Projectors exist to create light. Super-bright light bulbs, called lamps, convert electricity into photons, which get focused on some sort of chip; color filters are mixed in there somewhere, the result gets thrown out through a lens and bam! You’ve got a huge image to shine on a screen. The problem with some projectors, like the Optoma HD146X, is that the noise made by the fan that’s necessary to cool all those light-creating innards can distract from that huge image.

Don’t Like

  • Fan noise is quite noticeable.
  • Only one input.
  • Minimal zoom range.

The picture on the HD146X is impressive indeed for $550, but it’s easy to see where the costs were cut. All small projectors are fairly loud, but the noise created by the HD146X is more noticeable than most. It’s a muscle car with a 500-horsepower engine and plastic seats. There’s also only one input and barely any zoom range. 

Judged purely on picture quality for the money, this Optoma is quite good: Fairly bright with reasonably accurate colors and a decent contrast ratio. But for $150 or so more you can get something like the BenQ HT2050A or Epson HC2150, both of which performs better and have fan noise that’s not quite as noticeable.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Basic specs

  • Native resolution: 1,920×1,080
  • HDR-compatible: No
  • 4K-compatible: No
  • 3D-compatible: Yes
  • Lumens spec: 3,600
  • Zoom: Manual (1.1)
  • Lens shift: None
  • Lamp life (Bright mode): 4,000 hours

Like other projectors in this price range, the HD146X is HD, not 4K, and it doesn’t have HDR. It is 3D capable, though there are no 3D glasses available on Optoma’s website. There are plenty of third-party offerings online however.

Optoma claims 3,600 lumens of light output. I measured a peak of just under 2,000, but that’s a bit misleading. To get that amount of light requires using a picture mode that hurts color accuracy. In one of its more accurate modes, the HD146X is capable of around 1,100 lumens, which is still plenty for most screens in dark rooms. 

Like most DLP projectors in this price range, there is no lens shift. Zoom range is also quite narrow at 1.1. This limits where you can place the projector, and how large or small the image is at any single mounting point. Like several other aspects you’ll read about in a moment, this is almost certainly a result of the effort to keep the HD146X’s price down.

Lamp life, in certain modes, is quite good. In Bright mode it’s a claimed 4,000 hours, which is fairly average. That jumps up to an impressive 10,000 for Eco mode, which is about 35% dimmer than Bright mode. If you enable the Dynamic Black feature, the lamp varies in intensity based on the average brightness level of the image it’s projecting. Dark scenes are darker, bright scenes stay bright. Doing so bumps the claimed lamp life to an even more impressive 15,000 hours but also causes the fan to ramp up and down, which makes it even more annoying. This is true of most “Dynamic Black” type features, but is especially noticeable on the HD146X.

One feature I thought was a nice touch was Wall Color. It adjusts the colors of the image to counteract the shift caused by projecting on a nonwhite surface. This includes light green, yellow and blue, blackboard, and even pink.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Connectivity and convenience

  • HDMI inputs: 1
  • PC input: None
  • USB port: 1 (1.5A power)
  • Audio input and output: 3.5mm output
  • Digital audio output: None
  • LAN port: None
  • 12v trigger: None
  • RS-232 remote port: None
  • MHL: No
  • Remote: Backlit

One of the most obvious concessions to price is the lack of video inputs. There is one HDMI and, well, that’s it. It’s not a huge deal, since I assume most people only ever use one of their projector’s inputs anyway. One common use case is a single HDMI cable running from an AV receiver that handles input switching from multiple devices. If your setup requires more inputs on the projector itself, HDMI switches are quite inexpensive.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

There’s a USB connection that outputs enough power to drive a streaming stick, like a Roku or Amazon Fire Stick. This way you don’t need to run any long cables at all (except for power). To hear what you’re watching with this setup, there’s a 3.5mm analog audio out if you want to connect an external speaker.

The remote is backlit and so bright it could have inspired a Springsteen song. This remote is common with other Optoma projectors, and as such, has direct buttons for inputs that don’t exist on the HD146X. 

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Picture quality comparisons

I compared the Optoma HD146X to the Epson Home Cinema 2150 and the BenQ HD2050A, two of the better projectors under $1,000 I’ve tested recently. I kept in mind, however, that the 146X is about 25% cheaper than either. I connected them all to the same source via a Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier, and viewed them all on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen.

