Big screen action for the movie buff on a budget
Home AV review
What is the Optoma HD50?
It's always good to see projector manufacturers thinking of the home cinema fan when launching a new model.Too often we see what are essentially data grade projectors being marketed at the movie enthusiast and in reality that kind of projector just won't cut the mustard. So we were pleased to see that Optoma have just announced a new projector aimed squarely at the film fan and even happier when we got our grubby paws on a sample first. Optoma's new HD50 is a single chip DLP that offers both Full HD and 3D support, along with a number of handy features for those looking for big screen action.There are two HDMI inputs, including one that supports MHL, a claimed brightness of 2,200 ANSI lumens, 2D to 3D conversion and vertical lens shift. You also get PureMotion frame interpolation, a Colour Management System, UltraDetail processing and DynamicBlack Technology. In addition the HD50 won't break the bank, retailing for a decidedly reasonable price of £999. We've been impressed with Optoma's projectors in the past, so let's see if the HD50 is a worthy successor.
Design and ConnectionsThe chassis of the HD50 differs from previous designs, with a chunkier look that is more reminiscent of the competition. Whilst previous models have been more streamlined, the HD50 has greater height, to accommodate the lens, and the white plastic chassis remains well constructed considering the price point. The lens itself is offset and of reasonable quality. There is a 1.5 zoom and the HD50 includes manual zoom, focus and, unusually, shift controls. 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 HD50 isn't too noisy for a projector this bright, although you can hear the colour wheel.
The design is simple but effective and the build quality is reasonable for the price point.
At the rear are the inputs including two HDMI inputs (one of which supports MHL), although we noticed that the handshaking could be a little slow. You also get a VGA connector and a RS232 serial connector for system control, along with component and composite video inputs, a 12V trigger and a 3D-Sync Out (3-Pin VESA) connector for the RF 3D emitter. Finally there are two USB ports, one for firmware upgrades and one for powering other devices. The remote control is small but comfortable to hold, relatively easy to use and includes a backlight. Our only complaint would be that the position of the menu button makes it tricky to find in the dark but otherwise it gets the job done.
The HD50 doesn’t ship with any 3D glasses or emitter but these can easily be bought separately. The RF emitter itself is very small and since it doesn't use infra-red, it can be placed anywhere. The range is wide enough for even the largest room and we never had any problems with loss of sync. The glasses themselves are rechargeable and can be turned on by pressing a small button on the top of the left hand arm, a LED light flashes once to indicate the glasses are ready for 3D use. The black frames surround reasonably large lenses, which provides a wide field of view, there's a soft rubber nose piece and they fit comfortably over normal glasses. They also have very wide sides which is excellent for blocking out ambient light and the lenses weren't too dark either.
MenusThe menu system is refreshingly simple, with a clear and easy to navigate layout. The menu itself is broken down into four sections - Image, Display, System and Setup. Within the Image sub-menu there are various Display Modes and settings for the standard image controls such as Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Tint and Sharpness. There is a further sub-menu called Advanced that can also be accessed directly from the remote control. Here you’ll find Noise Reduction, Gamma, BrilliantColour, Pure Engine, DynamicBlack and Colour Settings. It’s in the Colour Settings that you’ll find controls for selecting the Colour Temperature and Colour Gamut, along with the RGB Gain/Bias (White Balance) and CMS (Colour Management System).
In the Display section there are controls for selecting the aspect ratio, electronic zoom, edge masking, electronic image shift and keystone correction. There’s also all the 3D settings, including choosing between DLP-Link and VESA 3D and selecting 2D to 3D conversion. The System section covers the menu location, lamp settings, projector position, keypad lock, test patterns, background colour, IR function, 12V triggers and closed captioning. Finally the Setup section covers the user language, input source, HDMI Link settings, source lock, information hide, high altitude setting, signal and auto power off.
The out-of-the-box accuracy could have been better but this was much improved after calibration.
Setup is straightforward, you just position the HD50 correctly in front of the screen and then zoom and focus using the manual rings around the lens and, if necessary, shift using the little wheel above the lens assembly. We found that the best Display Mode to select out-of-the-box was Reference and you can find our suggested settings for all the other controls here.
