Sean Killebrew began his writing career in the '90s, covering football for UCLA (his alma mater). His first foray into publishing was in 2000, with the below-the-line film- and TV-production guide books LA 411 and NY 411. For the past decade, Sean's passion for audio/video has been poured into writing for HomeTheaterReview.com. When not chasing A/V deals, Sean spends time skiing and losing to his son in basketball.
While watching 3D content in the home on a 50-inch plasma is certainly a good time, 3D through a projector on a 100-inch screen is epic. I say "content" rather than movies because my experience has been that sports, certain documentaries and even video games are at least as entertaining as 3D movies and sometimes more so. The problem is that getting a 3D image of that size in the home has, until recently, been cost prohibitive. Enter Optoma, a projector manufacturer well known for their price to performance ratio and makers of projectors for the business, education and home entertainment markets. I've been using an Optoma HD65 for the last several years and couldn't be happier with its performance. The fact that I paid $700 for it is just icing on the cake. The focus of this review is the latest in Optoma's entertainment line - the 1080p, fully 3D capable HD33 DLP projector. The most striking aspect of this model is its price tag, which at $1,500 retail is likely to turn the 3D home theater projector world upside down. Case in point: HomeTheaterReview.com's Adrienne Maxwell recently reviewed the least expensive 3D capable JVC projector, which retails for a whopping $4,500. While I can't speak to its performance, as I haven't had a demo, I can say that I doubt its performance is three times that of the HD33.
While it cannot be construed as portable, the HD33 measures a reasonable 12.24 inches wide, by 14.7 inches long by four and a half inches tall and weighs just under eight pounds. It features a contrast ratio of 4,000:1 and is plenty bright at 1,800 lumens. It's fully 3D compatible, which means you can use it to watch 3D Blu-rays, broadcast cable or satellite TV signals and video games. Inputs include two HDMI, one component, one composite, one VGA and one S-Video. There's also the standard RS-232 and 12V trigger connectors, the latter of which can be used to control a powered screen. The 3D glasses (not included) use active shutter technology and sync to the projector via a small RF emitter. Some other projectors use infrared, but RF is the superior technology as it will provide better coverage in your home theater. The glasses, while not cheap at $99 per pair, are certainly less expensive than many of the other active shutter glasses on the market. Optoma also includes another sync mode that allows the use of DLP-Link 3D glasses, which are made by several manufacturers, including Optoma. I actually had a pair on hand from when I tried (in vain) to trick my HD65 projector into displaying 3D content.
The packaging of the HD33 was of a sort that I'd never seen before: some strange sort of bubble wrap with long, dense air bubbles that most certainly did the trick in terms of protecting the unit. Truth be told, I didn't pay a ton of attention to the packaging, as I was giddy as a school kid waiting to fire this bad boy up. I connected the HD33 via HDMI to my Cary Audio Cinema 12 processor, which in turn was connected to my Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player and Sony PS3 game console. It was a good thing I had both Blu-ray players connected, as I couldn't get 3D to work via the Oppo, although preliminary troubleshooting indicated that the problem lies with the Blu-ray player and not the HD33. I stand-mounted it directly behind my home theater seats and used the adjustable feet to get the proper height on the projector. It's worth noting that the zoom and focus controls are manual, but that's to be expected at this price point. It's also worth noting that the HD33 does not have a lens shift feature, so that does limit your mounting options somewhat.
The remote has a nice feel to it and it's intuitively laid out with direct control of the settings you're likely to use most often, such as brightness, re-syncing (convenient when switching from 2D to 3D content), lamp mode, etc.
I plugged in the RF 3D emitter for the glasses, set the projector to its Cinema mode and it was Go time. I have to say that considering this is cutting edge technology, it was a pretty hassle-free setup.
All of my testing was done using my admittedly pedestrian 106 inch Mustang projection screen. That said, I don't think people in the market for a $1,500 projector are going to be using a screen that costs thousands of dollars, such as Stewart Filmscreen's interesting new Daily Dual. It's a cool design that is basically two screens in one, with one optimized for 2D viewing and the other for 3D. Don't let this scare you away, as I paid $130 for my screen and it looks great with both 2D and 3D content. That said, you can certainly get a better picture than I experienced with a higher end, higher gain screen, but my point is that unless you're a discerning videophile, I don't think it's necessary with this projector.
Read more about the performance of the Optoma HD33 3D projector on Page 2.
Ok, enough with the minutiae, let's get to the fun stuff. I piped all manner of material through the HD33 and came away impressed with what I saw across the board. Let's face it, due to a lack of 3D content you're likely to spend the majority of your time watching 2D material, so a projector's 2D performance is arguably more important than what it can do with 3D. As such, I began my testing with 2D material in the form of 127 Hours (20th Century Fox) through my DirecTV HD DVR. The picturesque landscapes were beautifully conveyed through the HD33, with vivid color and strong shadow detail as the sun cascaded against the mountains. Skin tones, which can be a problem with lesser projectors, were rendered well and realistically. I was notably impressed with the overall brightness of the image and the out-of-the-box performance in Cinema mode was exemplary. Most projectors require some tweaking to get the picture just right, but when I started playing with the settings, I invariably ended up going back to Cinema mode. There are a couple of other settings worth mentioning: Reference, which is designed to give you a picture as close to the director's vision as possible; Bright, which is good for use during the day; and 3D which optimizes the settings for 3D viewing.
