Optoma H79 DLP Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors DLP Projectors
Written by Brian Kahn   
Friday, 01 July 2005

Introduction
The H79 is the latest top-of-the-line DLP projector from Optoma and one of the first on the market to utilize Texas Instruments’ new DarkChip3. The H79 is priced at $9,999, a competitive sum for a top of the line projector with the newest video chip technology. The DarkChip3 is the latest iteration in the HD2+ series of DLP chips and improves upon the prior Mustang chip by closing the gap between panels, making the reverse side of the panels more light-absorbent, as well as removing the dimple on each of the panels. Like the prior HD2+ series chips, the DarkChip3 features a HD-capable resolution of 1,280 x 720 and a 16:9 aspect ratio. These changes increase contrast and help the H79 obtain its reported 4,500:1 contrast ratio. It was not clear how this projector was measured to get such incredibly high contrast numbers, considering that many other top projectors costing many times more money have many times less contrast.

Optoma knows that a top-performing chip alone does not make for a great projector and made sure that the new DarkChip3 enhancements were not wasted in this aggressively priced projector. The H79 has a decisively simple appearance, with its cream-colored chassis that is fairly square, void of any fancy race-inspired lines, and measures 16.9 inches by five-and-a-third inches by 12 inches wide. The front of the projector has an opening for the lens, the top has neatly organized controls, the side panel has an IEC power plug with a blue status indicator light and, finally, the back panel has the video and control connections. The back panel includes an IR receiver, a BNC component/RGBHV input, an RCA component input, a 12-volt trigger connector, an RS-232 port, S-Video, composite and an HDCP-compliant DVI-I input. The entire 16.5-pound package sits on adjustable feet, which will let you obtain a steady and level position on any nearly flat surface.

The included remote has a narrow midsection, almost bowtie in shape, with each button is fully backlit. I found that the remote fit comfortably in my hand and the backlighting made it easy to use. A simple, ergonomic remote is more the exception than the rule today. This remote gets high marks from me.

The H79 utilizes a 250-watt UHP bulb that is capable of 1000 lumens and up to 3000 hours of life in economy mode. New replacement bulbs are reasonably priced at $399. The color wheel is a five-speed, eight-segment device with what Optoma calls “Dark Video Enhancement” for increased performance in dark scenes. The lens assembly features a zoom range of 1.6:1 to 2.16:1 with power zoom and focus and manual lens shift. The internal scaler is made by Pixelworks, a name not as well known as Faroudja or DVDO but well-regarded among those familiar with scalers.

Last but not least, we come to an important but often overlooked aspect of home theater: warranties. Optoma is highly regarded in the videophile community for being one of the few manufacturers that provides a dead pixel warranty. The warranty period is two years. While many other manufacturers may voluntarily replace panels with dead pixels, it is reassuring to have it in writing on a product that represents this level of investment.

Set-up
The manual shift and power zoom/focus features of the lens assembly made setup fairly simple. The motorized, remote controllable focus allowed me to stand near the screen while adjusting the projector’s focus without the help of someone else standing next to the projector. The relatively short throw of the H79 allowed me to achieve a 92-inch diagonal picture, even though I was working with less than 12 feet of throw distance.

The lens shift feature allows one to mount the projector either below or above the screen by as much as one screen height in distance if necessary. While it is possible to do this, and the lens shift feature minimizes the impact of doing so, I would still recommend trying to mount the projector at or within the horizontal borders of the picture to get the best possible picture quality.

I placed the projector on a high stand that brought it to the level of the screen bottom and was slightly behind and between the viewing positions. A huge plus is that this projector is very quiet and the only light spill comes from the blue status light on the side. Put a piece of tape over the status light and this becomes a very unobtrusive projector, even if it is immediately adjacent to your viewing position.

The screen plays a huge role in the picture quality of any projector system. I have seen projector-based home theaters where the screens varied from using a nearly white wall all the way to a motorized adjustable masking screen with acoustically transparent fabric. In my system, my left and right speakers flank the screen with the center channel below, so I did not need an acoustically transparent screen material.

