Video projectors have been evolving faster than the X-Men in recent years, with each generation boasting a whole new level of resolution. For a decade 576 horizontal lines (standard definition) was plenty, but then along came hi-def with 720 progressive lines, followed soon after by 1080 interlaced lines. Now the story is Full HD and 1080 progressively scanned lines of resolution.
For now at least, 1080p is as good as it gets and traditionally, if you want the best, you have to pay. That's why only a couple of years ago, the starting price for a 1080p projector was a cool £9,000, but just two years on the price has crashed to around £2,000.
The Optoma HD80 is the latest bargain. It's a real slap in the face for all those early adopters, but exciting news for anyone who has just started looking for a top-spec home cinema projector.
If you happen to be someone that looks at the specifications first, then this hot shot will have caught your eye already. The HD80 is packing the very latest DLP chipset from Texas Instruments, which means a native 16:9 resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. The powerful 300W lamp gives it a retina-burning 1300 ANSI Lumens and it will beam an image of up to 134 inches in diameter.
The unit itself looks much more modest. The sleek proportions and light weight make it easy to ceiling mount, while the pearl white finish is intended to match your gloss white decor - assuming it is gloss white, of course. The fake chrome lens collar is an unnecessary design flourish, if you ask me.
The next model up in Optoma's range, the HD81, comes with a separate switching box to accommodate all of your cables and handle video scaling duties. The HD80, on the other hand, is a single self-contained unit, so there are fewer input options, but you still get two HDMI ports.
Some projectors are quite happy to project up onto a screen from a coffee table, but the HD80 is not one of them. It is much more comfortable fixed to the ceiling at the back of the room.
The throw ratio is quite long, so you need about 10 meters to get full image size. Also, because the lamp is brighter than most, the fan is more audible and there's some heat and light spillage from the unit that is distracting if it's sitting in font of you.
With so much light, resolution and contrast on offer, filling a full-size 100in is no problem at all for the HD80. Zooming and focusing the image onto the screen are manual operations. There's no optical lens shift to get the image to fit your panel.
Instead, it's a case of physically moving the projector or using digital keystone correction to get the perfect rectangle. Unusually, you do get 'edge masking' as an option on the remote control, which trims a few pixels off the edges of the picture to tidy up any sources that look ragged.
With an image on the screen, it's clear that what I'm dealing with here is a very highly-specified projector, and it only takes a bit of fine-tuning to get an incredibly lifelike picture on display.
Naturally, it is tempting to reach straight away for the best piece of 1080p material to hand and find out just how good this thing can look - and Disney's glossy Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on Blu-ray is a dazzling example.
For the best results, find a player that can output 1080p at 24fps, as this is how Hollywood films are encoded. The PlayStation 3 can do this very well and the HD80, provided it has the latest firmware (our sample had to be returned to the manufacturer and upgraded!), will play it back without any need for scaling.
The first thing you notice is the incredible level of detail on show. Freezing a frame and counting individual whiskers on the pirate's beards is now a popular pastime. While some sceptics claim not to see any difference between 720p and 1080p on a 32in LCD TV, the same cannot be said of a 100in projected image. With projectors, there's no substitute for resolution.
There is a range of preset picture options to suit different source material and the amount of light in the room, but generally, this is a very bright projector, which is great for big home theatres or living rooms without thick curtains.
The HD80 can even measure the level of ambient light in the room for you and set its own brightness level, adjusting it constantly throughout the film. I suspect that this gimmick, called AI, is rarely used in reality, as it makes the brightness flick up and down from scene to scene in a particularly distracting way.
Contrast ratios on projector specification sheets are always misleading. This one is apparently 10,000:1, but it actually has much better differentiation between light and dark than many LCD projectors that claim a similar figure.
Another plus point then. In fact it will be quicker simply to point out the weaknesses, as they are so few.
My main complaint is the operating noise emitted by the fan and/or colour wheel during operation. Also, the standby light is overly bright when the projector is idling. Mere niggles really, and given that picture quality is the overwhelming factor in choosing a projector, I'm sure you will ignore them. And you'd be wise to.