It finally happened. 4K DLPs have hit sub-$1000 territory this year and many didn’t skimp too aggresively on some features. Just a few years ago such an achievement was lacking, but that’s what happens when demand meets supply meets technology. Hey, I’m not complaining, and you probably won’t either with expectations in check.
Enter Optoma, a perennial frontrunner in the home entertainment projector market, who accomplished the feat earlier this fall with the HD39HDR DLP Gaming Projector, a $799 option with an entry-level price. We’re already off to a good start and I haven’t even talked the native high brightness input lag enhancements yet; despite having the “gaming” tag in the title this is a projector for movie bingers as well as avid gamers.
Looks Like an Optoma
If you’ve seen any budget-oriented projector from Optoma, then you know exactly what to expect style-wise. It’s the overly familiar streamlined shape draped in glossy white with horizontal grated slats, and numerous vented openings on the sides to circulate air and unwanted heat. On the top sits the usual array of function and menu buttons, with status lights and an IR receiver for the remote. It’s basic and functional for quick mode selections.
Speaking of the remote, the design continues to be a holdover accessory, the only noticeable change is that the backlighting incorporates white LEDs that shine better in the dark compared to the previous blue hue—there should no confusion about which button you want to press.
Connectivity for the HD39HDR is acceptable if your AV devices are modern, otherwise, the input selection is typical for the segment. You get two HDMI ports, VGA input/outputs, 3.5mm audio input/outputs, RS-232, and USB port (5V powered). A single 10W monologue speaker comes built in and plays quite loud, it’s OK but lacks spatial definition and balance. Buy some external speakers or pair this to an AV receiver arrangement.
In terms of 4K/UHD HDR viewing, both HDMI ports can produce an image—albeit at 60Hz on the first input (HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2) and 30Hz over the second input (HDMI 1.4/HDCP 2.2 with MHL). I tested both ports and got surprising results, while the first HDMI port was a sure shot for 4K/HDR and 60Hz compatibility, you might get lucky with the second depending on device flexibility.
For instance: the HDMI2 port on the HD39HDR managed to play nice with my Apple TV 4K at 3840×2160/60Hz, despite the 30Hz limitation and obvious lack of HDR, a fair compromise. Meanwhile, a PlayStation 4 Pro console is unusually finicky exhibiting various handshake issues no matter which HDMI port was utilized and forced me to go through a safe mode reboot to get everything in order—a common—though annoying workaround for PS4 consoles in general.
Setup and Specs
In order to achieve an attractive price point, Optoma decided to employ a 0.65-inch DMD chip by Texas Instruments, which gives the HD39HDR a native 1080p resolution and ability to rescale the pixel image to semi-passable effect. You get 8.3 million pixels, 50,000:1 contrast ratio and believable HDR enhancement without paying double the costs compared to other DLP projectors.
Hooking up any projector is always an engrossing experience, and out-of-the box impressions weren’t disappointing. Optoma claims that the HD39HDR is not a short throw projector, but there’s a good amount of screen adjustability that should make placement overqualified for most room sizes. There’s no optical lens shifting but it most people probably won’t need it since the HD39HDR has 1.3x manual zoom with average throw ratio of 1.12-1.47:1 and effective projection distance of 3.3-33.1 feet overall. Before tweaking, the picture overfilled my wall and I actually had to scale down the zoom a little bit before testing at a set 12.3-foot distance.
The HD39HDR has one of the brightest lamps you can get in a home projector, outputting 4,000 ANSI lumens when left in Bright mode at an estimated 4000 hours of usage. That amount of lamp life is criminally short but at least the other ‘Dynamic’, ‘Eco’ and ‘Eco+’ modes can roughly quadruple (15,000hours approximately) the time you need to eventually swap out the lamp. If you plan on being economical with certain presets you could potentially get away with 2-2.5 years of constant use before replacement.
Despite costing less than half the price of the UHD51A, the last projector I tested, the HD39HDR is a reasonable step-down in overall performance. Optoma has made strides in bringing the most essential picture quality characteristics in a cheaper package, although I wouldn’t realistically pit these two against each other. Despite having a 6-segment RYGCWB color wheel, initial hues leaned on warmer/reddish tones and needed minor tweaking in gamma and increasing the BrilliantColor boost, the general look is adequate and can be somewhat corrected by changing separate picture mode presets. You simply can’t ignore the fact that the UHD51A costs more for because everything about it is better as an intermediate display.
Speaking of which, the usual ‘Cinema’, ‘Game’, ‘sRGB’, ‘HDR SIM’ and ‘DICOM SIM’ are here to play with. Each one has their purpose and customizable to an extent with some falling on greenish tints, but a lot of this will come down to preference full-on adjustments are too daunting. For ambitious owners and you can opt for ‘User’ or a few ‘ISF’ calibrated presets if you can afford to hire a custom installer.
The HDR options are minimal and solely focused on making hues pop, I left it on ‘Standard’ but this could be unconventionally used in to keep ambient light in check for daytime viewing, or to further dial in certain content in terms of atmosphere. Other gamut formats such as Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) and Dolby Vision remain absent.
Even though it lacks some cinematic features and needs to be dialed in considerably, the HD39HDR is a worthwhile choice if this is your introduction into home entertainment projectors. Black levels are surprisingly deep (for a DLP) and colors ranges are acceptable when HDR is enabled. Daytime viewing is also possible and cinephiles will appreciate being able to enjoy stereoscopic 3D (frame packing/side-by-side/top-bottom), the screen will have noticeable dimming but crosstalk (multiple blurred images) is handled nicely with little eye fatigue.
A Solid Gaming Choice…With a Catch
The main forte of the HD39HDR though is its prowess as a gaming projector. Input lag has been a longtime subject of debate among hardcore gamers, some argue that playing on anything that’s not a dedicated monitor is unacceptable while others can’t tell the difference—either way, anything around 15ms or less is ideal.
The HD39HDR is decent enough with a default 33.5ms (millisecond) for most games. Its real claim to fame happens when turning on the Enhanced Gaming Mode which eliminates unnecessary processing tweaks that include (but not limited to) keystone adjustment, image shifting and digital zoom. All the physical screen finetuning is disabled but that input lag is dropped to a quick 16.4ms, which is within game mode territory seen on LED/QLED/OLED TVs.
Another perk is the optional 120Hz refresh rate when connected to an Xbox One or PC, making it almost ideal for input smoothness that can work in tandem with the Gaming Mode. Optoma says you’ll be able to obtain a stellar input lag count down to 8.4ms, which is an amazing claim that matches or outpaces many high-end gaming monitors. But there’s a catch: the pixel resolution is maximized to 1080p and you don’t get any beautiful HDR.
Fortunately, blockbuster games like Red Dead Redemption II, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Gears 5, and Need for Speed Heat all looked and played fantastic with no visible screen tearing or performance issues.
Optoma have brought out gaming-oriented projectors before with moderate success, however, their HD39HDR DLP Gaming Projector is probably their boldest effort yet. There’s much to like if minimal input lag and buttery smooth refresh rates are what you’re craving, though you’ll have to make a few compromises to gain these privileges. The image quality and color accuracy will need adjusting, and the implementation of 4K and HDR is really mediocre. But little of that will matter if your primary target is gaming on the biggest “screen’ possible. The HD39HDR represents solid value, but you may also want to look at the GT1080HDR—another short-throw brother of the same projector and just as affordable, too.