Home Theater HDTV Dream System: Optoma H78DC3 Dark Chip DLP Projector Review

Dream system: Optoma H78DC3 Dark Chip DLP Projector Review
Using a universal remote control: review by Adrian Biffen, Software For Homes Optoma H78DC3 'DarkChip3' DLP projector -
the first 'Dark Chip' DLP projector under $4,000 

by Adrian Biffen 
Systems Administrator
AeroHOST Web Systems
November 20, 2005

  Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems is Launched!  
  • We have been busy making and selling roller blinds and projector screens for some time, and we have decided to start selling the components at RollerTrol.com so others can do the same.
  • Take a look at our online store for tubular motors and other associated products - make your own custom shade or screen size that fits your room perfectly! We also have special motor kits that work with x10 automation systems.
  • While you're at it, check out our tubular motors with built-in radio controllers. When used with our multi-channel remotes, you can control the screen AND blackout blinds with a single remote!
  End Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems  

Home Theater Dream System? Optoma H78DC3 vs Canon SX50 projectors:

The next generation of DLP DarkChip3 projectors has arrived ... If you've been following my article series, you'll know I chose the BenQ PB 6200 DLP front projector about a year and a half ago as the centerpiece of my 'dream home theater system'. I've never regretted that decision, and it is still an excellent buy, even today. We have logged over a thousand hours of viewing time on it, and have enjoyed it immensely - and still do!


I've been eagerly watching the industry develop since then, wondering when I'll see things reach the next price/performance ratio that will inspire me to upgrade. Certainly, the Canon SX50 Realis 3 chip LCoS projector is a contender, and I'll be evaluating that unit more closely. The LCoS technology has been a long time comin', and Canon's lens technology is largely responsible for making it feasible for consumer use.

Texas Instruments (TI) announced earlier this year the availability of their next generation DarkChip3 DLP chipset, and Optoma is the first company to produce a relatively affordable (under $4,000) home theater projector with this chipset, with the arrival of their H78DC3 DLP projector (see basic specs below). There are other DarkChip3 DLP projectors from companies like BenQ and Marantz, but they are considerably more money at this time.

Display Technology: DarkChip3 0.79-inch 12-degree DLP Technology from Texas Instruments
Brightness: 800 lumens (typical)
Weight: 16.5 pounds (7.4 kg)
Resolution: 720p native (1,280 x 720) UXGA (1,600 x 1,200) compression
Contrast Ratio: 4,000:1 (Full On/ Full Off)
Noise Level: 25 dB in standard mode, 26 dB in BrightMode
Lamp Type and Life: 250 watt Philips UHP lamp; 2,000 hours BrightMode, ≈2750 hours Standard Mode
Image Size (Diagonal): 20.9 to 338.8 inches (.53 to 8.6 meters)
Projection Distance: 3.28 to 39.37 feet (1.0 to 12 meters)
Computer Compatibility: IBM PC and compatibles, Macintosh, iMac, VESA standards
Video Modes: 480p, 480i, HDTV (720p, 1080i)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 native, 5:4 & 4:3 compatible

So I think it makes an interesting comparison between these two technologies: the Optoma H78DC3 single chip DLP projector vs the Canon SX50 3 chip LCoS projector. Here's a table that shows a direct comparison of what I think are the most important specs:


Optoma H78DC3 DLP Canon SX50
800 lumens 2500 lumens
Contrast Ratio
4,000:1 1000:1
Native resolution
720p (1,280 x 720) SXGA (1400 x 1050)
Aspect Ratio
16:9 native 4:3 native

I'll give you my opinion, such as it is, but please keep in mind that these performance issues are highly subjective, and you should always see the display, or something similar, before you buy it. Your sense of what constitutes a good picture could be entirely different from mine, and neither of us would be wrong.

First and foremost, to me this is a shootout between brightness and contrast; I'm talking about DVD video here, not presentation graphics. From my experience of choosing the BenQ PB6200, I definitely found that the contrast ratio is much more important than brightness (assuming you can control your room lighting). I saw no point in watching a bright, relatively washed out picture. 

I'm not saying the Canon IS washed out, however (I've never seen one), but the Optoma DarkChip3 is the clear winner, going by the specifications. After all, TI didn't emphasize the contrast ratio with the 'DarkChip' moniker for no reason. Nevertheless, the Canon lumen rating is so high, there's plenty of room to reduce the brightness in favor of contrast. I have also heard that the color saturation is excellent, so that will also be a factor to consider.

Resolution is another tricky subject. Going by the specs, the Canon appears to be the clear winner, but I have read that it has a 'bleed over' effect from one pixel to the other that makes the picture softer than one might expect. My BenQ DLP projector produces a very sharp picture, and I presume that the new DarkChip is even more so. It will be interesting to see if there is really much difference between these two units from the picture clarity point of view. 

