While reasonably affordable LCD projectors with full HD native resolutions have been around for some time now, rival DLP technology has struggled to offer the necessary 1920x1080 pixel count for anything less than megabucks. But that's about to change in dramatic fashion with the arrival of the Optoma ThemeScene HD80: a full HD DLP projector that's yours for just under £2,000 - by far the lowest price we've seen.
The home for this ground-breakingly cheap projector is a pretty one, thanks to some extravagant flowing curves and a shiny white finish that looks great on your coffee table. That said, on closer inspection the finish looks rather flimsy, especially when it comes to the overtly plasticky silver lens barrel and zoom/focus rings. Let's hope this exterior build isn't too accurate a reflection of what's going on inside…
Price: £2,000 More info: Optoma Size (WHD): 411 x 116 x 311mm Weight: 4.5kg Projector technology: DLP Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Native resolution: 1920x1080 Contrast ratio: 10000:1 Brightness: 1300 ANSI Lumens Throw Ratio: 1.85-2.22:1 (distance:width) Connections: Two HDMI inputs, one DVI input, S-Video input, Composite video input, RS-232 port, Component video input, 12V trigger Extras: Deep Colour support, True Vivid processing, vertical keystone adjustment, vertical image shift, gamma adjustment, picture presets, ceiling/front/desktop/rear positioning support; noise reduction, Brite mode, manual iris adjustment, overscan adjust/removal, edge masking, edge enhancement, test pattern
Price, features, picture in many ways
Picture not quite as sharp as some full HD models, not the brightest full HD picture out there, occasional colour tone issues
The HD80's connections are surprisingly good. For starters, we get a really impressive three HD-capable digital video connections: two HDMIs and one DVI that can also take PC feeds. Plus there are component video inputs for analogue HD sources like the original Xbox 360; an RS 232 port for integrating the HD80 into a wider home cinema system if you wish; and a 12V trigger jack for automatically driving an electronic screen.
There's yet more good news on the connections front, namely that the HDMIs are the new v1.3 versions, meaning that the projector is compatible with the Deep Colour system. Deep Colour can deliver an extended colour palette from HD discs encoded with the necessary data - though as yet, no commercially available Deep Colour discs have actually appeared.
As you'd hope of a full HD projector, even one as cheap as this, the HD80 can take in the premium 1080p/24 format from HD DVD and Blu-ray players, and can show 1080-line sources with no overscanning applied, so you can get the purest image path possible from source to screen.
Looking deeper into the HD80, the single most arresting figure on its spec sheet is a claimed contrast ratio of 10,000:1. This is very high indeed, and promises a really good black level response of the sort that tends to elude LCD models.
We do have to add a small rider to this though, which is that this contrast range isn't totally 'native', but is only achieved via an adjustable iris, whereby the amount of light released by the projector can be reduced to make black levels deeper. In other words, you'll never get anything like the HD80's maximum contrast and maximum brightness figures simultaneously.
The iris control is just one of a surprisingly long list of features contained within the HD80's tidy onscreen menus. Highlights include various thematic image presets, gamma adjustments, an edge enhancer, a function that adjusts the image automatically in relation to the amount of ambient light in the room, noise reduction systems, and finally True Vivid: a proprietary Optoma system designed to increase the richness of colour saturations.
If you're a bit of a technophobe and you're starting to worry that all these features might make the HD80 complicated, fear not; it's actually very easy to find your way around everything, and you don't actually need to touch too many of the options available if you're not comfortable doing so.
It's also very easy to set up, with vertical image shift and vertical keystone adjustment helping you get the edges of the image straight. The only thing that might have improved things more would have been a slightly more flexible amount of optical zoom.
As we settle down to check out its picture quality, we might as well get the bad news out of the way first: the HD80 doesn't make quite such sparkling use of its full HD resolution as many more expensive full HD DLP models. What we mean by this is that detailed, sharp HD sources like Casino Royale on Blu-ray don't look quite as blisteringly sharp on the HD80 as we've seen them on higher-end models. Edges lack a little 'snap', and fine details seem slightly smoothed over.
There are other, less important flaws too, such as the way colours occasionally look a touch unnatural, and a slight lack of brightness compared with most more expensive models.
But thankfully this is largely where the problems end, and the good times start to roll. For instance, the projector's black level response is absolutely superb for this price point. Dark scenes thus largely avoid the greying over effect that tends to blight them on most rival LCD projectors, as well as benefiting from loads of subtle, depth-creating shadow details.
Colours are also very vibrant and rich, with the colour tone issues we mentioned earlier only very rarely appearing. Noise levels are impressively suppressed too, There's not even much trouble with DLP's traditional fizzing noise over horizontal motion or the rainbow effect, where bands of pure red, green and blue can flit about in your peripheral vision.
In summing up the ThemeScene HD80, there are two key things we need to say. First, it's not the absolute greatest DLP projector ever, particularly in the way it doesn't have the sharpness to totally realise its full HD potential. But second, the full HD DLP projectors that do better than the HD80 all cost way, way more. So if you want to know whether the HD80 performs exceptionally well for its money, the answer is an emphatic 'yes'.