After playing with the HD81's manual iris adjustment on a few other movie scenes, I fixed on the level 3 setting, which struck a good balance between inky shadows and punchy yet natural-looking highlights. On another HD DVD, Friday Night Lights, the blacks looked solid in a scene where the football players lift weights in a gym. And the subtle play of light cast by overhead fluorescents on the high-school jocks gave them a sculpted, heroic appearance that also lent the image a realistic sense of depth.
Sure, high-definition discs can look great on a 1080p projector, but how about programs from other sources? Watching a documentary on the Discovery HD channel about the Navy's Blue Angels pilots, the bright blue and yellow hues of the planes and the pilots' uniforms looked remarkably rich. Even so, the pilots' skin tones came off as perfectly natural. A 720p broadcast of a World Cup soccer match between Brazil and France that I had recorded from ESPN HD also looked crisp and clear. And standard-def shows like Nip/Tuck on the FX cable channel came across reasonably well after the HD81's noise reduction and edge enhancement options sharpened them up.
BOTTOM LINE At $7,000, the Optoma HD81 1080p DLP front projector is an undeniably great deal. Its setup features are somewhat basic, and the Auto Iris feature is, unfortunately, a work in progress that Optoma claims will be fixed with a firmware upgrade. Those minor issues aside, the HD81 delivers fantastic, full-rez HDTV pictures. Home theater enthusiasts on a budget have never had it so good.