Having solved that dilemma, I started my evaluation of the HD8300 with Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger on Blu-ray disc (Paramount). The first 30 or so minutes of this film is a decidedly brown affair, with not a great deal of contrast found anywhere. Sure there are bits of color here and there, mainly red and blue, but overall it's about as tan a film as I've seen in a long while - minus the scene featuring Mr. Stark's World's Fair. Still, the HD8300 managed to breathe appropriate levels of life into the image without feeling artificial. Skin tones were rich and lifelike (within the context of the color pallette) with good saturation and texture throughout. Speaking of texture, the HD8300's ability to render detail even in the face of virtually little to no contrast was excellent. When the film finally decides to become a bit more four-color, the HD8300 was more than up to the task. The scenes involving Captain America shilling for Uncle Sam and his war bonds were brilliantly rendered, possessing rich, accurate colors combined with terrific edge fidelity and smooth motion, without having to resort to any gimmicky video processing and/or enhancements. Speaking of motion, the HD8300 was smooth as silk with all its motion aides turned off, evident in the film's many battle sequences. If I had any knock against the HD8300 during my time enjoying Captain America it would be its slightly light black levels, which at times, on my unity gain screen, appeared more like a really dark shade of grey than absolute black. Dropping my .85 gain SI Screen in front of my 2:35.1 screen for comparison showcased how such a screen would most likely benefit a projector such as the HD8300 when it came to improving its black levels and black level detail. Are the HD8300's black levels a deal breaker? Not for me, for few projectors near or even slightly above the HD8300's asking price truly achieve reference quality black levels, though there are some in the HD8300's range that do better.
Moving on, I cued up Transformers Dark of the Moon on Blu-ray disc (Paramount) and chaptered ahead to the sequence featuring the attack on the Chicago skyscraper. This particular sequence has it all - vivid colors, rapid motion (both in camera and out), levels of detail that border on insane and contrast, lots of contrast. Beginning with color, the HD8300 didn't disappoint; in fact it felt completely natural within the context of the film's color pallette despite director Michael Bay's natural tendency to overripen skin tones while pushing the surrounding image towards a cool shade of teal. Colors were appropriately saturated and vividly rendered (in a good way) that was not only pleasing but also impressive. Equally impressive was the HD8300's ability to roll, quite literally, with the punches possessing smooth motion throughout, again without the help of any video trickery and/or motion processing. More impressive still was the HD8300's ability to render detail such as the floors of shattering glass and twisted rebar seen in many of the sequences' wider shots. As for black levels, when presented in stark contrast next to some of the sequences' lighter elements, such as the shimmer of broken glass or the highlight of a gun, the HD8300's black levels seemed accurate and appropriately dark. It was only when displayed alongside other darker elements, such as shadows and the innards of several of the Transformers themselves, did I get the impression there was more to be had from the HD8300's black level performance. Still, this shortcoming never stopped me from enjoying the projected image and was remedied, largely, when using a high contrast screen.
Since the HD8300 is a 3D-enabled projector, I went ahead and cued up my favorite 3D demo disc, Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D on Blu-ray (Sony). Before I get into the HD8300's 3D performance it should be noted that there is little to no instruction given on the part of Optoma when it comes to setting up and subsequently enjoying said 3D content via the HD8300. First you must plug in the included RF dongle, which connects to the back of the HD8300 via a port not unlike an S-video input. From there you must stick the dongle to the front of the projector via double stick tape, which Optoma provides. As I stated earlier the compatible 3D glasses are sold separately so you'll want to make sure you've purchased a pair or two before returning home. Before you can enjoy the show, however, you must first charge the 3D glasses via a USB cable, which comes with the glasses. The initial charge recommended by Optoma is at least three hours, which may or may not put movie night on hold. Once charged you can place the glasses upon your head, cue up your favorite 3D Blu-ray and go. Just don't forget to turn the glasses on via a small button towards the top of the left ear support. Turning the glasses on will cause a small red light on the inside of the left ear support to flash on and off, which in turn will then be reflected back onto your eye by the glasses themselves. This is nice and annoying but fixable with a small piece of masking tape. I don't mean to sound overly critical but enjoying 3D content for the first time via the HD8300 is a bit more involved than just 1-2-3, though after some initial setup the only thing one will have to worry about going forward is ensuring that the glasses have an appropriate charge.