I tried plenty of other 2D material in the form of sports (mostly football) and other films and found the performance of the HD33 to be exemplary. Master and Commander on Blu-ray (20th Century Fox) is an excellent test as many projectors struggle with the smoke in the battle scenes. Both my HD65 and my Samsung LCD TV have trouble with those scenes, displaying the dreaded screen door effect. So it was with some trepidation that I booted up Master and Commander, but to my pleasant surprise the HD33 handled the battle scenes well, displaying very little digital noise.
Compared to my HD65 (which is not 1080p), I found there to be less digital noise, better color saturation and markedly better black level performance. While watching 2D material I experimented with the PureEngine setting, which reduces motion artifacts, but it can also give film a "video" look that is displeasing to some. I left it off, but it can be fun for sporting events and live concerts.
I was anxious to try out some 3D material, so I cued up the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Blu-ray (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). While brightness has been a bit of an issue with 3D material, both in the home and in movie theaters, I can say that the HD33 is plenty bright. As a matter of fact, brightness wasn't an issue with any of the material I ran through it. Again, I found the color saturation and contrast to be spot on. While you can find better, you're looking at a major cost increase. In a pre-dawn shot of the girls on a sailboat, the black level was top-notch. The image really popped and there was excellent detail between background and foreground imagery, to solid 3D effect.
Keeping with 3D material, I popped the Blu-ray of The Ultimate Wave Tahiti (Image Entertainment) into the PS3. The opening sequence features computer generated imagery of planetary rotation, designed to show you the impact it has on creating monster waves. The 3D imagery was simply stunning, with the planets floating front and center. The next scene shows Kelly Slater paddling out to the waves and he's practically sitting in your lap. As the surfing action begins, I found that color saturation was excellent, without being over-saturated. I couldn't have been more impressed with the image quality and level of detail in both 2D and 3D. It was also nice to have the settings for 3D optimized by the factory, making it a true plug-and-play projector in Cinema or 3D mode.
Competition and Comparison
While I'm going to do my job here and list a few "comparable" 3D-capable projectors, I'm going to preface it by saying that I don't think Optoma has any direct competition with the HD33 as of yet. Rather, they have indirect competition in the form of much more expensive projectors that, based on the performance of the HD33, I wouldn't consider unless I had a hell of a lot more discretionary income. Ok, that said, here are a couple of projectors that are probably worth a look if your budget is north of $3,000. The JVC DLA-X3 that I briefly mentioned earlier is a capable performer, but you're looking at $4,500 and that's before you buy the signal emitter for the 3D glasses ($79) and the glasses themselves ($179). So for a whopping $4,758 you're in business with JVC and will be able to sit down and watch a 3D movie... by yourself.
Another manufacturer worth your time is Epson, as they're known for making high quality, affordable projectors. Their newly announced line of 3D-capable projectors includes the 6010 ($4,000), 5010 ($3,000) and 3010 ($1,600). This new line of Epson projectors is just starting to ship, so I haven't had a chance to see a demonstration, but if the performance of the 3010 is on par with the HD33, it will probably give it a run for its money as it has a decidedly higher contrast ratio at 40,000:1 and comes with 2 pairs of 3D glasses.
For more on front projectors, including the latest 3D models please visit Home Theater Review's Front Video Projector page.
Luckily, most of my negative comments aren't related to the performance of the HD33, save for the occasional hiccup when you go from 2D to 3D and vice versa, but a quick push of the Re-sync button on the remote will put the picture back in line. Basically, my complaints lie more in the details, specifically the manual, which includes zero information on charging the glasses. It would be nice, especially for the inexperienced, to know how long the glasses need to be charged. For instance, will dropping a 20 minute charge on them give you enough juice for a one hour TV show? Without a few details from the manufacturer, it's all trial and error. Some explanation of the red light on the glasses would be nice as well, as it seems to have a mind of its own, blinking when turning on, extended blinking after turning off, etc. There's even a chapter in the manual
called "Using the 3D Glasses," but nary a word about charging or that annoying red light. Curiously, the glasses actually have their own user guide... but alas, no charging information can be found there either. How about the manufacturer's web site, surely they list charging info there, right? No such luck. Also, there is no printed manual as it comes on a CD-ROM. While I applaud the saving of trees, I do prefer a printed manual. Ok, enough nitpicking, it's time to get back to why I think this projector is an absolute steal.
We all know that 3D is suffering through some growing pains, mostly with regard to multiple formats, multiple types of glasses and the annoying lack of standardization in movie theaters. With some cohesion amongst the studios and exhibitors and a more targeted marketing effort, the format might survive and hopefully thrive. For those who have experienced it, especially when done well with the right equipment and source material, it's an absolute blast.
Did I mention this projector is only $1,500? If that's in your price range and you're curious about 3D, then I strongly encourage you to consider the HD33 as the picture quality is going to be tough, if not impossible to beat at this price point. I gave demonstrations to roughly 20 people over the course of my time with the HD33 and all were blown away. At this price to performance ratio, the HD33 should prove to be a game changer in the 3D projector realm. Let's just hope the format continues to get the marketing and standardization I feel it deserves.
• See 3D-capable Blu-ray Players to pair with the Optoma HD33.