They may have taken their own sweet time getting here, but 4K projectors using DLP technology are finally starting to arrive. In fact, we’ve been living with one of the first 4K DLP models, the Optoma UHD60, for the past few days – and we're ecstatic to say that it pretty much instantly turns the projector market on its head.
The UHD60 is an attractive machine considering it’s delivering a new grade of DLP performance for a startlingly aggressive price.
It’s clad in an appealing gloss white finish and sports just enough gentle curves and angles to carry off its unusually wide (490mm) bodywork. Cunning use of horizontal ribbing to either side of the centrally mounted lens even makes a design virtue out of the projector’s inevitable cooling vents.
The whole front half of the top panel flips up to reveal a lamp access hatch, the zoom control lever around the lens, and a simple vertical image shifting wheel. This wheel doesn’t let you move the image quite as far as we’d have liked, but it should be enough to enable most people to get their image in the right place without having to resort to keystone correction to keep the image’s edges perpendicular.
The only design issue is that the lift-up top panel feels a bit flimsy, and leaves the top edge looking slightly uneven even when it’s shut.
The UHD60’s connections include highlights of two HDMIs (one of which, HDMI2, can handle 4K, HDR and MHL 2.1), a VGA PC port, a powered USB port to support HDMI dongles such as the Google Chromecast, a 12V trigger out, plus RS-232 and RJ45 ports to help integrate it into a home control system.
The presence of a few audio jacks, meanwhile, alerts you to the fact that unlike most ‘serious’ AV projectors, the UHD60 sports a built in sound system.
Design TL;DR: Despite a flimsy top panel and unusually wide stance, the UHD60’s glossy white finish and rounded corners make it pretty easy on the eye.
It backs its HDR claims up with some strikingly high specification numbers, too – especially a claimed dynamic contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1 and a high maximum brightness of 3000 ANSI Lumens.
Obviously these figures need to be taken with a healthy pinch of salt given that they’re measured in conditions you would never find when watching real world content. But they nonetheless imply that Optoma is taking the UHD60’s HDR duties unexpectedly seriously for $2,000.
The HDR support is limited to the industry HDR10 standard. While it might have been nice to also find support for the HLG broadcast HDR format, HDR10 is all I’d really expected to find. In fact, any HDR support at all at this price is a welcome bonus.
The UHD60’s native 4K support on a single-chip DLP projector feels almost like arcane wizardry. It's essentially delivered through a combination of the fast switching speed of DLP’s digital mirror device (it switches so fast that each mirror can apparently create multiple pixels for each 4K image frame) and advanced processing.
However, unlike ‘pseudo’ 4K solutions from rivals such as JVC and Epson, the UHD60’s 4K solution has been given the ‘real 4K’ seal of approval by the independent Consumer Technology Association. More importantly, given that seeing is always believing with this sort of stuff, the resolution really does seem to be right up there on the screen with the UHD60, as we’ll discover later.
In what we think is a first for a projector, the UHD60’s picture options include an SDR to HDR conversion system. Plus it carries all the colour, gamma and white balance adjustment tools required for a professional calibration by an Imaging Science Foundation engineer.
The projector provides a lengthy and mostly well-conceived set of picture presets for people who want a quicker image set up solution, with the three highlight options being the Cinema one that works best for standard dynamic range films; the HDR one that works best for – you guessed it – HDR, and a Game preset that places an emphasis on minimising input lag (the time the projector takes to produce its images) and boosting contrast and detail.
Features TL;DR: The UHD60 is almost ridiculously well featured and specified for such an affordable projector.
This, if we're honest, is where we’d expect the UHD60’s wheels to come off. But they don’t. Not even a little bit.
For starters we were immediately blown away by the incredible sharpness of its images. Just a few frames of Ultra HD Blu-ray are enough to reveal what genuinely looks like the real 4K deal. Detail levels, clarity and pixel density are both substantially up on anything you’d see on a mere HD projector, or tellingly, from any from pseudo 4K projectors. We’re talking levels of detail here that seem at least a match for those of Sony’s native 4K projectors. This really is pretty amazing considering we’re talking about a $2,000 projector.
Even better, this genuinely startling 4K detailing is delivered for the vast majority of the time without so much as a hint of the fizzing or grain that can so often be an issue with HD single-chip DLP technology. Instead, aside from one or two slightly fizzy skies, you get a beautifully polished, crisp image that only looks grainy when it’s supposed to. As in, when grain is there in the content.