Back to Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D: the HD8300's 3D performance on a 97-inch diagonal screen was, for the first time, the only demonstration of 3D in the home I've seen that made any sense for it was truly immersive and wholly enjoyable. While some may complain that 3D robs an image of its brightness (which it does), the slightly dimmer 3D image presented via the HD8300 proved to be just what the doctor ordered, for had it retained all of its 2D brilliance I'm not sure I would've been able to handle it. Now, those of you with larger screens (120 -140-inches diagonal) may disagree with my last statement but in my room, on a 97-inch unity gain screen, the HD8300's 3D performance in terms of brightness was perfect. When presented with a 3D signal, the image automatically shifts to its 3D picture mode to enhance brightness, contrast and saturation, but even with said settings set to "stun," the resulting image didn't really feel any less natural than what I experienced with normal 2D viewing. The image was appropriately detailed, sharp with smooth motion that featured virtually zero crosstalk, even in the film's more chaotic sequences. Black levels were still a bit subdued but again, nothing that took away from my overall enjoyment. Because the HD8300 employs active 3D technology you don't need a special 3D-capable screen to enjoy truly immersive 3D imagery at home, evident in my use of my Elite Screen's unity gain material. The only caveat I have regarding the HD8300's 3D performance is that its acquisition of the 3D signal and subsequent sync with the RF glasses didn't always bat a thousand. On two occasions I had to restart my Blu-ray player in order for the HD8300 to sync and lock onto the 3D signal. For the record, my Panasonic 3D plasma has the same issues from time to time so it's not a problem exclusive to the HD8300.
Right off the bat, the one thing I didn't think I'd mind bugged me to no end and it was the HD8300's manual lens controls. I know, I know, I've gone on record in the past as having praised manual controls, but those were done via Allen keys or screwdrivers whereas the HD8300's manual adjustments are handled via dials that are far from precise. What I mean by precise is that there is an awful lot of give at the start of an adjustment that results in no change on screen, then the dials seem to "dig in," at which point the adjustments become dramatic with very little movement. Obviously this makes image adjustment and screen alignment simply more tedious than it should be, however it's a frustration you should only have to endure once.
I'm a stickler on this issue for it's one of the epic fails behind the roll out of 3D in the home and that is that few seem to include the necessary eyewear with purchase. The HD8300 is no different for it too does not come complete with 3D specs in the box. Optoma will give you the emitter (gee thanks), but no glasses. At $1,499 I can forgive but at just under $4,500 you can't be serious.
Lastly, the HD8300 runs warm and a bit loud. I don't sit directly below my projectors but close enough that the heat generated by them is easily felt and the sounds heard. The HD8300 is one of the louder DLPs I've encountered in terms of fan noise (DLPs seem louder to me than any other type of projector) and it puts out the most heat too.
Competition and Comparison
DLP front projectors come in virtually every shape and size, not to mention budget, and at $4,499 the HD8300 occupies a weird space in the marketplace in that it's not uber-affordable but by no means a cost-no-object product. Thankfully, the HD8300 punches above its weight class, possessing attributes, in terms of its performance, that are comparable to costlier rivals.
One such rival that comes to mind is Digital Projection's M-Vision Cine 230, which at $6,995 is nearly $2,500 more, yet the HD8300 manages to possess more than 90 percent of the M-Vision Cine 230's performance. Where the Cine 230 edges out the HD8300 is in its black level performance, which can be overcome through the use of a high contrast or grey material screen.
My time spent with Optoma's HD8300 3D DLP front projector was a first for me in many ways; it was my first 3D front projector review as well as my first experience with Optoma as a whole. On both counts color me impressed, for the HD8300 proved to be both a capable - okay, phenomenal 2D projector as well as a nice 3D one to boot.
Minus some less than reference black levels, a few minor annoyances with its manual lens adjustment and the two 3D sync issues, the HD8300 from Optoma was nothing if not an eye opening experience for me. I honestly haven't seen this level of refinement from a DLP projector costing less than $5,000, and I'm not overstating when I say it competes favorably with the costlier and more esoteric Digital Projecton M-Vision Cine 230 at nearly $7,000. Furthermore, I truly believe that if you mate the HD8300 with the right screen, the gap between it and its costlier rivals will close even more.
If you're in the market for an affordable, easy to use, high-performance DLP front projector and have the screen real estate to go big, then the Optoma HD8300 should definitely be on your short list of projectors to consider.