Optoma HD 806 1080P 1-Chip DLP Video Projector Reviewed

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optoma-hd-806-projector-review.gif1080P is the latest benchmark resolution everyone wants for his or her home theater and media/gaming room. Achieving that high resolution up on a big screen totally changes the degree of immersion one experiences. Usually, a big front-projection image needs to be observed in a totally darkened room, like a movie theater, which limits ease and frequency of use. Thankfully, Optoma has released the third in a series of recent one-inch (actual 0.95-inch) DMD single-chip 1080P DLP front projectors capable of a claimed 2,000 ASNI Lumens of light output, which is sufficient to light up a big screen (up to 106 inches diagonally) in a room with some degree of ambient light. The (reported) 8,000:1 contrast ratio is certainly respectable enough to portray both light and shadow detail with equal complexity, powered by a 300-watt UHP user-replaceable lamp with an expected bulb life of 3,000 hours, and a replacement cost of less than $500 USD. Images are rendered through a 1.2:1 manual zoom lens, with a 17-step auto iris system that features a +/- 36 percent vertical lens offset (but no horizontal shift) and (amazingly) the option to accept an accessory 2.35:1 anamorphic lens adapter, making possible the use of the full DLP panel resolution (2,073,600 pixels) during the viewing of scope widescreen films (no more black bars) completely automatically. 

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The proprietary Optoma Image AI-II• three-stage video processing technology offers a 10-step gamma adjustment and feeds signal to the new brightness enhanced color wheel (necessary in a single-chip color projector) that spins at two times the refresh rate and is composed of six sections: red, green, blue, cyan, magenta and yellow. This allows for an amazing 1.07 billion colors to be displayed. The generous input options include two HDMI 1.3 jacks, one DVI (both A & D) with HDCP, one component video input, RGB on D-sub HD 15-pin for your computer, one S-video jack, a legacy composite input on RCA jack and, finally, an RS-232C control port. The projector can accept signals from 480i (NTSC) and 576i (PAL) up to 1080P at 24, 30, 50 and 60 fps and is therefore compatible with all current formats used throughout the world. The tiny (16 inches wide by 4.6 inches high by 12.2 inches deep) 10-pound, white plastic-cased portable Optoma HD 806 is priced at a very fair $5,199 retail.

Given that people typically live, work and enjoy much of life in environments that feature ambient light, it seems a shame that there aren't more solutions that address making a really big video image (less than 80 inches diagonally) both bright and affordable. Well, the multimedia Optoma HD 806 has both, while preserving the image quality found in their earlier 1080P single-chip home theater front projectors, like the HD81LV, HD81 and HD80. There are quite a few 1080P projectors available these days at this price point, and most are well-suited to completely dark viewing conditions. These include the HD81 and HD80.  Now, with the HD 806, a new side to daylight front-projection viewing can be seen and appreciated. The measured performance (after calibration) of 1,089 ANSI Lumens (although understandably lower than the rated output of 2,000, but still almost twice that of the HD80) is still more than bright enough to compete with ambient light in a lit room and still look amazingly good. Given a high-quality HD source, such as a Sony Playstation 3 and a white wall or, better yet, a professional screen like my 106-inch Stewart StudioTek 130 (non-perforated), action films and video games take on a much more compelling quality and, because of its light weight (10 pounds) and simple manual zoom, focus and vertical shift adjustments, one can easily take this projector almost anywhere and get a solid, detailed, colorful image quickly. There is certainly more than enough contrast range for low to medium interior lighting conditions, such as would be found in an average living room during the day; I measured a good CR performance of 1,257:1.

The newly designed six-segment double-speed color wheel offers a rich palate of hues and tones that are specifically tuned to look properly saturated and accurate under "lit" conditions. The generous input apron allows for sufficient space to get one's fingers and several connectors in and out fairly easily, and the legacy analog inputs make this projector a good choice when connecting to an older Xbox, Nintendo Wii or PS2 gaming systems. If your penchant is for widescreen movies, this projector offers an add-on anamorphic adapter that moves into and out of the way on an included sled that is good for either ceiling or tabletop installation. The projector automatically senses the incoming signal's aspect ratio and processes for perfect geometry, every time. The AI-II• three-stage video processing allows for the ability to set up individual picture memories for each input, allowing some real fine-tuning during a full calibration, which this projector takes to very well.

