anticipated HD70 high definition video projector for a spin and I'm actively scheming of ways of never having to return it. While the budget unit is understandably short on advanced features (like a true lens shift, or multiple component or HDMI inputs) the little box puts out a stunning 1280 x 720 high definition image. The best part, and the reason that this unit has attracted so much attention, is that the HD70 costs $999; a new record low for a high definition DLP video projector (and B&H has sweetened the pot by offering free shipping).


Setting up the HD70 is just like setting up an HD-ready television; the unit doesnít have its own receiver and will display whatever you connect to it (keep in mind that projectors are not "cable-ready" so youíll need a stand-alone box to connect cable TV). For my informal test I hooked up my HD cable box and DVD player, placed the HD70 on a table and fired it up (ceiling mounting is another popular option). The unit comes with a small backlit remote for accessing the menu options (you will stumble around the buttons a bit until you memorize the meaning of the little icons).

Screenshots: actual image is approximately 8 feet measured diagonally.

I ran through a mix of HD content I have recorded to my DVR. A Yankees night game looked fantastic (and I'm a Red Sox fan) - even long shots, like the classic over-the-shoulder shot of the pitcher from center field, retained their crispness. Optoma projectors are known for highly-saturated colors and, true to form, the green field and blue walls of Yankee stadium were extremely rich and vibrant. The unit is so bright (particularly when the HD70 is set to "bright" which boosts lumen output to around 750) that itís easy to convince yourself you are looking at a 90+ inch plasma TV screen instead of a projected image.



I switched over to Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ("LOTR:ROTK" in geek speak) and noticed a slight greenish tint to the image — just like TV sets, projectors often need to be adjusted from their out of the box settings. I played with the tint setting until flesh tones looked right (for best results, calibrate your projector using a calibration DVD like Video Essentials or Avia). Once chromatic order was restored to Middle Earth, I was again blown away by the quality of the image. Colors were vibrant, blacks were blacks, not muddled grays, details were generally still present in dark scenes and the overall image quality was very satisfying.

Wanting to see how the projector performed with standard definition content, I fed the HD70 the newly digitally remastered DVD of the Blade Runner Director's cut. The projector did a great job when I used a progressive DVD player but allowed a higher level of "jaggies" and other video noise when I sent it an interlaced 480i signal (possibly due to the lack of a premium onboard video processor like the highly regarding Foroudja). The image it produced when being fed 480p however was excellent — just make sure you use a quality DVD player that can output 480p.

All said, I was extremely impressed with this unit. Sure, you'll get a higher quality image from a high-end 3-chip DLP projector with a fancy-pants lens but, for the money, the HD70 puts out a very pleasing and respectable HD image (and with what you have left over you can buy an HD-DVD player and a nice screen). For my money, the Optoma HD70 has a legitimate claim to the title of "HD budget king".

The Optoma HD70 — the pros and cons

PROS

  • Price, price, price — at $999 it's an exceptional value
  • Fantastic, huge high definition image (requires high definition source)
  • Excellent 16:9 widescreen image with standard DVDs — progressive DVD player recommended
  • Very good blacks, contrast and color saturation
  • "Image AI" adjusts lamp power according to scene brightness which preserves shadow details
  • Small size and white color makes for a low profile when ceiling mounted
  • Very quiet operation (much quieter, for example, than the InFocus Screenplay 4805)
  • True HDMI (i.e. not DVI) and component inputs

CONS

  • Only average image quality when viewing standard 480i definition TV (more expensive projectors have better built-in video processors that improve SD quality)
  • Limited high quality video inputs (only 1 HDMI and 1 set of component inputs)
  • 8-bit color, instead of the 10-bit of more expensive units (only of concern to serious videophiles who notice these sorts of things)
  • Although itís quite bright, as with most projectors designed for home theater use, you need a light controlled room to enjoy the HD70ís best picture quality

Order an Optoma HD70 now or email me if you have questions about the projector or front projection in general.

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