Now budget models are selling for well under $2000 and they put out a decent image – one that rivals the mid-priced units. The market is already occupied with excellent examples from Epson and BenQ; some of which have been covered recently here at Secrets. We haven’t heard from Optoma in a while but today we’re looking at the new HD161X. We liked their projectors in the past and after spending several days with this latest entry, we can say that Optoma still delivers good value for the money.
Optoma HD161X DLP 3D Projector
- Bright sharp image
- Top-notch calibrated color accuracy
- Requires calibration for the best image
- Class-leading 3D
- Excellent optics provide edge-to-edge quality
- High output for maximum versatility in less-than-ideal environments
- Vertical lens shift a nice touch at this price point
- Small form factor makes for easy portability
When one thinks of value projectors, Epson and BenQ come quickly to mind. But in reality, the top supplier of affordable DLP models in the US is Optoma. They make six model lines including Home Entertainment which is where I’ll be focusing today. Their latest addition is the HD161X – a sub-$2000 DLP model with 3D, vertical lens shift and a bright sharp picture. On top of that, it’s small and portable so you can set it up just about anywhere. And with its prodigious output, it can throw a decent picture even if a few lights are on.
Native aspect ratio:
1920 x 1080
Anamorphic lens support:
Frame-Packing, Side-by-Side, Top-Bottom
1.29 – 2.09
Lens shift & offset:
Light output (mfr):
Contrast ratio (mfr):
30” – 300”
2 x HDMI 1.4a, 1 x component, 1 x composite, 1 x VGA
1 x RS-232, 1 x 12V trigger out
Rated lamp life:
3000 hours (Bright), 7000 hours (Eco)
4.9″ H x 11.3″ W x 10.6″ D
1 year, 180 days lamp, 90 days lamp replacement
Sold Separately $50.00 each
Optoma, Optoma HD161X DLP 3D Projector, 3D, Secrets 2015 projector reviews, 2015 projector reviews
I took up the DLP vs. LCD vs. LCoS debate in my review of the BenQ HT1085ST so I won’t rehash that here. This is the second consecutive DLP I’ve had the opportunity to review and my next article will cover another DLP from BenQ, the HC1200. Though I’m a diehard LCoS fan, the clarity and pop of DLP is very compelling and easy to watch even when the projector’s output is high.
We liked their projectors in the past and after spending several days with this latest entry, we can say that Optoma still delivers good value for the money.
After spending nearly $8000 in 2009 for an Anthem LTX-500 (which I still use), I marvel at how much performance is now available for under $1500 today. Optoma has always delivered solid quality in the past. Let’s see how the HD161X fares in my viewing and benchmark tests.
The HD161X is a single-chip DLP design with a 240 watt UHP lamp. In the past, DLP projectors at this price point didn’t offer lens shift but Optoma does include a small vertical adjustment. The offset begins at 115 percent which places the image 15 percent of the screen height above the lens axis. This means you’ll either have to mount it on the ceiling or set it on a table in front of your seating; a few inches above or below the screen’s edge. The zoom control offers a decent 1.5x range and doesn’t interact with the focus ring on the lens’ front.
The chassis is compact and light making the HD161X easily portable. There aren’t any built-in speakers though so you’ll have to find a different solution for audio. There is plenty of ventilation on the front and sides and there I saw a fair amount of light leakage. It was enough to affect the darkest images in my light-tight room but in most content it wasn’t a big deal. When you read my contrast results later, they take any light leakage into account.
On top is a small control panel with menu navigation, source selection and a power toggle. There are also power and lamp status lights. Above the lens are the shift and zoom controls. Focus is accomplished with a ring around front.
The input panel is complete with two HDMI ports and one each of component, composite and VGA. The USB port is for service only. The 3D sync port works with a receiver sold separately, for use with Optoma’s 3D glasses. The better option is to buy DLP Link-compatible shades which Optoma also sells for around fifty bucks. Or you can go with a third-party vendor since DLP Link is a universal standard and doesn’t require an external emitter. The sync information is embedded in the video signal and therefore works without line-of-sight to the projector.
The remote is small but contains everything you need to control the HD161X. At the top are discrete power keys followed by quick-access buttons for the most common projector functions. In the center is menu navigation and at the bottom are discretes for four different aspect ratio modes. The wand is backlit as it should be but Optoma has chosen a searing bright blue for its color. It actually hurt my eyes when I pressed a key in the dark. A soft red or white is the best choice for remote lighting. Blue – not so much. It does send out a powerful IR signal though; great for bouncing commands off the screen which worked for me without fail.
