No matter what settings we tried, though, dark 3D scenes on the HD83 looked startlingly dull and, more worryingly, devoid of shadow detail. This means dark shots like the one where Mother Gothel tries to cover the ‘sun flower’ near the start of Tangled really lose 3D depth and, looking more like a few light image element ‘holes’ have been torn out of a flat piece of black card, rather than the natural 3D images they’re supposed to be.
The HD83 does have one significant 3D advantage up its sleeve, though: minimal crosstalk. For while you can see traces of the tell-tale double ghosting from time to time - such as a slight ‘shadowing’ around the castle of Disney’s new 3D studio title sequence - it’s seldom seriously distracting.
Personally, though, we actually found the HD83’s difficulties with squeezing any ‘life’ and detail out of dark 3D scenes more distracting than the slightly higher crosstalk levels found on, say, the Sony HW30 or Panasonic AT5000.
The HD83’s 2D performance varies between outstanding and slightly disappointing, depending on what image content is showing. Where it’s outstanding is with mostly bright, colourful HD footage, with which it produces a terrific amount of ‘pop’ and dynamism for such an affordable 3D projector. After a little calibration, colours from all corners of the spectrum are driven out with real vigour, along with with an evenness of hand that stops certain hues from looking too dominant.
In fact, colour tones are generally extremely natural, coping equally well with everything from the extremely tricky and varied skin tones of Casino Royale to the vibrancy of an HD Disney animation.
The HD83’s HD pictures are also sharp and detailed, without over-egging things to the point where noise takes over or edges start to look stressed. The HD83 looked more assured with motion than it was in 3D mode too.
The HD83 does have a 2D weakness, though. Which is that dark scenes don’t look nearly as confident as bright ones, chiefly because the projector again struggles to deliver a totally convincing black level response. There’s a slightly grey look to dark areas even after calibration, and worse, as with dark 3D scenes, there’s a clear lack of shadow detail.
It’s no surprise from this that the HD83 really stuggles with our contrast-related Pluge test signal. In fact, as with the recently tested Optoma HD87, the HD83 only just managed to show the left-hand ‘cog’ on Gears of War 3’s extremely basic brightness setting test screen, even with the game’s brightness slider set to its highest point. A point at which, sadly, bright scenes looked gaudy and ‘flared’.
We tried tinkering with a provided DynamicBlack processor and the Image AI lamp option (which adjusts the light output according to the needs of any given image frame), but DynamicBlack caused too much brightness ‘jumping’ while the Image AI system caused the projector to produce audible iris adjustment sounds that could be quite distracting during quiet scenes.
Ultimately, then, you either have to choose pictures that look over-saturated and over-bright but have at least a small amount of shadow detail, or else you have to go for accurate colours and natural brightness levels but sacrifice almost all shadow detailing. Or pick a compromise in the middle.
Ultimately the HD83 is a bit of a disappointment. Sure, it gets some things impressively right: 3D crosstalk is minimal, and bright pictures in 2D and 3D mode look absolutely excellent for the HD83’s money.
But the projector’s problems with retaining any shadow detail during dark 2D or 3D scenes are a consistent and sometimes distracting flaw that we never managed to work round to our full satisfaction.