The Optoma HD28HDR gives away its claim to fame right in its pithy name: HDR. Unlike most inexpensive projectors, it works with high dynamic range video. With higher-end TVs HDR makes a big difference in image quality, but with projectors it’s a different story: Projectors lack the HDR-friendly hardware like OLED and full-array local dimming that can make HDR sources on TVs shine. This Optoma is quite bright but its HDR compatibility doesn’t make it massively better than the non-HDR competition. 

Don’t Like

  • HDR doesn’t do as much as you might expect.
  • Limited zoom range.
  • No lens shift.

I compared the HD28HDR to two non-HDR projectors we like, the BenQ HT2050A, and the Epson HC2150. Both are close in price and in many ways close in performance, but with HDR sources the Optoma HD28HDR does look slightly better than either one. But standard, non-HDR video is still way more common than HDR, and with standard video the Optoma HD28HDR is fairly average. This projector is the best among the three if you’re the kind of person who watches mostly HDR — reserving the projector for high-end games or special movie nights for example — but the other two are superior all-around choices.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Basic specs

  • Native resolution: 1,920×1,080
  • HDR-compatible: Yes
  • 4K-compatible: Yes
  • 3D-compatible: Yes
  • Lumens spec: 3,600
  • Zoom: Manual (1.1)
  • Lens shift: No
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): 6,000 hours

The HD28HDR can accept and display 4K sources but unlike the higher-end Optoma UHD60, it’s not a true 4K projector. One of the HD28HDR’s HDMI inputs is HDMI 2.0 and can accept a 3,840×2,160 60Hz (4K) signal, but the most that is ever displayed on screen is 1,920×1,080 (1080p). When you send this projector 4K, it’s identified on screen as such, but you’re still only seeing HD.

Read more: TV resolution confusion: 1080p, 2K, UHD, 4K, 8K, and what they all mean

Why allow 4K input but only display 1080p on-screen, you might ask? Technically you can have 1080p or even 720p resolution signals with HDR, but most streaming services and devices lump 4K and HDR together. The HD28HDR provides a cheaper way to get high dynamic range since it doesn’t need to use a 4K DLP chip.

If you’re still into 3D, that’s here too, though no glasses are for sale on Optoma’s site. You’ll need to get some third-party models from Amazon.

Optoma claims 3,600 lumens of brightness, and I measured around 1,500. It’s normal for a projector to measure lower than its claimed numbers. For projectors of this price, this is a solid result and creates a very bright image, albeit slightly dimmer than the Epson HC2150 and BenQ HT2050A.

As is common with DLP projectors in this price range, there is no lens shift. The BenQ is one of the few sub-$1,000 DLP projectors that does, while the Epson, an LCD projector, does as well. The Optoma’s zoom range is very limited, even by affordable projector standards. These two things mean the HD28HDR has limited placement options compared to projectors with a larger zoom range and/or lens shift, like the BenQ and Epson.

Lamp life, in the Normal mode, is a claimed 6,000 hours. In Eco mode this jumps up to an impressive 10,000 hours, though at a cost of 30% of the brightness. Turning on the Dynamic Black feature expands this all the way to 15,000 hours, or about 10 years at 4 hours a day. In this mode the lamp brightness decreases with dark scenes. The fan speed varies with it, though this isn’t as noticeable as with the HD28HDR’s cheaper brother, the HD146X ($550 at Best Buy).

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Connectivity and convenience

  • HDMI inputs: 1x HDMI 2.0, 1x HDMI 1.4
  • PC input: No
  • USB port: 1 (1.5A power)
  • Audio input and output: 3.5mm audio out
  • Digital audio output: No
  • LAN port: No
  • 12v trigger: No
  • RS-232 remote port: No
  • MHL: No
  • Remote: Backlit

There are two HDMI inputs on the HD28HDR. One is HDMI 1.4, which covers you for any standard HD sources, or older 4K sources up to 30 Hz, you want to connect. The other is HDMI 2.0 and can handle 4K sources. In a typical home theater setup, where all the sources run through a receiver, there’s no need to run two HDMI cables. HDMI 2.0 is backward compatible, so your HD sources will work fine on this input. 

