Optoma Themescene H57

31st Mar 2005 | 23:00

Optoma looks to bridge a gap

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

The H57 is a competent, affordable DLP projector

Like:

<p>Good connectivity</p><p>Stylish</p><p>Incredible colours</p>

Dislike:

<p>Hard to set up</p><p>Awkward price point</p>

Few nuts are more difficult to crack than that of the 'step up' projector. It doesn't take much to spot a massive performance difference between a £1,000 entry level projector and a £3k-plus mid-to-high end alternative.

But with the quality of some of the £1,000 models now so high, it's getting tougher than ever for the £2,000 'step up' brigade to justify their price tags.

Which is probably not the sort of introduction Optoma would have wanted to hear as I set about its new 'step up' model, the £1,900 ThemeScene H57. But there you go; I'm only telling it like it is...

The H57 earns early step-up kudos by looking more hardcore than your average budget model. It's big, weighty, and practically devoid of fancy design flourishes (unless you count the muted white finish), and as such screams, 'Look at me, I'm a serious bit of home cinema equipment!' from every corner.

Connectivity is good. There's a DVI jack compatible with the HDCP digital rights management system, so the projector should be able to handle Sky's HD broadcasts, as well as digital outputs (upscaled or otherwise) from some of the latest DVD players.

There's also a set of component video jacks for analogue high-def and progressive scan needs, a normal D-Sub PC connector, RS232 provision, and, of course, S-video and composite back ups.

The H57's specs improve on those of most entry level projectors in three key ways. It uses a DLP chipset with a native 1,024 x 576 widescreen resolution, instead of the more common 854 x 480 one.

Key asset

The key thing about this 576-line chipset is that while it will require downscaling for high-definition feeds (no official 'HD-ready' badge here!), it can at least deliver a 'pure', unscaled PAL TV broadcast or Region 2 DVD picture.

Also suitably upmarket is the quoted contrast ratio of 3,500:1. It's wise to treat manufacturers' figures with a degree of suspicion, but I would expect to see some improvement in black levels over budget models given that they often quote figures in the region of 2,000:1.

The H57's brightness is rated at 900 ANSI Lumens too, which again raises hopes of a more dynamic picture than most budget DLP models, which only claim brightness of 700-800 ANSI Lumens.

One final refinement worth mentioning concerns the DLP colour wheel. The one used by the H57 has six segments (one extra than many budget models), which will hopefully help it suppress DLP's traditional rainbow effect problem.

Setup problems

The H57 is a bit trickier than most to set up. The zoom adjustor is fiddly, the optical zoom isn't very wide ranging, the focus ring is too 'loose' to make fine adjustments easy, and there's no digital or manual image shifting tool. Oh, and I found the projector's input auto-detection system too eager to change inputs of its own accord.

The H57's only helpful setup facets, in fact, are the provision of an impressive array of adaptors (including Scart-to-VGA), and the inclusion of both vertical and horizontal keystone correction.

I'm no great fan of the H57's onscreen menu system, either. It's finicky to navigate, and the division of some of its submenus isn't always particularly logical - even though these menus are not overburdened with features.

That said, I appreciated the low brightness lamp mode, a number of the picture presets, PIP facilities while in PC mode, adjustment of the brightness and contrast of the individual red, green and blue picture elements, and tweaks for the DLP gamma and white peaking settings.

High fidelity

In full-flight, the H57 is undoubtedly very impressive. Its strongest suit - and the one with which it spanks most of the budget models it's trying to stomp upon - is its colour fidelity. In terms of both its saturation and, even more importantly, the control offered, it's the equal of many £3k-plus models.

There's also significantly more subtlety in the H57's colour and shade gradations than you expect to see from cheaper projectors, which ensures enhanced texture levels and a generally greater sense of solidity and scale.

Another advantage the H57 scores over budget DLP projectors comes with its suppression of DLP's traditional green dot noise. Provided you keep the contrast and brightness sensibly restrained, there's hardly a trace of it. The H57 also exhibits less rainbow effect than budget models.

In spite of all this good work, though, I wasn't completely convinced by the H57. While its contrast range is very good, black levels aren't significantly more profound than the best budget models.

Additionally, the H57 doesn't suppress fizzing noise over horizontal motion as thoroughly as I might have liked. And DVI feeds can look a touch noisy.

A competent choice

The H57 is a competent, affordable DLP projector. The chipset is excellent for the price and colour performance is profound. I can't help feeling though, that it will still struggle - the temptation will be either to spend less or more, as it doesn't convincingly bring high-end performance to a lower price point. But this is due to the rapid evolution of the market around it rather than a criticism of the projector.

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