Optoma is making great strides in the affordable DLP projector arena. The $3495 HD7100 is a 1280x720 DarkChip3 device, with quality optics, four-way lens shift, horizontal and vertical keystone correction, manual zoom and focus, easy-to-navigate menus, and good but not exceptional positioning versatility. The projector supports all varieties of legacy video (NTSC, PAL, and SECAM) plus 480p, 720p, 1080i, even 1080p.
The 14-pound, pearl-ivory HD7100 has an off-center lens, abutted by a front vent that directs hot air away from the light beam. On top are easy-access zoom and focus levers and thumbwheels for horizontal and vertical lens shifting. The power button is illuminated blue when the projector is off and goes dark when it’s on. Above it are four navigation buttons with an Enter button at the center; beside it are Menu, Input, Eco (reduced-brightness operation), and Exit buttons. The housing is nicely sealed, preventing the escape of stray light. It’s a sleek design.
Back-panel jacks include one DVI and two component inputs as well as S-video, composite, and VGA. The bottom has one fixed foot in the rear and two adjustable ones in the front, plus three threaded receptacles on top for an optional ceiling mount. With a throw ratio of 1.30-1.62:1, the Optoma can cast a 100-inch diagonal image from less than 10 feet. For most of my viewing, I kept it on a coffee table about 11 feet from my 80-inch-wide VuTech screen (about 92 inches diagonally) with the center of the lens 24 inches above thefloor.
I experimented with moving it around and found the combination of adjustable front feet, lens shifting, and zoom/focus made it simple to get a properly focused rectangular image with the projector anywhere within about a 2-foot circle. The short throw distance and shallow zoom range are limiting factors for rear-wall mounting, which was not possible in my 18-foot room.
The HD7100 can be used in a front- or rear-projection configuration, from close to the floor all the way to ceiling height. Optoma says that vertical positioning isn’t critical—the HD7100 can be placed as low as 4 feet below the center of the screen to the same distance above without hurting the image. Aggressive keystone corrections can cause bizarre side effects with many projectors, so it’s best to align a projector’s lens with the center of the screen if possible.
The HD7100’s fan kicks in loudly when the projector powers up, and again when it powers down. In Eco (economy) mode, it’s not objectionable at its rated 32dBA, but it gets annoying when the projector is pushed into Bright mode, which offers almost no image improvement. Lamp life is estimated at 3000 hours in Eco mode, which translates to approximately 2 years of use at an average of 4 hours per night.
The 4x color wheel is audible as it spins up, but it’s masked by fan noise during operation. My mate, who suffered from color-wheel-induced headaches from the Optoma H31, reported no ill effects from the HD7100 and enjoyed dozens of movies and TV programs with it.
The mid-sized backlit remote control unit has a centrally positioned four-way cursor cluster, with White Balance and Picture Setting buttons below. It then places at the top a suite of buttons for Power, Brightness, Contrast, Color Temperature, Gamma, and Keystone. The bottom portion has four buttons to select the aspect ratio, each with a little icon showing the screen shape.
At the very bottom are six buttons for input selection, all clearly labeled except for YPbPr1 and YPbPr2. Better labeling would be Comp 1 and Comp 2 since that’s what the projector puts onscreen whenone of these buttons is pressed.
Right out of the box, the HD7100 looked great, with rich saturated colors, bright highlights, deep blacks, and sharp details, comparable to DarkChip3 projectors costing three times as much. It looked excellent with the $400 Panasonic DVD-S97 DVD player and with the $5000 Lexicon RT-20. On the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark color-bars test pattern, high-frequency details were sharp and stable via both DVI and component video inputs, and there was clear differentiation of white levels above 235 IRE and black levels below 16 IRE. Motion artifacts were extremely low. Some users have complained of seeing pixel structure (the screen door effect) in bright static scenes. At my 14-foot viewing distance, everything looked smooth and natural.
The HD7100 produced outrageously good-looking images as shipped, but even more encouraging is that it’s easy to improve on the factory settings. Picture presets include Normal with gamma at 2.2 and color temperature at 8000K, which I reset to 6500K. This combination corresponds to ISF Night mode, an included preset. There’s also an ISF Day mode, which gave the picture a sickly ochre cast, and two user-programmable Custom settings.