A projector is the ultimate home cinema upgrade - the closest you can come to having a real cinema in your own house. Offering screen sizes well above that of equivalently priced televisions (we're talking 60 inches maximum in this ballpark), projectors present an economical and effective way of maximising your home cinema setup.
This Optoma HD36 is a 1080p 3D HD DLP projector that's firmly at the premium budget end of the market. Retailing at £799.99 it is on par with some of the cheaper 55-60 inch LCDs currently on the market. We tested on a 100 inch screen (which required the projector to be situated at just over eleven feet away).
Technical OverviewThe HD36 makes use of a Texas Instruments 0.65" DC3 chip along with a six segment RGB colour wheel and features support for HDMI 1.4a for 3D Blu-ray. It includes a 30W speaker. It offers an impressive 30,000:1 contrast ratio with an estimated lamp life of 4,000 hours.
There is one HDMI socket, one DVI/D and two VGA inputs giving a number of connectivity options. The limited HDMI connectivity may require the use of a separate switch unless you're only planning to connect one display device - lets be realistic, you'll be wanting more than just a Blu-ray player connected!
3D playback requires additional hardware. In use the HD36 draws around 310W.
First ImpressionsThe HD36 is an imposing beast. It's larger than expected but also surprisingly light. Mounting is easy with both adjustable legs and thread for ceiling mounting and there is both auto and full control over keystone adjustment to alleviate positioning issues. Out initial tests were via a Chromecast dongle and helpfully a powered USB socket is built into the project meaning we only had one cable to plug in.
The built in 30W speaker is better than expected, but still has distortion at higher volumes so is only really suitable for use if there are no other alternative sound options available. You won't want to be coupling your big screen with weedy sound so we doubt the internal speaker will get much use at all!
It takes only around 20 seconds or so for the projector to warm up ready for use. The inbuilt fan (used to cool the bulb) isn't quiet but isn't the loudest we've heard in a projector either.
Time for a workout!First up we wanted to give the HD36 a chance to impress - and what better than Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity to put the hardware through its paces. A film with such contrasting imagery gave us a chance to examine the contrast ratio claims and we weren't left disappointed. This night-time viewing gave is the deepest black while the vibrant light highlights of the space suits really gave us the full light range. What we had here was something that was both darker and more vibrant than any cinema viewing (OK, admittedly it wasn't on quite the same scale). The onscreen edges were sharp and 1080p HD really comes into its own at this sort of screen size.
We then had a go at something a little more challenging - an iPlayer broadcast of Doctor Who. iPlayer video is sometimes a little washed out thanks to the compression of the HD footage for serving over the internet. Not so here. Maybe we were a little spoiled in that we watched the excellent Listen, but the atmosphere brought by the big screen was outstanding. The HD IPTV footage was nice and sharp and for a particularly dark episode there was still plenty of contrast between the deep blacks and highlights.
Frozen gave us the chance to kill two birds with one stone - testing the projector's ability to cope with lighter material AND to test it in imperfect lighting conditions. In our initial night-time viewing the film looked stunning - the animated nature of the footage meant that it we were able so see how a perfect digital source would come out and it was beautiful. We then rewatched during the daytime with plenty of light pollution in our viewing room. Even so the bright bulb meant that nothing was really lost other than the deepest of blacks. An impressive performance.
Thanks to the six segment colour wheel we weren't aware of any rainbow effect that often degrades the viewing experience with DLP projectors. This is something we've been aware of in less well specified three-segment devices. Unfortunately we were unable to test 3D performance as we didn't have the necessary additional hardware.