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Optoma HD91 review

John Archer

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Optoma HD91
  • Optoma HD91
  • Optoma HD91
  • Optoma HD91
  • Optoma HD91
  • Optoma HD91
  • Optoma HD91
  • Optoma HD91

Summary

Our Score:

8

Pros

  • Huge lamp life
  • Runs quietly
  • Excellent colour performance

Cons

  • Average black level response
  • Very high levels of input lag
  • 3D pictures lack brightness

Key Features

  • Full HD single-chip DLP projector
  • LED lamps
  • Active 3D playback
  • 20000-hour lamp life
  • Brightness doesn't reduce significantly over lamp's life
  • Manufacturer: Optoma
  • Review Price: £2,999.00

What is the Optoma HD91?

Once upon a time LED lighting looked set to become the next big thing in home cinema projection. But then difficulties making LED projectors affordably saw the tech quietly slip away again. Until now, that is. That's because perched on our projector stand is the Optoma HD91: a single-chip DLP projector with a tri-LED light source that’s going for just £2,999. It's a breakthrough price for an LED projector, one that makes the Optoma HD91 a seriously interesting proposition.

Optoma HD91

Optoma HD91: Design and Features

Other LED-based home cinema projectors we’ve seen have tended to be brutishly large. So it’s nice to see the HD91 sporting very living room-friendly dimensions entirely in keeping with - if not actually slightly smaller than - the norm at its level of the projection market.

It’s solidly built too, with a surprisingly large and apparently high quality lens sticking forward from the centre of the elliptical front edge. The black, smooth finish and use of lots of curves and rounded edges, meanwhile, give it a fairly sleek overall feel that doesn’t look at all out-of-place in a domestic environment.

There aren’t any control buttons on the chassis, which could become problematic if you lose the remote control. But not having any buttons does contribute to the design’s minimalist appeal.

Optoma has also done a pleasingly discreet job of incorporating cooling vents into the HD91, though it’s probably helped in this regard by the fact that LED lamps generally need less cooling than standard projection lamps.

Connections are impressively extensive. As well as the standard two HDMIs (both built to the V1.4 standard in recognition of the fact that the HD91 can handle active 3D) you get a component video input, a composite video input, a D-Sub PC port, a 9-pin RS-232 control port for system integration, two USB ports (one for service use only and one for powering other devices), not one but two 12V trigger ports, and a socket for attaching an external 3D transmitter. Sadly, if hardly surprisingly, neither this 3D emitter nor any of Optoma’s rechargable 3D glasses are included free with the projector.

This wealth of jacks illustrates clearly Optoma’s ambitions for the HD91 - namely for it to be widely adopted by the relatively affordable end of the custom installation scene.

Other features of the projector that underline these ambitions will be covered in the Set Up section.

Optoma HD91

Before that, though, it’s high time we got into reminding ourselves why LED lighting is so potentially exciting in an affordable home cinema context. First of all, LED lamps have a massively higher life span than typical projection lamps. We’re talking a quoted 20,000 hours (though it’s likely it’ll go beyond that) versus between 2,000 and 5,000 hours with a UHP-style lamp.

What’s more, unlike normal lamps, which lose considerable brightness over time, LED light levels stay much more consistent throughout their lifespan. Though please note that when the LEDs in the HD91 do eventually die, you won’t be able to replace them. In other words, the lamp life is to all intents and purposes the projector’s life.

Next, by using one LED for each of the red, green and blue colour elements the HD91 doesn’t need a colour wheel, which means there should be far, far less opportunity for its DLP engine to generate the so-called ‘rainbow effect’ RGB striping nuisance than you get with traditional DLP designs.

Finally in the plus column, using LEDs lets you (almost) instantly power the HD91 off since there’s no need for the fans to keep cooling the lamp down after shutdown as happens with normal lamps.

We’d add to the simple LED 'facts' listed above a sense from other LED reviews that LED lighting seems to excel at delivering natural colour tones and more colour subtleties than normal lamps, so we’ll be looking for this trend to continue with the HD91.

The HD91 boasts a very promising contrast ratio of 500,000:1 (delivered with the assistance of a dynamic light system), and what looks initially like a rather less impressive 1,000 Lumens output. However, it’s important to point out that you’ll be much more likely to see every bit of this 1,000 Lumens in the HD91’s pictures than you would the quoted lumens of a normal DLP projector, on account of the damage to normal DLP light outputs done by their colour wheel system.

