Does Optoma's latest projector fill a niche or fall between two stools?
Optoma HD36 What is it?The Optoma HD36 is a single-chip DLP projector with 3D support and it sits between the HD26 and HD50 in the manufacturer's line-up. The HD36 appears to be an amalgamation of those two projectors, combining the chassis of the HD50 with many of the processing features of the cheaper HD26. It also sits between its two stablemates in terms of price, with the HD36 retailing for around £799, as of October 2014.
Who is it aimed at?The Optoma HD36 is aimed at anyone wishing to enjoy big screen entertainment but is currently on a budget. The HD36 is bright, allowing it to be used in rooms with light coloured walls or limited ambient light control and it's easy to quickly setup, so you can use it whenever you want. If you have a suitably flat white wall, you don't even need to invest in a dedicated screen, making it a simple way to enjoy some cinema style action. The question is whether or not the HD36 can justify its price compared to the cheaper HD26 or if it has a level of performance that makes it an alternative to the more expensive HD50. Let's find out...
The HD36 uses the same well made chassis as the more expensive HD50.
What does it look like?The HD36 uses the same chassis as the more expensive HD50, which has a chunkier look than many other Optoma projectors. The HD36 has greater height, to accommodate what we hope is a better quality lens, and the black plastic construction is reasonable for the price point. The lens itself is offset and there is a 1.5 zoom and the HD36 includes manual zoom and focus and, unusually, a vertical lens shift hidden away under a large flap at the top. On the top are a basic set of buttons, should you ever lose the remote and underneath are adjustable feet. There are large air intake and exhaust vents, which do result in a degree of light spill, but the HD36 isn't too noisy for a projector this bright, although you can hear the colour wheel.
How do I connect it up?
The connections are at the rear and make for an unusual selection these days. There's only one HDMI input, along with a DVI-D connector and two VGA inputs. There's also a VGA output and a RS232 serial connector for system control. Very unusually there's an S-Video input along with the more common composite video input. You also get a 12V trigger and a 3D-Sync Out (3-Pin VESA) connector for the RF 3D emitter, along with three audio inputs (one RCA and two 3.5mm) and an audio output (3.5mm). Finally there are two USB ports, one for firmware upgrades and one for powering other devices.
How do I set it up?As with all the projectors at this price point, the HD36 is very easy to set up. All you need to do is connect your primary source to the HDMI input and position the projector in front of the screen or appropriate wall. Despite all the available connections, we're prepared to bet that almost no one will be using the VGA, Composite, DVI or S-Video inputs and it's HDMI that is the important one. However, since there's only one HDMI input, you'll really need to connect all your HDMI sources - and again we're prepared to bet you've got a lot more than one - to another device like an AV receiver. The Optoma has a tinny built-in speaker but we'd suggest you avoid using that.
The HD36 can create a fairly large screen size so as long as you position it carefully you shouldn’t have any trouble zooming the image to your desired size, focussing it with the manual controls and vertically shifting if necessary. It’s important that you position the HD36 correctly because it doesn’t have a lens shift and you want to avoid using keystone correction if at all possible. Then you just enter the menu and select the appropriate picture mode and make sure any unnecessary features are turned off. You can do this by either using the controls on top of the projector itself or with the provided remote control.
The HD36 has an unusual selection of inputs including DVI-D, two VGA and even S-Video!
How do I control it?
The HD36 comes with one of Optoma’s standard remote controls, with a colour scheme to match the black chassis. The remote is small but comfortable to hold and the buttons are sensibility placed, although the menu button is in a slightly strange position and can be hard to find in the dark. There’s also a backlight which might be helpful, although it's unlikely the HD36 will be used in a pitch black room. So overall the provided remote control is perfectly adequate and, as mentioned previously, there are controls on the top of the projector should you misplace it.
What features does it have?The HD36 comes with a few features, although some are more useful than others. As mentioned it does include an integrated speaker but we would avoid using it if at all possible. If you're going for big screen home entertainment, you really want a big sound to go with it, although you could use the audio out to power some active speakers or a soundbar. There's a Game Mode that reduces input lag by turning off all the processing but it also maxes out the brightness and colours; we'd be more inclined to just turn off any unnecessary processing and use a more accurate picture preset.
The HD36 also supports 3D, although it doesn’t come with either the emitter or the active shutter glasses. You’ll need to buy those separately but they can be picked up as a glasses and emitter pack (ZF2100) for around £70. Optoma also sell a separate wireless streaming device (the £200 WHD200), which is compatible with the HD36 and would remove the need to run cable to the projector itself. Finally the HD36 includes Optoma’s Dynamic Black feature which adjusts the brightness of the bulb, depending upon the scene - which we'll discuss later.
