Pay a visit to the "Home Entertainment Projectors" section of Optoma's website, and you'll see that the company has no shortage of 720p and 1080p projectors targeted at this audience. What audience? Home entertainment projectors are designed to appeal to the more casual viewer who desires high value, high brightness, and high convenience and will likely use the projector in a everyday viewing environment like a living room or den, as opposed to a dedicated theater room.
One of the newest additions to this lineup is the HD27, a 1080p single-chip DLP projector that carries an MSRP of just $649--and is currently selling for $624 on VisualApex.com. If you want to assemble a truly big-screen entertainment system on a tight budget, you should definitely take a close look at the HD27.
This new model is a follow-up to the popular HD26 and comes in below the HD28DSE projector that Brian Kahn reviewed for us last year. The HD27 omits the DARBEE Visual Presence technology found in the HD28DSE; it carries a higher brightness rating of 3,200 lumens but a lower overall contrast ratio rating of 25,000:1 (the HD28DSE is listed at 3,000 lumens and a 30,000:1 contrast ratio).
The HD27 supports 3D playback and works with either DLP Link or VESA glasses, although no glasses are included in the package. The projector lacks some features found in step-up models, like a frame interpolation/smoothing mode and an auto iris to automatically adjust the light output to suit the content being displayed.
How does this little $649 projector measure up? Let's dig in and find out.
The HD27 is a fairly petite projector, measuring 11.73 by 3.7 by 9 inches and weighing just 5.2 pounds. It has a basic square shape with a nice glossy white finish, a built-in 10-watt speaker, and a side-oriented lens with a manual focus ring around it. This is a bulb-based projector that uses a 195-watt lamp rated between 5,000 and 8,000 hours, depending on which lamp mode you use.
The connection panel includes two HDMI 1.4 inputs, one of which supports MHL to connect a streaming stick or compatible tablet. Optoma has not included any analog video connections like component or composite video. The only other connections are a 3.5mm audio output, a 3D sync port for VESA, a 12-volt trigger (no RS-232), and a Type A USB port that can supply power to a connected peripheral like a wireless HDMI receiver.
Like many budget projectors, especially in the DLP category, the HD27 doesn't offer a lot of lens adjustment to aid in setup. It has a limited zoom of 1.1x (controlled via a slider on the top panel) and a throw ratio of 1.48 to 1.62:1. There's no horizontal or vertical lens shifting, only a trio of adjustable feet to raise the physical height of the projector and +/-40-degree vertical keystone correction. Keystone correction can help remove the trapezoidal shape that comes when a projector is set too high or low in relation to the screen; however, the more you use it, the less detailed the image becomes. I have a 100-inch drop-down screen, and I had to place the projector 11 feet away to fill the screen. I only had about one foot of flexibility, based on that 1.1x zoom. I experimented with different stands and end tables to find a height that didn't require the use of keystone correction; I settled on a stand that was 26.5 inches tall.
The supplied IR remote is fully backlit (and quite bright!), and it contains dedicated buttons for the various inputs and picture adjustments.
The HD27 offers a variety of picture adjustments, including: six picture modes (Cinema, Vivid, Game, Reference, Bright, and User); four color-temperature presets (warm, standard cool, and cold) and RGB gain/bias controls; a seven-point color management system with hue, saturation, and gain adjustments for each color (including white); seven gamma presets; Optoma's 10-step BrilliantColor adjustment; Dynamic Black (on/off); and two lamp modes (Eco and Bright). The HD27 is an ISF-certified projector, so an ISF calibrator can come in and set up ISF Day and ISF Night picture modes. This projector is missing some picture adjustments found on costlier models, including noise reduction, a frame interpolation mode to reduce judder in film sources, and an automatic or manual iris tool to more precisely control the light output.
The aspect-ratio options are Auto, Native, 16:9, 4:3, and LBX (letterbox zoom). Not surprisingly at this price, there's no anamorphic mode to accommodate an anamorphic lens and remove black bars from 2.35:1 films.
The HD27 does have some helpful power adjustments, like to the ability to enable power-on signal sensing, set a sleep timer, set an auto off (in five-minute increments from 0 to 180 minutes), enable quick resume, and turn the USB power on and off.