Stewart Filmscreen was kind enough to lend me a screen system and some extra screen material. The screen I chose was their new GreyHawk Reference, which has a gain of .95 (the higher the gain, the brighter the screen). This screen material has a neutral gray look, which helps with reproducing darker scenes, a traditional problem area for DLP projectors. I also experimented with their Studiotek 130. This material features a gain of 1.3 and was noticeably brighter. Dark scenes, when all my ambient light was controlled, were still very good. Screen size and ambient light concerns will play a large role in your screen material selection.

Connecting the Optoma H79 to my reference system was easily accomplished with runs of S-Video, component video and HDMI cables from Monster Cable. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the new Marantz DV-9500, which provided the HDMI output. The projector has an auto-sensing feature that automatically seeks out the live input, a nice feature which makes the projector easy to use, even for non-techies.

Once the projector is installed and focused, you can go ahead and fire it up and begin to watch your movies at a very high level. However, I suspect that many of you purchasing this projector, or any other high-performance projector, will want to get the best possible picture. The Optoma series, including the H79, gives an extreme amount of control to the user. The picture quality controls include selectable gamma curves, color temperature, contrast, brightness, sharpness, blanking, horizontal and vertical keystone, and more. This level of control makes it possible for you to hire a professional video calibrator to milk every drop of performance from your new H79. I used the middle color temperature and turned off the “Britemode,” which produced a picture on my 92-inch GreyHawk Reference screen that was plenty bright.

The H79 also features four format choices: native, window, 16:9 and letterbox. Native, as the name implies, uses 1:1 pixel mapping and was the setting I used in connection with the Marantz DV-9500 720p HDMI output. Window displays a 4:3 image at full height. The 16:9 setting takes the incoming image and scales it to fit the entire 16:9 panel. Letterbox scales a letterboxed 4:3 image to fit a 16:9 screen.

You'll note that the H79 actually has more than the three settings that appear on the first page of the on-screen display (Cinema, Normal, Vivid). The H79 has different settings for different signal types (480i, 480p, 720p or 1080i) even if it is from the same input source. Similarly for different sources like composite, S-video, component, RGB, or DVI, it also has different settings. That means each of these signals or source has up to three different sets of memory settings (Cinema, Vivid, and Normal). Furthermore, these different sets of memory settings are automatically reloaded whenever a different source or signal type is detected.

The Movies
While watching “Spider-Man” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment) again on DVD, I noted the H79 on the GreyHawk screen did not produce colors quite as vibrant as did the recently reviewed InFocus 7205 on a DaLite 1.0 gain screen. I substituted a Studiotek 130 1.3 gain screen with the Optoma and the vibrancy was noticeably increased. I personally found the Optoma’s colors on the GreyHawk Reference screen to be very natural-looking and compelling. Moving to the darker scenes, I noticed better performance from the Optoma, including better apparent resolution and fewer dithering artifacts on the lower gain screen. It is essential that you select the correct screen for your room when you invest this kind of money into a video projector.
Next I viewed chapters 27 and 28 from “Shakespeare in Love” (Miramax Home Entertainment). The Optoma was just as sharp as the InFocus and did a better job with the details in the darker uniforms and shadows. The picture detail in the embroidery was good but not great, with some flickering when viewed through the component inputs. This was reduced noticeably when viewed through the 720p HDMI input.
Looking at “Toy Story” (Disney Home Entertainment), the picture uniformity across large fields of the same color was very good. Some minimal noise was noticeable on the component inputs, but not the HDMI 720p input and with the projector in native mode. The darker fields were much cleaner on the Optoma, demonstrating the ability of the new DarkChip3 with darker scenes.

