Optoma UHZ50 4K laser projector review
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At first glance, the Optoma UHZ50 looks like any other compact DLP projector. The UHZ50 uses a laser to generate light instead of the traditional UHP lamps found in most home theater projectors. In contrast to conventional UHP lamp-based projectors, it provides bright, colorful images from a relatively small, quiet package. It is also easy to turn on and off, unlike their predecessors.
Reason to buy
Detailed to the point
Turns on quickly
Reason to avoid
HDR gradations show some banding
Price-wise, the lens shift and zoom need to be improved
During my side-by-side comparisons, I found some minor issues: there’s banding in colors when watching HDR TV shows and movies. There’s a limited zoom and lens shift range, which limits where you can put the projector. DLP projectors have a good contrast ratio, but they aren’t as good as LCD or LCOS projectors, such as Epson 5050UB and Sony VPL-VW325ES.
The UHZ50 is still an excellent projector in general, though. It’s bright enough to watch with some lights on if you have to, the colors are vibrant, and it doesn’t sound like a vacuum a few feet away from you. Also, it’s really easy to live with, as long as it fits in your theater and your budget. However, Optoma is close to being the best 4K projector for the price range. The Optoma UHZ50 is modest in appearance but packs a powerful punch with 4K and a laser
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Resolution: 3,840×2,160 pixels
Lumens spec: 3,000
Zoom: Manual (1.3)
Lens shift: Manual
Lamp life (Normal mode): 30,000 hours
With a laser and HDR support, the UHZ50 seems quieter than other DLP projectors of similar size because less cooling is needed with a laser than with a UHP lamp. However, it is just as quiet as some larger projectors, which have more room to minimize fan noise.
As you may have noticed, I have used the singular word laser to describe Optoma’s DuraCore light engine. In a laser projector, the light is produced on screen by splitting a blue laser into two. The blue light is created by splitting the blue laser. A yellow laser is then split into red and green, giving you RGB from one laser.
Using lasers is better for the environment than UHP lamps because of their long ‘lamp’ life. Optoma claims laser lamps last 30,000 hours at 4 hours a night, which equals about 20 years.
A laser projector warms up much faster than UHP projectors, which leads to an image on screen within a few seconds. Another benefit of lasers is that they can be turned on much faster.
There is a limited zoom range on the Optoma projector, similar to all small-box DLP projectors I’ve tested. A manual 1.3x zoom is typical, but the Epson 5050UB, a similarly priced LCD projector, offers a fully motorized zoom range of 3. If your screen has a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this is especially useful, as you can zoom out to fill it with movies, or zoom in to just use the center for 16×9 TV content. Due to the UHZ50’s limited range and manual zoom, this is difficult or impossible to do.
Despite being rare for DLP projectors, there is some lens shift. For comparison, the aforementioned Epson offers a vertical shift of almost 100% and a horizontal shift of 50%. Because of this, your projector placement relative to the screen is limited, which may or may not be an issue depending on your configuration.
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HDMI inputs: 3
PC input: No
USB port: 3 (1.5A power)
Audio input and output: 3.5mm analog output
Digital audio output: eARC and opti
Internet: Ethernet and Wi-FI via included dongle
12v trigger: Yes
RS-232 remote port: Yes
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One HDMI input is eARC, which allows the projector to send audio back down to your receiver or soundbar in 4K. With a projector this expensive, Optoma bills it as “smart” — but to get access to more streaming apps and a better user experience, it’s worth investing in a real 4K streaming stick for about $50. Although this is true of all projectors, not specifically referring to the UHZ50, it is true of all projectors.
To that end, there are p
lenty of USB connections to power said streaming stick. The projector can also be connected to your network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable if you really want to use Optoma’s built-in streaming. In addition to 12v triggers and RS-232 ports, the projector comes with 12v triggers for more elaborate home theaters.
On an end table, the remote takes up little space, but it is large enough not to get lost.
