For a brief moment we thought we were happy with the HD87’s contrast performance too. But actually, after a few minutes something started to feel not quite right. For it seemed to us that dark parts of pictures looked rather hollow - an impression that was quickly and emphatically underlined by running a simple pluge test pattern into the projector.
Basically, no matter what we tried - the projector’s presets, its brightness and contrast sliders, its dynamic and manual iris settings - we simply couldn’t get the HD87 to produce the lower-brightness end of our pluge ‘spectrum’. The deep grey bar just disappeared completely and irretrievably into blackness - a trait that manifests itself in the HD87’s finished pictures as an obvious lack of shadow detail in dark areas.
So severe is the problem, in fact, that we couldn’t even see the lowest-brightness ‘cog’ of Gears of War 3’s brightness setting test screen - even though we had no trouble whatsoever using this test screen to help optimise the settings on our resident Epson TW5500 projector.
Not having shadow detail in dark areas of the picture makes dark scenes feel flat and out of kilter with the rest of the image, as well as making dark areas seem too dominant. Plus it forces you to set brightness and gamma levels higher than you might ideally want to - certainly with Gears of War 3 we found ourselves playing with an image that actually looked a little to bright for our tastes just so that dark scenes didn’t look completely like black holes.
A further issue with the HD87’s contrast performance is that its dynamic contrast system is a bit rough and ready, with its brightness adjustments being both too slow and too severe to avoid distracting you from what you’re watching. Not surprisingly, we quickly turned the dynamic contrast system off.
Another area of discomfort with the HD87’s pictures in their ‘out of the box’ state was a distinctly yellowy tinge to pictures that was particularly evident over skin tones. Fortunately we were able to resolve this adequately via the CMS, but it’s a shame things weren’t a little better balanced from the off.
Turning finally to the HD87’s running noise, it’s fair to middling. You can certainly hear the fans quite clearly even when you’re using the lowest lamp output mode, but it’s a very low, smooth and consistent sound, so it’s pretty easy to ‘tune out’.
The HD87 has the pedigree and specification to be a truly top class projector - and with a fair wind and the right sort of predominantly bright content, its pictures can indeed look superb. But for some reason we’re struggling to really understand, something about its configuration prevents it from delivering well-balanced and detail-rich black levels. Pity.