Projector St. John's NL
April 2, 2008 By David Birch-Jones
Of all the new gear that has moved in and out of my home recently, the Stewart CineCurve ultra-wide projection screen has elicited the most enthusiastic raves from friends and out-of-town guests. When I play a widescreen high-definition movie on Blu-ray or HD DVD, I take a moment to pause the movie right at the opening scene, and point out the black bars at the top and bottom of the picture that are almost always there. Then, with a push of a button on my touchscreen remote, the projector’s vertical stretch feature pushes the black bars out of sight, an anamorphic lens moves into position in front of the projector lens, and motorized panels at the sides of the screen slide into recesses, exposing the screen’s full 2.35:1 aspect ratio—the ratio used for about 30 percent of widescreen DVD releases, according to Home Entertainment software maven Dennis Burger.
My guests’ eyes widen into saucers as they see the movie now presented to them in the original theatrical widescreen aspect ratio, and in razor-sharp 1080p resolution to boot.
Such 2.35:1 video projection systems emerged about two years ago, at stratospheric prices. But the cost of the electronics required to perform this feat has fallen precipitously—the vertical-stretch 2.35:1 image processing is built right into Optoma’s new $2,699 HD80 1080p projector. In the system I am using now, the projector costs less than the screen or the motorized anamorphic lens. Indeed, at the time of this review it is the least expensive 1080p front projector available.
The HD80’s low price means that some features found on higher-end models (such as motorized zoom and focus) are missing. The only one of these I really miss is lens shift. Having lens shift allows a projector to be placed at positions other than ceiling-mounting or table-top, say on a shelf midway up the wall at the back of the room. The HD80 clearly favors ceiling mounting, as the optics include a generous amount of offset, which allows the projector to be placed at a vertical height somewhat above the top edge of the projection screen and closer to the ceiling—a good thing.
However, the offset, which is not adjustable, works against tabletop mounting, because the further away from the screen the projector is positioned, the lower it must be. With the adjustable projector stand that I often use for reviews, I must lower the stand’s legs to their minimum height, which positions the projector so that the lens just barely peeks over the top edge of my loveseat.
The projector also has a bit longer throw ratio than most other projectors, which further impedes tabletop mounting but works in favor of ceiling mounting, allowing placement behind, instead of above, the primary seating position.
Compared with those of higher-end projectors, the HD80’s optics aren’t quite as sharp in delineating individual pixels, but the pixel structure is visible nonetheless at extremely close inspection. Single-pixel tes...