Pure Engine –
Optoma has used the Pure Engine feature in many of its projectors dating back several years. It’s a group of image enhancement features found in the Image menu. For the HD161X, they’ve included UltraDetail, PureColor and PureMotion. There’s also a demo mode that lets you compare the before and after states of the image.
UltraDetail is something I would instinctively turn off but in this case, it must be left on for best results. It doesn’t add any edge enhancement, but without it, the image is visibly softer.
PureColor will increase saturation outside the Rec.709 standard and should be left off. The Brilliant Color control in the main menu is a much more effective way to dial in accurate color.
PureMotion is Optoma’s term for frame interpolation. I left it off because DLP already has the best native motion-processing of any micro-display technology. Unless you prefer the soap-opera effect, it is best avoided.
Nearly every projector sold today has some sort of auto-iris. Even the contrast king, JVC, added one to its LCoS models a few years ago. Optoma has used an iris in other products but the HD161X forgoes it in favor of a modulating lamp feature. It’s called Dynamic Black and it will increase contrast about three-fold. It’s not quite as fast as an iris however so you may see flickering at times when it can’t keep up with rapid scene changes. Otherwise it works well at deepening black levels without crushing detail. There’s more on this feature in the In Use section.
For 3D fans, the HD161X supports all native formats plus 2D-to-3D conversion with adjustable depth. Optoma chose to send me their ZF2300 glasses which require the BC300 emitter. It works via RF which means once synced; you don’t need line-of-sight between the glasses and projector. The emitter sells for $79 while the glasses are $99 retail. I was able to find both items for less on Amazon. The cheaper alternative is to use DLP-Link glasses which are around fifty dollars and available from multiple companies.
Since the image offset is above the lens axis, I set the HD161X up on a small table in front of my seating. The signal came via HDMI for both benchmark tests and viewing sessions. Image alignment is easy thanks to not only the aforementioned lens shift but independently adjustable feet on the chassis’ bottom. If you must use keystone correction it’s available in the vertical plane. Try to avoid it if possible though because it reduces resolution. To finalize the installation I plugged in the 3D emitter to its dedicated port on the back.
There are six picture modes plus two additional ISF presets that can be unlocked with a passcode. All modes are fully adjustable for every image parameter. After measuring three of them, I settled on Cinema as the best starting point.
I’ll go into more detail on the benchmark page but suffice it to say there is no fire-and-forget mode on the HD161X. You will need to calibrate for the best image quality. If you don’t wish to do this, I recommend the Cinema mode as the closest to standard. It will look a tad over-saturated but its gamma and grayscale tracking aren’t too bad.
Optoma includes a full color management system with x and y offsets plus luminance for all six colors. I tried adjusting the gamut solely with the CMS and found the x and y controls only affected cyan, magenta and yellow. I was unable to move the primary color points. I was able to achieve good results by selecting the HDTV color gamut (Image/Advanced/Color Settings), setting Brilliant Color on level five and zeroing out the main Color control. Along with a few tweaks to the RGB sliders and selection of the Standard Gamma preset with no changes, I wound up with a very accurate image.
Exploring the rest of the menu system, I found to my surprise, the HD161X supports an anamorphic lens using the LBX aspect mode. This is the least-expensive projector I’ve seen that does this. You can also digitally zoom and shift the image if you wish.
Now that setup and calibration are complete, let’s check out some movies.
I really enjoy watching Blu-rays on a DLP projector. Even though I’m more of an LCoS fan, DLP takes pop and sharpness just a little bit further; though it gives up a little contrast in the bargain. When you have excellent examples of both technologies side-by-side, it becomes a matter of viewer preference. I can’t say that one is better than the other; rather, they take different approaches to reach the same goal.
The HD161X forgoes an iris in favor of lamp brightness modulation; which is engaged by turning on the Dynamic Black feature. It works well in most situations but sometimes it can’t keep up like a motorized iris can. On most material I couldn’t see it working but sometimes a brief flicker would accompany rapid shifts from dark to light content. I performed my viewing tests both ways.