Final things worth mentioning here are that the projector is supported by the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) as being a projector with enough set up flexibility to be professionally calibrated, and that it carries a startlingly varied array of picture processing tools. We’ll look into all this in more detail in the Set up section.

Optoma HD91

Optoma HD91: Set Up

In some ways the HD91 is very easy to set up. It’s a manageable size as noted before, and its lens delivers a helpfully large 1.9x optical zoom. The zoom and focus rings around the lens are firm and track accurately enough to enable quite fine movements, and there’s optical vertical image shifting to help you get the picture at the right height without having to use keystone correction (which distorts the image).

However, bizarrely the optical image shift 'wheels' are placed on the projector’s underside, making them much harder to use effectively than they would have been if they’d been placed on the top edge or down the side.

A straightforward onscreen menu system provides access to a wide range of image adjustments, including all the colour, gamma and white balance toolsets required by the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF). Though interestingly the ISF presets on the HD91 are only available via the projector’s service menus - presumably to stop amateur tinkerers mucking about with them.

Among the most useful other tools on the HD91 are a wide series of picture presets, an LED brightness adjustment, and the option to attach an anamorphic lens to the HD91 for 'Cinemascope' viewing on a suitably wide-screen. With regard to this latter point, though, it must be stressed that as with the recently tested Epson TW9200, the HD91’s lack of any motorised zoom and focus options prevents it offering any 'lens memory' functionality, where you could set different zoom and focus presets to suit different aspect ratios that the projector could then access at the press of a button.

The settings you most need to take care with when setting your HD91 up are mostly contained within the 'Advanced' settings menu. Here you’ll find Noise Reduction (best left off for HD sources); some gamma presets (including access to curve type and offset adjustments for each preset); colour temperature adjustments (which include our preferred D65 for video viewing); and access to Optoma’s Pure Engine suite of processing tools.

Within the PureEngine stuff are an UltraDetail feature that sharpens the picture (you can us the On mode here, but we’d advise against the HD option, as this over-sharpens everything); a colour booster (which you can try on its one or even two setting if you want saturations to get a little boost without starting to look unnatural); and a PureMotion judder-removal feature that you can use on its Low setting without it causing many negative side effects (though higher power settings are best avoided).

The single most significant feature, though, is the LED brightness suite. This provides three 'DynamicBlack' modes that adjust the projector’s light output automatically in response to image content, as well as a manual brightness adjustment that shifts brightness up or down in 5% increments.

Unfortunately, while the DynamicBlack options deliver the most consistently satisfying contrast performance, as we’ll see in the performance section they cause too many problems to be usable when watching films. So we’re left to suggest that you use the manual LCD brightness setting, reduced to around its 50-60 level for dark room viewing or left up near its 100 maximum if you’ve got ambient light to contend with.

FoxyMulder

February 9, 2014, 12:56 pm

Too bad about the contrast, i was really interested in the reviews on this projector and it sounds like native on/off contrast is a lot less than 2000:1, probably 1200:1 or lower, for people considering this they might be better off waiting for another DLP model, the bulb based Benq W7500, that one will probably be a between 2500:1 - 2800:1 once you clamp the iris down for 14fl to 16fl and it will have better ansi contrast and overall image quality.

At least with a bulb system you can change the bulb and restore things to greatness, with the Optoma you are stuck with the image and there is no way to improve it, Optoma need to employ a specialist who can write decent iris algorithms, mind you so do Benq, both companies should hire better people for that job, pay top dollar for the best people and reap the rewards with many more sales and happy customers.

It also sounds like the brightness is really closer to 500 lumens once calibrated, i think other review sites are probably basing their 700-800 lumens on the LED seeming to be brighter factor, as a 3D fan this projector couldn't do it for me, people who dislike 3D need to watch House Of Wax, A Turtles Tale, Hugo or Madagascar 3, all are demo 3D material.

Optomas other bulb based projectors sell much cheaper than this particular model and it seems to me their performance is slightly better than the HD91, sure you can talk about the LED factor and yes it's great not to have a bulb but it's not that important when competing projectors with bulbs and far better performance have more going for them, perhaps if the HD91 was selling for £1999 but it's not worth £2999 when you factor in the competitions image quality, you can buy better at this price, that's the bottom line.

