Most projectors coming in under £1,000 really don’t cut the home cinema mustard. They’re usually PC data projectors, which have little truck with those key home cinema traits of contrast and accurate video colours.
But despite costing just £900, Optoma assures us that its new HD20 projector really is designed first and foremost for movies. A fact that’s made even more remarkable by the discovery that it delivers a Full HD resolution for its money. Surely something has had to give somewhere?
Budget price, budget build
The HD20 looks every inch the budget projector, alas. Its bodywork is plasticky and lightweight, its sculpting is amateurish, and worst of all a large cooling grille lets out quite a bit of light.
In fact, the light spillage is sufficient to marginally reduce the image’s contrast if your room isn’t large enough to soak the spilt light up.
Firing the HD20 up doesn’t improve our mood, as our ears suddenly have to suffer some really quite loud running noise. Most of this is caused by the HD20‘s lamp-cooling fans, but there’s a slight whine from the DLP colour wheel, too.
We were also troubled to find no vertical image shifting on the HD20, meaning that the only way to get the edges of our picture perpendicular was to mess it about using a keystone system.
Low lamp bonus
The first sign of good news with the HD20, in fact, is the way turning its lamp into a provided low output mode results in a big reduction in that otherwise distracting running noise.
This does cause quite a drop in image brightness, and so probably won’t be an option if you’ve got much ambient light to contend with in your room. But if you can properly black out your viewing room, then the low lamp output mode is the way to go.
The HD20 continues to pick up the pace with its connections, by including two HDMIs – the same number we’re currently finding on projectors costing many thousands of pounds, never mind £900. It’s also got a PC feed for non-console gamers.
Better pictures than expected
The HD20’s rehabilitation after its uninspiring start is emphatically completed by the startlingly good quality of its pictures.
Colours, for instance, are nothing like the blown-out, unnatural stew of nastiness that we’d expected. Instead they look rich without becoming cartoonish and they’re surprisingly subtle in blend and tone when they need to be.
Skin tones, one thing that always sorts the men from the boys at the budget end of the projector market, are also quite natural.
The HD20’s Full HD resolution, meanwhile, makes its presence felt during HD viewing, as pictures look crisp and contain levels of detail that you just don’t expect from a sub-£1,000 projector.
Back to black
The DLP HD20’s reasonably deep black colours and ability to produce at least some shadowy details in dark corners are a revelation, too, compared with the murky greyness usually found on budget models.
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This is all the more impressive given the high brightness levels the projector can pump out in its normal lamp setting – assuming you can live with the fan noise.
Inevitably, the picture strengths we’ve just reported have to be qualified by saying that there’s nothing going on that might rival a good mid-range projector. But its images certainly do comfortably outgun any other projectors we’ve seen around the £1k mark.
And the downsides
The HD20 isn’t completely immune to image flaws, of course. First and worst, it suffers noticeably with DLP’s rainbow effect, where the colour wheel used by single-chip DLP technology causes stripes of pure red, green and blue to flit about momentarily over very bright points in the picture – or your peripheral vision if you’re sat close to your screen.
We were also distracted on occasion by how stuttery objects sometimes look as they pass across the screen – especially if there’s a camera pan going on.
But these aren’t major quibbles. The fact is, the HD20 can produce very nice movie pictures as much as 7m across for less money than many 40in TVs. Which makes it very worthy of consideration if you don’t want a giant LCD hogging your living room.