I started with Man of Steel, the excellent Superman reboot by Zack Snyder. Color in this movie takes on an almost metallic appearance with lots of hard edges, deep contrast and film grain. The HD161X had enough contrast to pull it off with or without the Dynamic Black feature. I could see a difference between the on and off state but honestly I couldn’t say one was better. Shadow detail is retained even when you turn it on but contrast looks great when it’s off. Again, it comes down to personal preference. What I really noticed is how moving foreground objects literally flew off the screen. DLP’s total lack of motion blur makes fast action seem much more fluid without introducing any un-natural soap-opera effect. There is no need for the PureMotion feature when viewing properly authored 24p material.
Next I wanted to check out the HD161X’s red-rendering performance so I cued up Star Trek Into Darkness. The opening scene has lots of super-saturated red hues that are surprisingly hard for some displays to deal with. This Optoma, once calibrated, handled the scene beautifully. Even though the environment is totally alien, the red was completely natural and believable. You don’t hear the term “red push” any more but some displays can over-saturate that primary. Even though I saw a little red clipping in test patterns, the luminance adjustments I made in the CMS took care of things nicely.
Turning to vintage cinema, I watched a favorite from 1966, Grand Prix. Red is a potential problem-color here too, especially in flesh-tones. There’s a particular British gentleman who has a very ruddy complexion but he looked just right on the HD161X. This was also another chance for me to enjoy super-smooth motion processing as race cars zoomed by in all directions. I never saw even a hint of judder. Once again, foreground objects stood out from the backdrop creating an excellent illusion of 3D.
I finished up my viewing with Blade Runner, The Final Cut. Though beautifully restored, it has an intentional grittiness that can sometimes challenge a display’s noise reduction features. The HD161X needed no help here as every detail was delineated perfectly. Optoma has included some excellent optics here; much better than I’d expect at this price point. The only thing I missed were the super-deep blacks I see on an LCoS projector. But this DLP’s extra brightness made this film very enjoyable to watch.
Even though my 3D light output measurements came out fairly low, it didn’t translate that way to actual content. In fact the HD161X put out some of the best 3D I’ve ever seen. I selected two blockbusters of the genre from my library, Avatar and The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey. Both films looked fantastic with tremendous depth, dynamic range and detail. I was able to do a separate calibration in the 3D mode which made quite a difference from the default settings.
Even though I’ve seen brighter 3D from other projectors, none created the sense of depth I saw from the HD161X. Even dark material maintained sharp shadow detail with no hint of murkiness. The only nitpick I encountered is that when switching to the 3D picture mode, the bulb setting remains the same. You’ll want to set it on Bright because the cut in light output is around 90 percent. Don’t be fooled by that number though. 3D projection doesn’t get much better than this until you spend a lot more money.
All grayscale, gamma and chroma readings are taken from the projector’s lens using an X-Rite i1Pro with its diffuser attachment. Contrast tests are done with a Spectracal C6 tri-stimulus meter positioned at the lens axis and measuring from the screen at a 12-foot throw distance. This method provides an accurate picture of the contrast performance seen in a typical viewing environment.
Screen material is Carada Brilliant White with a gain of 1.3. 3D measurements are taken with the glasses placed over the meter’s sensor head. Patterns come from an Accupel DVG-5000 signal generator and the whole procedure is controlled by CalMAN version 5. Color standards are Rec.709 with a white point of 6500 Kelvins. Gamma is compared to the BT.1886 spec or the 2.2 power function when appropriate.
Grayscale & Gamma Performance –
There are three picture modes that attracted me as good potential starting points – Reference, Cinema and User. After measuring all three in the projector’s default state, I settled on Cinema; mainly for its decent grayscale tracking.
The tracking here isn’t too bad but you can see a green tint through most of the brightness range. At 100 percent, it’s fairly obvious. Gamma also tracks well until you get to the dip at 90 percent which represents a too-bright condition. I am using BT.1886 as the benchmark here since the HD161X has a gamma curve editor. It’s not multi-point but you can change the offset through a wide range of values. Overall I’d say you could get a way without calibrating the grayscale, but only barely.
After working the two-point RGB controls and the gamma editor, I measured excellent results. Gamma now tracks BT.1886 almost perfectly and there are no visible errors in white balance at any signal level. This is excellent performance that doesn’t require too much adjustment to achieve.
Color Gamut & Luminance Accuracy –
The greater challenge came in dialing in the color gamut and luminance. Cinema mode defaults to the HD161X’s native DLP gamut which is greatly over-saturated in red and shows significant hue and luminance errors. I tried the Reference mode but that showed a fair amount of under-saturation which is much harder to correct. It’s always better to start from outside the gamut triangle and work your way in.
