Optoma UHD30 4K projector: Detail, brightness and colors galore – CNET

Optoma's UHD30 is a 4K projector with HDR compatibility and impressive light output. Detail is as good as you'd expect from 4K on a huge screen, with every wrinkle in every face bigger than life. This projector also does an excellent job creating accurate colors, with green grass and blue skies far more realistic than many less expensive projectors. So far, so good, but a couple of issues make it tough to recommend spending extra to get this projector's extra pixels.

Like

  • 4K resolution
  • Accurate color
  • Blisteringly bright

Don't Like

  • Banding and noise with HDR
  • Mediocre contrast ratio

First off the UHD30 has a mediocre contrast ratio, which is far less than the best sub-$1,000 projectors like my Editors' Choice BenQ HT2050A. Its image lacks the punch you'd hope for given the rest of its performance. There's also noticeable banding with HDR video, which isn't a deal-breaker but does detract from the overall picture quality.

Does the UHD30 look good? Yes. The real question is whether it looks good enough to be worth the extra money over the HT2050A. To that I'd say no. Don't get me wrong, the 4K resolution is awesome, but beyond that the HT2050A looks very similar, offers similar brightness, and has better contrast. 

If you're a true 4K junkie and want an ultrabright projector with accurate colors, the UHD30 fits that bill. After all, screens 100 inches and larger is exactly what 4K resolution is for. That said, it's not the best value. You can spend far less with the HT2050A and still get an excellent image, just a slightly softer one -- a difference you probably wouldn't notice unless you saw them side-by-side.

Basic specs

  • Native resolution: 3,840x2,160 pixels
  • HDR-compatible: Yes
  • 4K-compatible: Yes
  • 3D-compatible: Yes
  • Lumens spec: 3,400 ANSI
  • Zoom: Manual (1.1)
  • Lens shift: None
  • Lamp life (Bright mode): 4,000 hours

The UHD30's biggest claim to fame is that 4K resolution. On a 100-inch screen you'll see every texture, wrinkle, hair and whisker. Side-by-side with a 1080p projector, quadrupling the pixels is quite obvious. As you'll read about below, that doesn't make the UHD30 a shoe-in for a picture-quality win.

There's also HDR compatibility, but like all projectors, this comes with a big asterisk. No consumer projector can accurately reproduce HDR because they lack the brightness and dynamic range delivered by TV display technologies like full-array local dimming and OLED. For projectors, the HDR signal must be converted for use on a display with far lower dynamic range. Optoma did a pretty good job with this conversion on the HD28HDR ($649 at Amazon) I reviewed earlier, but, as you'll also read about below, not on the UHD30.

The UHD30 is almost obscenely bright. Even on the dimmer Eco mode, it's brighter than many projectors I've reviewed. Since all projectors get dimmer over time as their lamps age, this brightness out of the box is overall a good thing. It also allows for an exceptionally large screen, if that's your thing.

Like most DLP-based projectors this size, there's no lens shift. The zoom range is also fairly mediocre, at 1.1x. This means you don't have much range in which to place or mount the projector for a given screen size.

Lamp life is a claimed 4,000 hours in its brightest mode. Dial it back to Eco, which is what you'll probably use most of the time, that goes up to 10,000. The Dynamic Black mode, which varies the lamp power based on the brightness of the content, increases this further to 15,000 hours. I noticed the brightness ramping up and down while watching, however. It's not overly distracting and I didn't mind it, but I know some people notice and are annoyed by it.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Connectivity and convenience

  • HDMI inputs: HDMI 2.0 (1), HDMI 1.4 (1)
  • PC input: Analog RGB
  • USB port: 1 (1.5-amp power)
  • Audio input and output: 3.5mm in (1), and out (1)
  • Digital audio output: Optical (1)
  • LAN port: No
  • 12-volt trigger: Yes
  • RS-232 remote port: Yes
  • MHL: Yes
  • Remote: Backlit

If you plan on using this projector with HDR content, there's technically only one input. Not a huge deal as I'd assume most people using this would have some sort of home theater setup, and will be running all their sources through an AV receiver that passes them along to the projector.

The USB input is powerful enough to run a streaming stick if that's how you want to go, and there's a 10-watt speaker built-in for sound. Not the most ideal way to watch a movie, but certainly possible. There's also a 3.5mm audio output to connect to an external speaker.

The remote is backlit, and in true Optoma fashion, bright enough to be used as a flashlight or to top up your suntan.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Picture quality comparisons

The HT2050A is not 4K, and is half the price of the Optoma, but it's our current pick for best projector. I figured it would be interesting to see how it fares against a 4K projector at twice its price. The 3550i is a direct competitor to the Optoma both in price and resolution, which I haven't yet fully reviewed. 

