The Optoma HD28DSE is the world’s first projector with built-in DARBEE Visual Presence processing. This technology has been available in standalone processors and in Oppo Blu-ray players for several years (check out our review of the Oppo BDP-103D), so it was only a matter of time until we saw the feature included in a display device–but I’m surprised that DVP would make its first appearance in such a low-priced projector. The HD28DSE has a street price of just $799.
The Optoma website describes DVP as follows: “The HD28DSE is a powerful home cinema projector engineered in collaboration with DarbeeVision. DarbeeVision’s Visual Presence technology was created by Paul Darbee in the 1970s and was pioneered using an unorthodox technique that involved ‘defocusing’ one of two images, using a video synthesizer to invert the image, and then combining the defocused inverted image with the sharp image. The end result produced images with unrivaled separation in depth, amazing detail, and image clarity that is simply striking. The DARBEE Visual Presence enabled Optoma HD28DSE delivers an immersive experience in Xbox One and PS4 games, Blu-ray movies, HDTV programming, home videos and even vacation photos. The integrated DARBEE image enhancement technology utilizes neuro-biologic algorithms to achieve unprecedented detail in skin tones, textures, and reflective surfaces while delivering superior depth, object separation, and automatic removal of unsightly artifacts. The end result is Xbox One and PS4 games, Blu-ray movies, HDTV programming, home videos, and photos that are simply mind-blowing and larger-than-life.”
I found this description of the DARBEE technology to be very intriguing, and I was anxious to see how it would work over a prolonged period of time, as opposed to only with short, carefully selected video clips. Of course, no amount of image processing can make a good picture if the light engine of the projector is not up to the task. The HD28DSE is based upon a tried-and-true 1080p Texas Instruments DLP light engine and has a pretty impressive feature set apart from its DARBEE processing. With reasonable replacement lamp pricing and a rated lamp life of up to 8,000 hours, the HD28DSE is going to be easy on the wallet throughout its life, not just at the time of purchase. This is notable, as some projectors have lamps priced at $500 or more that need to be replaced every 1,000 to 2,000 hours.
The HD28DSE is relatively small and light projector, at just under six pounds and measuring 12.4 by 4.5 by 8.8 inches. The industrial design borrows heavily from Optoma’s current lineup, with simple, clean lines and a curved top to accommodate the projector’s lens, which is slightly offset from center (to the left if you are looking at it from behind). The single 0.65-inch DLP chip fires through a six-segment RGBCMY double-speed color wheel. The HD28DSE’s light output is rated at 3,000 ANSI lumens with a 30,000:1 contrast ratio. In addition to its Darbee processing features, the HD28DSE also features full 3D capability, two HDMI 1.4a inputs (one of which is MHL-enabled), and an integrated speaker.
I installed the HD28DSE in my reference theater system, which features a 100-inch-diagonal Stewart StudioTek 100 fixed screen mounted on the front wall. Due to the projector’s limited zoom range (1.1x), I could not install it at the back of my 17-foot-long room, where my current projector is positioned. I placed a stand about 11 feet from the screen, which was within the approximate one-foot window that would allow me to zoom the image to fit my screen.
I then adjusted the physical height of the projector to minimize any keystoning so that I would not need to use the HD28DSE’s keystone or four-corner adjustment (it has no lens-shifting abilities). I always try to position the projected image on the screen with physical positioning, since electronic adjustments like keystone correction will reduce image resolution. Using the leveling feet on the bottom of the projector, I made my final positioning adjustments and ensured the projector was stable. Zoom and focus adjustments are performed manually, while other adjustments are accessible through a backlit remote.
My main source for this review was Oppo’s BDP-95 Blu-ray player going through a Marantz AV8802 pre/pro to the Optoma. I also used a DirecTV Genie HD DVR for some TV viewing. The HDMI cables were Kimber’s HD19 cables. The HD28DSE also has a USB input for computer signals. The projector does not have legacy inputs like component and composite, but it is MHL-capable for portable devices and also has a powered USB port to power USB-based accessories. Wireless capability is available through an optional adapter that will allow video up to 1080p to be streamed without running video cables to the projector.
Before making any adjustments, I watched some video while I switched through the Optoma’s six display mode settings. The two I liked the best were “Reference” and “Cinema.” In the Cinema mode, I used the test patterns from the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark Blu-ray disc to make some simple adjustments to the brightness, contrast, sharpness, color, and tint, but I did not do a full calibration, since I don’t have the necessary measurement tools. After I was done with my evaluation, I sent the projector to our managing/video editor Adrienne Maxwell, who used her skilled eye and calibration tools to both measure and calibrate the projector (see the Measurements section on page two for the results). While most buyers of a sub-$1,000 projector will not spend the money to get it calibrated, the HD28DSE includes two ISF calibration modes, which are accessible to ISF-certified calibrators. The projector does not have any user-accessible picture memories to store different settings for different sources.
In addition to the DARBEE processing discussed above, the HD28DSE also features BrilliantColor and Dynamic Black controls. I went with a BrilliantColor setting of either 1 or 2. While the Dynamic Black mode did help improve contrast with many scenes, I found the “pumping” or shifting of black levels to be more distracting than it was worth. I played with the Darbee processing a lot and found it to improve the image when used judiciously. The setting range I ended up with for most viewing was between 20 and 40 percent in the Hi-Def mode within the special Darbee menu.
Before sitting down to do a serious evaluation, I watched the projector with its out-of-the-box video settings, and I thought something was wrong with it. The out-of-the-box settings have the BrilliantColor turned way up and the DARBEE Visual Presence at either 80 or 100 percent strength, which creates a picture that looks very unnatural. I immediately appreciated the projector’s ability to produce enough light to create a watchable image in a well-lit room, but it was only a few seconds before I grabbed the backlit remote to start adjusting the image.