The technical stuffAs we expected based upon our previous reviews of Optoma projectors, the best Display Mode to select out-of-the-box was Reference, which delivered the performance shown below. The greyscale performance wasn't perfect but it wasn't bad for an out-of-the-box setting, although there was an excess of both red and green energy and a defeicit of blue.
However the gamma was better, tracking close to our target curve of 2.2. The colour performance was somewhat disappointing and almost identical to the HD26 that we reviewed recently. There were sizeable errors in the luminance and saturation of most of the colours, with red, blue, green and magenta being the worst affected.
The white balance control that Optoma provide is very basic, essentially just moving red, green and blue across the entire scale but luckily the errors were fairly consistent from 20 to 100IRE, so we were able to make a significant improvement in greyscale accuracy. There were now equal amounts of red, green and blue and the overall errors were all below the visible threshold of three. Unfortunately using the white balance control did affect the gamma, introducing some clipping at 90IRE.
When it came to the colour performance, we were able to improve the luminance of the projector, which is the element of colour to which our eyes are most sensitive. However we were unable to improve the saturation performance and the colour gamut remained significantly restricted. We were also unable to affect some of the larger hue errors but when watching actual viewing material the colours didn't appear too inaccurate, just somewhat muted.
As with other Optoma projectors, the colour gamut on the HD36 was rather restricted.
Optoma HD36 Picture QualityThere is much about the HD36 to like, especially when you consider the kind of environment in which it will most likely be used. First of all it's bright, even after setting it up correctly and selecting a more accurate picture preset, which means it can handle the average living room well. It also handles motion well, so it is ideal for watching fast paced sports action like football. That excellent motion handling and the inherent fast response time of DLP means that active shutter 3D looked particularly good, with an absence of distracting artefacts like crosstalk or ghosting. The HD36 also worked extremely well with gaming because once again the fast response times of DLP came in handy and with all the unnecessary processing turned off the latency felt suitably low.
What this means is that if you're looking for a projector to get out whenever you fancy some big screen action, the HD36 will certainly fit the bill. Regardless of whether you want to watch the big game, a 3D movie or play a game on your new console, the results will be great. In other tests, the HD36 also handled 24p content effectively, so your Blu-ray collection will look impressive and, thanks to the single chip design and larger lens, images appeared pin sharp and detailed. The video processing was also very good and the HD36 had no problems with standard and high definition interlaced images, which means you can even enjoy your DVD collection of standard definition TV broadcasts on the big screen.
Optoma HD36 Video Review
Optoma HD36 What's not so good?As far as any issues go, the HD36 seemed to suffer from the same failings as the cheaper HD26. First of all the under-saturated colour gamut was almost identical and again it was obvious when watching actual content and demo discs. Where we would expect to see a vibrant green, instead there appeared to be a more muted colour. Although, as we mentioned with the HD26, we don't think this will spoil your overall viewing experience and we would rather a muted colour palate than an over-blown one.
Of course since the HD36 is a DLP projector, the blacks levels are fairly mediocre, which is a standard limitation of the technology. The combination of the DLP chip and the bright bulb do rob the HD36 of some of its contrast ratio and dynamic range. As a result blacks look more like a dark grey and the Dynamic Black feature failed to rectify the issue. In fact the blacks really didn't look any different but the fluctuations in brightness did become annoying as the power to the bulb was adjusted.
However the HD36 will most likely be used in rooms with light coloured walls or ambient light, so the weak blacks are really less of an issue. As a single-chip DLP projector, the HD36 uses a colour wheel, those that are susceptible to rainbow artefacts will undoubtedly suffer. The Optoma can also be quite noisy once you combine the fans and the colour wheel, whilst the bright bulb does result in a degree of light spill through the air vents.
Optoma find themselves in the uncomfortable position of competing with themselves.
- Bright image
- Easy to setup
- Excellent greyscale
- Good motion handling
- Mediocre blacks
- Undersaturated colours
- Possible rainbow artefacts
Optoma HD36 Projector Review
Is it worth buying?
The Optoma HD36 certainly delivers a good performance in a number of key areas and for those looking for a quick and easy way of adding some big screen action to their living room it will work well. The brightness of the bulb makes it ideal for rooms with light walls or ambient light and the weak blacks will be less of an issue in such environments. The excellent motion handling and fast response times also make the HD36 perfect for sport, gaming and 3D. The video processing is very good and whilst the colour gamut is rather under-saturated, it should detract from your viewing enjoyment.
What are the alternatives?
So why no recommended badge? Well the simple reason is that Optoma find themselves in the uncomfortable position of competing with themselves. If you want to save money, you can get almost identical performance from the HD26 and if you spend a bit more you can get a better performance from the HD50. In terms of the competition, the obvious alternative is BenQ, who have a number of single-chip DLP projectors in the same price range. BenQ's W1300 would certainly be worth considering as it's about the same price, has many of the same benefits and has far more accurate colours
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels6
2D Picture Quality7
3D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money8
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