For my comparison I connected the two 4K projectors via a Monoprice 1x4 4K HDR distribution amplifier, and connected the HT2050A to its own streaming stick. This setup is necessary because distribution amplifiers ("splitters") don't change resolutions, so a single source would send the lowest common denominator (1080p) to all three. I then viewed them all on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

At first glance, these three projectors looked quite similar. All create a bright image with accurate color. Upon closer inspection, however, the two 4K projectors are noticeably more detailed. One effect is that people look, well, older. Wrinkles are more obvious, as are individual hairs, whiskers and especially textures in fabrics. The HT2050A, at least side-by-side on a huge screen, looks almost soft in comparison.

Both the Optoma and the HT2050A are very bright, far brighter than the 3550i. That projector doesn't look dim on its own, but it is noticeably dimmer compared to the other two. Being able to produce that much light, while still having accurate colors, is great. Many projectors sacrifice color accuracy for light output, and the result is a far less pleasing image. So grass looks like grass, tomatoes look like tomatoes, and so on. 

Contrast ratio, however, is where the 4K projectors come up short. The black levels on the UHD30 are so bright you can hardly call them black, more of a light gray, even when the Dynamic Black feature and Dynamic lamp modes are engaged. The image doesn't look washed out, but it has far less punch than the equally bright HT2050A. 

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

I measured a contrast ratio of around 859:1 on the UHD30. To put it in perspective that's about what I measured with Optoma's own HD28HDR, which costs less than half the price. The 2050A measures more than twice that. Overall, and especially in terms of contrast, the HT2050A holds its own against projectors that are twice its price and four times its resolution. 

While the contrast ratio is disappointing in that it's so-so, HDR performance was flat-out poor. No affordable home theater projector can truly display HDR content. They're all too dim, and lack the contrast ratio of something like OLED, or local dimming, to offset this. So all projectors that accept HDR have to process the HDR in a way that compresses down the high dynamic range to a normal-looking standard dynamic range. 

While the Optoma HD28HDR did this processing quite well, oddly the company's more expensive UHD30 doesn't. Regardless of HDR mode, there was noticeable banding and noise in any bright gradations, almost looking like a budget flat-panel TV circa 2004. Additionally, there was a lot of random noise in the shadows. From a video purist point of view, this could be a dealbreaker. However, since there's little real benefit to using HDR on a projector anyway, you could always just turn it off in the menu and not have to worry about this at all.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Conclusion

There's a lot to like about the UHD30. Exceptionally bright images with accurate colors are the building blocks of a great projector. The 4K resolution, especially with the lack of motion blur afforded by the UHD30's DLP light engine, is quite welcome. It makes 1080p projectors look soft in comparison. 

Where the UHD30 stumbles is in aspects of picture quality that don't make headlines or spec sheets. The banding with HDR, and the grainy noise in the shadows, detract from an otherwise great image.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Measurement notes

I spent far longer adjusting the settings of the UHD30 than I did with any projector I've reviewed. Most projectors are set-it-and-forget-it, but the UHD30 needed adjustments sometimes on a per-movie or per-show basis. Keep that remote handy.

Because of this, I can't even tell you what settings I used to get the best-looking picture, as I had to change them depending on the specific content I was watching. Generally speaking, Cinema mode was a good starting point, and Dynamic Black somewhat helped mask the projector's mediocre black level. Detail HDR setting usually looked the best, minimizing the banding seen with HDR content. In some cases this mode was dim, so Bright looked better. Switching between them sometimes required adjusting the brightness and, surprisingly, the gamma settings as well.

You can avoid the extra noise and hassles with HDR by turning it off. Just make sure you restart your content (back to the show's menu, then resume) so you get the non-HDR feed.

The D65 color temperature mode was slightly warm across the grayscale range, but fairly close, never more than 500 kelvin off, and usually less than 250. 

With that color temperature and with accurate colors, the UHD30 I measured roughly 1,634 lumens which is effectively tied with the brightest projector I've measured, but it does so with more accurate color than that projector.

Overall colors are quite accurate, for a projector in this price range anyway. Red, green and blue are all pretty much spot on, though blue is very slightly undersaturated. Cyan and yellow are also accurate, though magenta is a slightly undersaturated and somewhat red.

Contrast ratio is fairly midpack for a projector, coming in at an average of 859:1. For comparison, the BenQ HT2050A is 2,094:1 while the $600 Optoma HD28HDR is basically the same as the UHD30 at 716:1. The Dynamic Black mode, which varies the lamp brightness depending on the content, produces a dynamic contrast ratio of 1,396:1.

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.2 Poor
Peak white luminance (100%) 179.9 Good
Derived lumens 1620 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 6,198 Poor
Dark gray error (20%) 6,012 Poor
Bright gray error (70%) 6238 Poor
Avg. color error 11.743 Poor
Red error 3.799 Average
Green error 16.196 Poor
Blue error 5.965 Average
Cyan error 23.039 Poor
Magenta error 7.459 Poor
Yellow error 14.001 Poor
Avg. saturations error 3.48 Average
Avg. color checker error 4.3 Average
Input lag (Game mode) 28 Good

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