Once I got the settings on the HD28DSE dialed in to where I wanted them, I watched a couple of movies that I had recently watched on my Marantz VP-11S2. I started with Jurassic World (Blu-ray, Universal), as my young son has been enjoying watching this movie franchise. The movie features many vibrantly colored jungle scenes, and while I am not old enough to opine on whether the coloring of the dinosaurs is accurate, the flesh tones and plants looked pretty good. Without the Dynamic Black or Darbee controls engaged, image sharpness and depth were good but not great. The Dynamic Black helped improve detail in addition to improving contrast, but I personally found the tradeoff of pumping the image brightness to be too distracting; the happy medium was engaging the DVP at a low level. This improved the image coming from the Optoma, although it still wasn’t as sharp and detailed, especially in darker scenes, as my reference projector.
I then watched a couple of movies with lots of darks scenes to see if my initial observations held steady. American Sniper (Blu-ray, Warner Home Video) and Gravity (Blu-ray, Warner Home Video) both feature many scenes that put a display device’s black levels and contrast capabilities to the test. The HD28DSE remained consistent; it continued to a good job on the better-lit scenes, but there was more image noise and less detail in the darker scenes than with my Marantz and other DLP and D-ILA projectors I’ve seen in the $2,500 to $3,000 range.
During my time with the HD28DSE, I had the opportunity to watch a large amount of DVDs and live television. The projector’s upscaling capabilities were generally good, with only the rare jagged edge noticeable. I doubt most viewers would notice any scaling artifacts. I did not watch any movies in 3D, but Adrienne noted while performing her testing that the 3D video images had minimal ghosting. Optoma keeps the price low for 3D fans with active 3D glasses priced at $59 apiece.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion…
Here are the measurement charts for the Optoma HD28DSE, created using CalMAN software by SpectraCal. These measurements show how close the display gets to our current HD standards. Click on each photo to view the graph in a larger window.
The top charts show the projector’s color balance, gamma, and total gray-scale Delta Error, below and after calibration. Ideally, the red, green, and blue lines will be as close together as possible to reflect an even color balance. We currently use a gamma target of 2.2 for HDTVs and 2.4 for projectors. The Optoma HD28DSE’s Reference and User picture modes are essentially identical out of the box and are the most accurate. We went with the Reference mode, which measures quite well, having a maximum gray-scale Delta Error of just 4.09 and a gamma average of 2.07. The color balance is generally neutral, with only a slightly bluish push.
In the area of calibration, the Optoma has only a single RGB control to adjust color temperature/balance, as opposed to RGB gain and bias controls. As a result, we were able to dial in a tighter color balance and gray scale at the top end, but the low end actually got a little worse–increasing the maximum gray-scale Delta Error to 5.15. The Optoma does have multiple gamma presets, and our adjustments produced a slightly darker 2.14 gamma average–but we could not get any closer to the 2.4 target for projectors, which is common for brighter “home entertainment” projectors.
The bottom charts show where the six color points fall on the Rec 709 triangle, as well as the luminance error and total Delta Error for each color point. The Reference mode’s default settings serve up fairly accurate colors, with red, green, cyan, and magenta all having a Delta Error under three. Blue is the least accurate color, with a Delta Error of 8.3. The Optoma’s color management system is fairly effective and was able to improve all of the color points, although blue was only improved to 7.5 and was still under-saturated.
For both gray scale and color, a Delta Error under 10 is considered tolerable, under five is considered good, and under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye. For more information on our measurement process, check out How We Evaluate and Measure HDTVs.
Optoma’s HD28DSE is a good entry-level projector, but it has its limitations. If you are prone to seeing DLP rainbow artifacts, the double-speed color wheel may be problematic for you. Black levels are on par with other projectors in this price range, but they fall short of the better home theater projectors in the higher price ranges. Optoma’s Dynamic Black feature adjusts light output on a frame-by-frame basis to help improve black level; unfortunately, this causes the entire image to vacillate greatly in brightness, creating an effect akin to flickering.
The limited zoom and lack of lens-shift capability greatly limit placement options, so make sure your room’s layout will let you place the projector where it will need to be to work with your screen.
Lastly, the lack of legacy inputs may cause some connectivity issues for some, although I doubt this will impact many of our readers.
Comparison & Competition
Competition is stiff among projectors in the under-$1,000 street price range and changes often as new models are introduced and the performance levels increase. A couple of contenders in this price range include the BenQ HT2050 and Epson Home Cinema 2040 (insert review link). For $799 the BenQ DLP projector has an RGBRGB color wheel, which spins at six times normal speed, but it does not have an MHL input. Epson’s Home Cinema 2040, also priced at $799, is an LCD projector with an MHL input. While neither projector (nor any other) has built-in Darbee processing, they may be better options if you are sensitive to seeing the rainbow effect with DLP projectors.
The Optoma HD28DSE impressed me. Having seen other projectors in this price range that offered decent performance, I was expecting something similar from the Optoma. The colors were better than I anticipated, and this made watching movies and television shows much more engaging. While I would have liked to see better black levels and detail in darker scenes, the HD28DSE has plenty of brightness to be watchable in brighter rooms or rooms with no available light control. Sharpness, image detail, and depth are all interrelated, and the HD28DSE did a decent, but not great, job with these without the DARBEE Visual Presence processing engaged. A judicious amount of DVP processing made a noticeable difference, bringing the projector’s performance to an above-average level.
All in all, if you are going to place your projector in a dark, light-controlled room, there may be better options for you in this price range. However, if you plan to use the projector under real-world conditions, the Optoma HD28DSE’s combination of brightness capability, color accuracy, and Darbee Visual Presence processing will provide a good, enjoyable picture that makes this projector worth a closer look.
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