Read more about the Optoma HD 806 on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Optoma HD 806 1080P 1-Chip DLP Video Projector

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While installation and set-up are fairly simple, there are some liabilities. Because the lens offset is only in the vertical direction (+/- 36 percent), with no horizontal shift whatsoever, the projector must be mounted directly in line with the screen, either attached to a ceiling bracket or sitting on a coffee or end table. This, along with the limited 1.2:1 manual zoom lens, means that the projector needs to be situated fairly close to the screen with respect to seating distance. No other lens options are available (a larger range would have helped), but this keeps the cost down at the expense of limiting off-center sighting. Because of the higher bulb wattage and commensurate light output, the projector's fan noise can be a little bit louder than other home theater projectors found in this category, a measured 33 dB/SPL. This can be slightly distracting if seating is right next to, behind or under the projector, along with a tendency for more localized heating right around the projector. The automatic iris is normally designed to increase the contrast range by selectively widening and narrowing, depending on a particular scene's lighting content. The best of these devices operate at 30 or even 60 frames per second, but the Optoma only makes adjustments every 15 to 30 seconds, which has very little effect on picture quality, if any. There is also the double-speed color wheel, which can exhibit rainbow color separation artifacts during very fast panning of the image; this is typical of a single-chip DLP projector with a slow color wheel. Clearly, this is a cost-cutting measure, but for the most part does not detract too much from an otherwise strongly designed projector.

There are always tradeoffs made in the design of any projector. Most home theater front projectors made these days are opting for higher contrast ratios at the expense of actual light output. This requires that they be installed in a theater where ambient lighting conditions are controllable and, ideally, able to be doused. This is why it is so encouraging to see a company like Optoma create a slight variation on an already very good design - their HD81LV. The new HD 806 offers a refreshing improvement in image fidelity over many other similarly-priced alternatives, specifically when displayed in a room with some degree of ambient lighting. Unlike a typical home theater front projector, which is designed largely for a black box theater, the HD 806 can create the same three-dimensionality and eye-popping detail found on some of today's best 1080P flat screen monitors, but at potentially much larger sizes, up to 106 inches on a screen. You will be hard-pressed to find a more economically verifiable bargain when it comes to a front projector that can be used each and every day, and still be completely portable.

High Points
 Full 1920 x 1080P HD single-chip DLP light engine offers full resolution of high-definition sources.
 Bright rated output of 2,000 ANSI Lumens allows for viewable image, depending on ambient lighting conditions.
 Proprietary Optoma Image AI-II• three-stage video processing technology offers 10-step gamma adjustment and user-definable settings for each input.
 Anamorphic "scope" widescreen adapter option offers complete panel fill, with 33 percent increased light output and vertical fill factor.
 Generous input apron featuring Two HDMI 1.3 inputs, one component video (and RGB on D Sub-15) and legacy analog inputs capable of accepting 480i & 576i to 1080P at 24, 30, 50 and 60 frames per second.
 Long-life user-replaceable bulbs (up to 3,000 hours) make this projector economical, as well as very bright.

Low Points
 Limited lens offset reduces placement flexibility to only being in line with the screen.
 Black level and contrast ratio are only acceptable and do not compete with other more expensive single- or multi-chip DLP projectors designed for complete blackout conditions.
 Slightly noisy fan and some excess heat radiation can be heard and felt when sitting relatively close to the projector.
 The automatic dynamic iris is essentially useless, as it does not dynamically adjust at or even near frame rate.
 Double-speed color wheels are prone to "rainbow" distortion, and this projector exhibits this effect to much the same extent as other earlier single-chip DLP projectors.

When the home theater projectors first arrived in the early 1970s, they were enormous, heavy three-gun CRT-based pieces of furniture. They required a separate curved screen in order to collate enough light to be seen in a normally lit living room (about 600 Lumens), they were very cumbersome to set up and not easily hidden away when not in use. Today, 38 years later, technology has come a long, long way. The relatively tiny size and weight of the Optoma HD860 with its 2,000 ANSI lumens output, in comparison to the early projectors of yesteryear, makes for a substantially enjoyable viewing experience by any and all.  Far too often, the need occurs for a bright, high-resolution projected image that is also portable and easy to set up. With a cost of $5,199 MSRP, this projector falls in the middle price range expected (both today and in years past) for a front-projection product, but it produces nearly twice the light output of most, which is significant when it comes to competing with interior ambient lighting. While other projectors made by Panasonic, Mitsubishi, JVC and Sony can claim to have better blacks and potentially wider contrast ratios, the simplicity, portability and generous input options, along with higher light output and optimized colorimetry, provide a consistently bright, sharp image that is easy to carry about.

Additional Resources
• Read more front projector reviews by the staff at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore projector screen options in our Projector Screen Review section.

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