I then watched a bit of “I, Robot” (Fox Home Entertainment) in component input, using the Optoma’s scaler, and then again with the 720p HDMI output, bypassing the internal Optoma scaler. The 720p test was slightly sharper that the Optoma scaler. I found that, as with the other movies viewed, when watching through the HDMI input, the picture was slightly sharper. I confirmed this by doing the same thing with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line Home Entertainment). When Frodo, Sam and Gollum are approaching the gates of Mordor, the scene was sharper and appeared to have more depth seen through the HDMI input than it did when viewed through the component inputs.

I then switched to HDTV via DirecTV and again found a familiar episode of “24” to watch, as it has many dark scenes. The new DarkChip3-equipped H79 had greatly reduced dithering in the dark scenes when compared to similar projectors utilizing the prior generation chip. I also watched some high-definition sports and Discovery Channel and found the colors to be extremely natural, even compared to those produced by my CRT projector.

When watching 480i sources, I noted some twitching on moving images, not bad but an external scaler – even even a good but inexpensive doubler – would perhaps improve this aspect of performance. DVDO’s new scaler comes to mind for about $2,000. It is hard to judge 480i against 1080i HDTV, but most viewers still watch more 480i than anything else. It is hard to say that that you wouldn’t be happy watching a baseball game in SD (480i) or a movie not in HD. With really strong contrast from the new chipset, the Optoma hangs right in there with my older CRT projector, which is no small feat.

I spent some time going through the Silicon Optix test DVD and noted that the color gradations had smooth transitions, except on very dark colors. On the “Jaggies” test, the diagonal filter did okay but not great, showing jagged edges on the bottom of three bars and on low-angle diagonals. I noticed these artifacts when watching 480i television as well. The Optoma did well on the flag test, with only minor jaggies when using component inputs. After switching to the HDMI 720p input, the biggest notable difference was the increased detail in the brick building in the background. On the detail test, the grass looked great, as did the bridge. On the HDMI 720p input, the picture was slightly sharper. Moving to the noise reduction tests, the Optoma did very well when compared to stills, with very little noise on simulated television signals; it was slightly worse with noise on simulated film. The Optoma did a good job on all of the cadence tests. I did notice at times that, when using the internal scaler between scene changes, the image would lose its color and be displayed in black and white for a split second. I can only assume that this is related to the time that the scaler takes to lock onto the signal.

Overall, the internal Optoma processor did a relatively good job with scaling and noise processing. When I bypassed the scaler with the 720p HDMI signal, I thought that there was generally slightly better noise reduction and a bit more detail: these are small but noticeable differences.

The Downside
The scaler, while more than competent and possibly better than many in its class, has some room for improvement. This will be especially relevant if you are going to watch a lot of 480i television. Considering the brightness and contrast advantages of the projector, this might warrant an external scaler if you think 480i sources are going to make up most of what you will watch during the ownership of this projector. The H79 does have native mode "pixel-by-pixel" mapping to make it match up to any external video scaler according to Optoma however I believe this may possibly result in a smaller picture. Personally, I think there will be more HDTV channels coming in the next six to 12 months and this projector looks great for HDTV.

Conclusion
The Optoma H79 is an excellent projector in its price range for those seeking a projector with superior picture quality. In terms of value, the Optoma H79 costs less than many of the competitive projectors from the likes of Yamaha, Sharp, Marantz and Sim2.

I developed a fondness for the H79’s remote control, with its ease of use and backlit buttons. Set-up was a breeze and picture control was at the top of its class allowing you to make detailed adjustments to optimize the picture. I personally recommend that projectors in this price range be set up by a pro to get 100 percent from the projector’s capabilities.

If you have a modest-sized screen, let’s say 100 inches, and relatively controlled ambient light, the Optoma has more than enough brightness for your needs. Brightness aside, nearly every aspect of the Optoma’s picture quality is adjustable to suit the viewer’s tastes. The Optoma H79 is a solid value and a projector that will bring you loads of joy for years to come.

Manufacturer Optoma
Model H79 DLP Video Projector
Reviewer Brian Kahn





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