With an average error of 5.5dE and luminance errors as high as 63 percent, there is some work to be done here. Blue is the only color that is close to the mark for hue and saturation. This is mainly due to the native DLP gamut in use and the fact that Brilliant Color is turned up all the way to its maximum setting.
The CMS was helpful in adjusting hue for the secondary colors and luminance for the entire gamut. I also realized gains by lowering Brilliant Color to 5 and setting the main color control on zero. Once this was done, I recorded an average error of 2.4dE which is a significant improvement.
Given my experience I would say to get the best image from the HD161X, a calibration is required. You can enjoy the projector without adjustment in the Cinema mode but I expect some owners will want to see its full potential. The reward is worth the investment in my opinion.
Contrast Performance –
DLP is not known for the same high contrast levels as LCD or LCoS and usually requires some sort of auto iris for best performance. Optoma uses lamp dimming to accomplish this which has both a visible and measurable effect.
After calibration in the bulb’s Eco mode, I measured a maximum white level of 43.0231fL and a black level of .0285fL which makes the HD161X’s native contrast ratio 1508.3:1.
Turning on the Dynamic Black control, which I did for much of my viewing, didn’t change the max white level much but it did reduce the black level to .0082fL; resulting in a contrast ratio of 4923.5:1.
If you need more output, setting the bulb to Bright will increase the white level to 52.5235fl and the black level to .0353fl resulting in a contrast ratio of 1488.3:1. Using Dynamic Black will have the same result as above – around 5000:1 contrast with a nice drop in black level.
3D Performance –
When the HD161X sees 3D content it automatically selects the 3D picture mode but doesn’t bump the bulb up to its Bright setting. You’ll need to do this manually because the hit to light output is substantial. After doing this and performing a separate 3D calibration, I measured a peak white of 4.8282fL and a black level of .0056fL for a contrast ratio of 857.3:1. You can double this number by engaging the Dynamic Black option.
The crosstalk test yielded the lowest possible result, zero percent. I believe this is due to the dark nature of the glasses. Even at this low output level however, 3D content looks pretty good and really pops more than most projectors I’ve reviewed.
Video Processing –
There were no surprises in the video processing tests save the above-white result for component signals. There the signal clipped after level 235. In the vast majority of real-world content it isn’t an issue but some titles have signal info above the standard white level. If you set your Blu-ray player to output RGB, all levels are displayed correctly from 0 to 255.
De-interlacing of 1080i signals worked well except for the 2:2 cadence which is a common failure. The HD161X handles 24p content perfectly without any judder or frame-dropping. The jaggies test clip looked particularly good with no trace of line twitter or combing. Optoma’s overall processing here is excellent.
THE OPTOMA HD161X is a Great Image Clarity 3D Projector.
- Great image clarity
- Plenty of output
- No viewing fatigue even at high brightness settings
- Accurate color, gamma and grayscale after calibration
- Excellent optics
- Fluid and natural motion processing
- Excellent 3D presentation
- Requires calibration for best results, no fire-and-forget mode
- Light leakage
- No iris
It’s been awhile since I had the opportunity to review an Optoma projector and I’m glad to see they are still turning out quality product. After my experience with the BenQ HT1085ST, I thought it would be hard for other similarly-priced projectors to compete. The HD161X doesn’t match the out-of-box accuracy of the BenQ but after calibration, the image has every bit the pop, clarity and natural color of its nearest marketplace match.
The DLP vs. LCD vs. LCoS debate will likely never be resolved so I’ll reiterate my own position. No technology is better than any other; they simply offer different strengths and weaknesses. For the ultimate contrast and smallest pixel gap, LCoS is the one. For the best balance of price and high contrast, LCD takes it. And for ultimate image sharpness and brightness, DLP wins. As I’ve said before, decide what your particular viewing environment needs then choose accordingly.
The HD161X has all the features necessary for installation in a wide variety of room sizes. There’s plenty of output for medium-large theaters with 10-15 seats. The excellent lens will cover up to a 300-inch diagonal screen and easily top the 16fL SMPTE standard while doing it. For a $1500 projector, that’s pretty impressive. You can spend more, a lot more, on a DLP projector but unless you want LEDs or a three-chip engine or even more output, it’s hard to justify.
Optoma has brought an excellent projector to the sub-$2000 party. I can’t help but give the HD161X a strong recommendation.