Optoma HD36 – Picture Quality
We have to confess that when we first saw the 3000 Lumens brightness figure on the HD36’s spec sheet alarm bells started ringing. Would the brightness destroy any hope of a decent cinematic contrast performance, as has happened with so many high brightness/low price projectors we’ve seen before?
Given that the HD36 uses a single-chip DLP system, we also expected the brightness to create issues with DLP’s so-called ‘rainbow effect’, where you see distracting stripes of red, green and blue colour over bright objects or in your peripheral vision if you flit your eyes around the image.
As it turns out, though, the HD36 uses its light so intelligently that you get the positives of a bright light source with few of the potential downsides.
This can be seen most clearly when watching dark scenes. For starters, the overt grey ‘wash’ over dark pictures we’ve become accustomed to seeing with very bright but affordable projectors is surprisingly restrained on the HD36, even if you’re watching in a completely blacked-out room. This is especially true of the Eco setting which still delivers ample brightness for a dark environment.
Thanks to the projector’s innate brightness, though, sitting right alongside the impressive black level response are some strong, natural colours and, best of all, quantities of shadow detail and greyscale finesse that you’d generally have to spend way more than £800 to see.
There’s no overstating the beneficial impact seeing so much shadow detail has on picture quality, especially if you’re a movie fan. It helps dark scenes look like they’ve got the same sort of depth of field as bright ones, and it means you’re never distracted by the sort of hollow and/or glowing flatness to dark picture areas common with affordable projectors (and TVs, come to that). This makes for a more consistent and therefore immersive viewing experience ideally suited to home cinema.
It’s important to stress, too, that while bright objects appear unusually strongly alongside dark areas, the dynamic range never feels stretched or forced – at least if you follow our earlier set up advice. Even better, the impressive dynamic range doesn’t lead to an exaggeration of any noise or grain that might be in a source nor, mercifully, did we find ourselves distracted significantly by the rainbow effect. Even staring at notorious rainbow effect inducing sequences such as the opening title shot of Alien or the sequence in the final Harry Potter film where he tries to recover a Horcrux from a room full of magically-multiplying goblets reveals only the most subtle and rare instances of colour banding.
Rainbowing is even suppressed well if you’re using the Bright lamp setting. A slight rise in video noise and reduced black level depth means personally we preferred the Eco lamp mode for dark room movie viewing, but it’s a testament to the HD36’s light management that fans of very punchy pictures could use the Bright lamp mode in a dark room without the picture being by any means ruined.
Yet more good news concerns the way the HD36 delivers really strong levels of sharpness with HD sources without over-egging the detail pudding. In other words, you get to see all the subtle texturing and image density that’s HD’s trademark without having to tolerate such issues as ringing around contrasty edges, over-emphasis of grain or obvious amounts of green dotting noise in dark areas of the sort DLP projection can sometimes create.
Colours, meanwhile, enjoy unusually high levels of pop for this level of the market. What’s more, the projector is subtle enough with its colour rendering to deliver tricky blends and skin tones without them looking stripey or patchy. And, because the projector is so good at delivering good brightness without destroying black level response, colours in dark scenes avoid that flatness and reduced naturalism usually seen with affordable high-brightness projectors.
One final key strength of the Optoma HD36’s pictures is the way they can also be adapted pretty handily to work in fairly bright room environments. This makes the projector as effective for a social afternoon watching the big match as it is for night-time movie sessions.
Our only significant complaints about the HD36’s pictures are that camera pans can reveal a bit more judder than we’d like, while yellows and oranges can sometimes look rather dominant and strained – though the impact of this can be reduced via the fulsome colour management system.