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Compare and contrast
A comparison of the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB with the UHZ50 makes sense. It’s slightly more expensive, fair, but at this price, $300 extra shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s our top pick for the best 4K projector overall. The Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier connected both projectors, and a 1.0 gain screen allowed me to view them side by side.
Among the UHZ50’s most obvious differences were its razor-sharp detail without any motion blur. Beyond its inherent sharpness, DLP displays offer more pixels on screen. To create more pixels onscreen than they are physically on the image-creating chips, both the Epson and the UHZ50 use a technique known as pixel shifting. Unlike the Epson, which does this at a rate of 2x, the Optoma does this at a rate of 4x, so it is equivalent to 3,840×2,160, versus Epson’s ‘double Full HD resolution’.
Since it’s pixel shifting, you’re not losing as much detail as you might think on paper, even though you have to spend a lot more to get a “true” 4K projector. My 100-inch screen shows what 4K has always promised: close-ups of faces, animals’ hairs, and fabrics’ textures.
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In addition to detail, brightness, color, and contrast are also important factors in picture quality. On a projector screen, detail is certainly more noticeable.
It’s interesting that I measured a native contrast ratio of 1,007:1 with the UHZ50. This was the second best contrast ratio I’ve ever measured with a DLP projector after the BenQ HT2050, which had a 1080p resolution. In contrast, anything near black or near black on the Epson 5050 appears much darker than it does on the UHZ50. In comparison, the Optoma is more like a dark gray.
Nonetheless, the Optoma’s brightness and colors are strong enough that if you don’t see both projections side by side, it’s not quite as apparent. The UHZ50 is so bright, and its colors so vibrant, that you don’t really notice it in anything but very dark scenes. Contrast is higher than its numbers suggest.
As a result, the image becomes dimmer with dark scenes if you enable the DynamicBlack mode, which varies the laser intensity in order to reduce black levels at the expense of light output. The overall color changes as the laser ramps up and down, making this adjustment visually noticeable. As a general rule, I do not like dynamic brightness adjustments, and this one is particularly meh. It didn’t add anything, and it actually caused problems.
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Color was excellent, and about a wash between the two. It seems that the Epson was more accurate on some scenes, while the UHZ50 was more accurate on others. It might have been the laser/phosphor, or the BrilliantColor processing that is native to DLP, but the colors on the UHZ50 seemed to have more punch. The Epson, however, was able to reproduce colors with a broader gamut with HDR content.
It was in HDR that I observed the only real problem with the UHZ50. In gradations of brightness, there were noisy bands. Imagine a cloudless sky, and instead of a smooth transition from bright to dark colors, you might see one or more noisy bands. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it was noticeable and not something we noticed on the Epson.
My last point is that I use a projector for the majority of my television viewing, which has been a while. I’m used to their quirks. Now, the Optoma’s fast on/off feature makes it much easier to use than many other projectors.
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Lasers! (Well, laser)
In my previous review of the UHZ50, I wasn’t sure what to expect because its budget-size box didn’t live up to the hype. In that regard, it’s kind of a sleeper, as its picture absolutely looks its price once you turn it on. It’s about $3,000, but there’s nothing that visually separates it from projectors that cost less than $1,000. A larger case would allow for a quieter light engine, maybe even allowing for better zoom, and it would compete, and perhaps even surpass, Epson in terms of zoom.
Apparently, the majority of people prefer small projectors like the UHZ50 to larger ones like the Epson. That’s unfortunate because the Epson could benefit in a variety of ways.
What would I choose? I wouldn’t know for sure. They are both extremely bright. The Epson has better contrast, while the color on the Optoma is really bright. I’d lean toward the Epson for most people, but if there are things about the Optoma that speak to you, I wouldn’t talk you out of it. The Epson has more placement options, but the Optoma has more detail. If it works in your room, I’d recommend the Optoma, if you can get it to work. The Optoma and Epson have been in my lab for over a month now, and I haven’t replaced the Optoma.
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