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The only other connection, other than the 3.5mm audio output, is USB. This will power a streaming stick like a Roku or Amazon Fire ($60 at eBay). There is no internal speaker, however.

The remote’s backlight is brighter than some projectors I’ve reviewed. Featuring a design shared across multiple Optoma projectors, there are input buttons here that aren’t found on the HD28HDR itself.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Picture quality comparisons

Overall the Optoma HD28HDR is slightly better than the cheaper HD146X, thanks to its prowess with HDR, but I didn’t like its picture as much as the BenQ’s. The Epson, meanwhile scored the same in image quality as the HD28HDR but for different reasons. 

As usual, I connected these projectors to a Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier that gave each one the same source, and then compared everything on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen. 

The Epson is a good projector, especially for viewers who can’t stand DLP’s rainbow effect. Its performance lags a bit behind the BenQ, so I ended up looking at it less than the others. The face-off gets narrowed down by one.

That leaves us three DLP-based units. On the outside the HD146X looks like a virtual twin to the HD28HDR. The casing is glossy black instead of glossy white, but is clearly the same design otherwise. Inside is a different story, however, leading to different performance. The BenQ is consistently our benchmark, as it has a great contrast ratio for the price and fairly accurate colors. 

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

When viewing standard HD video, aka not HDR, I saw very little difference between the HD28HDR and the HD146X. I think most people, viewing the images created by both on the same screen, would assume they were the same projector. Perhaps with a few settings moved one tick in one direction or another. While the 28HDR does have a slightly higher contrast ratio, it’s not particularly noticeable. Their color accuracy, such as it is, is similar as well.

The BenQ does look better than both Optomas, though perhaps not as much as the numbers suggest. Its contrast ratio is nearly 3 times higher than the HD28HDR, which adds a bit more depth to the image. It looks a little less washed out. That said, it’s not as big a difference as you’d expect. More noticeable are the BenQ’s richer, more accurate colors, especially green. The HD28HDR has a fairly muted green, and it’s particularly noticeable when side-by-side with something with more accurate colors. On the BenQ, The Incredible Hulk looks a bit more incredible, if you will. 

Given that the BenQ is only slightly more expensive, while also being quieter, with a better zoom and as well as lens shift, it seems like a slam dunk winner over the HD28HDR. However…

The HDR wild card

The above setup put all the projectors on the same level playing field, showing the exact same content on all four. To test HDR I connected a separate streaming stick to the 28HDR and left the others connected to the same SDR source. This setup let me play the HDR version of a movie on the 28HDR and the SDR version on the other projectors. It took some fiddling, but I was able to get the sync between the different feeds close enough that it wasn’t annoying.

At this point I need to take a step back and explain something about HDR. You can read more about it in What is HDR for TVs, and why should you care? and Why you shouldn’t expect great HDR from a projector, but the short version is, budget projectors, even those as bright as the HD28HDR, aren’t able to reproduce HDR like modern TVs can. They have neither the light output, the dynamic range, nor the colors for wide color gamut content. So they have to remap the HDR signal in a way so it looks acceptable, while not completely ignoring the extra HDR info. 

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

A projector that is able to read and readjust HDR content could, in theory, look better than a projector that can’t. It won’t look as good as a TV that has actual HDR-friendly performance but feeding it “better” content could nonetheless result in a more compelling image. I think you can see where I’m going with this.

With no other changes other than an HDR version of the signal, the HD28HDR looks noticeably better than the HD146X, and ends up giving the BenQ a run for its money. How is this possible? Well, the differences are still subtle, but again, viewing them side-by-side reveals them. 

The brightness, dynamic range, and colors of the projector haven’t changed, it’s how the content is able to better use that same performance. Think of it like a professional driver going around a racetrack in your car. You’d probably have a blast clocking in a great time, but no matter how well you did, Lewis Hamilton would be able to get a better time in the same car. 

