Component Reviews

Optoma HD8600 Video Projector


Published on July 2, 2010

Optoma HD8600 Video Projector
Optoma HD8600 Video Projector

Optoma HD8600 Video Projector
SRP: $6500 (no lens), $500 standard lens, $1500 long throw lens, $2000 short throw lens


Optoma USA
715 Sycamore Drive
Milpitas, CA 95035
408-383-3700 (voice)
408-383-3702 (fax)

http://www.optomausa.com


Basic Description

Native 1080p HD projector using .65” DC3 DLP technology; 1600 ANSI Lumens; 50,000:1 Contrast Ratio with Dynamic Black; 3000 Hour Standard Lamp Life/2000 Hour Bright Mode (280W bulb); 30-110% Vertical Lens Shift; +/-5% Horizontal Shift; +/-5 Degree Vertical Keystone Correction; 2.35:1 capability with Optoma Anamorphic Lens; (2x) Remote Controls with Discrete Codes; PC/Mac Computer Compatibility from 800×600 to 1600×1200; (3x) HDMI 1.3 Deep Color, VGA, Component Video, S-video and Composite Video inputs; RS-232 Control Capability; (2x) 12V Triggers; 19 pounds (w/o lens); 16.9” W x 6.5” H x 13.4” D; 29 dB Noise Level; 390 Watt Consumption (Bright mode), 335W (Standard), <1W (Standby); Includes: Detachable IEC Cord, RS232, Video, HDMI Cables, 12V Trigger Connector; Three Year Exchange Warranty and One Year Lamp Warranty when purchased through A.V.A.D. Supplied Dealer.

Associated Equipment

Oppo BDP-80 Blu-ray Player, Dish Network ViP622 HD DVR, Popcorn Hour A-110 Media Player, Roku HD, Extron 200 Matrix Switcher, Furman F1000-UPS Uninterrupted Power Supply, Stewart Filmscreen Visionary 97” 1.78:1 Electric Screen with StudioTek 130 G3 Material, Audioquest & Belden cables.  Dell Studio 1537 running CalMAN v4.0RC4, X-Rite DTP-94 Colorimeter; GetGray 1.1, Spears & Munsil Benchmark, AVS HD Patched v1.3b Test Discs.


Basic Setup

Because there are three different lens options for the HD8600, the projector and lens ship separately.  The short throw lens is a fixed .77:1 ratio.  The standard lens is 1.54-1.93:1 while the lens I used (the long throw) is 1.93-2.89:1.  If you ever move the projector, you can always buy a different lens.

The lens is centered on the projector (horizontally), so installation with a mount will be easier—just center the unit.  There weren’t any instructions on how to take the cover off of the projector before inserting the lens, but I managed to pop it out and twist on the lens.

I have a lift and set the projector on it upright.  I was not able to get the image to completely reach the bottom of the screen even after adjusting the lens shift.  The lens shift is on the top of the projector and accessed by opening a door and is purely mechanical (you have to turn the plastic screw).  Therefore, I reprogrammed the amount of drop on my screen.  This raised the image height, but not to an uncomfortable level although it would have been nice to have more play.  The front two feet are adjustable and allow varying for slight tilt to make sure the image is straight.

The zoom and focus are also completely manual, so I stood on a step-stool while making the adjustments.  There are test patterns available from the remote to aid in adjustment of focus, zoom, centering, etc.

The projector came with an adapter which I soldered to my screen trigger wire.  When inserted, the screen came down when the projector was powered up and lifted when power was turned off.  I connected an HDMI cable as well as a Component video cable for signal.  For power I have an electrical extension to my equipment closet via a Furman MIW-Powerkit-PRO that goes into a Furman UPS.  Having a UPS with a digital lamp-based TV is essential.  If you lose power, you can turn off the projector manually and let it cool.  Without a proper cool-down procedure shortening of the lamp life could occur or damage to the projector might result.