Once you’ve stopped ogling its phenomenal sharpness, you start to take in just how well the UHD60 handles HDR – so long, anyway, as you stick with the HDR picture mode.
Colours, in particular, look much more vibrant and rich in saturation, immediately making the image look more solid, three dimensional and natural, as well as more flat-out beautiful. The UHD60, understandably, is less exciting when it comes to delivering the much wider luminance range associated with HDR material. Experience has already shown that even 3000 lumens of brightness isn’t enough to get the same dramatic HDR light impact from a projector that you can get from a high-end TV.
Crucially, though, the UHD60 does a surprisingly good job of both tone mapping details in the brightest parts of HDR images, and retaining a watchable light balance so that you don’t have to worry about dark HDR scenes looking devoid of detail, or shadowy areas turning into mere silhouettes. These sorts of problems have ruined HDR playback on way more expensive projectors than the UHD60.
It feels to me as if the UHD60 may be ‘cheating’ slightly to achieve its unexpectedly good HDR images, maybe by raising the baseline brightness level higher than it should be if it was really serious about reproducing as wide a sense of possible of the HDR image’s full luminance range. But if we're right about this then Optoma has made 100% the right decision, as its HDR images are far more engaging and natural looking (ironically) than those of almost all remotely affordable HDR projector rivals.
While it’s becoming easier almost daily to find native 4K content to feed the UHD60, if you do find yourself having to revert to HD Blu-ray on occasion again the UHD60’s got your back. Its HD to 4K upscaling, for starters, is pretty much exemplary, adding plenty of detail and crispness without excessively exaggerating noise or introducing overt colour errors.
The UHD60 also handles SDR contrast and colour levels superbly well if you use the Cinema or Reference presets, giving no hint that SDR performance has had to be compromised to deliver such surprisingly strong and effective HDR. The only sign with SDR that this is an HDR-friendly projector is how bright SDR images look – but since this is achieved without spoiling contrast or making colours look bleached, it’s a positive thing, not a negative. Especially as it helps the UHD60’s picture remain unusually watchable in ambient light.
Inevitably for its money, the UHD60 isn’t absolutely perfect. Black levels aren’t the deepest in the $1,000-$3,000 bracket (I suspect the step up Optoma UHD65 will fix that). Though having said that, they’re actually better than experience of other affordable HDR projectors would have led me to expect, and hardly ever prevent you from getting immersed in what you’re watching.
Very occasionally I saw some low-level DLP rainbow effect, where stripes of red, green and blue flash almost subliminally over stand-out bright parts of the picture. But again, this crops up so rarely that it is arguably more of a strength than a weakness versus other similarly bright single-chip DLP projectors.
Next, as noted earlier there’s a limit to the extent of the HDR effect the UHD60 can deliver, some HDR dark scenes can look a touch jaundiced, and just occasionally skin tones look a little over-saturated. Yet again, though, these issues (some of which you can calibrate your way around) really are small fry and don’t stop HDR pictures being remarkably easy on the eye by affordable projector standards.
The only unmitigated HDR disaster is the SDR to HDR conversion system, which ramps up colour saturations to frankly ugly levels and removes so much subtle detail from dark scenes that they become pretty much unwatchable. There’s an easy fix for this broken feature, though: don’t use it!
The final issue, and one that I couldn’t find a solution to, is that input lag measures around 51ms when using the dedicated Game picture preset. This is roughly double what we’d ideally like to see, and could marginally hinder your performance with fast-paced games.
Unless you’re an extremely serious gamer, though, you’d be crazy to be put off by the UHD60’s issues. They scarcely amount to a molehill against the mountain of stuff the UHD60 does brilliantly.
Performance TL;DR: The UHD60 is so good for its money that we're still struggling to believe Optoma’s pricing department hasn’t made a mistake.
Other projectors to consider
If you want a slightly more refined, contrast-rich 4K HDR picture you could blow the best part of nine grand on a Sony VW550ES. Otherwise a more realistic alternative – especially for gamers, given its much lower input lag – would be the Epson TW9300W. This doesn’t give you native 4K images (just ‘pseudo’ ones created from HD signals) and isn’t as bright, but it does have a game go at HDR thanks to slightly deeper blacks and a colour filter that ups the colour response to around 100% of the digital cinema DCI-P3 colour spectrum.
The UHD60 is a prime contender for AV bargain of the year, delivering genuine 4K and HDR thrills at a price that instantly leaves many of its rivals with some serious explaining to do.