The UHD38 is another home cinema DLP projector from Optoma, and all-round value for both movie binging and gaming remains consistent for 2021. It feels like clockwork whenever I review these tabletop big screen heroes because you get so much bang for your buck in a market crowded by LEDs, QLEDs and OLED TVs. So once again I will convince you why going full projector could be a terrific alternative for roughly a third of the price.
When talking about styling, Optoma has a theme: keep the same exterior design for as long as possible, with minor differentiation on higher tier models. The changes are subtle with the UHD38 but it has a slightly more premium appearance; the body is larger than the cheaper offerings, with venting and airflow openings being more pronounced. The overall aesthetic is less bargain bin despite still sporting a plastic housing.
Around back you get a decent selection of two HDMI inputs (4K60p/HDCP 2.2), 3.5mm audio input/output and S/PDIF TOSLINK digital audio connections. Other ports include VGA, 12V Out, 5V USB, and a RS-232 port for ISF calibration jobs. It’s all standard fare and like many other cinema projectors you’ve probably seen—and like many of those there’s a distinct lack of any analog RCA ports to be had on the UHD38. You will either need to purchase converters or get a decent AV receiver/amplifier if old-school gaming is on the shortlist.
Specs and Lamp Life
So where does the UHD38 fit within Optoma’s extensive lineup? An immediate comparison that comes to mind is the HD39HDR which is another one of their sub thousand-dollar models, offering much (but not all) of the same miscellaneous features from keystone/geometric correction and same 4000 ANSI lumen count/240 wattage. Additionally, the improvements are subtle with a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and a larger throw ratio of 1.5:1 ~ 1.66:1, along with a focal length distance of 0.624″~0.686″ handled through a manual 1.1 zoom lens. I found the UHD38 to be less of a hassle to finetune. There are other variations compared to the 39HDR, but nothing remotely detrimental to the overall experience.
Speaking of that bright 4000 lumen lamp, you can expect between 3000-5000 hours under typical usage before replacement. You can squeeze more life out of the bulb when switching to ‘Dynamic’, ‘Eco’ and ‘Eco+’ modes can roughly triple (15,000 hours approximately on Eco+) 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 before swapping out the bulb. The internal fan is also whisper quiet even on bright mode, coming in a respectable 61dB up close.
The UHD38 in intended to blend budget-minded and prosumer performance. To improve color accuracy the UHD38 incorporates an 8 segment RGBWRGBW color wheel, meant to highlight whites without washing out the remaining color spectrum. On paper this helps with brightness and getting a workable picture in lit rooms, but consequently leads to average black levels that are not exactly deep and somewhat muted.
Enabling HDR provides a decent punch of color enhancement with some compromises to deal with. There is not much to tweak because HDR options supersedes the other picture presets (Cinema, HDR SIM., Game, Reference, Bright) and gamma, nor does anything else improve beyond the color temperature presets either. Again, darker scenes will suffer with crushed black and occasional reddish fringing in contrast areas, possibly a characteristic of the RGBWRGBW wheel itself.
However, DLP projectors are generally detailed and natural-looking, they are also one the better display technologies with very little-to-no semblance of motion blur. Compared to previous Optomas I have played around with, issues such as color banding appear to be mostly indistinguishable and 4K resolution is appropriately sharp, but not so much that it comes off as artificial and overprocessed.
If you’re a casual cinephile or into large screen gaming these anomalies won’t register to your eyes. The fact of the matter is that you are getting a decently spec’d projector that could be a TV replacement under the right environment, Optoma includes a separate HLG (hybrid log gamma) HDR mode for terrestrial TV programs and a dedicated (albeit only for sequential frame packing) stereoscopic3D mode for compatible Blu-rays. The 10W mono speaker is equally adequate offering a loud but linear sound, it works well enough for small group movie nights though.
More for Gaming than Cinema
As a matter of fact, the UHD38 feels suitable as an all-rounder for gaming with a default 16.7ms (millisecond) than a cinema projector. Turning on the Enhanced Gaming Mode is where this projector really shines by eliminating unnecessary processing tweaks that include (but not limited to) keystone, four corner correction tweaks, image shifting and digital zoom.
All the physical screen finetuning is disabled and resolution is limited to 1080p, but you gain 240Hz that is below 8.9ms (or 4.2ms at 120Hz). For PC and current-gen consoles like the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X they will benefit most from the UHD38, rivaling many gaming monitors in the thousand-dollar category. For games like DOOM Eternal and WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship having it on made the gameplay feel relatively seamless.
Optoma stays consistent with the UHD38 and is further refined from last year’s entries. The improvements though are mild and adequate as an affordable home cinematic experience, although the performance is better suited towards bright rooms and high frame gaming, Among the competition from BenQ and ViewSonic, the UHD38 sits comfortably in the middle of the pack where everything is good enough.