Remote Controls

The projector comes with two remote controls: one more full-featured and normal-sized for a projector and another that is a backup credit-card sized remote with only the basic functions.  The main remote lights up and offers discrete functions for commonly used selections: on/off, direct source access, aspect ratio selection, brightness, color, contrast, dynamic black, 12V triggering control (there are two), and menu control with cursor adjustments.  It worked well and I was able to aim at the front wall or screen from ~16 feet away.

I left the backup remote in the box, but with nine buttons it allows full control of the projector via the menu and has on/off as well as a source toggle button.  On the back panel of the projector there is place to store this remote so if the main remote gets lost, there is always a backup!  Most people who own this projector will have a universal remote for system control and will probably not use either, but it’s still nice to have good, sensibly-designed remotes.

Basic Projector Adjustments

Display Mode.
  These are factory presets that affect color, color temperature, brightness, contrast and gamma.  The modes are: Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 (described as for use for home theater), Reference (which is claimed to be the most accurate mode), Photo (for viewing photographs), Bright (for maximum brightness), Graphic (for animation and games), ISF Day and Night (for an ISF calibrator to use with a password to store settings that cannot be user-altered) and User (which offers all user adjustable settings).
I tried all these modes and found the Reference produced a color temperature reading that was closest to 6500K (off by about 400K), so I used this one for calibration and viewing.

Standard Controls.
  The basics: contrast, brightness, color, tint, sharpness.  The first four are adjustable from -50 to +50 while sharpness is adjustable from 0 to 15.  These are independently adjustable from the Display Mode settings.

I ended up with Sharpness close to 0 after viewing a few different patterns.  Increasing the sharpness added unnatural edges and was viewable from a few feet away.  Some will like this, but a better option is to use the detail enhancement available in the Pure Engine settings.  Contrast and Brightness were adjusted slightly via the use of test patterns.  Color and tint were touched a bit (at the very end) after color calibration.


Advanced Projector Adjustments

Noise Reduction.  An adjustment from 0 (off) to 15 that applies noise reduction to signals in motion.  

When I watched a sports broadcast it was hard to see much difference from off to all the way up.  Perhaps the difference would have been more noticeable with video quality that was of lower quality, but who wants to watch poor video on a big projection screen?  (I eventually tried this on standard definition signals with no luck.  Even with bad, gritty DVDs it did not improve the picture in my case.)

Gamma
.  Four rough settings for gamma that are: Film (for home theater), Video (optimized for video or TV), Graphics and Standard.  Within each of these settings are two adjustments: curve type (-7 to +7) and offset (-5 to +5).  The different settings were set to different values and when they set alike they appeared to look the same.

I picked the Film mode and went back and forth with gamma readings before using a slight offset and increasing the curve to end up close to 2.3 for most of the range.  There was a slight dip at 90 down to 2.1.  Offset seemed to affect kinks in the curve while the curve itself raised and lowered with the curve setting.  I was able to get fairly flat curve with a gamma of 2.4 by lowering the curve type control.

PureEngine.
  PureEngine is a group of controls that let you fine-tune the image.  There is: PureDetail (an edge enhancement tool), PureColor (a tool that enhances vividness from 0 to 5), PureMotion (an image processing tool) and lastly, a demo feature that allows you to see side by side the changes wrought by the PureEngine adjustments.

The demo feature allows splitting the screen horizontally or vertically which was instrumental in being able to see the changes wrought by the adjustments.  The detail feature was adjustable from 0 (off) to 3.  Both 2 and 3 added way too much enhancement for my taste, but at 1 the setting was fairly benign and will add the look that many viewers are accustomed to from flat panel TVs.  The color adjustment didn’t seem to have much (if any) effect on the material I viewed.  The motion setting allows for off, low, medium and high settings.  Viewers who are familiar with the rather aggressive video look that happens when the 120Hz modes are engaged with flat panels will find that the motion processing is less invasive but still makes the image look like a BBC video show.  It definitely smoothed the image and prevented jerking while I watched Wimbledon.  In any case, using this feature altered the look of the viewing material.

DynamicBlack
.  This setting increases the black detail in dark scenes.  The choices are: Cineama 1, Cinema 2 and off.