As the graph on the left below shows, the greyscale performance was reasonable, with all the DeltaE (error) measurements at around five. There was an excess of green and a minor deficit of blue, which resulted in a slight yellow tinge to the image. However the gamma is tracking exactly at our target of 2.2 and overall this is a reasonable set of numbers for an out-of-the-box setting. The colour gamut is shown bottom right and wasn't as good, with white clearly skewing towards yellow and some sizeable errors in the luminance of all the colours, as well as the saturation of blue.
A few clicks on the two-point white balance control and we quickly had the greyscale delivering errors well below one, with the exception of 100IRE, although even that was below the visible threshold. The gamma was still tracking perfectly at 2.2 and overall this was a fantastic greyscale and gamma performance. Moving on to the CIE chart and white was now measuring at the industry standard of D65 and the colour accuracy had also improved. Thanks to the inclusion of a CMS, were were able to improve the colour accuracy further and the only real error outstanding was a slight under-saturation in blue and magenta. However this is an excellent performance and shows that after calibration the HD50 can deliver a very accurate image, especially considering the price.
The HD50 generally performed very well in these tests, correctly scaling 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The video deinterlacing tests were also good, although in the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the projector introduced some jaggies. In the cadence tests, the HD50 correctly detected the 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) format but failed to detect the 2:2 (PAL - European) format. However the projector had no problems displaying mixed film material with scrolling video text and was able to reproduce the text without any shredding or blurring.
The HD50 also performed well in the tests using high definition content and with the player set to 1080i, the projector correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests and showed good scaling and filtering performance as well as good resolution enhancement. With 1080i material the projector had no difficulties in showing video text overlaid on film based material and also handled 24p content without any problems.
The one area where the HD50 did fall down slightly was the Dynamic Range High test showing video levels above reference white (235) up to peak white (255). This test showed that the HD50 was clipping all three primary colours and white, thus losing detail above video level 235. Whilst it would be nice to be able to see all the way up to peak white, it isn't really a problem and certainly wouldn't adversely affect the projector's overall performance.
Optoma HD50 Video Review
Optoma HD50 Picture QualitySince the HD50 is a single-chip DLP projector, it's probably best addressing a few issues straight away. The use of a colour wheel means that anyone susceptible to the artefacts created by that technology is likely to see rainbows. So if that is a problem for you, then definitely demo the HD50 before you consider buying it. The colour wheel can also generate some noise as it spins around, and sometimes that specific frequency can be annoying. Again this will depend on the individual and the environment but it's worth bearing in mind.
The HD50 is bright but the more powerful the bulb, the more heat it generates and the more cooling the projector requires. The fan noise on the HD50 wasn't bad but it's higher than the 29dB that Optoma claim in their specifications and definitely noisier than Sony's VPL-HW40ES. That's probably because the latter projector has a larger and more solid chassis but it's also £800 more expensive. In addition the HD50 suffers from a degree of light spill out of the air vent grilles, so you might want to think about where you plan on positioning the projector in your room.
If there is one area where DLP as a technology suffers, it's black levels and shadow detail. Almost every DLP projector we have tested has struggled in terms of delivering decent blacks and the HD50 is no excerption. Optoma claim a contrast ratio of 50,000:1 but that's obviously thanks to some DynamicBlack trickery that adjusts the brightness of the bulb and in reality you won't get anywhere near that - more like 2,000:1 - which, although not bad for a projector, isn't as good as the Sony HW40. The other issue relates to shadow detail and again, like most other DLP projectors, the HD50 will struggle to reveal subtle shadow details.
OK, now we've got that out of the way, let's get down to how the picture looked with real world content and overall we thought it was excellent. Thanks to the single-chip and the decent lens, the level of clarity and detail was exceptional and as is usually the case with a DLP projector, motion handling was excellent. You certainly don't need the PureMotion frame interpolation feature, although it might be useful for fast paced sports and gaming. Images were well rendered and the accurate greyscale and colour gamut delivered some very natural pictures. The uniformity was also good and aside from the previously mentioned black levels, there was nothing to complain about.