DLP needs improvements at the low/mid end of the market, it does everything great except contrast, black levels are important to an image, you don't need JVC levels but somewhere between 5000:1 and 8000:1 native in their highest brightness calibrated mode would make these DLP projectors much better and unbeatable value for money.

Gareth Barber

February 10, 2014, 11:21 am

A thread on AV forums a year or so back asked poster in the projector sub forum how many people have replaced their bulbs and why.

The vast majority upgrade their projector before the 2000 hour mark of an average bulb, which is incidentally more than a 1000 films ... A minority replaced their bulbs due to usage, who had used a projector effectively as a TV, so the £200 or so for a new bulb was worth the money for them.

A tiny number had bulbs pop on them and needed replacing.
The bulb issue of projectors is significantly overplayed and 20,000 hours is 5000 days at the average of 4 hours a day of usage, or 13.7 years (or 2.3 years on constantly 24/7) , I'm not sure how many people would want to put up with what appears to be a rather mediocre projector for that long.
A board room/office projector could make genuine use of the hours on offer, but this isn't bright enough.

For a teenager who plays lots of games and if they have a large enough room or a games room, this would make more sense, not having to worry about the bulb going. But you could get a projector of equivalent performance for half the price and just replace the bulb if you need to.

A great step down the road, but the performance seems behind the times, you could get a JVC for this money, and that will wipe the floor with this.

fisicoloco

March 22, 2014, 12:11 pm

Why the model HD90 is not available in Europe? This model have a little bit more brightness a maybe could be better for the 3D, nevertheless I'm not sure about the contrast

Jeff Morris

July 30, 2014, 2:56 am

Nice mini-review John, I appreciate your style, just the facts, clean and simple.

My wife and I built a new home in the Phoenix area a couple of years ago. We had the opportunity to install a new HD91 in our theater. Since I am a JVC and Optoma dealer I had a lot of product to choose from. In our 14 x 14 foot dining room that was purpose converted to a theater once we completed our move in (All pre-wired for 11.2 and a Panamorph 480 system and anamorphic screen shutter system) we chose the HD-91. Not because we did not love our JVC product (We have used JVC for many years starting with the RS-1), but because we wanted the specific benefits of LED technology.

Basically in the Phoenix area it gets bloody hot in the summer as you know. We replaced every single lamp in our home to LED technology, every lamp indoors and out. We did not want our AC fighting our lamps. We wanted a cooler running projector to keep the theater room cooler than with a bulb based unit. We wanted a unit that would maintain a consistant light output for it's 20K+ rated life. (How many videophiles replace their lamps every 500 hours for maximum performance.) Plus as you noted we wanted more accurate color over the life of the projector. The HD91 wins on all counts.

The big test for us was brightness and contrast. I was worried that I was going to end up with a grey mish mash of a picture that was LED dim. All I can tell you is boy are we impressed. Because we only had 14' 4" of depth to work with, we had to mount the projector and Panamorph system as close to the back as possible and still have room for cables to safely exit out the back of the unit. With that said we were blown away with the picture quality. The zoom was set all the way to it's widest setting (Not optimal) but the picture contrast was snappy and the brightness was satisfactory. (Remember the set is set up as close as possible to the screen due to room size.) I am a very picky person. After living with JVC product for many years (And Optoma 7200/7300 sets) I new good performance. I really like this set a lot and the only reason I will replace it at this time is when JVC comes out with an affordable 4K unit and I am in no hurry to change this out. For everyone on the fence about this unit, I suggest you really check it out. IMHO, this sets positives far out weigh it's few negatives. Color accuracy is outstanding. I am used to JVC's outstanding contrast, but I prefer DLP's skin tones. As noted I really like this set, it should not be dismissed. The only real negative that I have with it is the switching lag when changing from input to input. It makes me crazy. The set turns on instantly and the Optoma logo is on the screen as soon as the set goes on. But waiting for an image to appear is the single thing about this unit that I find unacceptable. But it is by no means a deal breaker. I have been in this business for almost 30 years and one thing I have learned is NOTHING is perfect. When you consider the price of this set, Optoma deserves a lot of credit.

Trunks

November 8, 2015, 2:41 pm

You mentioned a 1.9x optical zoom : does this mean that you can spin the wheel to make the image smaller than the default as well as larger. Is the default zoom set in the middle range or is it set at the minimum or maximum size out of the box? My projector mount currently is not able to me moved forwards and dont want to get a new projector hat cant zoom in else it will be too large for the screen and distance

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