The Cinema 2 setting has the maximum effect and it’s operation is very obvious during scenes that go from dark to bright.  The Cinema 1 setting suffers from slight pumping of the black level, so should be used with caution as it may bother some viewers.  I could not comfortably engage these modes while watching material as it was noticeable and bothered me.

Lens IRIS. 
Adjustable from 1 to 9 this opens and closes the projector’s iris allowing for more or less light to come through.
 
In my darkened viewing room and with my screen size I felt that opening the lens did not offer any advantages, though some might want the added brightness this offers.  Even at the lowest setting there was still background light signal on the screen at all times.


Color Settings

Color Temperature.  The Optoma offers settings of D50, D65, D75, D83, D93 and native.

As I was viewing video material I chose D65 and calibrated to this mode.  I suppose the D50 could have been chosen and adjusted up in level for black and white material or, a higher temperature chosen for those who are using the projector for computer graphic viewing.  From 10% to 90% I was able to get color temperature within 50K.  I had a large peak at 0% (due to my meter limits) and a dip by about 225K at 100%.

Color Gamut.
  Gamut settings offered are Native, DLP-C, HDTV, EBU and SMPTE-C.I chose the HDTV setting and calibrated for Rec. 709 gamut.  I was able to get the coordinates correct with the three primaries only by using the CMS controls.

Color Management Settings. 
The CMS controls are essential for most projectors to get proper color.  If the projector doesn’t offer the controls internally, you can get an outboard processor from AV Foundry called a VideoEq to do the dirty work.  The HD8600 offers x/y coordinate adjustment numbered from -50 to +50.
 
I was able to correct location for primaries 100% and the secondaries except for Cyan.  Cyan was touching the target, but not resting inside.  There is no adjustment for luminance however.  DeltaL measurements were at 4.7 and 4.5 for red and blue respectively, but for green the reading was 14.1.  There was no way to correct for this.  DeltaH was very low for magenta and yellow (below .5), but Cyan was high at 7.8.

RGB Gain/Bias.
  There are two adjustments for each color—gain and bias.  
With these controls I was able to get DeltaE less than 1.5 from 10% to 90%.  At 100% I was below 5% while 0% was off the chart (probably a meter anomaly).

Color Space.
  Choices for RGB, YUV, or Auto.
I selected Auto and all seemed to work fine.

RGB Channel. 
Choice of Normal, Red, Green or Blue.
Never used this.

Display Controls

Format.  This control sets output format and the choices are 4:3, 16:9, Native and LBX (for letterbox).  If you have a 2.35:1 screen with an anamorphic lens, then you will use the LBX setting.  Although the manual suggests it might be useful for non anamorphic widescreen material—it was not.  Native does no scaling whatsoever and what goes in is what comes out.
Overscan.  With some sources (like satellite and cable) there may be noise on the edge of the image (usually at the top).  This control will allow you to remove this by increasing the image size.  This option is available in 10 steps and each step corresponds to a 1% increase in each direction.  Overscan can be set differently for each input.

Edge Mask. 
Masking allows the option to “blank” part of the image which can be useful to keep video material off the edge of the screen.  It is extremely subtle and seemed to only affect a fraction of a percent.  Adjustment is from 1 to 5.

Vertical Image Shift.  This control operates from -50 to +50 and is the equivalent (for those who come from the land of CRT projectors) of shifting the image on the raster.

V Keystone.  Applying keystone correction imparts a geometric distortion to the image in order to correct for a mechanical distortion.  If for some reason the projector is physically tilted (up or down) towards the screen in order for it to display in the correct area then the image will become trapezoidal in shape.  Keystone correction is a way to correct the shape back to a rectangle (as it should be).
Superwide.  This feature allows playback on a 2:1 ratio screen with both 1.78:1 and 2.35:1 material.  When set to ON the projector does this by cropping to fit the screen fully.  With it set to OFF the projector allows the user to select from the format options (listed above).  In the AUTO mode the projector senses the aspect ratio and adjusts accordingly.