The HD50 actually delivered an impressive performance when it came to 2D, creating bright and detailed images that had plenty of impact. The HD50 has enough brightness to light up a reasonably big screen, whilst still retaining plenty of punch, which is clearly a bonus for the movie fan looking to take the next step. Once you combined the brightness and detail with the accurate greyscale and colour gamut, the images looked impressive whatever content we were watching although the HD50 obviously performed best with high definition material. Here the detailed and bright images were coupled with good motion handling, especially with 24p discs to deliver some great pictures.
Recent Blu-ray purchases like Transcendence and The Grand Budapest Hotel looked great on the HD50 and we often found ourselves forgetting how inexpensive it was - relatively speaking. Whilst blacks may not be inky, there was detail in the shadows and the images always felt as though they had sufficient dynamic range. Colours also looked natural and the whites were free of any unwanted discolouration, resulting in a very pleasing 2D performance. Of course the HD50 isn't perfect and the rather average deinterlacing and scaling meant that standard definition content didn't look as impressive, nor did some 1080i content, where the occasional deinterlacing artefact was apparent.
The other area where DLP projectors often perform well is in terms of their 3D performance where, thanks to their faster response times, they can deliver images that are free of crosstalk. This proved to be the case with the HD50 and yet, once again with an Optoma projector, we found ourselves slightly underwhelmed. Quite why this was we weren't entirely sure but it might well be due to Optoma's active shutter glasses, which have very dark lenses. It seemed to us that the lenses on the glasses were robbing the 3D image of some of its brightness and thus its potential impact.
Since the HD50 doesn't actually come with any glasses, it might be worth investigating alternative models, to help brighten the 3D image. Aside from the slight lack of 'pop', there was nothing wrong with the 3D and the images produced by the HD50 were accurate and detailed, with plenty of depth. The motion handling was also great and there was absolutely no crosstalk resulting in a generally enjoyable 3D experience. We certainly found that recent 3D films such as Stalingrad and The Lego Movie looked great on the HD50, as did old favourites such as Hugo and Avatar.
Overall the image was very pleasing, with accurate colours, plenty of detail and great motion handling.
- Excellent image accuracy
- Detailed pictures
- Very good motion handling
- Image has plenty of brightness
- Impressive 3D performance
- Lens Shift
- Competitive price
- Black levels could be better
- Out-of-the-box image could be more accurate
- Possible rainbows
Optoma HD50 Projector ReviewThe Optoma HD50 represents an interesting choice for anyone thinking of taking the logical step from big screen TV to even bigger screen projection. It has an attractive but minimalist design, with a simple white plastic chassis and a decent level of build quality. The lens is also of a decent quality, there's a lens shift control, which is unusual for a DLP projector, and setup is straightforward thanks to a simple menu system. The HD50 is a little noisy in operation, especially when you add in the colour wheel and there is some light spill through the air vent grilles but overall this wasn't an issue. There are a decent set of connections at the rear but the provided remote is a bit small and fiddly. Unfortunately there are no 3D glasses included but at a price of £999 that's hardly surprising and at least that leaves you free to choose your own.
Since the HD50 is a single-chip DLP projector it inherits all the usual strengths and weaknesses. The use of a single chip means no alignment issues and a very sharp image, which is helped by the superior lens. The motion handling is also excellent and the accurate images mean that the HD50 can deliver some impressive pictures. However the use of a colour wheel also means that some individuals may suffer from rainbows and the overall dynamic range is limited. This is not because of the brightness of the projector, which is very good, but because of the mediocre blacks. However in the average living room, this wouldn't be so much of a problem and overall the HD50 did a great job of filling our big review screen with accurate and detailed images. The 3D performance was equally as impressive, with crosstalk-free images and plenty of depth. Although if you buy Optoma's active shutter glasses you might find that their dark lenses rob the image of some of its impact.
The obvious competitor to the Optoma HD50 is Sony's new HW40 and having reviewed both, the Sony is the more technologically advanced machine; it's also better built, quieter and has superior blacks. However it does use a three chip design, so the HD50 is sharper and has better motion handling. Of course the Sony is also £800 more, which is nearly double the price of the Optoma, making the HD50 great value for money. Ultimately if you're looking to get big screen projection but are on a budget, the Optoma HD50 might well be the model for you.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels8
2D Picture Quality8
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money9
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