Also, since the Canon is native 4:3, if your primary viewing is wide screen DVD, then some of those pixels at the top and bottom will not be used, further equalizing the resolution difference. However, if you need to do a lot of presentation work with your computer, I would say the Canon would definitely be the better choice, especially in brightly lit rooms. It was clearly developed with this kind of use in mind, whereas I think it is safe to say the Optoma design is geared more to home theater use.

So the jury is out on this competition, and I'm sure we'll hear more about this topic in the months to come. I'm certainly going to do my best to see a comparison first hand, and if any of you out there do, please feel free to contact me

Neither of these units is capable of producing a 1080p native image, like the new Toshiba/Canon SED flat panel displays can, and this is another area I'll be following closely. Then again, I've heard others say that on some units 1080i interlaced displays actually look better than 1080p. Again, seeing is believing!

Let's also keep in mind that until the new HDTV DVD format emerges, the best we can do for home movie viewing is to use an upscaled 480p source, like my Zenith DVB 318.

So is one of these going to be my new 'dream home theater system'? Let's wait until I actually see one and start drooling uncontrollably ...

*  *  *  *  *

This series of articles is designed to help you get through the complicated process of choosing and setting up an HDTV home theater system. It is part of our overall website, which is about the X10 home automation system that uses the A/C wiring in your home - you don't need to run any wires. (for complementary home automation products such as lighting control and motorized blinds and shades, see our home automation DIY kit article) Here's a brief topic summary of these home theater articles, with direct links:
Article# Topic
1 HDTV Definitions and terminology used in home theatre systems
2 HDTV news from Jan 2005 Las Vegas CES show
3 HDTV remote control consolidation issues
4 DLP projector decision: My reasons for purchasing
5 BenQ DLP 6200 review -projector setup process
6 HTPC: using home theater PC for DVD display
7 DVD software player review: watch DVD on your PC
8 Upsampling DVD player vs HTPC - comparison with Zenith DVB 318
9 Sony HDRHC1 Handycam review: widescreen high definition 1080i camcorder
10 Wireless video sender solves the 'extra tv' problem
11 SED Toshiba-Canon HDTV display review - the flat panel HDTV race heats up!
12 Canon SX 50 Realis LCoS projector review - first 3 chip LCoS projector under $5,000
13 Optoma H78DC3 'DarkChip3' DLP projector review - first 'Dark Chip3' DLP projector under $4,000
14 Xbox 360 review: best buy for game play online? - Windows Media Center Extender
15 Play Station 3 vs Xbox 360 - Sony and Microsoft Compete for gaming market
16 SXRD vs SED vs DLP - Sony raises the HDTV bar with Qualia and Grand Wega series
17 LED DLP light engine from Samsung vs SXRD, SED - 1080p resolution arrives
18 HD DVD vs Blu-ray: We review the new Toshiba HD DVD players (HD-XA1 and HD-A1)
19 H.264 AVC: High Definition advanced codec for movie downloads and HDTV Online