System Options

Menu Location.  This allows you to place the on-screen display in the center or in any of the four corners.

Lamp Settings.  This selection brings up a sub-menu to display cumulative lamp time, a lamp reminder on/off (when it’s time to change the lamp), a lamp counter reset when the lamp has been replaced and a Bright or STD mode setting for the lamp brightness.  I used the STD setting as I got more than enough light output.

Projection.  This standard setting lets you select front, rear, ceiling or desktop location for the projector.

Test Pattern.  Grid, white and none are the options for a pattern.

Background Color.  Dark Blue, Gray, or Black screen when no signal is present.

Startup Image.  The HD8600 allows the user to change the startup screen from the default “Optoma” screen to a User captured screen.  The Image Capture section lets you perform the screen capture.  For some reason this function was grayed out and I could not get it to work.

12V OUT A.  This is a standard 12 volt output to trigger a screen (or something else).

12V OUT B.  When set to ON this setting opens a sub-menu that gives the choice to use this option depending on format setting (see above).  This would enable masking triggering for example.

Setup Menu Options

Language.  On-screen display is available in 22 different languages!

Input Filter.  This features lets you turn off source inputs that are not connected.
Source Lock.  ON means the projector will only look for a signal on a selected source.  OFF will advance to the next source to try and find a good signal.

High Altitude. 
ON will keep fans at full speed to keep the projector cool at high altitudes.
Information Hide.  For those who don’t want to see indications of which input is selected and notification that the refresh has changed to 24 fps then it would be a good idea to turn this feature ON.

Auto Power Off.
  This allows a way to have the system power off after a specified time (in minutes) when no input signal is present.  Useful for those who tend to forget to turn the projector off.  This won’t help if you fall asleep and the source remains on.

Signal.  These settings vary depending on whether the source is RGB/HDTV, video or HDMI.  Options include: Frequency (for computers), Phase (for timing for computers), H Position, V Position, White and White Level (for S- or Composite Video), Saturation, Hue, IRE, Black Level for HDMI.

Reset.  The projector allows a reset to factory default as well as a way to just return the current menu to factory default.

The Manual

In addition to all the above (much of which is listed in the manual) there is an extensive troubleshooting section, a chart on understanding the status lights, LED Error Codes, lamp replacement procedure, detailed computer compatibility modes and available RS232 codes.  The manual is well-written but there is no substitute for actually using the controls, or, having a professional installer work their magic.  Also, some adjustments could have more detail as to what they actually do and how to best use them.


Viewing

Even before any adjustment, I found the picture of the Optoma to be better than those of other projector’s I’d seen in the under $4000 range.  For one, its black level and shadow detail was improved over the Mitsubishi HC6800 I owned for a time.  Additionally, the image appeared to be more accurate.  I used DVDs, blu-ray discs, Dish Network Satellite and local off-air HD viewing to evaluate the projector.

With The Fifth Element (an old standby on Blu-ray) I viewed chapter 2.  Clear improvements from DVDs are in the area of sharpness, background detail and color.  Depth of image was very good and although the image was sharp, there were no unnatural looking artifacts.  Chapter 13 is often used as an audio demonstration, but I thought I’d check out the picture.  The Diva’s outfit showed more texture and the speckles on the outfit and the Diva’s face was more obvious than on DVD.  The added sharpness and richness of color ensures better envelopment in the scene.Unfortunately, I am susceptible to the dreaded “rainbow effect” (RBE) that happens with single chip DLP projectors like the Optoma.  When there were pans of high contrast white and black material the effect was most obvious.  When the swift camera motion in the hallway takes place in the film, the rainbows appeared.  In terms of visibility of the rainbows this projector was much better than others I’ve seen.  I noticed them on all the material to one degree or another, but it never prevented me from enjoying a film (when the film was good to begin with)!  Anyone in the market to purchase a single chip DLP should see if they are affected.