With Thor: Ragnarok, such differences are easy to pick out, given the lavish sets and broad fantastical colors. There is more detail in bright objects, like clouds. What is a flat white on, say, the BenQ, has detail/texture and some color on the HD28HDR. Brighter colors are more saturated. While the black bars above and below the screen reveal that the BenQ has a much lower black level, and by extension, a better contrast ratio, the image itself looks far more similar than you’d expect. While the issue with a weak green is still there, other colors, especially brighter ones, look better and richer on the HD28HDR. 

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Conclusion: HDR-ish

This is a tale of two projectors, trapped inside the same small case. Fed standard SDR content, the HD28HDR’s fairly average contrast ratio and colors are fine, but they don’t make it stand out. Fed HDR content, it’s a different story. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, if you will. While the HD28HDR can’t do nearly as much with HDR content as a more capable projector, it’s not doing nothing, so to speak. It’s doing the best with what it has — and looking better for it. Punching above its weight and looking quite good.

That all said… the difference is still fairly slight. With HDR content, I’d put the HD28HDR very slightly above the BenQ HT2050A, though they have very different strengths and weaknesses. With SDR content, that is, the vast majority of what you’ll be watching, the BenQ looks better. Not a huge amount, but enough. The BenQ, with its greater zoom range and lens shift, will also fit better in far more homes than the HD28HDR. So I’d lean that way for most people, but the HD28HDR is a solid alternative, especially if you watch predominantly HDR content.

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.24 Poor
Peak white luminance (100%) 170.3 Average
Derived lumens 1,533 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 6,658.000 Poor
Dark gray error (20%) 6,601.000 Poor
Bright gray error (70%) 6,734 Poor
Avg. color error 34.076 Poor
Red error 14.493 Poor
Green error 48.74 Poor
Blue error 4.92 Average
Cyan error 53.659 Poor
Magenta error 19.413 Poor
Yellow error 63.233 Poor
Avg. saturations error 5.99 Poor
Avg. color checker error 5.9 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 16.4 Good

Measurement notes

This is a peculiar projector, looking quite different with HDR content than with SDR, even with the SDR settings as close to correct as possible. I found the Cinema mode to be most accurate, along with the Standard color temperature and Standard (2.2) gamma settings. The color temperature is slightly lacking blue, with slightly too much green, but it’s reasonably close. Colors are another story. Green is quite undersaturated, and blue is slightly teal. Some slight adjustments to these were possible, but not to any great extent.

Once sent an HDR signal, the projector switches over to its HDR picture mode, giving access to a new setting in the menu: Dynamic Range. Since a projector like this has no hope in creating the nits required by HDR content (see main text), it needs to re-map the image to something closer to what it can create. One possible way is to just lop off all the bright detail (think textures in clouds during daylight). This is inelegant, and can create other issues. A potentially better way is to remap some of the bright detail so it’s “dimmer” so to speak. This can have its own issues as well. Conveniently, Optoma gives you a choice in how it does this: Standard, Film, Bright and Details. It’s worth flipping through these while you’re watching HDR content to see what looks best to you on that content. Since the projector is going to have to re-map the HDR regardless, there is no right or wrong answer here. 

In the Cinema picture mode and Standard color temp mode, the HD28HDR puts out a very respectable 170 nits, about the same as the BenQ and Epson. Turning up the Brilliant Color, or switching to the Vivid mode, can increase this even more, to 215 nits, though the overall image doesn’t look as good or as accurate. The Eco lamp mode drops either by about 30%. The Dynamic Black mode, which decreases lamp power for darker scenes, also seems to cap maximum light output by about 10%, but has a much lower black level and therefore a greater dynamic contrast ratio.

The native contrast ratio itself is fairly poor, at an average of 716:1. The LCD-based Epson is around 1,200:1, and the BenQ nearly 2,100:1. 

Picture mode: Cinema

Expert settings:

  • Brightness: 1
  • Contrast: -4
  • Sharpness: 10
  • Gamma: Standard (2.2)
  • Brightness Mode: Bright
  • Color temp.: Standard
  • Dynamic Black: Off (On is also fine)
  • Brilliant Color: 8

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