For the sake of clarity, here is a repeat of some acronym and terminology definitions relating to the various display technologies, used in the other table below to compare the various screen types:
TLA Three Letter Acronym
HDTV High Definition Television. The highest quality video picture available in Digital TV. In the U.S., the 1080i and 720p resolution formats in a 16:9 aspect ratio are the two acceptable HDTV formats. Regular NTSC analog TV is 480i.
HTPC Home Theater Personal Computer. The use of a PC as a processing and source control platform for a home theater system.
RPTV Rear Projection TV. The type of home theater screen system where the image is projected onto the back of the screen. Can be DLP, LCD, CRT projection technology.
Lumens An ANSI Lumen is a measurement of light radiation or brightness. A 3,000 Lumen projector creates a brighter picture than a 2,000 Lumen unit. The ANSI prefix is a standards designation (American National Standards Institute).
Nits Plasma and LCD manufacturers use this term to define the brightness of their screens. Another term for Nits is Candelas per square meter (Cd/m2). One nit = 0.2919 foot-lambert. Nits includes an area definition, unlike lumens, so you can't simply divide by Watts to establish a Nits/watt spec.
480i 720p 1080p resolution measurement in lines, p for "progressive scan", i for "interlaced scan". Conventional TV (e.g. 480i) is interlaced whereby the screen is scanned twice by alternate lines that are interleaved (interlaced), whereas HDTV (e.g. 720p) can scan all lines sequentially (consecutively or progressively).
DVI HDCP Digital Visual Interface technology with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. Developed by Intel Corporation, HDCP is a specification to protect digital entertainment content through the DVI interface. The HDCP specification provides a transparent method for transmitting and receiving digital entertainment content to DVI-compliant digital displays. Some products, such as set-top boxes and DVD burners will require this connector. Even if you have a HDTV set-top box, if it lacks the DVI, your signal may be degraded.
HDMI High Definition Multimedia Interface. Like DVI, HDMI is another digital interface, and from what we saw at CES 2005, it may become the universal standard. Developed by Sony, Hitachi, Thomson (RCA), Philips, Matsushita (Panasonic), Toshiba and Silicon Image, the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) has emerged as the connection standard for HDTV and the consumer electronics market. HDMI is the first digital interface to combine uncompressed high-definition video, multi-channel audio and intelligent format and command data in a single digital interface.
SACD Super Audio CD uses a new recording technology called Direct Stream Digital. DSD records a one bit digital signal at a sample rate of 2.8 million times per second, 64 times higher than conventional CD's. 
NTSC Existing color TV standard developed in the U.S. in 1953 by the National Television System Committee. NTSC vertical line resolution is 525 lines/frame and the vertical frequency is 60Hz. The NTSC frame rate is 29.97 frames/sec.
CRT Cathode Ray Tube - venerable old style picture tube
PDP Plasma Display Panel, plasma is a physics term for an electrically charged gas
LCD Liquid Crystal Display, same as laptop screens
TFT Thin Film Technology, a type of LCD
DLP Digital Light Processor, a reflective light switch chip developed by TI. Has a very fast response time - no motion lag
TI Texas Instruments Corp., original manufacturer of DMD's and DLP's
DMD Digital Micro-mirror Device - chip for DLP technology by TI
DNIe Digital Natural Image enhancement - chip for optimizing video picture quality, by Samsung (used in their DLP units)
LCoS Liquid Crystal on Silicon, reflective light switch
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel.
SED Surface conduction Electron emitter Display by Toshiba/Canon
FED Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony
OLED Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson
D-iLA Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier, LCoS chip developed by JVC
QXGA high screen resolution of 2048 x 1536, attained by D-iLA chip
DCDi Directional Correlation Deinterlacing (a de-interlacing method to eliminate jagged edges (jaggies) along diagonal lines caused by interpolation, developed by Faroudja corp. An important feature to look for, this Emmy® award winning technology was once only available in products costing $20,000 or more, and is now available in numerous products costing well below $2,000
aspect ratio ratio of screen width to height. An aspect ratio of 4:3 is conventional TV and 16:9 is HDTV (and film)
3-2 pulldown a method of film-to-video conversion
twitter and judder   terms describing film conversion related artifacts
anamorphic lens   a special lens that compresses the pixels of a 4:3 screen into a 16:9 format, and allows a projector to use the full brightness of the display, without black bars above and below the image. Must normally be removed for regular 4:3 viewing.
SDE  Screen Door Effect is a term used to refer to the visible pixel structure on a screen.
YADR! Yet Another Dang Remote! A common exclamation heard from people who just bought their third or fourth home audio/video component. And then there are further unmentionable expletives when you find out a component isn't supported, or it's just too complicated to program everything in?? Maybe it's time to read about our experience in the remote control review article.

The following table provides a quick comparison of the display types; "pixelation" refers to the ability to see individual picture elements (pixels) at normal viewing distances (note that all the types below can contribute to the YADR index). Please note that these products are being constantly improved and not all manufacturer's models may be subject to the disadvantages listed below:

CRT conventional
picture tube
Cathode Ray Tube: very sharp and bright, high contrast ratio, good picture view from side, low cost, handles regular analog NTSC channels well, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited in size to about 36", picture can fade 
CRT projection
low cost, large screens possible, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited viewing angles, visible raster lines, mis-convergence can be a problem, picture can fade over time 
LCD flat screen panel Liquid Crystal Display: bright, sharp picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, solid state, no moving parts picture can fade over time
LCD projection fairly bright, large screens possible, sharp picture, no moving parts display can fade due to heat damage to organic compounds that some manufacturers use in the LCD, projector bulb can fail
PDP Plasma flat screen panel Plasma Display Panel: bright picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, wide viewing angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive, some pixelation, display can burn out.
DLP projection Digital Light Processor: bright, sharp picture, high contrast, no  pixelation, reflective system won't burn out picture element, very fast response time - no motion lag. possible visual "rainbow" artifacts on single chip versions caused by spinning color wheel, projector bulb can fail
LCoS projection Liquid Crystal on Silicon: bright, sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SED panel display Surface conduction Electron emitter Display: very bright picture, very high resolution, can hang on wall, very high contrast ratio, can be viewed from any angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive at first, not available yet
FED panel display Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony, properties are similar to SED expensive at first, not available yet
OLED panel display Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson expensive at first, not available yet

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