My sources for this review were a Dish Network Hopper 3 HD DVR and an Oppo UDP-203 universal disc player (set to 1080p output, since this 1080p projector does not accept a 4K signal).
Due to technical difficulties, I wasn't able to measure and calibrate this projector until the end of my review session (as the Measurements section on Page Two for the results). As a result, I spent the majority of my time watching HDTV, Blu-ray, and DVD content as the HD27 renders it before calibration--which was probably fortuitous, given that most people shopping for a $599 projector aren't going to pay another $300-plus to have it professionally calibrated. I did make basic adjustments to the brightness, contrast, color, tint, etc. using a Video Essentials disc, but I didn't go into the advanced menu to tweak color and white balance.
The HD27 puts out a good amount of brightness. When I finally was able to measure it, I found the brightest picture mode to be, not surprisingly, the Bright mode, which measured about 60 foot-lamberts on my 100-inch-diagonal 1.1-gain screen. The Vivid mode, meanwhile, measured about 36 ft-L. In many displays, the Vivid picture mode is often the one you want to avoid; it's usually very bright but also highly inaccurate. In the case of the HD27, though, I actually found the Vivid mode to look a bit more accurate and natural out of the box, especially with skintones, than the Bright mode. So, Vivid is the mode I opted to use for my daytime viewing of HDTV shows and sports, and the first thing I did was experiment with the BrillantColor control. BrilliantColor enhances image brightness and color; the higher the number, the brighter the image and the more saturated the color ... at the expense of accuracy. I settled on a BrilliantColor number of five (out of 10) for bright-room viewing, which in the Vivid mode allowed for a really bright image but kept the colors from looking too exaggerated.
In this configuration, the HD27 was bright enough to produce a highly saturated image with bright content like sporting events and sitcoms--even when I opened the window blinds in the back of the room. Opening the blinds in the front of the room, closest to the screen, did cause the picture to look washed out; however, that's really because of my matte-white screen material. Mate this model with a value-oriented ambient-light-rejecting screen (perhaps the Visual Apex Fixed Frame Pro Grey 5D screen that I recently reviewed), and you should get excellent results for daytime sports watching or other high-ambient-light viewing situations.
Next it was time for some movie watching at night. For this, I switched over to the Reference picture mode, which Optoma describes like this: "This mode is intended to reproduce as close as possible the image the way the movie director intended. Color, color temperature, brightness, contrast and gamma settings are all configured to standard reference levels." The Reference mode measured 25 ft-L of brightness at its default. Again, I was pleased with the natural-looking skintones and color, even before calibration. With Blu-ray movies, the HD27's image consistently looked a bit crisper and sharper than my reference 1080p projector, the Epson Home Cinema 5020UB LCD projector.
To evaluate black level and black detail, I did some direct A/B comparisons with the Epson 5020UB. Epson's UB (Ultra Black) projectors are designed to offer the best black level performance in the company's traditional LCD repertoire, and they're also the highest priced--roughly three to five times the price of the HD27, depending on the model. So, it was no surprise to me that the 5020UB produced noticeably deeper blacks and had more precise black-detail reproduction in my demo scenes from The Bourne Supremacy (chapter one), Gravity (chapter three), and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (chapter three). What did surprise me, however, was that the difference in black level wasn't nearly as dramatic as I've seen with other value-oriented home entertainment models. The HD27 actually held its own and produced a reasonably well-saturated image with these dark movie scenes--but only AFTER I enabled the Dynamic Black function, which dynamically adjusts the lamp brightness to suit the content onscreen. Usually I stay away from this type of feature because it creates an obvious and unnatural shifting of light levels; however, Optoma's Dynamic Black worked really well here. I did not see a lot of obvious brightness fluctuations, but I did see a clear improvement in black level and contrast. When the function was turned off, the HD27's image looked totally flat and washed out in my darkest demo scenes, and I could barely make out any of the fine black details in the background. When I turned it on, the blackness of space in the Gravity scene looked darker while the stars retained a nice level of brightness, leading to solid sense of image contrast. Likewise, the fine black details in the backgrounds of the Bourne Supremacy and Rogue Nation scenes, which were lost before, were now visible.