Just because it’s on Blu-ray doesn’t mean it is an example of state-of-the-art picture quality—take L.A. Confidential for instance.  It definitely isn’t the sharpest looking of films, but many of the scenes are shot in natural light or with the appearance of it in mind.  In chapter 20 the viewer feels like they are walking right in to Lynn’s bedroom.  The softness is forgivable in this highly-engrossing film.  I had about 10 people over to watch this film and polled them after the viewing.  A couple is in the AV business, some are in the entertainment industry and a few are just regular Joes.  Everyone said that they thought the picture was excellent.

To evaluate how the projector handled motion I put on chapter 11 from The International—a film written by my neighbor.  This section is one of my favorite gun shoot-out sequences I’ve seen in a recent film.  Black level and shadow detail wasn’t fantastic, but didn’t detract from this explosive scene.  There was some jerkiness to the picture and although turning the PureMotion on made it go away, instead what replaced it was the feeling like the characters were swimming in slow motion.

With an episode of Burn Notice I recorded on Dish Network the color was great.  The image wasn’t as sharp as I’d like, but I believe this was a broadcast issue (or the fact I was using a very long component video connection ~60 feet).  It’s really easy to get spoiled watching HD on the big screen.  I checked out the video on HGTV and the travel channel and was equally impressed.

I had happened to record a repeat of The Good Wife from an HD off-air broadcast, so I spent a few minutes re-watching the episode.  Color and detail were excellent and although you can see the wrinkles and imperfections on the character’s faces, this is just par for the course.

From six feet away from the screen I was unable to perceive a grid on a 100% white image.  During the day I was able to watch with some ambient light and though the image never approached the quality of the darkened viewing, the picture was quite watchable.


Conclusion

The Optoma HD8600 was a welcome addition to my video system after my unsatisfactory experience with a projector at about half its price.  Like many product categories, every product offers its pluses and minuses and by wisely spending more money you can get performance improvements.  Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks offered by this projector…

In terms of flexibility, the lens option is great.  Projectors normally offer a zoom function, but, with three different lenses you can select the appropriate one specifically for the setup and maximize performance.  There is vertical (as well as horizontal) offset but in my case there wasn’t enough vertical offset and I had to raise the visible screen area to make it work.  There is a lens iris that is user-adjustable and for those with large screens or ambient light this allows for more brightness; however, the dynamic iris had issues (and perhaps limited the black level performance).  There are multiple HDMI “deep color” inputs, RS-232 control, triggering for an anamorphic lens and/or masking.

Noise level was not as quiet as my previous projector (one of the quietest out there), but it was never a problem during normal viewing. The sound it produced was a low-level whooshing like a computer fan, but lower in volume and frequency.

Warranty is much better than usual and build quality seems solid.  In terms of internals, the lamp is also covered by a longer-than-normal warranty, but this unit is using a DC3 chip and not the better DC4 part.  Blacks were good, but not amazing, so this is another area of improvement you can expect with more expensive units.  Color and sharpness were good, but are bettered by units at double the price (or possibly using a different technology like LCOS).  There was an appealing smoothness to the picture that lent a realistic quality to the video.

The unit would definitely benefit from a professional calibration as the colors were off at the neutral settings.  To see why calibration is important, go to this website (where common picture errors are shown): http://www.lionav.com/info.php.  Luckily, the system offers a built-in CMS, but does not have adjustments for luminance.  This would be a welcome addition.

One of my biggest issues had to do with the handling of motion.  The projector failed to properly play 24-frame material at 24 frames.  By using the AVS test disc and playing sections F and G from the Misc. Patterns Menu the difficulty is demonstrated.  30-frame material is reproduced well, with motion as smooth as butter, while 24-frame material is being converted to 30-frame material and this causes jerkiness.  One of the big benefits of Blu-ray is the ability to play at the 24-frame rate of film and not undergo any sort of frame conversion that introduces motion artifacts.  Perhaps an update would fix this problem, but for now it is a problem.

All in all, the HD8600 was a solid performer with a few caveats.  If these areas are improved/fixed then the result will be a projector that will be hard to criticize for its price.

– Brian Bloom
big_brian_b@hotmail.com




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