My first selection was Episode 8 of the fourth season of The Expanse, IMHO the best sci-fi show on TV. There are a lot of dark scenes here, especially inside the alien artifact, and plenty of bright colors throughout Medina Station. The Epson and Optoma actually looked relatively close, although the Epson was noticeably brighter, at least when the Optoma is in one of its more accurate modes; colors looked a bit richer on the Epson as well. The BenQ looked better than both, with its much higher contrast ratio and darker blacks. Its shadows appeared more realistic, and aren’t as gray and washed-out as on the Epson or Optoma.

Switching to Vivid mode on the Optoma the extra brightness was pleasing, but not worth the hit in accuracy. Turning Brilliant Color down helps make the overall color more natural, though you lose a fair amount of brightness, bringing it closer to the User or Cinema picture modes. Alternately, you could turn up Brilliant Color in those modes to increase brightness, but again, the colors look less natural. I found 6 to be a good compromise in the User mode between picture quality and light output.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

I switched over to the Downton Abbey movie next for its more real-world color palette. The BenQ still looked best but I went back and forth between the Epson and Optoma for second place. With the Optoma in User mode they’re fairly evenly matched. With the Optoma in Vivid mode, the eye gets drawn its brighter highlights, even though the contrast ratio isn’t much different. The colors and color temperature are less accurate than the Epson, especially in this mode, but I could imagine many people being far more interested in the greater brightness over accurate color.

All small projectors have loud fans, that’s just the tradeoff for a bright image from a small product. That said, the ones in the HD146X are a bit more noticeable. For instance, it’s not appreciably louder than the Epson, but the tone of Epson’s projector noise is more easily ignored than the Optoma’s. It’s several steps louder than the BenQ, which more easily disappears in all but quiet dialogue scenes. 

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Things are worse if you enable the Dynamic Black feature, which decreases lamp power during darker scenes. The fan speed ramps with the lamp, so it’s hard to ignore the spin-up (and then spin-down) of the fan, from scene to scene. This is the case with every projector with this feature, it’s just a bit more noticeable on the 146X. Eco mode is quieter, but substantially dimmer.

Conclusion: For the price…

While I like the idea of an inexpensive, bright projector, this Optoma is clearly a compromise to hit a certain price. If your budget for a projector is no higher than $550, then the HD146X is a solid choice, but better performing projectors cost only a little bit more money. BenQ’s HT2050A is more accurate, brighter and better looking for about $150 more. How big a deal that is depends entirely on your budget. Personally, I’d save up a bit and get something other than the HD146X, not least because it’s loud enough to be quite annoying if it’s anywhere near your head. 

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.25 Poor
Peak white luminance (100%) 127.3 Average
Derived lumens 1146 Average
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.759 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 2.051 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.674 Good
Avg. color error 7.444 Poor
Red error 4.291 Average
Green error 11.458 Poor
Blue error 12.823 Poor
Cyan error 4.504 Average
Magenta error 7.803 Poor
Yellow error 3.786 Average
Avg. saturations error 4.94 Average
Avg. color checker error 4.6 Average
Input lag (Game mode) 16.4 Good

Measurement notes

For the most accurate picture I chose the User mode. This resulted in a fairly consistent and fairly accurate color temperature across the brightness range. There’s roughly 60% more light output available in the Vivid picture quality mode (more than the Bright mode, oddly), though you take a slight hit in color temperature accuracy, and the image quality overall takes a slight hit. The User picture mode and Bright lamp mode, with the Standard color temp and Brilliant Color set at 6, I felt was the best compromise between picture quality and brightness. This still gets you around 1,100 lumens, which is still enough to be considered “bright” on a 100-inch screen. 

In case you were curious, if you make Vivid mode as accurate as the User or Cinema mode, the light output is the same as those modes. 

Color isn’t particularly accurate, with green being fairly undersaturated, and magenta and yellow being slightly off their expected values. Some adjustment is possible in the user menu, but this won’t be an accurate projector when it comes to color. It’s not egregious, but others are better.

Contrast ratio is fairly poor, measuring an average of 568:1. For comparison, the BenQ 2050A, which is also a DLP projector, averages over 2,000:1. This improves a bit in the Vivid mode, thanks to the far greater light output. Dynamic Black roughly doubles it, though that is a dynamic measurement. At any given moment on screen, the contrast ratio is still only around 500:1. The image doesn’t look washed out, but lacks the punch of higher contrast ratio projectors.

Picture Mode: User

Expert settings:

  • Lamp: Bright
  • Brightness: 3
  • Contrast: -5
  • Sharpness: 10
  • Color: 12
  • Tint (G/R): 0
  • Brilliant Color: 6
  • Dynamic black: 
  • Color temp: Standard
  • Gamma: Standard (2.2)

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