In the processing department, the HD27 properly detected the film cadence on my HQV Benchmark DVD, and it cleanly rendered my real-world 480i tests from the Gladiator and Bourne Identity DVDs. However, it failed the video cadence and all the assorted cadences on the 480i HQV disc. The same was true with the 1080i tests on the Spears & Munsil 2nd Edition Benchmark Blu-ray disc; the projector correctly handled basic 3:2 film detection, but it failed most of the video-based and assorted cadences. So, overall, I'd label its processing as solid but not great. As I mentioned earlier, there's no noise reduction, but I didn't feel it was needed, since the picture generally looked smooth and clean.
Another noteworthy plus is that the HD27's fan noise, while noticeable, isn't excessive and is a lot quieter than I've heard from other value-oriented DLP projectors.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Concluson...
Here are the measurement charts for the Optoma HD27, created using Portrait Displays' Spectracal CalMAN software. These measurements show how close the display gets to our current HDTV standards. Click on each photo to view the graph in a larger window.
The top charts show the projector's color balance, gamma, and total gray-scale Delta Error, below and after calibration. Ideally, the red, green, and blue lines will be as close together as possible to reflect a neutral color/white balance. The HD27's Reference picture mode is impressively accurate for a budget projector, with a maximum Delta Error of just 3.5 and a gamma average of 2.24 (we currently use a gamma target of 2.2 for HDTVs and 2.4 for projectors). The color/white balance leans very slightly cool, or blue. Using the RGB gain/bias controls and gamma adjustment, I was able to obtain even better results, producing a very neutral color temp, a 2.31 gamma average, and a max Delta Error of just 2.61 at the darkest end of the spectrum.
The bottom charts show where the six color points fall on the Rec 709 triangle, as well as the luminance error and total Delta Error for each color point. Again, the HD27's Reference mode has very accurate color points out of the box; blue is the least accurate with a Delta Error of 5.67. The CMS works pretty well, and I was able to further improve the accuracy of all six colors. Blue was still the least accurate (it is under-saturated), with a DE of 4.8. All the other colors ended up with a DE of 1.6 or lower.
For both gray scale and color, a Delta Error under 10 is considered tolerable, under five is considered good, and under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye. For more information on our measurement process, check out How We Evaluate and Measure HDTVs.
The HD27's limited 1.1x zoom and lack of lens shifting makes it harder to size and position the image. Since I was working with an already-installed drop-down screen, it took quite a bit of trial and error to find the best location for the projector and to precisely position the image on the screen. Even when I managed to align everything to fit my 100-inch screen, there was a slight distortion in the upper left corner of my review sample. If you're building a system from scratch, you'll have more flexibility to choose a screen size and optimal screen/projector locations.
The best thing I can say about the internal speaker is that it produces sound. Its dynamics are very limited, and it is very lean in the mids. With any dense action movie, most of the effects will be lost. There is a 3.5mm output to connect an external speaker; built-in Bluetooth would be an awesome addition, but I guess I can't really expect it in a $599 projector.
The HD27 is a bit slow to switch between resolutions, which is really only a concern if you set your disc player or set-top box to output a native or source-direct resolution. Many boxes these days don't even let you output a native resolution, but Oppo does, as an example.
Finally, the remote control is fairly sensitive. When trying to use the directional arrows to navigate through the HD27 menus, I was constantly shooting past my mark or going deeper into the menu structure than I wanted to go.
Comparison & Competition
Price-wise, the closest Epson competitors are the Powerlite Home Cinema 740HD ($599) or 750HD ($649), which offer 3,000 lumens of brightness but only a 720p resolution. The $799 Home Cinema 1040 is the cheapest 1080p model to offer comparable brightness, at 3,000 lumens. (The newer Home Cinema 2040 is also $799 but is listed at 2,200 lumens.) If you'd like to stay in the DLP realm, BenQ's older W1070 1080p DLP projector now sells for $599 and is listed at 2,000 lumens. It has been replaced by the BenQ HT1070 at $699.
If you want a big-screen home entertainment setup but have a very limited budget, you'd be hard pressed to find a better choice than Optoma's HD27 DLP projector. For $649 or less, you get a very bright, highly portable 1080p projector with 3D and MHL support. It's ideally suited for use in a room with some ambient light, where you have some flexibility in where and how you'll set up the projector. However, it also delivers better dark-room performance than many of the competitors in its price class, which makes it an even more enticing proposition in the budget category.
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